Critic's Guide: Berlin

Cooper Jacoby, Tobias Kaspar, Kiki Kogelnik and more: the best current shows in Berlin

BY Elisa R. Linn AND Lennart Wolff in Critic's Guides | 29 FEB 16

Cooper Jacoby, Stagnants (Brain Hollow), 2016, installation view at Mathew Gallery. Courtesy the artist and Mathew Gallery, Berlin

Cooper Jacoby
Mathew Gallery
29 January – 19 March, 2016

Approaching Cooper Jacoby’s opening, the first thing you noticed was an elevated crowd through the shop window that fronts Mathew gallery. For the US-born, Dusseldorf-based artist’s first solo at the gallery, he installed a knee-high mesh platform creating an industrial-looking stage for the viewer to encounter his new body of sculptural work. Made of fibreglass and resin, three black casts of sewer and gutter drains Jacoby fabricated on site in Los Angeles are covered with fragments of drawings from Chinese acupuncture. 

By referencing an ancient medicine that cites malaise as the result of clogged channels in the body, the title ‘Stagnants’ hints towards a reappearing theme in Jacoby’s practice: moments of malfunction, blockage or disruption in the ubiquitous infrastructures that condition our everyday lives.

Brandlhuber + Hertweck, Mayfried, Dialogic City 3, 2014 © Dialogic City

Arno Brandlhuber, Florian Hertweck and Thomas Mayfried: ‘The Dialogic City’
Berlinische Galerie
16 September, 2015 – 21 March, 2016

As part of ‘Stadt:Bild’ (City:Image), a curatorial theme co-opted by several institutions for Berlin Art Week last September, architect Arno Brandlhuber was commissioned for a solo presentation of his practice at Berlinische Galerie. Instead, he showed ‘The Dialogic City: Berlin wird Berlin’ with Florian Hertweck and Thomas Mayfried. The project consists of an extensive publication – stacked like bricks and available for each visitor to take a copy – and revolves around several antagonisms defining the city: community versus individuality, fiction versus reality, city versus nature. Accompanying the wall-book installation is an ongoing process of documenting the thousands of models that have been made for public architectural competitions in Berlin. Usually buried in the institution’s archives, the objects are brought to the exhibition space, photographed and catalogued –unfolding a cacophony of possible alternatives and opposing ideas. Moreover, the title, referencing philosopher Edgar Morin’s concept of the dialogic (opposed to the dialectic), lends weight to the claim of this manifesto-like exhibition: for a fundamental rethinking of the politics that shape Berlin itself.

Kiki Kogelnik, M, c.1964, oil and acrylic on canvas, 203 × 143 cm. Courtesy Kiki Kogelnik Foundation and König Galerie, Berlin

Kiki Kogelnik
König Galerie
6 February – 6 March, 2016

The second solo exhibition at König Galerie by the late Austrian-born painter Kiki Kogelnik (1935–97) consists of a series of paintings, drawings, and sculptural work from the mid-1960s. Made in New York during a period marked by the constant fear of an impending atomic war, the works marry the spirit of optimism and energy, at a time of the civil rights movement and the sexual revolution, with a growing suspicion against a positive reading of technological progress. Their colourful, figurative imagery engages in an ambiguous dialogue with the raw concrete and exposed bricks of the brutalist architecture of St. Agnes Chapel. A building style once thought to be strongly linked to ideas of philosophical totalitarianism here clashes with depicted light, floating and fragmented bodies that hint towards a meditation on the role of the individual, back in a time marked by the slow crumbling of a modernist utopia.

Karl Kunz, Deutschland erwache! (Germany Awake!), 1942. oil on plywood, 1.2 × 1.4 m. Courtesy Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie; 2015 donation from the artist © Wolfgang Kunz

The Black Years: Histories of a Collection, 1933-45
Hamburger Bahnhof
21 November, 2015 – 31 July, 2016

The Neue Nationalgalerie presents about 60 works by Rudolf Belling, Lyonel Feininger, Karl Kunz and others in a new exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof (serving as its temporary quarters until its reopening in 2020). The show, entitled ‘The Black Years: Histories of a Collection’ is dedicated to the conflicting fates of artworks that were made between 1933 and 1945: art and its subjugation, adaptation, destruction or restlessness during that period. The aim is to create an overall picture of the time, the individual work and its tortuous paths into the collection –the focal point being its history, it evades the temptation of a ‘best of’ show of oppressed modern masters. Rudolf Belling demonstrates the inconsistencies of the period’s official judgment and taste. Whereas his pioneering abstract sculpture Dreiklang (Triad, 1924) found a place at the Hofgarten-Arkaden in Munich – where the ‘scoffed’ art work were presented – a day later his bronze sculpture of Max Schmeling was shown in the purpose-built temple of representative Nazi art across the city – the Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art), as part of the show Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung (‘The Great German Art Exhibition’). This carefully arranged show opens up a wide range of volatile questions and touches up on the complexity of origins and entanglements of artists, dealers and institutions in the Third Reich.

