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The Biennale bounces back

Since 1998 the Berlin Biennale, the near cult-level art fair, has surfaced biannually with new curators, themes, and locations, on the heels of Documenta as one of Germany's most important art events. It kicks off May 8 and runs through Aug 8.

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Photo by Uwe Walter

Since 1998 the Berlin Biennale, the near cult-level fair initiated by KW founder Klaus Biesenbach, has surfaced biannually with new curators, themes, and locations, on the heels of Documenta as one of Germany’s most important art events. With the 2012 edition poorly received by critics like Frieze Magazine‘s Jörg Heiser and Monopol‘s Sarah Lehnert, this year’s Biennale, the eighth, has nowhere to go but up. Locations have expanded to include new participants in the west of Berlin, including the picturesque waterfront Haus am Waldsee as well as the Ethnological Museum Dahlem.

Looking backwards, curator Juan A. Gaitán has harnessed the works of 50-plus international artists in a Berlin-centric, yet universal exhibition. This year is themed around historical narratives and their timeless relevance to our lives. As broad a concept as it is, research and preparation focused on 18th- and 19th-century perceptions and comparisons to Berlin today, especially relationships to building and architecture, residents and labour movements (or, sometimes, lack thereof).

Already open for visitors since late January, KW’s exhibition Crash Pad, by participating artist Andreas Angelidakis, was this Biennale’s first commissioned work. The cosy sitting space and library resembles a 19th-century salon and is filled with antique carpets intended to portray an iconographic transition from an Ottoman to a more European style of domesticity. The title has equal relevance to Greece’s initial economic crisis from 1893, after which European intervention was needed to restore economic security. Relevant ties to the past are anything but a stretch.

Australian text-based artist Agatha Gothe-Snape has already released an ongoing work titled Untitled, the meat of which comes from multiple sources, currently including a regular dialogue with Gaitán about Biennale production, execution and conception. Along with conversations with Gaitan, she uses text from all facets of modern life as inspiration, including various forms of social media, news, entertainment, literature, advertisements and other dialogues from relationships – personal, business or otherwise. A current version of this digital work is available for viewing on the Biennale website.

Specific pieces from participants remain elusive, but more are announced with every passing week. Included in the lineup is Berliner Mariana Castillo Deball, whose Richard Serra-esque swooping sculptures combine soft abstraction with complex pattern and detail work. Her large-scale work “Uncomfortable Objects” wowed at 2012’s Documenta, showing promise for the upcoming show.

Berlin Biennale May 29-Aug 8 | KW, Haus am Waldsee, Museen Dahlem, full programme at www.berlinbiennale.de

Originally published in issue #127, May 2014.