Summer is calling, but don’t miss your chance to catch world-class art at Schinkel Pavillon, Meyer Riegger and Times Art Center. Our art editor guides you through.
Fear, No Fear
The Times Art Center Berlin is at the start of an ambitious exhibition programme focusing on a global state of collective anxiety. Under the overall title Fear, No Fear, the first chapter “Uncertainties” dives into real and imagined terrors and concerns. It’s an arresting selection of works, well put together with videos and wall works downstairs and 3D pieces on the ground floor. The films work best. In Li Xiangwei’s “The Wall”, a Chinese student captures a bizarre and inadvertent moment of hilarity as he defies an art-school punishment.
Another film below ground, “Cement”, tells the story of a German housing development built on top of a former World War II concentration camp. The residents’ lives remain largely undisturbed – except for the occasional concrete crematorium that turns up in one of their gardens. It seems well timed. Is it a comment on the disavowed camps of Xinjiang province? Unsurprisingly, there’s no reference to this; the Times Art Center is after all a Chinese cultural initiative. Political critique turns up elsewhere, however: balaclava-wearing migrant workers are lined up and commodified like items on a shelf in Li Yifan’s wide-format photograph. Below it, Friederike Klotz’s “Walking On” is a square structure, with a tiny pinhole that draws you into a thrilling microscopic matrix.
Times Art Center Berlin, Mitte | Through July 17
Sun Rise | Sun Set
In the Schinkel Pavillon’s latest exhibition, Sun Rise | Sun Set, stands a seething black mound of highly fertile rainforest soil. It is an incongruous and ominous presence in the small glass-walled dome, giving off a putrid sweet stench of mold and perfume. Entitled “Infection (Calvin Klein Obsession for Men)”, Pamela Rosenkranz’ work is one of the centrepieces of this teeming cornucopia of a show that uses a multi-sensory and multi-layered approach to reposition the human species amidst the fast-approaching eco-catastrophe.
Unlike science – which can be cold and hard to fathom – art has the potential to make the climate crisis tangible and (absurdly) less separate from our everyday lives. This is the premise behind this new exhibition, which doesn’t attempt to simplify its themes but instead revels in its own intricacies – even using live creatures like earthworms and fish to nibble away at any left- over indifference. Artworks bleed into each other and like intertwined organisms they interact, suffocate and cooperate. Next to the mound of soil hangs a framed photograph of skeletal human remains in the Atacama Desert by Parisian artist Pierre Huyghe. His “Cerro Indio Muerto” testifies to the brutal realities of advancing climate change and, besides Rosenkranz’ fertile soil, it’s not hard to make the connection.
According to Agnes Gryczkowska, who alongside Nina Pohl curated the exhibition, which features works from the likes of Max Ernst, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Neri Oxman, our detachment from nature dates back to the Romantic era. “That was when the fetishistic and glamorising attitude we have towards nature ended up putting it on a pedestal, separating it from the idea of the human,” she says. This is encapsulated by Henri Rousseau’s 1908 masterpiece “La Belle et la Bête”, which hangs in front of us in a climate-con- trolled vitrine. The painting’s naïve style belies its depiction of sexual intercourse between a woman and a black wolf. Its placement raises uncomfortable questions about the human definitions of beauty and the wild – and as always, the human is the centralised figure.
Much of the artwork in this solemn yet fantastical exhibition ties in with what the Anthropocene philosopher Timothy Morton has termed a “dark ecology”: an idea that the much-feared catastrophe has, in fact, already occurred. He has recorded that 75 percent of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at this very moment will still be there in 500 years. In the face of such stark facts, what does an exhibition of this kind really hope to achieve? “That there is something positive to hold on to,” Gryczkowska answers. “That we should not focus on death and destruction but on transformation and renewal. To show that we are all connected in some way.”
It sounds persuasive, but what about the emissions caused by the shipping of vast wooden crates for the artworld’s never-ending cycle of art fairs, biennials and exhibitions? “Nothing has been brought from overseas,” Gryczkowska says. “We’ve tried to keep everything as local as possible.” Indeed, the Rousseau painting was picked up from Berlin’s National Gallery down the road and will be returned in October. Even Rosenkranz’ mound of soil will be donated to the Berlin Botanic Gar- dens, where it will be rinsed of its Calvin Klein Obsession and used for its transformative potential.
Schinkel Pavillon, Mitte | Through August 22
Solid Earth, Liquid Wind
With its cavorting humans and unexplained circus-inspired installations, what may at first seem like a terrifically fun exhibition by German-born artist Ulla von Brandenburg soon turns into an enriching one as you find yourself swept along with its infectious energy. Investigating the fine line that exists between play and earnestness, the soundless video work ‘Solid Earth, Liquid Wind’ pays homage to an early Swiss dance school that pioneered the use of contemporary dance as a form of artistic expression.
It’s a wonderful watch, the dancers moving in unison, hurling themselves in and out of shot, then suddenly standing deadly still but always performing with abandon. The artist believes that expressive dance can lead the body and spirit to a state of ecstatic experience – and watching this film, you can believe it. Upstairs, alongside multi-colourful watercolours, life-sized fabric models of the dancers are slumped together in a heap, no doubt exhausted by their excursions. There’s a palpable feeling of expectation to the show, a sense that’s perfectly encapsulated by the circus- like installations made up of vivid blue and red fabric, pointed cones, confetti, fans and an assortment of dice and photographs. What alchemy is all this, you wonder?
Meyer Riegger, Charlottenburg | Through August 28