Tobias Kaspar, Untitled, 2016, laser engraved reflective fabric (34 % Ek, 34 % Po, 32 % Gl), 435 × 175 × 3 cm, installation view (flash photography). Courtesy Silberkuppe, Berlin

Tobias Kaspar 
5 February – 5 March, 2016

At Tobias Kaspar’s exhibition at Silberkuppe, you find yourself constant manoeuvring to find the perfect viewpoint for his new series of grey and silver shimmering wall-mounted works. They are made from a high-tech textile and realized in collaboration with a Swiss supplier for haute couture fashion houses. Depending on one’s position they unveil different patterns of abstract rectangular forms. Taken from an earlier series of work, ‘The Gentlewoman/Stripped Bare’, first shown at Midway Contemporary Art Minneapolis in 2013, the shapes reference the layout of the eponymous women-focused lifestyle magazine. Emptied of their pictorial content those forms are the structures that serve to choreograph the reader’s attention. Here again, it becomes apparent that Kaspar’s interest in the mechanism of trendsetting lies not so much in the omnipresent ‘image’ but rather in appropriating the underlying strategies of seduction.

Clemens von Wedemeyer, ‘Cast Behind You The Bones Of Your Mother’, 2015–16, installation view, KOW, Berlin 2015. Courtesy the artist and KOW, Berlin; photograph Ladislav Zajac / KOW, Berlin

Clemens Wedemeyer: ‘Cast Behind You The Bones Of Your Mother’
19 December, 2015 – 27 February, 2016

Clemens Wedemeyer’s exhibition ‘Cast Behind You the Bones of Your Mother’ is part of KOW’s dedicated year-long programme ‘One year of Filmmakers’. When entering the gallery one’s attention is drawn to a five-channel video installation dramatically hanging way up high on the otherwise raw concrete wall of the main gorge-like space. The film, produced in 2013, consists of historic fragments including Don Chaffey’s 1963 classic Jason and the Argonauts, a fantasy romp loosely based on the ancient Greek myth. Drawing on humankind’s relationship towards iconic sculpture the collaged footage reflects on the statue as an idealistic image of man and its demonization and deconstruction in cinema. In the basement Wedemeyer translates Ovid’s tale about the recreation of human being into two 3D printed sand sculptures, made after scans of statues of Deukalion and Pyrrha – the only survivors of the great flood brought about by Zeus. By using the same method as archaeologists when recreating destroyed artefacts – most pertinently in the current civil war in Syria – Wedemeyer addresses the state of those aesthetic objects linking them to an altered understanding of historical authenticity, where the borders blur between the replica and the original.

Sam Anderson, Pregnant Kiwi Skeleton, 2015, Kiwi skeleton replica, egg replica, wood, acrylic, 21 × 57 × 19 cm. Courtesy Tanya Leighton, Berlin

Sam Anderson: ‘Endless Love’
Tanya Leighton
26 November, 2015 – 27 February, 2016

New York-based Sam Anderson’s first solo at Tanya Leighton, ‘Endless Love’, comprises a scattering of objects, figurative sculptures, and an eponymous video work. Most of the (small) pieces sit on the floor, ostensibly marginalized; their atomized arrangement affording each an air of self-evidence. Possible connections are suggested but hardly given. Composed of various natural and artificial materials – including bird skeletons and orange peel – some of these figures rest on sheepskin and leather (skin is a recurring element in the show). In front of the video sits two simplified white tractors and nearby is a clay sculpture of the artist’s mother (a professional actor) holding a gong. Appearing again in the video she delivers a monologue comprised of various textual elements – extracts from personal conversations; an excerpt from a play. Yet the exhibition isn’t just the subjective staging of the artist’s own emotional connections. Anderson opens up a space where visitors can weave their own narratives into the objects on view.

Elisa R. Linn is a writer and curator. Her forthcoming exhibition and publication, ‘Song of Growth’, at Weiss Falk, Basel, Switzerland, looks to the intersection of ecological, political and social systems in the work of German artist KP Brehmer.

Lennart Wolff is an architect and curator. Together with Limbo Accra, he is launching the AA Visiting School ‘Liminal Architecture Lab’, which will take place in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal.