BERLIN — Gallery Weekend Berlin wrapped up its tenth edition on Sunday evening. What began in 2004 as a small group of local gallerists teaming up to lure outside collectors to the “Land of Poor but Sexy” for one weekend has grown from 21 to 50 galleries in the past decade. Its model — each gallery mounting its best show and shuttling VIPs between galleries in sponsored black BMW sedans instead of making them trudge through packed art-fair corridors — has spawned imitators around the world, most of whom (Vienna, Chicago) just don’t have Berlin’s cool factor. Gallery Weekend is still going strong and moving into the future — in numbers and prestige, that is. More than a few dealers have told me over the years that GWB can be their highest sales weekend (even more so than major art fairs like Art Basel). Word on the street this weekend was that double the visitors came (20,000 versus 10,000 last year) and many shows sold well, like Gerold Miller at Mehdi Chouakri and Chris Martin at KOW.
But this year, in terms of the art on view, I felt catapulted into the past. After popping into a dozen galleries on and near the Potsdamer Strasse hub on Friday, I realized that the exhibitions I liked best were showing decades-old work. I knew that Philip Guston at Aurel Scheibler would be great — the show is a lean presentation of drawings and paintings from the 1960s to late 1970s showing Guston’s move from abstraction and figuration. But I was surprised to find Friedrich Teepe’s sculptural manipulations of canvas, and studies thereof, at Arratia Beer (beautiful stuff, most from the 1970s), The Living Theater’s Julian Beck at Supportico Lopez (1950s), primitivist sculptures by Lynn Chadwick at Blain | Southern (1970s again), even the late Swiss artist Friedrich Kuhn’s 1960s paintings at Tanya Leighton (an Glasgow-educated English dealer known for her work with trendy emerging artists).
Over at Sprüth Magers in Mitte was Reinhard Mucha’s sprawling and jaw-dropping work group FRANKFURTER BLOCK in the gallery’s main hall (the work itself covers decades; it’s dated 1981–2014). Also at Sprüth Magers was Philip Lorca DiCorcia’s seminal photography series Hustlers, a haunting set of portraits of male prostitutes taken in Los Angeles in the 1990s.
Okay, with 50 participating galleries, plenty of new art was on view as well: notable were Liam Gillick’s excellent but oh-so-cold show at Esther Schipper; a perfect install of Adam McEwan sculptures on Capitain Petzel’s ground floor, a funky 20-year anniversary group show at Galerie Neu’s new space in former housing project heating block, then there’s David Claerbout’s meditative films at Johnen Galerie, Pae White at Neugerriemschneider, and Chris Martin’s psychedelic paintings at KOW. But the presence of so much history made me wonder whether some galleries were playing it safe, or hoping for higher prices with established positions on this flushest of Berlin sales weekends. There were moments in which I felt like I was moving between Art Basel’s main hall ground floor (modernist art by lots of dead artists) and upper level (contemporary work whose paint might still be drying).
A pleasant surprise on a rainy Friday morning was an odd mashup of local and global sensibilities: At Wien Lukatsch, Berlin-based Benin-born artist Georges Adéagbo shows vitrines and full-room collages that are explosions of associations consisting of writings, musings, photocopies, and everyday objects (many of them from Africa, others from Berlin’s GDR era). Initially seeming way too kitschy, these assemblages and their associations suck the viewer into the artist’s complex world, which mixes high culture and low, north and south, east and west.
Speaking of east and west, the Saturday night gala dinner for 1,000 people in the vast departures hall of the decommissioned Tempelhof airport — a Third Reich edifice still used for events, and guests were invited to walk into a vintage plane (one of the “raisin bombers” from the Berlin airlift) — was a fitting celebration for the past decade of gallery development here, at least for the galleries involved (which pay around 8,000 euros to cover the costs for fancy dinners and cocktails and overall organization).
One bone of contention in the scene has always been that participating in Gallery Weekend Berlin is by invitation only, and if you’re not invited, well, you’re out. Berlin as a city has changed dramatically in the last decade; its art world has both matured (it’s interesting to see how artistic positions shift in ten years, and these days no one seems to mind the black Beamers shuttling visitors, which so irked us in the mid-2000s), and, obviously, fragmented into sometimes disparate subscenes.
But where to now (besides hitting the shows I missed but still want to see, like Jessica Jackson Hutchins at Johann König)? Berlin’s layers of history are starting to include the recent past — Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit’s now-tired statement “poor but sexy” is, after all, a decade old as well. Walking around Gallery Weekend this time, I couldn’t help asking myself — what comes after poor but sexy?
Gallery Weekend Berlin took place May 2–4 throughout Berlin, but many of the shows continue past the weekend event. Please check with the galleries for exhibition closing dates.