Twice a year, the city of Berlin organises events in the domain of contemporary art.
In spring it’s the successful Gallery Weekend when local galleries open their doors, a format recently replicated by Paris.
Then, in autumn it is the turn of Berlin Art Week – from 13 to 18 September this year – bringing together more than a hundred different events in the field.
Private collectors are invited to present their collections, galleries and museums launch new exhibitions, there was the ABC art fair which notched up its ninth edition with 63 exhibitors from 15 to 18 September, while the remarkable and highly avant-garde Berlin Biennale was coming to a close at the same time.
It is no mere coincidence that the least commercial, least decorative (in the traditional sense of the word) and most digital art could be found at the Berlin Biennale under the title ‘the present is a drag’. The curators were the DIS collective made up of Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, Marco Roso and David Toro.
There’s something about the atmosphere in this formerly divided city that attracts artists from all over the world. Influential French artists like Anri Sala and Kader Attia live and work in Berlin.
The Danish and Norwegian pair Elmgreen and Dragset who I wrote a piece about earlier this week ( https://judithbenhamouhuet.com/report/elmgreen-and-dragset-paris-for-one-day-at-grand-palais-and-soon-istanbul-biennale-in-the-full-glare-of-the-spotlight) also live in Berlin, working in an impressive studio converted from a water-pumping station.
Other international Art stars such as the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and Denmark’s Olafur Eliasson (who has a show at Versailles until 30 October) equally have studios in Berlin.
The range of properties on offer but also the zeitgeist make Berlin ideally suited for contemporary creativity.
Major collectors such as Thomas Olbricht, the heir to the Wella hair-care empire, have installed their collections in the city.
Last week, in the fashionable Mitte district he inaugurated an exhibition of abstract paintings at his ‘me Collectors Room’ space. Olbricht has collected art for more than 30 years and claims to have made a small selection from among the 350 abstract works in his collection, which stretches to many more.
The exhibition includes high-profile names like the Paris-based Lebanese artist Etel Adnan (born 1925) and the German artist Katharina Grosse (born 1961). Although Olbricht lives in Essen, he chose Berlin to reach the public.
He talked about the spirit of his foundation:
Olbricht does not appear to be overly enthusiastic about ABC the small fair . ‘I buy all over the world and the internet these days allows me to access a global selection. A large majority of art offered at the fairs is of little interest.’
Thomas Olbricht provided his thoughts on the influence of auction houses today
Xavier Laboulbenne is a French gallerist based in Berlin. He doesn’t plan to take part in ABC next year ‘because it does not attract a sufficiently international audience. The gallery’s clients are clearly from outside Berlin. But here, for economic and cultural reasons, you get a convergence of a cosmopolitan, self-sufficient diaspora. I present a selection of artists from this diaspora.’
Gisela Capitain, the owner of two galleries, one in Cologne, the other in Berlin, took part in ABC. She is well known for her close relationship with the major German artist Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) and represents his estate. ‘I am here supporting my city. Germans are still buying contemporary art but more slowly and more discretely than the international market.’ On her stand she presented, among other things, the disjoined and provocative paintings (carrying the title ‘Fuck me’) by the American Pieter Schoolwerth.
Mehdi Chouakri, another Berlin gallerist, was showing the music-related work of Saadane Afif (born 1970) on his stand.
This French artist who also resides in Berlin is showing on his booth at ABC unique pieces using photographs, plexiglass and painting, which were on sale for 29,700 euros. ‘ABC isn’t really considered a fair, it’s more like an inexpensive place to show highly experimental art – installations, performances, videos.’ He concludes, ‘Collectors come here to discover young artists.’
Even if the city is becoming more and more expensive, Berlin remains the European epicentre of a certain bohemian lifestyle, like Montparnasse in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century.
While we wait for artists to elects a new city…