Articles

Shades of Bushwick at Berlin’s 48 Hours Neukölln Art Festival

by Stephen Truax on July 1, 2014

Anti-gentrification graffiti in Neukölln (All photos by the author for Hyperallergic.)

Anti-gentrification graffiti in Neukölln (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic.)

BERLIN — In the Neukölln borough of the city, there’s no room for hand-wringing about what constitutes a work of art. Or the validity of an art exhibition space: cafes, living rooms, empty apartments, ground-floor galleries, artist studios, and bars alike are all employed in the service of exhibiting art during 48 Hours Neukölln, the Art Festival (48hnk), which took place this past weekend.

Founded in 1999, 48hnk is arguably the oldest festival of its kind in Berlin; while reminiscent of Bushwick Open Studios (BOS) in Brooklyn, it has an attitude all its own. The 48hnk website is replete with images and documentation of various works produced and exhibited during the event. The mobile app, produced by Quarterland, made navigating the program virtually effortless. There were more events than anyone could have possibly attended in 48 hours, yet clocking in at only 50 or so spaces, 48hnk is still much more manageable than BOS’s more than 500 venues.

Manuel Schneidewind at Loriza

Manuel Schneidewind at Loriza

No discipline or variety of exhibition space seems to be privileged over another. Industrial design, graphic design, illustration — not to mention jewelry and fashion — are presented right alongside contemporary art, which itself ran a wide gamut, from provisional sculptural installation to video. A whirlwind of multifunction spaces simultaneously showed oil paintings, silk screens, café macchiatos, used clothing, and ephemera. This lack of distinction is presumably in service of a “democratic” selection process.

This cafe was listed in the program for 48hnk, but the author couldn't find any art in it.

This cafe was listed in the program for 48hnk, but the author couldn’t find any art in it.

In New York there is an overt commercialism throughout many similar contemporary art presentations: artists tend to focus on objects which are often small, salable; presentations tend to reflect that of commercial galleries, white walls, hung in enfilade. Not so at 48hnk. Well, maybe except for the jewelry — that was definitely for sale. But the art did not seem to contain or display the traditional markers of commerce so often present in Bushwick. No such bald capitalist tendencies are present at this festival. All one could feasibly buy were the drinks.

Gallery bar in Neukölln

Gallery bar in Neukölln

Virtually every space had a full bar – especially the actual bars, which also served as exhibition spaces (mainly for video). Bars weren’t differentiated from any other display mechanism (e.g. non-bars) by neither the map nor patrons. Yet they all were equipped with a standard menu, priced out as follows: beer €2, wine €3, longdrink €5. (“Longdrink” means “cocktail,” though they’re hardly the pre-Prohibition mixologist-concocted variety to which I’ve grown accustomed in Brooklyn.) Empty bottles lined the walls, pooled together in vast displays of last night’s frivolity.

Installation view of Julian Öffler, "An Art Performance" (2012), in "Mein eigen Fleisch und Mut" (2014), curated by Ana Baumgart and Daniel Franz

Installation view of Julian Öffler, “An Art Performance” (2012) (click to enlarge)

Galleries and project rooms blended together into pseudo-domestic, quasi-professional environments: one might encounter a bed attached to the wall with provisional wooden framing; in an otherwise clean studio space, a carpet barfed out of the open maw of a kitchen oven. A table, seating 3-4 people who were quietly talking together over coffee, dominated one exhibition space, around which much art was installed, but it was impossible to view due to the private conference in session. A litany of couches covered in bed sheets were strewn throughout narrow hallways, stacked in corners, left outside in the rain.

Dark, unfinished basements were a favorite for video exhibitions. Almost all of the spaces, at some place or another, featured a fabric wall of stapled-up bed sheets, concealing some unacceptable piping, or living room furniture, or whatever, as if bed-sheets were a suitably neutral presentation device.

48hnk Marketing Materials at Loriza, Berlin-Neukölln

48hnk marketing materials at Loriza, Berlin-Neukölln

An unmitigated, unabashed amount of promotional materials were displayed as importantly as artworks and distributed by hand at virtually every event, the totality of which could amount to a serious case study in artist branding. Postcard-size announcement cards are by far the preferred way of notifying others about upcoming (and past) exhibitions — never mind the Internet — and there were stacks of them everywhere, professional, gleaming. Some spaces even produced their own mini-catalogues.

Watercolors by Petra Trenkel in her Neukölln studio

Watercolors by Petra Trenkel in her Neukölln studio

Spaces could be identified from a distance by the flying banner of the 48hrs Neukölln flag, which seemed to be everywhere, but also by the official yellow posters which emphatically stated Hier Ist Kunst (“art is here”) and were themselves presented in tiled repetition around the entire neighborhood. Cleverly, caution tape was printed with the same branding (Hier Ist Kunst), which doubled as directional arrows and as barriers cordoning off sections of buildings and apartments you weren’t allowed to just traipse through. If a space didn’t have a flag, or posters, or caution tape, then it definitely had a group of people sitting out in front of it, drinking and smoking throughout the afternoon in groups of 3 to 10, perched on plastic folding chairs around a picnic table, all of which were inevitably populated by hundreds of empty bottles.

