In the week before the 12th Art Forum Berlin, you can feel it in the air. Artists that have been travelling for the once in a decade “Summer of Art” have suddenly returned. Posters announcing back room events are wheat-pasted one on top of the other, your in-box is bombarded with e-mails announcing gallery openings, parties, and planned “impromptu” performances. With the dates of the young art fair Preview Berlin, and the Berliner Liste both falling at the same time as Art Forum, there’s almost too much to do to actually make it to Art Forum.
With recent discussions focusing the difference between art and design, new money collectors, or even the kiddie porn battle in France , the 12th Art Forum Berlin promises to be engaging. The journalists’ event was opened by a panel of 6, including Berlin’s beloved Gert Harry Lybke of Eigen + Art and Christian Nagel. After a brief introduction to the event and this years highlights, we are let loose into the hall.
The organizers of Art Forum Berlin chose the 120 galleries out of over 500 applicants. 23 countries are represented with galleries and dealers coming from as far away as California and Australia. With over 38 of the 120 galleries coming from Berlin, or representing Berlin artists, my original intention was to focus on the Berliner aspects of the exhibition. My idea is quickly dispelled once I enter; it has just become too international to focus on any one aspect.
My first impressions are how different this is from the Venice Biennale, which I had visited only the week before. The Biennale was flooded with international artists showing their contempt and sorrow over the war in the Middle East. At Art Forum it is evident that much of the work has been produced in the last years, as opposed to the last year. The works at Art Forum Berlin are somehow shinier, more hopeful, and superficial than those produced for the Biennale. While I realize that the two events have different aims, it is noteworthy that the statements made by the contemporary artists at both events have such contrasting visions.
“House Trip” is the title of this year’s special exhibition, curated by Ami Barak, Artistic Director of the Art Department of the City of Paris. His exhibition focuses on the growing relationship between art, architecture, and design and examines the idea of “home sweet home” as well as the line between public and private. The 2,000 square meter space hosts over 40 artists, cramping the space, creating a phantasmagorical atmosphere. Video and sound installations overlap from one step to the next and the eye is never quite able to adjust to the shift in colours and patterns. Small rooms branch off creating a labyrinth of contemporary art. One such turn comically leads me to Tim Eitel’s painting “Tauben” of an overflowing pigeon covered dumpster and a Saâdane Afif photo of a white brick wall, all while hearing the gallop of horses from a nearby video installation and, for a moment, I actually feel trapped. Saâdane Afif is clearly the star of “House Trip”. The 37-year-old artist lives and works in Paris, creating the poetically harsh works that cover many of the walls in the space. While the curated confusion that dominates “House Trip” was real, it was also what is so special about the space. There is always tranquillity in being able to let twists and turns carry you, as they will.
Art Forum also offers a series of lectures spanning the length of the exhibition. With speakers such as André Rottman, Editor of Texte zur Kunste, and Gregory Knight, Curator of the Chicago Cultural Center the talks are worth going to, if only because they are included in the price of entrance. Art Forum Talks are held on a small stage, which last year was designed to replicate a traditional German living room, and range in topics from “Writing About Art: The Tasks and Challenges of Art Criticism” to “Art Dealing in Flux: Galleries and Auction Houses”.
The splashy shopping list created by Monopol Magazin, working in conjunction with Art Forum, was a frustrating reminder of the unfeeling side of the business of art. Four glossy pages of “the” artworks to buy at Art Forum are actually called “The Art-Forum-Shopping List”. Some part of me clings to the belief that is was done tongue-in-cheek, but it brings to mind the shopping sprees hedge fund “collectors” have been going on in the past few years, ready to spend their money on any piece they see as a quick turn around investment. This, in addition to a Veuve Clicquot Lounge and Illy Coffee Bars makes the art world seem more sponsored than ever. Although I recognize the big business that art has become, I have yet to reconcile myself to it.
With over 6,000 artists living in Berlin and attendance expected to be higher than the 41,000 visitors in 2006, the Berlin Art Forum almost can’t fail. Although the galleries represented in the main exhibition areas are predictably exemplary as contemporary art galleries, combined with the jolt of “House Trip”, and the Talks events, the event is bound to be packed for the duration of its six days.
A complete list of exhibitors, artists, and information is available at:
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Alicia Reuter is a freelance art historian and critic living and working in Berlin. She is currently working on a project examining the use of contemporary art in advertising. firstname.lastname@example.org