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Art explainers

Want to learn about contemporary art without all the reading? Three guided tours serve you old favourites and new finds on a silver platter.

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Photo courtesy of Art Tours Berlin

Want to learn about contemporary art without all the reading? Three guided tours serve you old favourites and new finds on a silver platter.

From museums to galleries and artist’s studios, Berlin has someone available to escort you through any contemporary art situation, or even create one for you. Whether you’re just visiting or want to get yourself better acquainted with the Berlin art scene, we’ve road tested three very different tours. First up is contemporary art cathedral Hamburger Bahnhof. With up to three temporary exhibitions alongside displays from their permanent collection on at any one time, it can seem impenetrable. However, on weekends at noon you can join one of their English-language tours for free with your entry ticket (no booking required, €14/€7). The one-hour tours are set around changing themes and led by guides with a background in art history. A sculpture tour titled “Art and the Body” gives the backstories of Joseph Beuys’ sculptures, and the story of the artist’s experience of surviving in the Russian wilderness after his bomber crashed during WWII. Moving through works by Rachel Whiteread, Dan Flavin and Marina Abramovich, you might even be invited to walk over a Carl Andre sculpture. The last stop is Matthew Barney’s film Cremaster 2, which, it turns out, is about the expression of American masculinity, “after all, the cremaster is the muscle that holds up the testicles.” The tours at Hamburger Bahnhof combine academic-level knowledge with accessible language and a lightness that definitely adds something to looking at the works.

There are also less institutional art tour experiences to be had. Australian artist Liesl Pfeffer came to Berlin from NY just over a year ago. She found herself putting together gallery itineraries for visiting friends and enjoyed it so much, she decided to set herself up on the Airbnb “experiences” page. Pfeffer offers her Hidden Kreuzberg Gallery Tour on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 13:30 for €30 per person. Pfeffer seeks out interesting shows and gives refreshingly jargon-free introductions to concepts like “post-internet” art. She talks through the works, their context and technique, citing interviews with the artists as well as their statements on the show. After one of her tours, you’ll wish you could take Pfeffer on all your gallery visits: she does all the reading and hard work for you and makes it a total pleasure to see both old favourites and new galleries alike. Along with art locations such as nGbK on Oranienstraße and nearby Galerie Russi Klenner, Pfeffer also points out good eating and drinking spots along the way – all recommendations you might be keen to take after looking at art for two hours.

Both with backgrounds in art history and the commercial art world, Constance van Berckel and Ariela Braunschweig founded Art Tours Berlin in 2017. Every second Saturday they offer 2-3 hour tours of galleries and artists’ studios for €20. Open to anyone, the tours can also be accessed via their €110 annual membership programme, subscription also includes discounted entry to events such as salon dinners and talks. Constance and Ariela act as facilitators rather than guides: they check out the shows beforehand and then have the gallerists and artists themselves talk about the works and answer questions on the tours. Constance says their motivation is to “make the art world more accessible” and with a focus on emerging artists and galleries they are the perfect place for a budding art collector to cut their teeth.

Hamburger Bahnhof Sun 12:00 Mitte | Hidden Kreuzberg Gallery Tour Wed, Sat, 13:30 booking through http://bit.ly/KreuzTour | Art Tours Berlin programme and booking at arttoursberlin.com