After what seems an interminably long time, Berlin’s museums and galleries can finally reopen on Friday, May 21. Many of the city’s most-anticipated exhibitions have been poised, fully assembled, behind closed doors for weeks (hey, Gropius Bau!) while the federal ’emergency brake’ remained in place. Now, finally, we can book our tickets and take it all in. But where to start? Exberliner‘s art editor runs us through the shows he’s most excited to see.
All exhibitions will require advance booking, a same-day negative Covid-19 test, or proof of vaccination or recent recovery.
The beautifully balanced exhibition Picasso & Les Femmes d’Alger at Charlottenburg’s Berggruen Museum (until August 8) focuses on an astonishing series of works by Pablo Picasso in 1954-5, a time of great change for the artist. Coming to terms with the death of his friend and rival Henri Matisse while witnessing the carnage of the ongoing Algeria War of Independence, Picasso began repeatedly reworking a composition after seeing Delacroix’s painting Women of Algiers. Mixing cubism with figurative forms, colour with volume, the great master approached the paintings from all angles, sifting through his repertoire of styles and producing a hugely varied and vivid series of works. What makes this show stand out is its scope, providing a fascinating insight into Picasso’s creative process and historic setting. Most paintings from the series were dispersed amongst museums and private collections around the world; this is the first time in over 50 years that so many have been brought together.
Gerhard Richter’s Birkenau series is now on at the Alte Nationalgalerie (until October 3), and, like so many of the artist’s great works, reflects Richter’s struggle to address the possibilities and limitations of painting. These four hugely significant pieces were based on photographs taken in secret at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in August 1944 by a Jewish prisoner. After a year making figurative interpretations of the photographic images, Richter masked his renders with colour before scraping each coat of paint with a squeegee to produce ruptured and evocative surface textures. The collection provides a profound meditation on identity and collective trauma whilst questioning art’s ability to address the horrors of the Holocaust.
The whole of Berlin was at one point desperately trying to get tickets for blockbuster exhibition Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective – Bouquet of Love I Saw in the Universe. Now with the reopening of Gropius Bau (until August 15), your chance has arrived. Tickets are released on the museum website from 12pm each day – so be quick. Filled with infinity mirror rooms and recreations of historic museum shows, the exhibition is an immersive plunge into the world’s most popular artist. Also on show are solo works by Dutch artist Hella Jongerius, an industrial designer whose creations push the boundaries of what’s possible with contemporary textiles. This is an excellent exhibition in itself – and for anyone who doesn’t manage to get a Kusama ticket, it will at least allow you to see the Japanese artist’s momentous site-specific installation in the museum’s central quad.
The Neue Nationalgalerie is not exactly open, but the jewel in Berlin’s cultural crown is – finally, after 6 years of renovation – free of scaffolding. The first show, an exhibition by US sculptor Alexander Calder, will open in mid-August. Until then, Mies van der Rohe’s modernist masterpiece can be admired from the outside.
Friday May 21 sees the opening of Berlinische Galerie and the chance to take in Anything Goes?, a tribute to the radical architectural changes that swept through East and West Berlin in the 1980s. Through models, drawings, photographs and artworks, the exhibition reveals the influence Berliners had on the city’s housing policies, as well as showing how the decisions made during that decade profoundly affected contemporary Berlin and the idea of the modern city.
The neighbouring institutions Palais Populaire and Schinkel Pavillon are both now open and definitely worth a visit. Schinkel Pavillon’s Sun Rise | Sun Set (until July 25) brings a haptic understanding to the climate catastrophe, looking to reposition the human species by creating an otherworldly experience teeming with surreal landscapes and futuristic scenarios. It’s a sombre but thrilling ride encapsulated by Pamela Rosenkranz’s seething mound of living earth on the top floor of the exhibition. Palais Populaire draws from the the vast Deutsche Bank collection to show the inventive new directions to be found in abstract art in Ways of Seeing Abstraction (until February 7, 2022), and this Saturday, May 22 sees the opening of Marc Brandenburg’s solo exhibition Hirnsturn II (until August 22).
In addition to the big state reopenings, now is also the best time of year to peruse commercial gallery spaces, which are still showcasing their best artists after Gallery Weekend. Almost all are worth seeing, but the pick of the bunch is Agnes Scherer’s wonderfully complex and strangely haunting exhibition at Chert Lüdde in Kreuzberg (until June 26). The gallery’s odd recesses and unbalanced layout enhance the baroque meanderings of the artist’s imagination. Also check out Ulla von Brandenburg’s whimsical but deadly serious homage to early expressive dance at Meyer Riegger in Charlottenburg (until August 28).
There’s still time to see Wuhan-born painter Xinyi Cheng at Hamburger Bahnhof (until June 6). Her ongoing exhibition The Horse with Eye Blinders teems with neon-coloured paintings laced with drama and barely expressed intrigue. From June 13, Hamburger Bahnhof also marks the 100th anniversary of Germany’s most influential and mercurial contemporary artist Joseph Beuys with an exhibition focussing on his view of language as sculpture – read about it in June’s Exberliner.
From May 22, the Julia Stoschek Collection reopens its doors with the excellent A Fire in My Belly, an explosive and visceral reflection of societal violence (until December 12). Featuring works by Laure Prouvost, Cyprien Gaillard and David Wojnarowicz the exhibition’s emotional heart is provided by Arthur Jafa’s Love is the Message, The Message is Death – a poignant, moving and unsettling look at African-American culture. Open between the hours of 12–6pm, you’ll need a good few hours in there so be sure to book your weekend slot as early as possible.
With C/O Berlin welcoming back visitors a little later on May 29, Berliners have the chance to see Anna Ehrenstein’s excellent Tools for Conviviality (until September 2). The young German-Albanian artist employs a whimsical Photoshop aesthetic to capture the inventive crossover of art and entrepreneurship amongst Senegalese migrants.
Finally, if you’re prepared to venture slightly further afield, Museum Barberini in Potsdam will pick up where it left off with Rembrandt’s Orient from May 22 until July 18. The exhibition focuses on the depiction of the Levant and Asia during the lifetime of the great Dutch artist, chiming with a wider reappraisal of the term ‘Orient’ and a questioning of Eurocentrism across the cultural world.