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Gallery Weekend Berlin is a diverse culmination of mediums and practices

In its 19th edition, the GWB featured 55 galleries this year, with numerous museums, private institutions, and project spaces celebrating Berlin’s expansive art scene.

by Hili PerlsonPublished on : May 02, 2023

Every spring, on the last weekend in April, galleries in Germany's capital align their calendars to host openings and events during Gallery Weekend Berlin (GWB). Founded in 2005, by a cooperative of gallerists who sought an alternative to art fairs and wanted to attract international collectors and curators to their own Berlin spaces, GWB has quickly established itself as a highlight on the international art calendar. This year in its 19th edition, which ran from April 28–30, 2023, GWB featured a whopping 55 galleries, with numerous museums, private institutions, and project spaces also joined the festivities and hosted events to enhance and expand their programme over the course of the three-day celebration.

MatryoshkaVerse, 2022, Cao Fei | Gallery Weekend Berlin | STIRworld
MatryoshkaVerse, 2022, Film, Cao Fei Image: © Cao Fei; Courtesy of Cao Fei, Vitamin Creative Space and Sprüth Magers

Berlin’s aura depends on its local players, and the quality of the exhibitions on view the past month was impressive in its diversity of mediums, practices, and themes. What’s more, many galleries use the occasion to announce new artists to their roster or launch new spaces, and this year was no different. Among the most notable new introductions to the art gallery’s roster, this year, were Carlier Gebauer Gallery, presenting the first solo exhibition with Brazilian artist Lucia Koch; Galerie Daniel Buchholz, which premiered its first show with rising star painter Samuels Hindolo; Isabella Bortolozzi, who unveiled the first collaboration with American artist and poet Diamond Stingily; and Sprüth Magers Gallery, which gave its entire two-storey space to Chinese artist Cao Fei. The latter is a remarkable feat, as Cao Fei never presents her work in galleries, and only shows her projects in the context of institutional exhibitions.

i need to make mistakes just to learn who i am, 2023, mixed media, Loretta Fahrenholz |  Gallery Weekend Berlin | STIRworld
i need to make mistakes just to learn who i am, 2023, mixed media, Loretta Fahrenholz Image: © Loretta Fahrenholz

But the marathon of openings and events never really begins with the official start date; with so much going on, many institutions opened their doors ahead of the weekend. On Tuesday, April 25, 2023, a fashionable young crowd gathered at Fluentum, the privately-owned institution dedicated to contemporary art and which occupies a former Nazi military building in West Berlin. There, artist Loretta Fahrenholz unveiled a new film titled Trash, The musical, created in collaboration with performance artist Alicia McDaid. Assembled into a wild post-cinematic collage by Fahrenholz, McDaid's performances are a radical exploration of personal anxieties and questions of ageing, unfulfilled dreams, ghosting, and the difference between art and trash. The video work presented in the imposing black-marbled interior of the building with its troubled history, was accompanied by digital photographic imagery that the artist has generated using artificial intelligence. Among other motifs, the artist also prompted the algorithm to cull visual information from the 2009 Quentin Tarantino film Inglorious Bastards, which was partly shot inside the location.

Cultes, 2019, video, 15′, colour, sound, (LA) HORDE | Gallery Weekend Berlin | STIRworld
Cultes, 2019, video, 15′, colour, sound, (LA) HORDE Image: Courtesy of (LA) Horde and New Gallery, Paris

The following evening, Berlin’s art scene gathered at the Julia Stoschek Foundation to view the first-ever institutional exhibition by the buzzy French collective (La) Horde. Founded in 2013, the young group of multidisciplinary artists took over the directorship of the Ballet National de Marseille in 2019 and has been reshaping the contemporary dance world ever since, with an approach to choreography that explores how bodies are represented in public space, be it on social networks, clubs, festivals, the streets, or on the stage—which they consider to be a political place of intersecting choreographic languages. At JSF, (LA) Horde exhibited a number of video installations, including the piece Cultes (2019), in which dancers mix in with the crowd at the music festival, blurring the boundaries between performance and collective modern rituals. A group of seven dancers entered the different screening rooms across the foundation’s ground floor and performed high-energy segments to thumping techno tracks played by a live DJ. Klaus Biesenbach, the director of Berlin’s Neue National Gallerie, attended the opening with a group of American curators in tow, who were invited as VIP guests of BGW.

Exhibition view of Hito Steyerl, 2023, installation, Esther Schipper |  Gallery Weekend Berlin| STIRworld
Exhibition view of Hito Steyerl, 2023, installation, Esther Schipper Image: © Esther Schipper, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Photo © Andrea Rossetti

On Thursday, April 27, 2023, most participating galleries opened their doors for professional previews. Crowds flocked to see Hito Steyerl's highly-anticipated first solo show with Esther Schipper Gallery. There, she presented a site-aware installation and the video work Animal Spirits, which she pulled from Documenta 15 last year, in response to the organisers' neglecting to meaningfully engage with the scandal of having included anti-Semitic works in the sprawling quinquennial. Steyerl presented an essayistic journey that connects the Keynesian economy to shepherds in the Spanish countryside, whose livelihood is deeply impacted by EU regulation around the protection of wolves in the wild. Stalactite-like glass orbs with LED growth lamps containing soil and plants completed the presentation. These spheres are available for sale to raise funds for earthquake relief efforts in Jinwar, the women’s village in Northern Syria.

No national flag uses a gradient, 2022, eight polyester flags, Anahita Razmi | Gallery Weekend Berlin | STIRworld
No national flag uses a gradient, 2022, eight polyester flags, Anahita Razmi Image: Courtesy of Anahita Razmi and Carbon12 Gallery

Indeed, despite BGW's generally festive mood, many galleries used this opportunity to speak to a wide audience with powerful exhibitions that respond to current and ongoing global crises, human rights struggles, and wars. Galerie Crone staged a group show by ten Iranian women artists titled Simurgh. Working in various mediums, the artists, including Yalda Afsah, Parastou Forouhar, Anahita Razmi, Neda Saeedi, Farkhondeh Shahroudi, and Soheila Sokhanvari, Mona Kasra and Mehraneh Atashi, Nooshin Farhid, and Ramesch Daha—all of whom live outside of Iran—address issues of memory, surveillance, identity politics, economic and social changes.

Coming Home, 2021 ongoing, installation, Aziz Hazara | Gallery Weekend Berlin  | STIRworld
Coming Home, 2021 ongoing, installation, Aziz Hazara Image: Sher Abbas Aliyar; Courtesy of Aziz Harara

Among the many highlights across the city’s galleries, PSM gallery showed a poignant exhibition by Afghan artist Aziz Hazara. Through a selection of photographs, videos, and audio installations, Hazara addresses the social, political, and environmental devastation left behind by the U.S. military and their allies after they left in 2021, ending 20 years of war. It’s a subtle yet unsparing look at the lives of bodies, things, and environments at the mercy of the global industrial complex of military aid efforts. With his usual poetic style on full display, the exhibition No Dress Code offers an expanded view of history that focuses on the sanctity of life and the physical environment that surrounds it.

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