Seven Shows to See During Berlin Gallery Weekend

From Rhea Dillon’s Toni Morrison-inspired solo show to a group exhibition of contemporary painting, Louisa Elderton picks her highlights from the German capital

BY Louisa Elderton in Critic's Guides | 26 APR 23

Agnes Denes

E-Werk Luckenwalde

29 April – 16 July

Agnes Denes, PAST: Wheatfield – A Confrontation, 1982, film still. Courtesy: the artist and CIRCA

Having converted an abandoned coal power station into a CO2-neutral renewable energy plant in 2019, E-WERK Luckenwalde – under an hour from Berlin by train – has funded the production and exhibition of art by selling its electricity, which is made from biomass pyrolysis, via the national grid. In turn, it has become a key player in rethinking how institutions can innovate sustainable approaches to creating and disseminating culture. E-WERK has collaborated with the London-based commissioning platform Cultural Institute of Radical Contemporary Arts for a series of new videos by Agnes Denes, famed for her land-art piece Wheatfield – a Confrontation (1982), in which she planted and harvested two acres of healthy, golden wheat at New York’s Battery Park Landfill. Denes’s fascination with ecology traverses three films, collectively titled Another Confrontation (1982–2022). Highlighting environmental decay and the urgent need for action to ensure the future survival of the planet, the project is no sci-fi thriller: it is Denes’s call to arms, commenting on our mismanagement of the ecosphere and the importance of what happens next.

Dora Budor

Galerie Molitor

14 April – 24 June

Dora Budor and Noah Barker, Orange Film II, 2023, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Molitor, Berlin

Worldmaking – the process of using existing spaces or objects to shape fictitious realities or imaginative truths – preoccupies Dora Budor, who originally trained as an architect. Distortions of space abound in ‘OLD WORLD’, her exhibition at Molitorone of Berlin’s eagerly anticipated new galleries, which opened last year in an elegant concrete and glass space. Budor’s series of works on paper, ‘Terror Terroir’ (all works 2023), utilizes pigments from Berlin’s electric scooters and overground drain system – collected through a frottage-like process using sandpaper  – to turn the lived dimension of a city into two-dimensional abstractions. Two new video collaborations with artist Noah Barker also twist realism into trippy terrain, namely by tethering a glass of orange wine to the camera (Orange Film I and II). A bronzed glow grades scenes that amorphously depict New York’s The High Line and Domino Park, plus a public sculpture by Anish Kapoor beneath a luxury building. These speak to the mirage of progress embedded in such urban transformations and the economic imperatives that define them.

Sheila Hicks

Meyer Riegger

29 April – 29 July

Sheila Hicks, Reaching For Purgatory, 2023, white linen, 15 sticks: linen, cotton, synthetic fibers, variable dimensions. Courtesy: the artist, Meyer Riegger, Berlin/Karlsruhe, and galerie frank elbaz, Paris; Photo: Oliver Roura

Firsts continue at Meyer Riegger with octogenarian Sheila Hicks’s first exhibition in Germany for more than 50 years. The Paris-based artist’s fascination with colour finds textural form in different fibres, which she knots, weaves or spins to visceral effect. As the project editor of Phaidon’s Vitamin T: Threads and Textiles in Contemporary Art (2019), I became obsessed with all things fabric, and Hicks is the one of the leaders of the pack when it comes to creating masterpieces from materials ranging from wool and linen to silk and pigmented acrylic. She learned modern and ancient approaches to weaving first-hand when travelling through Latin America in the late 1950s, with her interest in Mesoamerican textiles being sparked at Yale while studying with Josef Albers and George Kubler, a scholar of pre-Columbian art. Meyer Reigger shows pieces from throughout Hicks’s career, from the luscious, soft, scarlet spheres piled high in Rempart (2016) to the 15 sticks woven with white linen comprising Reaching For Purgatory (2023), which somehow you wish would keep expanding to eternally imprison you in its soft underbelly.

Christina Quarles

Hamburger Bahnhof

24 March – 17 September 2023

Christina Quarles, ‘Collapsed Time’, 2023, installation view, Hamburger Bahnhof – Nationalgalerieder Gegenwart © Christina Quarles. Courtesy: the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Pilar Corrias, London; photo: Jacopo La Forgia

Placing historical and contemporary artworks in dialogue is one of the most effective ways of revealing the commonalities that shape experiences across time. Christina Quarles sees the overarching narratives in her work as probing the legibility and ambiguity of ‘what it is to move through the world in a body’, according to the exhibition materials, foregrounding the multiplicity of her own racial, queer identity. Intersecting vibrant colour and pattern with the outlines of indeterminate but elegant limbs, Quarles’s bodies are often in a process of morphing, moving and becoming. For her first institutional exhibition in Germany, fittingly titled ‘Collapsed Time’, she considered the circular nature of how physical and psychological confinement is depicted in art history; delving into the Nationalgalerie’s collection, Quarles shows works by the likes of Vito Acconci, Daniel Buren and Nam Jun Paik alongside her own large-scale paintings. Set within a theatrical space, the exhibition design uses gauze backdrops and props to offset the constructed nature of identity and the structural apparatus by which the body is so often defined, nay confined.

