Assume Vivid, Astro Focus at Forgotten Bar
Berlin’s Split-Second Art Scene by Julia Speed
Berlin’s unique art scene often takes the form of a mammoth, booze-flowing and disc-jockeyed fête. But what is the function and significance of the city’s momentary art shows? A key space for these events is Tape Club, housed in a large raw warehouse space on Heidestrasse, among a string of galleries. Tape is a club that hosts six art exhibitions a year, each running only twenty-four hours. The gallery aspect of the operation is referred to as “Tape Modern.” The club started having art shows when Amir Fattal, Tape Modern’s current director/curator, was working in one of the surrounding galleries, and was inspired by Tape’s industrial space as a venue for exhibiting artwork. The art shows at Tape act as an enticement for people to come buy drinks from the club’s bar.
The marketing benefit is that by putting interesting art shows on their walls, they appeal to the art scene, bringing a crowd to the club that might not usually stop by, and producing a cool reputation of being involved in the arts. At the same time, club-goers, who may or may not be interested in the works, are at least able to party in a more fabulous or interesting environment with video and installation pieces as party props.
The space is unique because although clearly not a non-profit organization, the bar hosts art exhibitions without any monetary incentives, allowing the possibility for more experimental or avant-garde art shows. In response to whether Tape feels any pressure from the art market in an interview with Zitong Wu for Whitehot Magazine, Fattal states: “No, we don’t sell; we don’t care. Mostly I let artists do whatever they want. That’s the whole deal of the thing: the artists can use our space without feeling the pressure to comply with the commercial art world.” A much smaller venue, the Forgotten Bar Project is a bar that puts up shows in its narrow bar and backrooms. The bar puts new exhibitions up nearly everyday -- they held 19 different shows of the 31 days of March 2010, exhibiting over 200 artists’ works. As founding organizer and Peres Project’s artist John Kleckner admits, “The idea of having one opening every night was a simple strategy of getting people to come visit our little bar. We figured the more shows we host then the more likely people would come. It worked.” Another benefit to constantly hosting so many shows is that it seems almost everyone who’d like to gets the chance to have a gallery show and gain exposure. It is very much reminiscent of the early days (1970s) of Artists Space in New York where artists like Cindy Sherman would hang any works on the wall they felt like showing.
These venues’ reliance on bars sales instead of the prices of the artworks, provides a great environment to expose unrepresented artists, but also reflects the troubled economics of the city. A main draw for holding a show for only a night seems to stem from the fact that the art market in Berlin is near absent. Collectors are pretty much non-existent, and galleries struggle to stay open. Rafael Jablonka, a famed collector from Cologne, describes his experience in Berlin and his ultimate decision to close his gallery in the city, as reported to Arsalan Mohamma for ARTINFO: “Berlin is an economically retarded place!” He states. “The only advantage [of being in Berlin] was that young artists and intellectuals would come and see the shows. Apart from that, it’s nothing. But I am not just there to provide a free kunsthalle.” Since even established galleries are unable to sell works, these alternative venues are freer to show works in disestablished places, dismissing the need to sell. According to Fattal in his interview with Wu, “It’s important to have a showcase for young artists on Heidestrasse, where most galleries are somewhat established and their artists often established too. There are thirteen commercial galleries around Tape Modern, which is the center of that area… We expect those who come to those galleries would also come to our shows.” Although Forgotten Bar is a bit more off-track, Kleckner confers, “The bar is frequented by artists, gallerists, collectors, curators, and many non-art world people as well.”
Curator Emilie Trice elaborates, “These spaces foster a creative camaraderie among the local scene and are integral to keeping everyone connected, motivated, enthusiastic and busy. Without them, we would all be hermits with drug habits. They are inseparable from the cheap rents that have been luring artists for two decades. They are Berlin.”
Nonetheless, putting on a show for one night seems like a lot of effort for just a little outcome. It takes so much energy and funds to set up a show, considering the lights, materials, and people needed, all to be eradicated the next day. It seems strange not to let them stay up for at least a week so that more people can attend. Also there tends to be no press about the events – any press written about it would be irrelevant by the time it was issued. Thus, the shows have no record of their even happening, other than, of course, the blurry memories of the participants. However, changes are afoot yet not always welcome. Tape Modern hosted groundbreaking show curated by Trice and Anna Erickson, of Haunch of Venison during Gallery Weekend, with works by Terrance Koh, Dash Snow, and Douglas Gordon. By incorporating these names into the history of Tape Modern, it will perhaps add significance to the influence of the venue and the meaning of future events. Five works were sold from the show, and a few art world celebrities visited the show including the Director of the Gagosian London and Hans Ulrich Obrist, yet Tape actually lost money off the night because too few drinks were bought at the bar and the show was very expensive to install. On the bright side, losing money on the show will most likely be balanced out by the positive feedback and significance of the exhibition. The show was extremely exciting for Tape Modern, but it brings up a threatening concern that venue might turn towards showing more famous names rather than the curating approach Fattal has taken in the past of presenting emerging local artists to the community.
Yet as artist Cecile Evans explains the ultimate function for Tape and similar spaces is as project venues, “It’s difficult sometimes as an artist to find a context to introduce your work to peers/ community – much easier to say – hey, what are you doing Friday, come to this thing, it starts at 10…”.
Julia Speed is a senior at Tufts University. She is currently interning for MoMA PS1, and has previously interned at Creative Time, Artists Space, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Julia was born and raised in Washington Heights, NYC.
Whitehot Magazine's Berlin Editor, Ana Finel Honigman, is pleased present a series of reviews and interviews by studio art students of the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. The students are spending a semester abroad in Berlin and contributing to Ana Finel Honigman’s contemporary art course “Intro to Reality: Art World Institutions in Context.” The articles are written as part of Ms. Finel Honigman’s class and selected for publication based on their excellence.view all articles from this author