I’ve been thinking about Based In Berlin for weeks. And while it’s been difficult to keep my pretentious guffaws in check, I have recognized that the show tackles the formidable (unfeasible?) but ultimately worthwhile task of capturing the dynamism of Berlin’s art scene.
Based in Berlin, an exciting if uneven survey of the city’s talent, was mounted by Berlin’s leading art institutions (KW, NBK, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlinische Galerie), supervised by super-curators (Klaus Biesenbach, Christine Macel and Hans Ulrich Obrist), organized by energetic and well-connected curatorial talent, and stamped by Mayor Klaus Wowereit as an important election-year event.
I have a lot of issues with the show, notably the repackaging of artist-led initiatives like After the Butcher and The Forgotten Bar Project, which seem to lose subversive and sustaining energy in their relocation. It’s like transporting a 1970s Czech darkroom to the private collection of a mustard heiress in Kansas…or kidnapping David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and pinning him to the wall at a suburban cocktail party.
But then the deadening effect of institutionalization is difficult to avoid; the five curators of BIB are also clearly engaged with the city’s extensive and varied art stratum and have included younger net artists like Timur Si Qin, alongside rising art stars and Berlin favorites Klara Liden and Aids 3-D.
But is this a show about amassing and selling Berlin’s artistic chi? Hyping the city’s young stable of artists? Re-electing Wowereit? Luring the monied Basel-Venice crowd to Berlin on an extended artistic layover? Trying desperately to make good on Berlin’s ten-year promise as a viable art destination? Kimberley Bradley at Artnet ponders BIB’s validity and claims that it might portend the end of Berlin’s “leftover Bohemia.”
The varied motives and outcomes of such a grandiose show are difficult to unpack, so in the spirit of a Lindsay Lohan movie, I’ve compiled a list of superlatives for Based in Berlin.
Best Political Work: Jay Chung’s and Q Takeki Maedas’s portraits of Wowereit’s thwarted rivals hang smugly on the walls of the Atelierhaus Monbijou, smiling and revived from political oblivion
Best Community Outreach: Helga Wretman’s Fitness For Artists
Best Video: Erik Blinderman’s and Lisa Rave’s The Villages, which merges footage of a Florida retirement community with a Namibian German colonial settlement, exploring the hermetic decor of both locales
Best Paintings that (thankfully) aren’t “Bad”*: Ryan McLaughlin and Anne Neukamp both present strong works that, while steeped in the history of painting, are lightly and deftly worked
*BIB includes a couple of “Bad” painters that make me want to cut the Kippenberger section out of everyone’s Taschen book.
Best Use of a Bunker: Klara Liden’s grainy projections of herself slumped in a toilet and other remixes of past work read nicely against the dank stony hintergrund
Glibbest work*: TIE – David Adamo’s carved tree out of readymade lumber, and Rocco Berger’s oil painting…made of oil
*There were many honorable mentions, as cheeky presentation seemed to rule at Kunst-Werke: chairs without seats; graffiti in a box; a blankly kinetic screen that unravels with each visitor
Best Voice-Over Video: Erik Bünger’s The Allens, allows the viewer to hear Woody Allen’s dubbed voice in a myriad of languages, creating a strange disconnect in perception and intimacy of character
Work That Almost Made Me Cry: Trevor Lloyd’s “mom” drawings, culled from sweet memory while standing on his head with his eyes closed
Best Spatial Investigation: Roseline Rannoch’s delicate plexi-glass rock installation infuses the Atelierhaus Monbijou space with a surprising lightness
Most Absorbing Video: TIE – Assaf Koriat’s The Brave, in which we hear the blended vocals of 9 superstars singing the national anthem, their individual nuance relegated to a monotone hum and Jeremy Shaw’s disassembled slow film of kids dancing at a “straight edge” party
Best Use of Porn: Christodolous Panayotou shows a porn studio in Prague before and after a big event, scanning its virgin floor on one monitor and the residue of revelry on the other