Critic’s Guide: Berlin

Highlights of the exhibitions and performances taking place during Berlin Art Week 

BY Emily McDermott in Critic's Guides | 12 SEP 17

Math Bass, from the series ‘Newz!’, 2017, gouache on canvas, 213 x 229 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Tanya Leighton, Berlin

Math Bass, ‘Domino Kingdom’
Tanya Leighton
9 September – 21 October 2017

Math Bass gained international attention with her first US museum solo show at MoMA PS1 in 2015, and this summer The Yuz Museum in West Bund Shanghai presented her first solo exhibition in China. Now, this show  at Tanya Leighton will mark Bass’s European solo debut. ‘Domino Kingdom’ will feature large-scale paintings and sculptures, although the New York native’s practice also spans performance and video. Among the paintings will be recent contributions to her series ‘Newz!’ (2013–ongoing), in which she employs monochromatic, geometric shapes and objects in ambiguous ways. The uncertainty presented through her canvases, often complicated by sculptures, bring into question each shape and item’s function – what are we seeing, what is it doing, and what is its purpose?

James Richards, ‘Mouth Room / Crumb Mahogany’, 2017. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin

James Richards, ‘Mouth Room / Crumb Mahogany’
Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi
9 September – 4 November 2017

For this dual exhibition, two sound installations by James Richards will be shown across Isabella Bortolozzi’s two locations: Mouth Room (2017), which takes its name from a 1976 video by the British artist Stuart Marshall, will span both rooms at Eden Eden (Bülowstr. 74), while Crumb Mahogany (2016) – shown previously at Bergen Kunsthalle, ICA London and Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover – will be presented in the main gallery space (Schöneberger Ufer 61). Through these works, Richards addresses the functionality of human sounds – both real and fictive. For Crumb Mahogany, as listeners walk around speakers arranged in a circle, they will hear sounds relating to the mouth – someone inhaling and singing; lips faintly touching – interspersed with electronic sound recordings, such as a the hum of tape or the crackling of vinyl. Mouth Room, on the other hand, includes appropriated audio clips from short horror films by film directors JX Williams (Noel Lawrence) and John Carpenter as well as live recordings of orchestral improvisations and arrangements. Breaking from his traditional use of a speaker arrangement in the round, the sound will be evenly split between Eden Eden’s two rooms, in which Richards spent a month creating and editing the work.

Carrie Mae Weems, In the Mountains of Santiago de Cuba, 2002, silver gelatin print, 79 x 79 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin © Carrie Mae Weems

‘Black Matters’
Galerie Barbara Thumm
16 September – 4 November 2017

As many galleries and institutions dismantle group shows traditionally reserved for the summer months, Galerie Barbara Thumm, in collaboration with curator Octavio Zaya, will mount one worthy of multiple visits. Beginning with the understanding that words and things can attain meanings beyond their original inscription, ‘Black Matters’ couples the title’s two immediate interpretations: issues pertaining to the lived experience of black people (literally ‘black matters’) and the fact that we are far from living in a post-racial society (in other words, being black still matters). Featuring works by Radcliffe Bailey, Nick Cave, Barkley L. Hendricks, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Lorraine O’Grady, Dread Scott and Carrie Mae Weems, the exhibition will not attempt to speak for the subjects nor extract them from the trajectory of current events and history. Rather, the exhibition will reflect its own conditions: the contrast between Europe’s recent interest in black artists alongside the continent’s increasingly restrictive policies toward African immigrants.

Sam Lewitt, Stranded Asset: Filler, 2017, cast fuel ash, 4 copies of book (ENEL modulo 2, Protezione Ambientale), Murano glass, 3 buckets of fuel ash (Kraftwerk Reuter West: Mineral Deutschland GmbH [Berlin]), plastic sheeting, installation dimensions: c.50 x 130 x 100 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin/New York

Sam Lewitt, ‘FILLER’
Galerie Buchholz
30 August – 21 October 2017

More often than not Sam Lewitt’s artworks result from an interest in technological thought processes and complex machinery, and his fourth exhibition at Galerie Buchholz will continue this part of his practice. For the show, Lewitt will expand upon his work included in the 57th Venice Biennale, Stranded Assets, comprising a set of lamps found in the stairwell of Venice’s recently decommissioned Giuseppe Volpi thermoelectric power plant. In Venice, the original lamps illuminate reproductions of decorative shades. Each is made from compressed fuel ash, which is a lightweight, cementable byproduct of the fuel refinement process. In Berlin, four reproductions have been restored to functionality and will supply light to the gallery, while four other reproductions have been sealed with light reflective, opaque black glass, sedimented with culinary byproducts such as fish bones.

Monica Bonvicini, ‘3612, 54 M³ vs 0,05 M³’, installation view, Berlinische Galerie, 2017. Courtesy: the artist and Berlinische Galerie; photograph: Jens Ziehe  

Monica Bonvicini, ‘3612, 54 M³ vs 0,05 M³’
Berlinische Galerie
16 September 2017 – 26 February 2018

Little advance information has been released about Monica Bonvicini’s exhibition ‘3612, 54 M³ vs 0,05 M³’ at Berlinische Galerie. Yet because of her reputation, it is set to be one of Berlin Art Week’s most anticipated openings. Known to use video, installation, drawing and sculpture to explore architecture, sexuality, gender and power, Bonvicini continually circles back to social, political and economic questions. In this exhibition, an installation conceived specifically for the Galerie’s main hall, alongside other elements, will address the word ‘facade’ and its function, paralleling her work that will also be on view at  the concurrent 15th Istanbul Biennial.

