Skip to main content

In Berlin, the Art World Spreads Out to Stay Safe

BERLIN — It has been a long time coming, but after six months of coronavirus-enforced inactivity, the international art world was re-energized by a hectic week here of live exhibitions and events. With all the summer's most important live art fairs, exhibitions and auctions canceled, Berlin Art Week, which ended Sunday, became the art world's first significant international event since March.

Anchored by Gallery Weekend Berlin, a collaborative promotion of dealer-organized exhibitions that was postponed from its usual slot in April, the event also included the Positions Berlin fair, a platform for less-prominent dealerships, primarily from Germany, and numerous satellite shows at which the art was also on sale. These coincided with the openings of longer-term, noncommercial exhibitions like "Studio Berlin," a collaboration between the local married collectors Christian Boros and Karen Lohmann and the techno club Berghain, and the Berlin Bienniale.

"For this moment, it's the perfect event," said Maike Cruse, the director of Gallery Weekend. "The exhibitions are decentralized and localized, and it's nice for visitors to be outs ide."

The spread-out format of Gallery Weekend, with shows by 48 galleries around the city, is better suited to these virus-conscious times than the enclosed convention centers of fairs such as Art Basel. But many international collectors continue to be wary of — or prohibited from — boarding airplanes. As a result, this year's Gallery Weekend Berlin attracted a smaller, more local crowd, leaving dealers to rely on online transactions to top up their sales.

To ensure safe visits for those who could be here, opening hours were created for V.I.P.s from Wednesday through Friday, before the galleries welcomed the general public over the weekend. A lively Saturday night dinner for more than 1,000 guests that usually takes place on Gallery Weekend was canceled, replaced by an open-air brunch.

Face masks were mandatory in galleries. But, as Michael Short, a local art adviser, po inted out, overcrowding is rarely an issue for Berlin's widely scattered art dealerships. "They don't have a problem with social distancing," Mr. Short said. "There aren't that many people in the galleries. Most galleries don't sell here. They have long-term relationships around the world."

Berlin has a reputation for lacking the ultrawealthy local buyers that can sustain a major international art fair. But city authorities estimate that more than 5,000 artists live in the city, and they are served by an impressive array of serious-minded dealers.

In recent years this combination, with its promise of discovering fresh talent at source, has attracted a global audience of discerning collectors to Gallery Weekend. This year, travel restrictions made it difficult for v isitors from countries like the United States, Spain and China to attend.

"We're selling to Americans," said Monika Sprüth, the co-founder of the Sprüth Magers gallery. "Usually they want to see the works. Now they have to dare to buy without seeing them."

"International collectors trust our gallery," she added.

Sprüth Magers is holding its first Berlin exhibition of new works by the acclaimed German photographic artist Andreas Gursky in 10 years. As Mr. Gursky is an art world star, the gallery anticipated higher visitor numbers: Entry to this show was by appointment only.

The pin-sharp precision of Mr. Gursky's monumental photographs allows would-be buyers to be able to make informed assessments via the internet. One American collector was sufficiently impressed by high-resolution images of "Kreuzfahrt," Mr. Gursky's as tonishingly detailed 15-foot-wide study of a skyscraper-high cruise liner, that they bought it unseen at 1 million euros, or about $1.2 million, Ms. Sprüth said. Another from the edition of six was bought by a European collector, the gallery's public relations consultants said.

"It's not the same as art fairs," Ms. Sprüth said of Gallery Weekend. Collectors' frenetic one-stop shopping at fairs like Art Basel and Frieze represent more than 40 percent of many dealers' annual turnover. "Businesswise, they are a different number," she said.

Some Gallery Weekend participants mounted shows at which all the available works sold, albeit at lower price points. Eight new paintings by the Berlin-based Romanian artist Victor Man were snapped at Galerie Neu, priced between €100,000 and €200,000. Seventeen mordantly humorous watercolors by Sanya Kantarovsky, an artist based in New York, all went at Capitai n Petzel, at $8,500 each.

It was the more commercial, easy-on-the-eye medium of painting, rather than sculpture, installation or video, that predominated at Gallery Weekend. But Alexander Levy was one of the galleries offering something more conceptually challenging at the space in the Mitte district.

