July 2013: Berlin Art Prize

 Berlin Art Prize, Opening Night, June 2013

by Stephanie Berzon

Over 1,500 artists and enthusiasts wrapped around the Aqua-Carre in Kreuzberg as the winners of the Berlin Art Prize were announced. The BAP is an independent annual award and its opening on June 21st marked its first commemoration of contemporary art from Berlin.

After the ceremony, the sound of a toneless bass wobbled around the gallery. Two men around turntables played with a record warped in a particular design to – whether it was their intention or not – repulse and attract the crowd with its cacophony. The aural tug created a corporeal stream for transient admirers of the exhibited artwork.

The 1,000 Berlin artists who applied for the Berlin Art Prize did not send a portfolio, a recommendation letter or their names to the team and jury. All that was required was a photograph of their artwork and a statement – “it was to be the standalone point of departure for the process of perception.”

The Berlin Art Prize reduced the winning categories to three: the jury’s choice, the best composition and the best concept. The prizes include a group exhibition, a two-week residency in Umbria, Italy, prize money and a trophy. Twenty-eight artworks were also presented at the exhibition and open to the public for one week following the opening. Only three artists received the rewards and winning titles for the first Berlin Art Prize.

Jens Nippert, Hand-Faust-Grenze, 2013. Courtesy of the artist. 

Jury’s Choice: Jens Nippert’s Hand-Faust-Grenze

The hand curled into a fist has organized man since the Assyrians with depictions of it used as a symbol for resistance. It has since been the salute for social causes, economic unrest and political resistance. Although regularly used as a symbol of power and change, a fist has united the basic work of man to build a physical structure, along with community.

Hand-Faust-Grenze is a sculpture that takes an amorphous shape of a hand closed into itself. It is not fixed to an anatomic concept, however serves as open body language to action and the wide mirror of being. It’s organic materials of wooden construction, loam and reed are inspired by the essential means of creating something, whether it be the main ingredient in building a handmade roof “from plain farmhouses at home in the German countryside or from Mali.” It is these simple building materials that unite to create a shape somewhere between hand and fist.

Cem Kozcuer, Choose, Look Obey, 2013. Courtesy of the artist. 

Best Composition: Cem Kozcuer’s Choose, Look, Obey

A table tennis racket rests atop a flat surface. Minutes later a man picks up the racket in one hand and holds a ball in the other. He stalls in position to strike. Anticipation for the inevitable clash grows. The man drops everything on the table and leaves both objects in rest.

In film work Choose, Look, Obey, motionless images act as still-life photographs that hook the viewer concentration on to formal themes. The camera zooms into a monochromatic image of two bowls sitting on top of a table. The eye reflects on the depth of field, the texture of the bowl, the variations of grey. However, after Kozcuer activates the eye’s meditation, he ambushes it by flipping the image to color and in motion. It is a turning point “where I can use tools of presentation and at the same time where they expire.” In another scene of three bowls on a rotating table, some fly off. In the aforementioned table tennis scene, he drops the objects and the impending game. Instead of the anticipated smack between ball and paddle, the work gives reflection to elements of composition.

Sophie-Therese Trenka-Dalton, The Royal Lion Hunt (Iraqi Embassy Berlin-Pankow), 2013. Courtesy of the artist. 

Best Concept: Sophie-Therese Trenka-Dalton’s The Royal Lion Hunt (Iraqi Embassy Berlin-Pankow)

A brief look at The Royal Lion Hunt (Iraqi Embassy Berlin-Pankow) would show a corner of a room littered with graffiti and garbage. A closer look at the black-and-white, large-format photograph and the connecting walls sink into an ancient relief with high-ranking officials on a chariot engaged in the princely sport of lion hunting. Because of colonialism, the original Royal Lion Hunt relief now hangs at the British Museum London, where Trenka-Dalton photographed it in full length and began her investigation of the appropriation of Assyrian and Mesopotamian artifacts.

Five years later, she discovered the abandoned and vandalized Iraqi embassy with friend and artist Hannes Schmidt. Printed materials of scientific publications and embassy files were found, collected and later published as a collaborative collage book, The Distance Narrows. The introduction to this space moreover triggered an “appropriation desire” in her solo work. The installment of a poster reproduction of the relief in this space for a photographic “documentation of an intervention in the room,” examines the complexities of placing a home for art through a historical course of expanding or destroying culture.

Berlin Art Prize, Opening Night, June 2013. 

Berlin Art Prize, Opening Night, June 2013.  




Stephanie Berzon


Stephanie Berzon is a writer living in New York City 

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