Written by Mara Goldwyn
‘Emerging’ is not the only E-word on the art world’s lips. Berlin has also become synonymous with excitement, enthusiasm, and energy. Profits from Berlin’s ‘reputation boom’ remain stubbornly elusive, but the city’s market of ideas is at an all-time high.
The question of when Berlin will enter the echelons of established contemporary art capitals like New York or London is especially salient this year, as it will be the city’s first since 1996 without an official art fair. In May, Art Forum Berlin, the main event on Berlin’s autumn contemporary art calendar, announced that the scheduled late-September fair would be cancelled. Details remain murky, but it appears that Art Forum – which boasted 40,000 visitors in 2010 – bowed out after negotiations over merging with rival art event abc collapsed.
However, the show must go on. A number of organisations which used to play support to Art Forum are stepping up to fill the gap.
“[We are] now the main art event in autumn,” said Joanna Kamm, spokesperson for abc (September 7–11 at Station-Berlin). Founded by the group of gallerists responsible for last spring’s Gallery Weekend Berlin, the five-year-old Art Berlin Contemporary does not consider itself an art fair but rather a ‘hybrid between a fair and a curated exhibition’.
PREVIEWBERLIN (September 9–11) lays claim to the ‘fair’ title that abc finds so constricting, but qualifies it with ‘emerging’. Calling itself the ‘most international’ of the shows, PREVIEW: The Emerging Art Fair will host galleries showing from 15 countries in the repurposed hangars of the former Tempelhof Airport. Berliner Liste (September 8–11, at Trafo), an ‘off-art fair’, will show 125 international galleries, while the Berliner Kunst Salon (September 7-11, at Uferhallen) was founded to be an ‘avant-garde, sometimes experimental, alternative to Art Forum’.
Artist and PREVIEW co-director Ralf Schmitt said: “The complete absence [of Art Forum] is not a tragedy inasmuch as that it won’t attract visitors – Berlin’s art scene is quite strong enough to be an attraction without it. [It’s] the message it sends: a city that claims to be a capital of culture has allowed its only state-funded platform for contemporary art galleries to drown in petty quarrels.”
“It was a pretty bad message at first,” admitted Stefanie Gerke, co-founder of Niche Art & Architecture Tours Berlin (www.nicheberlin.de), which specialises in presenting non-commercial project spaces, emerging galleries, and artists’ studios to visitors. “But it also means that these smaller co-operations between gallerists are really successful, and Berlin is doing its own thing. These other events have sprung up from the passion and need of local gallerists.”
Monica Salazar, founding director of Berlin Art Link, an online magazine and personalised Art Week travel service (www.berlinartlink.com), was at first concerned about what she could show her visitors. But then she too realised: “It should just be about the city anyway. What’s the bigger deal here is the emerging art scene, it’s not the established one.”
Perhaps Berlin is renowned as an art centre simply because it’s a great place for artists to live? With so much space freed up after the fall of the Berlin Wall 22 years ago, despite undeniable gentrification the city still offers fertile ground for artistic creation. Salazar continued: “Anybody will tell you that [Berlin] is the worst place in the world to sell art” [But yet] there’s this low cost of living, so [artists] can actually have time to breathe, time to think, to collaborate, be creative, experiment.”
The sprawling neighbourhood of Mitte is at the historical – and geographical – heart of the Berlin contemporary art scene. Until 1989, much of what now encompasses this sleek entertainment zone was either a militarised no-man’s-land between East and West, or ramshackle neighbourhoods still bearing the scars of World War II. But as rent was low soon after die Wende (the change), and as underused industrial buildings beckoned, artists started to trickle in and set up ateliers, project spaces, and galleries. Some of the pioneers of those years now number among Berlin’s main contemporary art institutions. The breathtaking KW Institute for Contemporary Art, organiser of Berlin’s 13-year-old Biennale, is in a re-purposed margarine factory, while the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art and the C/O Berlin photography gallery are spectacularly housed in a former 19th-century railway station and an old post office, respectively.
So it seems that though the focal point of Berlin Art Week might be absent, Berlin’s art community is still happy to follow its own path. They’re artists, after all.
Eat, relax and sleep in style
Schneeweiß restaurant – literally ‘Snow White’ – is just that. The stark-white décor offsets a colourful clientele in Berlin’s young, hip district of Friedrichshain. The six-year-old neighbourhood favourite serves up what they call ‘Alpine cuisine’, traditional central European food with a contemporary twist. A popular dish is escalopes of veal Viennoise (also known as Wiener Schnitzel), and the wine list is Alps-inspired. When the weather gets as snowy outside as Schneeweiß’s inside, there’s also a cosy fireplace lounge to warm up.
In Mitte, the heart of the ‘new Berlin’, the Asian-inspired Yi Spa is an oasis offering services that gel with their complete ‘energy-balanced lifestyle’ concept. The elegance of the place is understated: natural elements that include slate, stone, and dark wood contrast with stained glass, exotic plants, and fine fragrances. A unique lighting and sound concept complement relaxing treatments such as facials, wraps, and massages.
At the Q hotel, GRAFT Architects have created rooms where the bath is the central element. Described as ‘futuristic cocoons’, they incorporate such materials as faux ostrich leather, baked oak, and slate. A separate wellness area with heated sand, Japanese bathing area, and sauna encourage the clientele to wind down.