The Berlin-based artist Felix Kiessling explored the transformative effects of Newtonian mechanics on the hardware of our industrialized society in his show titled "Taumel" ("Tumult"). An old steel door, for example, has become a buckled relief sculpture after having an 800 kilogram (or about 1,760-pound) concrete weight dropped on it from a crane. This was spotted online by a collector in Copenhagen, who bought it for €12,000, according to the gallerist, Alexander Levy.

In recent years the effects of gentrification on Berlin and its perceived decline as a crucible of creativity have been much talked about. But the city continues to inspire him, Mr. Kiessling said.

"It's a melting pot of amazing artists that's still cooking," the artist added. "It gives me the mental space. It's relaxed and still relatively cheap. And where else can you borrow a crane?"

But a steel door buckled by a concrete block isn't necessarily in tune with international collectors' current preoccupation with artists who deal with issues of identity, gender or social justice. Berlin Gallery Week gave collectors the opportunity to acquire works by talented, but little-known artists, long before they are overwhelmed by the speculative heat of the auction market.

The Berlin Bienniale, for instance, featured works by the Polish artist and social campaig ner Malgorzata Mirga-Tas, who gives a contemporary twist to the vibrant textile collage techniques of her Roma heritage. Folding screens by Ms. Mirga-Tas, incorporating tender images of family life, were on show at the KW Institute of Contemporary Art.

Although those works were not for sale, they impressed the Brussels-based collector Alain Servais, one of the shrunken group of foreign collectors in town. He was able to buy a Mirga-Tas screen for €12,000 from the Warsaw gallery Szydlowski, one of the 130 exhibitors at the well-attended Positions Berlin fair in the vast Third Reich-era Tempelhof Airport. Although the screen was not on display at the fair, Mr. Servais said he had bought it on the basis of a photograph from the dealer's inventory in Poland.

"I'm n ot fond of fairs; I go to cities," said Mr. Servais, who, before the pandemic, would typically attend at least 20 international art events a year. "The Biennale is very good, the Gallery Weekend is good," Mr. Servais added. "The whole city has put on its best clothes. Berlin is a once-a-year must."


Popular posts from this blog

History of Art Timeline

The historical past of art is usually told as a chronology of masterpieces created during each civilization. It can thus be framed as a narrative of high culture, epitomized by the Wonders of the World. On any other hand, vernacular art expressions can even be integrated into art historic narratives, called folk arts or craft. The more intently that an art historian engages with these latter sorts of low culture, the much more likely it is that they will determine their work as analyzing visual culture or cloth culture, or as contributing to fields associated with art historical past, akin to anthropology or archaeology. In the latter cases, art gadgets may be called archeological artifacts. Surviving art from this era comprises small carvings in stone or bone and cave painting. The first traces of human-made gadgets appeared in southern Africa, the Western Mediterranean, Central and Eastern Europe Adriatic Sea, Siberia Baikal Lake, India, and Australia. These first traces are general…

How to Show Art Work when the Gallery Says No Thanks

There are places in the town where you live where you can show your artwork when the big gallery you solicited said, "No, thanks."
Other artists may need to find venues other than galleries to show their artworks as well. Visual artists living in art-rich communities where there is a lot of local competition will need to get creative about display opportunities.

Or on the other hand, in towns without large art venues, it is important for artists to find smaller and less obvious places to show your art.

How to Show Art Work When The Gallery Says No Thanks

1. Show Where You Go

The most successful approach to finding a place in your town to display your artwork is to solicit a place that you go to frequently. Make a list of all the places you go to each day, each week, and each month.

Make a special trip, or the next time you visit note if the establishment currently exhibits any artwork, if it is local, and if it is for sale.

Also note if they have available wall space where a…

Book review (nonfiction): Form or function? In the history of poster art, the two sides are constantly at war

“Who takes the eye takes all,” said Mary Lowndes of the Artists’ Suffrage League in the early 1900s, neatly summarizing the need for striking graphics on the banners that suffragists were making for their marches. Lowndes’ statement could serve as the motto for all those who attempt to persuade by visual means, be they propagandists for political parties or advertisers selling soap. “The Poster,” edited by Gill Saunders and Margaret Timmers of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, is a beautiful and entertaining account of the history of the medium, illustrated with examples drawn from the museum’s extensive collection.While handbill-sized fliers affixed to surfaces had long been in existence, it was the development of the large-scale color lithographic technique, with images composed of several pieces that could be pasted together into one picture, that made possible the explosion of graphic media campaigns in the 19th century. The first-rate artists who turned th…