The Top Seven Exhibitions to See During Gallery Weekend Berlin

From Helen Chadwick’s feminist photography at Société to Rachel Harrison’s outright absurdism at Konrad Fischer Galerie

BY Louisa Elderton in Critic's Guides | 25 APR 24

Helen Chadwick Société 26 April ­– 6 July 

Helen Chadwick, In the Kitchen (Stove), 1977, colour archival pigment print, 59 × 39 cm. Courtesy: The Estate of Helen Chadwick and Richard Saltoun Gallery London, Rome, New York

Helen Chadwick was a seminal feminist voice in the UK who questioned the binary conventions shaping gender, perceptions of the body and structures modelling women’s lives. As a young art history student, I was captivated by Chadwick’s Piss Flowers (1991–92), which she made by urinating in the snow to create flower-like shapes that were then cast in white-enamelled bronze. The gendered symbolism and tension between beauty and repulsion inherent to this work defined much of Chadwick’s oeuvre, including the early video Domestic Sanitation (1976), which is central to her exhibition at Société. It documents a live performance of women in grotesque rubber costumes enacting beauty rituals. In the second half of the video, one woman doubles as a mattress, feathers spilling from her mouth as she writhes against bedsprings, while another transforms into an armchair, wearing a padded ensemble embellished with woven pubic hair and ludicrously pink nipples. In the Kitchen (Stove) (1977) – which was included in Tate’s recent feminist blockbuster ‘Women in Revolt!’ is a related photograph, in which Chadwick wears a cooker costume with hotplates for breasts. Made as part of her 1977 graduation show at London’s Chelsea College of Arts, the satirical image is compellingly absurd and was groundbreaking in undermining gendered clichés to ridicule women’s supposed place in the home.

Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings | Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi | 27 April – 29 June  

Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings, The Banality of Evil, 2024, fresco on wooden panel, 2.3 × 1.7 m. Courtesy: the artists and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin

What makes a society virtuous, respectable, ‘good’? This question – which currently feels hugely pressing in Germany, given the government’s commitment to Israel’s war on Gaza, and the resulting cultural-sector crisis – is at the heart of duo Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings’s exhibition, aptly titled ‘Good Society’Displayed off-site at EDEN EDEN gallery, highly stylized fresco paintings feature uniformed and helmet-clad figures lurking ominously behind women who pose nonchalantly like fashion models. The titular film, Good Society (2024), is highly personal, narrating a semi-fictional take on the autobiography of Hastings’s grandmother, Sigrid, who was born to a Jewish family in West Berlin and lived near Eldorado, one of the city’s legendary queer cabarets. The film considers the vulnerability of Jewish and queer life in the shadow of National Socialism, and the imperial beliefs that persist in Germany today. Looking at the political impact of behavioural patterns and how authority manifests in public space, Quinlan and Hastings continue to shape scenarios that reframe normative culture, proposing alternative strategies for inclusivity and, in turn, new power structures.

Dan Lie | Barbara Wien | 25 April – 9 August  

Dan Lie, The Subtle, 2024, watercolour, gouache, oil stick, oil pastel, soft pastel, graphite on paper, 1.5 × 1.3 m. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin; photograph: Nick Ash

Rich shades of ochre permeate the works in Dan Lie’s first solo exhibition at Barbara Wien, ‘Remains Remembering’. Take, for example, the sculpture Untitled (2024), which is made of sambe, a traditional South Korean hemp fabric used in grieving rituals, that has been boiled in turmeric to produce shades of deep red and brown which gradate into paler yellows. The spice-stained cloth forms loose corporeal shapes that enfold hidden stones. Originally created for the Geneva Biennale’s Sculpture Garden in 2022, the work still bears the marks of the giant sequoia tree from which it then hung. More-than-human life is an inherent part of Lie’s practice, with the artist often reincorporating past works into new projects to emphasize the nature of impermanence and the role of time in any life cycle. The Subtle (2024) – a drawing developed during Lie’s current residency at Berlin non-profit Callie’s – depicts flowing forms that could be animal, vegetal or something else altogether, with a sense of fluid ontology echoed in the watery mark-making. A winner of this year’s Preis der Nationalgalerie 2024, and with a 2022 solo show at New York’s New Museum already under their belt, Lie is a rising star and one to watch.

Angharad Williams | Schiefe Zähne | 26 April – 8 June 

Angharad Williams, Show me magic, 2024, bath, 80 litres water, soap, magic wands, timber, enamel paint, lamp, audio. Courtesy: the artist and Schiefe Zähne, Berlin; photograph: Julian Blum

We’ve all ended up in the bath at a Berlin party at some point, right? In Angharad Williams’s exhibition ‘Berlin Straße’, one sits half-filled in the middle of the gallery’s dimmed apartment space, magic wands adorned with butterflies and sparkles both floating and submerged. Titled Show me magic (all works 2024), the sculpture is accompanied by the dreamy mood of Black Sabbath’s Planet Caravan (1970), Ozzy Osbourne’s voice trembling and muffled as if underwater. Interested in the urban and social fabric of Berlin, Williams has tuned into the pulse of the German capital for this show, sensing desire and dread within its social structures. The shifting facades of the city’s buildings inspired the seven-part painting series ‘1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + everyone’, which uses a spray-paint vernacular to depict palimpsests of letters and symbols around trompe l’oeil windows, redacted graffiti generating mismatched washes of colour. Even Berlin’s Flaschenpfandautomaten (bottle deposit machines) are featured in the series ‘Origin nature destiny’, with both long- and short-exposure photographs transforming their insides into sci-fi worlds of their own. Williams nurtures the tension between public and intimate to transform the city into her own tongue-and-cheek lexicon of subconscious yearnings and fears.

