Last Sunday through Tuesday was just like orientation week for the Berlin art scene’s 2010-2012 season: six art fairs in six days – something I’d been really excited about for a month, since I wrote the eponymous spread in our October issue and had spent most of the last two temperate weeks of September in Berlin calling press offices and gallerists to ask questions like: “How many square feet of exhibition space does the forum have this year?” or “Why did you decide to participate in the Liste?” and thwarting brush-off re-directions to mythical press sections or long descriptions of the theory behind works said gallerists were planning to display.
The point is, I went into the week armed with a half-dozen glossy press badges and a half-dozen new outfits – because as orientation week at university is not so much about practical orientation, art fair week in Berlin is not so much about exhibiting and selling new art. Think about this: Berliner Liste’s opening had 4,000 attendees; the fair’s press release mentioned the sale of four works of art. It’s easy to see that the majority of attendees come to soak up the atmosphere of an art fair…and not to contemplate singular works of art.
Logical, because art fairs are really hard places to soak in art: possibly because the sensory overload of 94 stands and 2,000 artists’ works gets in the way of contemplation. The art fair organization is essentially an antithesis to the traditional way works have been presented: in an elevated and isolated position of reverence.
Works in media (sculpture, oil painting, photography) that were originally hallowed in cathedrals and palaces, later in museums and galleries, are crowded together in a carnival-like atmosphere; and unless you’re a hardcore art aficionado or collector, the art isn’t the most interesting thing to look at. The art becomes a type of decoration for what’s really on display – the viewers…and Berlin’s “art scene.”
So, more interesting than the art itself were the individuals the art (or more realistically, the art fairs’ reputations) attracted. At Art Forum’s opening, Klaus Wowereit and his suit-clad entourage, girded by photo-snapping journalists, drew a tertiary trying-to-look-casual crowd of celebrity-gawking vernissage attendees. Art Forum’s not only fashionably but also wealthy dressed attendees made me realize just how scrappy Berliners actually are, and I wouldn’t doubt if the wardrobe of the vernissage attendees had a greater retail value than the actual works on display.
(Including: a demanding American trio who, in typical Upper East Side fashion, became livid that the wine they ordered came from the bottom of the bottle [must keep in mind we’re in Berlin, remember?] and the perfect 50-ish collector couple – god, at that age, I want to have rootless blond hair not too dry to keep at pony tail length and wear a deep navy blue Dior suit to match my husband’s, whose constant shoulder-guiding and grin-and-glancing display that he is still, in fact, in love with me.)
Berliner Liste’s crowd was more international, more gaudy, but ultimately less tasteful. Kunstsalon’s jeans and well-worn mid-range suit-brands matched the recent-art-school-graduate and Mauerpark-esque-design pieces on display, and Preview’s style was sharp, trendy, and understated: had someone told me Berlinautomat and Made in Berlin’s joint efforts had wardrobed the fair, I’d have believed it.
And Art Berlin Contemporary (ABC), overcrowded with screening booths, was a poor exhibition space for the fair’s real subject, which explains why the Marshall-Haus’ patio was more densely packed than the two-story exhibition space itself: the Berlin art scenesters are intelligent art works, and can relocate themselves to the most appropriate exhibiting spaces.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part two of Katherine’s six days among the art crowd.