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Has the autumn of art lost its edge?

Berlin Art Week is on Sep 16-21, with the three big fairs – Positions, ABC and Berliner Liste – starting the 18th. But it's not what it used to be. Camille Moreno explores the loss of our Kunstherbst.

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Photo by Johanna Schmitz

It happened quickly and quietly in summer, arousing minimal attention. Shortly before initiating a new auction-style format, Berlin’s self-proclaimed “emerging” art fair Preview Berlin was submerged – permanently – behind the backs of two of its three organisers in only a handful of weeks. It’s the third founder, Kristian Jarmuschek, whose facile shuffling of ideas into new hands has birthed a brand new art fair, Positions.

The new fair promises, as Preview used to, a new kind of art fair that sheds the predictable white cubes, adapting itself to Kaufhaus Jandorf, a decrepit Berlin-style department store building – or, as the awkwardly translated English on the slapped-together homepage boasts, a “renovated former house of fashion”. It seems the only difference now between Berlin Art Week and Berlin Fashion Week is the absence of some deep pockets called Mercedes & Benz. Airport, factory, or department store, the story is all too familiar, and not the first or even second time Berlin’s fairs have played musical chairs during the city’s touristy art season.

The art fair biz started in Cologne, of all places, with the beginnings of Art Cologne in 1967. The world’s first fair of its kind, it prompted a global audience to descend on Cologne to buy art. After the German city started attracting buyers formerly flocking to Paris or New York, artists like Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell channelled the idea of a contemporary marketplace towards Berlin in the 1990s – thus the four-week Kunstherbst (autumn of art) was born.

Themes like “Art for Everyone” (2007), “In Union with Art” (2005) and “Art and the Market” (2004) employed by FU Professor Klaus Siebenhaar, incorporated the artists’ direct involvement. Since 1996 there was one fair at the forefront around which the others were scheduled, and up until 2011 its name was Art Forum, reigning on Berlin for 15 years.

That is, until organisational efforts with rival Art Berlin Contemporary, an independent fair started in 2008 with roots in spring’s Gallery Weekend, fell through and Art Forum was scuttled. Just one year later, Berlin Art Week was born, drowning with it the memory of Art Forum and its sister fair Kunstsalon, organised by Edmund Piper, which succumbed to substantial budget cuts in 2012. The entire concept of a Kunstherbst was gone, and with it its intentions. Berlin Art Week uttered little mention of its founding fathers, and ABC ascended into head position, where it resides today. But now the closest resemblance to an actual marketplace is Berliner Liste. It has the highest concentration of self-represented artists and art universities, and is produced separately from ABC and Positions. The problem is, as soon as the artists themselves ceased to be part of the production process, Kunstherbst lost its heart.

POSITIONS BERLIN Sep 18-21 | Kaufhaus Jandorf, Brunnenstr. 19-21, Mitte, U-Bhf Rosenthaler Platz

ART BERLIN CONTEMPORARY Sep 18-21 | Station Berlin, Luckenwalder Str. 4-6, Mitte, U-Bhf Gleisdreieck

BERLINER LISTE Sep 18-21 | Postbahnhof, Straße der Pariser Kommune 8, Friedrichshain, S-Bhf Ostbahnhof