By 5:30pm on Sunday (the event was meant to run 48 hours from Friday evening — thus officially running until 6pm) many of the video projections were conspicuously switched to the Mexico/Italy match of the World Cup, the familiar unnatural grass field of fußball filled the tiny cafes and bars in which they were projected with an eerie green light. It was back to business as usual, the videos were switched off and everyone went back to drinking just regular booze, uninflected by art.

48 Hours Neukölln took place at various locations in Berlin-Neukölln from Friday, June 27 through Sunday, June 29.

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  • Gerardo Veltri

    Narrow, steep stairs leading to dark basements with projected videos on exposed brick walls. Neukölln exhibition space in a nut-shell.

  • Cameron Masters

    Why does every American art blog compare every article about another city with NY? Lack of imagination? Lack of experience? Self-absorption? (I don’t buy the “we’re based in NY” argument — to be from a self-proclaimed cosmopolitan city while behaving in a fairly parochial way is odd).

    • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

      70% of our readers are US-based. Comparisons are a good way to help people understand how things are different or the same. You seem to disagree but we find it effective.

      • Cameron Masters

        What I take issue with is that in US-based art blogs, the yardsticks for livable, artistic urban neighborhoods are (almost always) Bushwick and Williamsburg, which are gentrified and unlivable and oversaturated and not home to most artists on Earth or even in the US. And they’re also all in one city. And so, when any intrepid art blogger ventures out of these couple of areas, everywhere else is then compared to these NY neighborhoods — in other words, Neukölln or Condesa or Beyoglu can only ever be a foil for NY artists/readers, and nothing more than a fun exercise in comparison for a select few people in Brooklyn.

        Maybe rapidly gentrifying pockets of formerly relevant neighborhoods in Brooklyn shouldn’t be privileged with hijacking the narrative of how we view artist communities in the world.

        • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

          They are home to the largest concentrations of artists in the world. That’s why they are relevant as a tool of comparison. And it sounds like your person biases color your vision of Brooklyn, which is far from unlivable and oversaturated.

          • Cameron Masters

            From what I can tell, Hackney in East London has the highest concentration of artists in the world (‘highest concentration’ is kind of a silly metric either way, because a high concentration doesn’t denote quality, relevance, type of art, livability or anything else of real value to any readers). And if we’re going by the sheer number of artists in any city, I can’t find reliable statistics — it probably comes down to who is considered an ‘artist’ (I’d assume that cities bigger than New York would have more ‘artists,’ such as Tokyo and Mexico city, but it’s just another silly metric). So I don’t buy the ‘Brooklyn as artist Mecca’ — at best the area has a TINY fraction of a percent of the number of artists on Earth.

            But this is exactly my point — it seems like the world revolves around Brooklyn for US art writers, at the expense of other places. Brooklyn is the protagonist of the art world in this view, and is only occasionally joined by other areas in other cities for the purpose of flattering or complaining about itself (but without shifting the focus away from itself).

            Also, your theory about my “personal biases” (also known as “opinions” or “experiences,” rather than a cheap prejudice like a bias) is absurd. I have been to Brooklyn many times, I have a number of good friends there. My thoughts are that it’s overpriced, oversaturated with ‘artists,’ and that people I know there often struggle to afford it. Many have already left. (NOTE — they aren’t trust-fund babies which might be important to note). So no, it’s not some petty “personal bias,” it’s based on both real experiences and research on the area that makes me skeptical of Brooklyn’s claims to being the poster-child art neighborhood in the world.

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            It’s definitely not Hackney.

          • Cameron Masters

            I doubt it is either, and even if it was, it wouldn’t matter. It’s a silly metric. Just like Brooklyn’s supposed (unsubstantiated) ‘highest concentration’ doesn’t particularly matter.

          • http://hragv.com/ Hrag Vartanian

            That’s fair. I guess we disagree on the value of comparisons.

          • Cameron Masters

            I haven’t had a simple complaint about comparisons as a rhetorical device. But that also doesn’t make Brooklyn (or any other neighborhood) the variable in all conversations about art neighborhoods.

  • Stephen Truax

    This article mentions Bushwick twice: the first to identify a similarity between Bushwick Open Studios (BOS) and 48 Hours Neukolln (48hnk) which are both independently run art festivals comprised largely of open studios, project spaces, and other non-institution environments; the second is to identify a strong commercial aspect of BOS which I did not observe at 48hnk.

    This article claims neither that all art neighborhoods emulate Bushwick, nor that Bushwick is the supreme example of an artist neighborhood. The article merely seeks to use Bushwick as a lens through which an American audience might view another artist neighborhood, in this case, Neukölln.

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