Berlin Art Week explores the idea of ​​value amid rapid gentrification

art market

Chiara Zampetti-Egidi

Installation view of “K60” at Wilhelm Hallen, 2022. Photo by Joe Clark. Courtesy of Hallen #3.

Berlin Art Week is the city’s most important time for contemporary art. For this year’s edition (September 14-18), more than 50 major players in the Berlin art world – artists, galleries, project spaces, fairs and museums – are collaborating on a program of exhibitions, screenings , performances, conferences and other events. The work of more than 1,000 emerging and established artists appears in venues scattered throughout the city. The public can see the works of Rachel Rossin, Lu Yang, Jenna Sutela, Anna Uddenberg, Simone Forti and Leila Hekmat, to name a few.

Given the sprawling nature of the week’s festivities – and of Berlin itself – the festival hub at Uferhallen becomes a central hub. Uferhallen is an almost 200,000 square foot industrial site located in Wedding, a multicultural neighborhood in the northwestern part of Berlin’s central Mitte district. The site presents BAW Garten, a place for workshops and performances, while BAW Open Studios hosts discussions and exchanges.

Aram Bartholl, installation view of Its good, 2022, in “On Equal Terms” at Uferhallen, 2022. Photo by Marvin Systermans. Courtesy of the artist and Uferhallen.

Aram Bartholl’s gigantic installation, which features an imprint of a huge flame emoji, welcomes visitors to the forecourt of Uferhallen. The Berlin-based artist uses the symbol to suggest that the region is a hotspot of cultural exchange and artistic production, but also of danger. Currently, 150 artists, including Asta Gröting, John Bock and Monica Bonvicini, live and maintain their studios in Uferhallen, but they don’t know how long they will be able to stay there.

For years, property investors have planned to convert the historic site into expensive apartments and offices. The project will transform historic low-rise brick buildings with the addition of a multi-story tower, creating exponentially more traffic and increasing housing prices at rates that will drive people out of the area. Gentrification is an old story, but its effect on Berlin is particularly difficult for the contemporary art world. Since the 1990s, many international artists and galleries have moved to Berlin for spacious and charismatic spaces at affordable prices.

FORT, installation view of Little Darlings, 2017, in “On Equal Terms” at Uferhallen, 2022. Photo by Chiara Zampetti Egidi. Courtesy of the artist and Chiara Zampetti Egidi.

As rising property prices and housing shortages hurt the creative scene as a whole, they have inspired thoughtful new exhibitions at Berlin Art Week. “On Equal Terms”, located in the main building of Uferhallen, explicitly asks questions about gentrification and its effects. The text on the wall at the entrance asks: “A large majority of artists based in Berlin are trying to resist the economic displacement of spaces for artistic experimentation… What is the price to pay to enter the political one-upmanship for space? What is the relationship between cultural capital and monetary capital? Are both sides of the conversation on equal footing? »

The collective exhibition includes 26 works selected by curators Sophia Gräfe and Arkadij Koscheew. Among them are Little Darlingsan installation featuring a selection of doghouses by German artist duo FORT and German artist Bianca Kennedy We are all in there, a three-channel video installation featuring a montage of historical film scenes of people in bathtubs. Overall, these works contemplate the commodification of cultural and artistic values.

Bianca Kennedy, installation view of We are all in there in “Learning from bathing” at Kurtheater Baden, 2021. © Bianca Kennedy. Courtesy of the artist and Uferhallen.

These considerations have become increasingly strained since the start of the pandemic: a number of Berlin-based artists have left the city in order to access greener landscapes and take advantage of remote work opportunities in the cities. and neighboring villages. The artist Isa Melsheimer is in the process of undertaking such an approach. She noted how difficult the city is to pin down to begin with: “I couldn’t say where the center of Berlin is, if there is one,” she said.

During Berlin Art Week, Melsheimer exhibits large-scale ceramics and other works on paper in the large group exhibition “K60”. The exhibition is a collaboration between 15 Berlin galleries: Alexander Levy, carlier | gebauer, ChertLüdde, Efremidis, Esther Schipper, Klosterfelde Edition, HUA International, Klemm’s, Mehdi Chouakri, neugerriemschneider, Nome, PSM, Soy Capitán, Sprüth Magers and Sweetwater.

Installation view of “K60” at Wilhelm Hallen, 2022. Photo by Joe Clark. Courtesy of Hallen #3.

“K60” is located in Wilhelm Hallen, a former iron foundry in Reinickendorf, a district in northwest Berlin. The site includes a collection of protected heritage rooms, lofts and offices. The red brick architecture delineates over 200,000 square feet of usable space, much of which is devoted to creative work and production.

Gallery owner Mehdi Chouakri has opened a second space here, which he sees as a complement to the gallery space he maintains in Charlottenburg. “One is a classic space with a showcase; the other is a historic industrial space that allows for large-scale projects as well as production and storage,” he said. He noted that many artists live and work in Reinickendorf, such as Angela Bulloch, Berta Fischer and Thomas Scheibitz. What is happening in Berlin is what is happening in other European capitals like Paris, he said: artists and galleries are looking for interesting industrial spaces to exhibit and produce works on a large scale, and such sites are only found in the eastern and northern parts of Berlin.

Rosa Barba, installation view of “Radiant Exposures”, at Esther Schipper, Berlin, 2022. Photo by Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy of Esther Schipper.

Although this may suggest that artists do indeed move to the outskirts of Berlin, gallerist Esther Schipper dismisses the idea that such a periphery exists. As the largest city in Germany, Berlin covers 23 miles from north to south and 28 miles from east to west. It takes a while to get anywhere, and Reinickendorf is as close to Mitte as Schipper’s own gallery, which is just in another part of Mitte. During Berlin Art Week, Schipper exhibits works by Rosa Barba in her Potsdamer Platz gallery.

Apart from events in Uferhallen and Wilhelm Hallen, galleries and institutions opened exhibitions throughout the city, featuring established artists. Beirut-born, London-based artist Mona Hatoum has mounted a retrospective at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (in collaboration with the Kindl Center for Contemporary Art and the Georg Kolbe Museum). Berlin-based American artist Leila Hekmat has transformed the Haus am Waldsee into a religious sanatorium for women. Located at Tempelhof Airport, a former airport in southern Berlin, the Positions Art Fair sells contemporary art.

Installation view of Positions Art Fair, 2021. Photo by Clara Wenzel-Theiler. Courtesy of Berlin Art Week.

Berlin Art Week is geographically dispersed, for voluntary and involuntary reasons. Its sprawl allows visitors to experience different city centers and their local communities, creating a sense of vibrant connection. While artists, gallery owners and curators question the idea of ​​Berlin’s outskirts, it’s clear that the city is still a strong arts capital. Despite the challenging real estate market and other economic factors, Berlin is adapting quickly to change. The city itself remains a crucial center for art and the art market in Europe.

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