Harun Farocki / Antje Ehmann, Feasting or Flying (2008), video still. Courtesy: Neue Berliner Kunstverein © Harun Farocki / Antje Ehmann 2008

Harun Farocki, ‘Mit anderen Mitteln – By Other Means’
Neuer Berliner Kunstverein
14 September 2017 – 28 January 2018

‘Harun Farocki: Mit anderen Mitteln – By Other Means’ is one portion of a city-wide retrospective dedicated to the acclaimed experimental German filmmaker Harun Farocki (1944–2014). At n.b.k., viewers will see an assembly of Farocki’s film installations, each of which deal with the logics – or illogicalities – of cinema through the quoting and analyzing of visual language. These installations, which Farocki began researching and making in the mid ’90s, often employ multiple video channels, or ‘soft montage.’ For example, the presence of male suicide in film is explored through the six-channel installation, Feasting or Flying (2008), and the five channels of War Tropes (2011) reflect key motifs found within war films. Much like Farocki’s use of soft montage, the exhibition space itself will not be divided to separate each installation. Rather, the installations will stand in the same room, allowing them to be viewed simultaneously and compared. In addition to the show at n.b.k., the Arsenal - Institut für Film und Videokunst will screen 100 of Farocki’s cinematic works and SAVVY Contemporary will present a parallel group show. The full programme can be found here.

Amy Sillman, Pink Drawing #79, 2016, ink and acrylic on paper, 76 x 57 cm. Courtesy: Capitain Petzel, Berlin © the artist; photograph: Jens Ziehe

Amy Sillman, ‘ein Paar’
Capitain Petzel
15 September – 11 November 2017

For her second solo exhibition at Capitain Petzel, Amy Sillman uses the medium of drawing and the English translation of the German phrase ‘ein Paar’ (a pair; a few) as literal starting points. The show will display pairings and groups of works in which sketches are transformed into paintings, inkjet printed canvases and an animated video. A large diptych on canvas, for example, will hang alongside a series of gestural drawings and prints on paper. In her video After Metamorphoses (2015–16), process-based ink works on paper provide a backdrop to a constantly changing digital line that loosely follows the story of Ovid’s The Metamorphoses. This video, as well as other works that will be on view, continues Sillman’s recent use of inkjet prints based upon her drawings to explore notions of seriality and machine processes.


In addition to the openings and ongoing exhibitions during Berlin Art Week, there are also a few performances not to be missed:

Samson Young, Water Music
12 September, 7pm

Currently representing Hong Kong in an official collateral event of the 57th Venice Biennale, Samson Young will develop a one-time sound performance in collaboration with jazz singer Michael Schiefel at Tropez, a public-pool-turned-pop-up-gallery in Humboldthain. Entitled Water Music, the performance will be created while Young is on a treadmill next to the swimming pool, using his changing heartbeat as the pacemaker.

Boris Charmatz, 10000 Gestures, 2017, performance documentation. Courtesy: Volksbühne, Berlin; photograph: Tristram Kenton

Boris Charmatz, 'Musée de la danse' (A Dancer’s Day / 1000 Gestures)
Volksbühne at Tempelhof Hangar 5
14-16 September, 4pm / 17 September, 2pm

French choreographer Boris Charmatz will inaugurate the Volksbühne’s first season under the artistic direction of Chris Dercon as well as the theatre’s new location at Berlin’s disused Tempelhof airport. Over the course of six hours, 30 dancers will focus on their daily routines: warming up, rehearsing, performing and resting. Viewers will be invited to follow the dancers, share a meal with them, and even rehearse sequences from Charmatz’s new dance, 1000 Gestures, with the choreographer.

Miet Warlop, ‘Retrospective’
HAU1, HAU2 and HAU3
14-16 September, various times

Hebbel am Ufer will restage three performative works originally presented at the same location by the Belgian artist Miet Warlop, Mystery Magnet (2012), Dragging the Bone (2015) and Fruits of Labor (2017). Each of Warlop’s performances employs theatrical tactics and productions in order to create living images. As the artist herself says, these three performances are ‘portraits of a decade.’

Nina Könnemann, Free Wi-Fi, 2016–ongoing, documentation of live video performance. Courtesy: the artist

Nina Könnemann, Free Wi-Fi 3
KW - Institute for Contemporary Art
17 September, 8pm

Nina Könnenmann began ‘Free Wi-Fi’, a series of live-video performances, in 2016 and the event at KW will mark its third iteration, with a simultaneous screening at the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Using the app Periscope, Könnemann invites multiple participants to create a live montage comprising video and text – some of which is prearranged, but also subject to contingencies such as interference by strangers and technical problems.

Berlin Art Week runs 13 – 17 September 2017.

Main image: Math Bass, from the series ‘Newz!’ (detail), 2017, gouache on canvas 122 x 117 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Tanya Leighton, Berlin

Emily McDermott is a Berlin-based freelance writer and editor.