BY Martin Herbert in Reviews | 21 MAY 15
Featured in
Issue 20

ROUND-Up: Gallery Weekend Berlin


BY Martin Herbert in Reviews | 21 MAY 15

Daniel Keller, Composite Career Captcha (Betterneties), 2015, Mixed media

Measured in terms of footfall, the latest Berlin Gallery Weekend was a hit. That wasn’t the key metric, of course, for the 47 gallerists who each paid five-figure sums to have collectors steered their way, or those who didn’t and opened anyway. But quizzing several of them brought confirmation of what the eyes could plainly see: the usual contingent of insiders and buyers was augmented, this time, by a sizeable swathe of the art-curious general public. There were prams in the galleries, and skateboards. What viewers were presented with, meanwhile, was a tonal gamut. Johann König’s now-completed conversion of St Agnes church in Kreuzberg, for example, couched dealer power-gaming in Brutalist stateliness, flattering Katharina Grosse’s restricting of her chromatic abstraction to widescreen canvases. This contrasted pointedly with the pressing ameliorative intent of Renzo Martens’ chocolate sculptures at KOW, created by, and directly profiting, Congolese workers in the Dutch artist’s grassroots gentrification project, while Renata Lucas’s water-themed environmental interventions in Neugerriemschneider’s gallery space and courtyard occupied an itchy midpoint between the critical and the covetable. In one sense, of course, all of this was merely the backdrop for a series of parties.

Tobias Putrih, Pale Guardians, 2015, Installation view Galerija Gregor Podnar, Berlin

The evolving event itself can over­-shadow the shows, make one over-analytical of motives – is this your biggest artist, your biggest South American, your most boldly dematerialized? – and occasionally tilt a reading of exhibitions towards the analo­gical. At Galerija Gregor Podnar, Tobias Putrih laid out objects and images that murmured of birth and transformation: photograms of an egg’s shadow reversed to resemble the egg itself; a darkened room in which egg shells were drilled and fitted with LEDs so that ghostly bluish silhouettes of the hole projected on the wall; and pendant frame-like sculptures, vaguely occultish, one wrapped in wool and periodically lowered, mechanically, into a shallow square bath of soapy water, into which it collapsed flat and emerged dripping. Pulling back to view the whole, though, one saw various sentinels gathered around an all-but-absent centre – a doughnut theory of content – wherein it was hard to say if this was a truly resonant display or one that mostly appealed because its Slovenian maker, in the midst of the commercial eagerness-cum-necessity that Gallery Weekend represents, struck a pose of withholding.

The latter was somewhat true, too, of Daniel Keller’s show at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, where sloshing liquids again appeared. Vats of glowing emerald water, lit from within, held an ‘aqueous nutrient solution’ infused with Spirulina algae, the sort of health-tech product that Keller’s now-retired former partner in Aids-3D, Nik Kosmas, has apparently moved on to selling while Keller continues to operate as an artist under the guise of a ‘prosumer imagineer’. The future imagined in this show – ring-fenced by textual fragments of a play by Keller in which recent gentrification epicentres like Bushwick and Dalston become pseudo-characters with which another character, Kai, is sequentially in love – was incoming in sardonic fragments and hitched itself to the present. The sculptural centrepiece, three cracked and battered glass doors taken from a sofa shop housed in a Kreuzberg new build, presented like a folding screen, turned the actions of current anti-gentrification protesters into goods; several cairn-shaped wall reliefs, which jigsaw together a variety of high-tech materials, corresponded to the script’s talk of blithe rock-balancing in the safety of the countryside ‘out by the biofuel pipeline’. If Keller held the viewer in place, it was partly via his confidence in offering an uneasy prognosis plugged full of teasing holes, partly via the artist’s apparently unresolved inside/outside position with regard to the artworld’s machinations.

Bojan Šarčević, Untitled, 2014, Two inkjet prints, installation view Galerie BQ, Berlin

At BQ, Šarčević did something unlikely: he consciously reprised a show from last year, presented at pinksummer in Genoa, which (apparently chancily) bore a retro­spective title, reused here – In the Rear View Mirror – with part of the apparent meaning transpiring in the infra-thin gap between the two exhibits. (The earlier show was shown in photographs, presented here for comparison.) Šarčević has long trafficked in haloing objects with significance, or undermining quick assumptions about his work’s import; he’ll use materials that make one leap to con­clusions, and then cause those conclusions to unravel. Here, Šarčević offered the fruits of experimenting with breast-implant silicone as sculptural material. A set of fine-beamed wooden frames with mesh windows was repeated, echoing Joseph Beuys and Matthew Barney, in waxy flesh-coloured faux-timbers, while elsewhere – in a model of a small mountain retreat that the artist is building, a delicate hammock strung in a corner – the bodily merged with the architectural. In a fluorescent Perspex box, clothing slathered with paint, then crumpled, created a craquelure pattern echoed in the dry-stone wall structure of a standing relief in polystyrene and the walls of Šarčević’s one-room hut. From bodily augmentation, the implant as cultural metonym, one arrived at unexpectedly tender feelings of vulnerability and protectiveness: another journey, if you like, between two distant spaces.

Šarčević’s show looked typically gorgeous, whereas Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff’s display at Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi was mostly visual dishwater. But it repaid thinking about. The pair’s mass of indifferently presented, casually shot, unframed black and white photographs of Berlin, London and Zürich apartments – their toilets, kitchens and empty living rooms, with people wandering through them – reflect the pair’s recent searches for homes at a time when, in Berlin, each dwelling is apparently chased by some 60 people. A lonesome guitar soundtrack, played (initially live) from Bortolozzi’s own apartment, was accompanied in turn by a hot grid of 300-watt stage lights, beaming inward. If it was unclear what purpose that served – except to include this particular piece of expensive real estate, and the many people shuffling through it, in the show’s matrix – then the pair’s habitual interest in the unglamorous surrounding context of art production felt wholly apropos, for of course Berlin’s gentrification is inseparable from its art scene and its experience economy in general. Here, under the sponsorship of BMW and a luxury watch company, a few embodied anxieties gamely went to market.

Martin Herbert is a critic based in Berlin, Germany.