Since the inception of the Kunsthalle Berlin earlier this year, there has been a vociferous boycott against it led by the outspoken South African artist Candice Breitz.
According to Breitz – and she is completely right – the former airport hangar should have been made available to local contemporary artists, who suffered considerably during the pandemic. Instead, the Berlin Senate gave the space rent-free to a private enterprise and provided them with half of the funds required to run it.
Pulling the strings is the organiser Dr. Walter Smerling, whose Bonn-based company has problematic links with undesirable politicians and big business. For the Kunsthalle’s first show, Smerling chose the French artist Bernar Venet – you’ve probably seen his rusty metal sculptures outside administrative and governmental buildings. These are big, brash works that suit the cavernous hangers at Tempelhof. But it’s hard to get excited by them.
This is Venet’s largest ever retrospective, and he must have thought this would elevate his career to new heights. Instead, he is caught up in a bitter dispute over the soul of the city. Berlin has long needed its own Kunsthalle, so it’s a great shame to think such important cultural decisions are still being sealed by a handshake behind closed doors.
Follow Breitz’s lead, and steer well clear.
- Bernar Venet, 1961 – 2021 Through May 30 Kunsthalle Berlin, Tempelhof