Rachel Harrison | Konrad Fischer Galerie | 26 April – 27 July  

Rachel Harrison, ‘Bird Watching’, 2024. Courtesy: the artist and Konrad Fischer Galerie

I first discovered Rachel Harrison’s work in my early 20s, when her survey show, ‘Conquest of the Useless’ (2010), was mounted at Whitechapel Gallery, where I was working at the front desk (code for the cloakroom). Her kaleidoscopic fields of chromatic sensation and cultural amalgams were all that kept me from despairing at being buried under musty jackets and sodden umbrellas. Harrison’s exhibition at Konrad Fischer Galerie, ‘Bird Watching’, continues her interest in merging the ridiculous and profound to devotional and humorous effect. The sculpture Orange Judd (2024) sees a fluorescent green man (complete with sunglasses) sitting in a steel swivel dump cart atop a makeshift rock, while The Original (2024) features a Prusa 3D printer on a plinth, embellished with wild gestural brushstrokes and a pair of scissors glued to one side. For Harrison, all materials and subjects are fair game. Combining handmade forms with found objects, her references range from the art-historical to the political to the outright absurd as a means of ruminating on our complex phenomenological experience. Even the five archival pigment prints displayed here, Best in Show (2024), which depict moments from the 2006 Westminster Dog Show, feel profound. In them, blurred images of an animal staring into the lens contrast with distracted tuxedoed audience members, begging the questions: who’s watching who, and who is really on show?

Santiago de Paoli | Meyer Riegger | 26 April – 15 June  

Santiago de Paoli, My turn, 2023, oil on copper, corks, 62 × 177 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Meyer Riegger, Berlin/Karlsruhe/Basel; photograph: Oliver Roura

The enigmatic title of this exhibition at Meyer Riegger by Argentinean artist Santiago de Paoli, ‘Lieber Nebelkopf, die Blaue Brücke is open’ (Dear Foghead, the Blue Bridge Is Open), seems to wink at the two main German expressionist movements of the early 20th century: Die Brücke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). Paoli’s bright canvases, bathed in great swathes of crimson red, are brimming with feeling, yet his uncanny landscapes and still lifes also evoke a sensual surrealism akin to lucid dreaming. Take, for example, the oil on copper Going up (2022), in which a group of vases on a table double as giant orifices waiting to be penetrated by the phallic snail creeping up a column. The titular Nebelkopf (Foghead, 2024) depicts a fiery red body rendered with delicate brushstrokes, which dissolves into a pastoral scene beyond the window; under a warm autumnal sky, the figure is absorbed into skeletal trees and rolling fields. The space between inside and outside is blurred, conjuring a sense of interior freedom and sensitivity that seems symptomatic of the return to nature which was so integral to both Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter.

Sung Tieu | Trautwein Herleth | 27 April – 1 June

Sung Tieu, The Ruling (Population of Indochina), 2023, two different woods, engraved, varnished, brackets. Courtesy: the artist and Trautwein Herleth, Berlin; photograph: Nicola Gnesi

Hot off the heels of winning the Schering Stiftung Award for Artistic Research 2024 – which brings with it a survey exhibition at Berlin’s KW Institute for Contemporary Art in 2025 – Sung Tieu’s debut solo exhibition at Trautwein Herleth also marks the gallery’s name change (from Galerie Barbara Weiss). Known for her rigorous, research-driven practice, Tieu often uses a personal lens to examine socio-political issues, such as how societal norms are shaped by institutional structures. Here, Tieu centres her own history: as a person born in Northern Vietnam who immigrated to Germany in the early 1990s, the artist explores the relationship between belonging and displacement. Formally reminiscent of minimalism at first sight, up close The Ruling (Population of Indochina) (2023) is an intricately engraved sculpture of two different wooden rulers. It scrutinizes the French imperial occupation in so-called Indochina, where the metric system was forcefully introduced to advance colonial power. One ruler uses indigenous measurements while the other adopts the French system – the former being 47 cm long and the latter 40 cm. Numerous statistics – including the population records from Indochina – are also inscribed along the length of the work, delving into lasting legacies of erasure in the wake of colonial exploits and bureaucratic governance strategies.

Main image: Santiago de Paoli, Riding hot (detail), 2023, oil and acrylic on canvas, ravioli box, plaster, 3 × 2.6 m. Courtesy: the artist and Meyer Riegger, Berlin/Karlsruhe/Base; photograph: Oliver Roura

 Louisa Elderton is a Berlin-based writer and editor. She is currently the Managing Editor of ICI Berlin Press, and was formerly the Curatorial Editor at Gropius Bau and Editor-in-Chief of Side Magazine at Bergen Assembly.