Rhea Dillon


26 April – 10 June

Rhea Dillon, Incomprehensible Sex Coming To Its Dreaded Fruition; nothing remains but Pecola & the Unyielding Earth (detail), 2023. Sapele mahogany and marigold seeds, 22.5 x 38 x 19 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Sweetwater, Berlin; Photograph: Joanna Wilk

Toni Morrison saw writing as a way of worlding, of opening up embodied experiences and removing the boundaries of blinkered perspectives. Interested in Blackness from the archive of her own body, Rhea Dillon draws directly upon Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970) – a book so essential in its exploration of racism, child abuse and incest that there were numerous attempts to ban it – for her debut exhibition with Sweetwater. Using greasy, anti-climb paint, Dillon covers copies of the Dick and Jane and Alice and Jerry series of educational children's stories, with thick pigment, leaving only snippets of text legible, such as: ‘See me, Mother, see me!’ The surrounding large mahogany frames recall shallow graves – an image reinforced by a work in the shape of a small coffin, filled with marigold seeds (Incomprehensible Sex Coming to its Dreaded Fruition; Nothing Remains but Pecola & the Unyielding Earth, 2023). It echoes a passage in the novel (also used as the show’s title) in which news of the protagonist’s pregnancy from rape spreads throughout the town. As her adoptive family plant marigold seeds that will sprout at the baby’s birth, they notice: ‘We looked for eyes creased with concern but saw only veils.’ Dillon reclaims this veil by directing where the viewer’s focus should fall: onto what she wants you to see.

‘In Defence of Symbolic Value’

Galerie Max Hetzler 

27 April – 10 June

Adam Pendleton, Untitled (WE ARE NOT), 2022–23, silkscreen ink on canvas, 2.4 x 3 m © Adam Pendleton. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin | Paris | London; Photo: Andy Romer

I swooned when I saw the artist list for this exhibition, curated by Berlin stalwart Isabelle Graw, the art critic and publisher of the journal Texte zur Kunst. So, what does Adam Pendleton’s silkscreen Untitled (WE ARE NOT) (2022–23) have in common with oil-on-canvas works like Jutta Koether’s Dream until it’s your Reality (2022) or Valentina Liernur’s Mora (2022)? According to the press release, Graw believes it is ‘social contexts that make artworks symbolically meaningful’, and that the increasing circulation of art between luxury galleries in elitist resorts – what she terms ‘resortisation’ – and digital bubbles like Instagram leads to a void of critical evaluation. Per the show’s title, Graw speaks ‘In Defence of Symbolic Value’, with each selected artist using painting (in Graw’s view, the ‘success-medium’) to expose this shift in circulation and resultant dilution of analytical worth. Artists including Kerry James Marshall, Avery Singer, SoiL Thornton, Rosemarie Trockel and others agreed to record the sound of their working processes, from which musician Jens-Uwe Beyer has created an immersive soundscape to envelop the viewer. If you’ve become confused about where your digital connectedness starts and your social relationships end, perhaps this show can realign your skewed reality.

Cao Fei

Sprueth Magers

29 April – 19 August

Cao Fei, DUOTOPIA – 1st Edition, 2023, film still, © Cao Fei, 2023. Courtesy: the artist, Vitamin Creative Space and Sprüth Magers

I’ll never forget the first time I experienced the spectacle of Cao Fei’s virtual RBM City (2007–11), created in the online world of Second Life; I was transfixed by its otherworldly yet oddly familiar amalgam of a floating panda, fire, skyscrapers, pagodas and missiles. For her debut exhibition at Sprüth Magers, Cao envisages even more elaborate ecosystems, combining multiple environments and possibilities, which probe the porosity between virtual and physical existence. From her latest androgynous avatar with bionic tentacles (Oz, 2022) to a scientist who accidentally traps his son in an alternate time-space continuum (Nova, 2019) to a personal portrayal of her family’s quarantine in Singapore (Island of Isolation, 2019), Cao’s videos blur the line between fiction and fact, pointing to geopolitical realities such as our locked-down lives during COVID-19, technology’s influence on how and where we exist, and the political policies that shape our lives. The ground floor’s eponymous immersive installation invites viewers to lie down and look up into the artist’s first architectural feat in the Metaverse: an industrial-cum-botanical-cum-aquatic-cum-galactic realm that auspiciously floats in a candy-colour sky. Cao envisions an all-consuming eternity, one in which the merging of human and machine consciousness is not only inevitable, but necessary.

Main image: Agnes Denes, PRESENT: Tree Mountain – A Living Time Capsule. Courtesy: CIRCA and the artist

 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.