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Before the onslaught of fairs, Berlin Gallery Weekend offers a commercial counterpoint

The annual event with international appeal features galleries in unusual places and a strong presence of women artists—but a continuing lack of local collectors

Alicja Kwade, Nach Osten (To the East), 2011, on show with Johann König at St Agnes Kirche, Berlin. Photo: Roman März, courtesy of the artist and Johann König, Berlin

When the German artist Hans-Peter Feldmann visited Art Basel in 2008, he was absorbed by a spotlight on the wall of a gallery’s stand. Impressed by what he believed to be a magnificent piece of art, Feldmann was in fact looking at a booth in the process of being installed. He decided to capture this moment between everyday life and art in the series “Lichtfleck” (light spot), 2013. illuminated rectangles positioned over picture hooks on blue and green walls. The works are exhibited for the first time at Mehdi Chouakri (until 1 June), one of three Feldmann shows during this year’s Berlin Gallery Weekend (26-28 April). Priced between €13,000 and €27,000, the pieces are a vivid reminder of the rapidly approaching fair season, but the annual event, with over 50 gallery openings in three days, serves as a commercial counterpoint.

The most essential pull of Berlin’s gallery weekend is the city itself. Although the German arts hub is seeing rapid gentrification, unusual galleries keep popping up. Johan König used the latest edition to host the first exhibition at his new venue, a former 1960s church. Not an installation meant for a white cube, Alicja Kwade's Nach Osten (To the East), 2011, features a lightbulb hanging from the 15m-high ceiling, swinging close to the ground like Foucault’s pendulum (until 26 May, priced at €58,000). The gallery is due to move permanently into the Modernist church in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood next year, but is hosting events there while the building is under renovation.

As prices have risen in the Mitte district, some dealers are finding creative solutions to stay in the centre. Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, for example, took over an empty office on the fourth floor of the Brutalist Berliner Zeitung building, close to Alexander Platz. “We wanted to be honest about the work we’re doing,” says Nadine Zeidler, the co-founder of the gallery, “we’re a business”. It is showing black-and-white, constructivist paintings by Avery Singer (“The Artists”, until 22 June), a recent graduate of the Cooper Union School of Art in New York. By the second day of the weekend, all but one of the works priced between €3,500 to €10,000 had sold to European collectors.

While young female artists have a strong presence at the event, older, established ones are also prevalent. Homages are being paid to three Austrian women artists: Capitain Petzel Gallery is showing new work by the 93-year-old Maria Lassnig (until 18 June); Zak Branicka is presenting important installations by Valie Export (“Images of Contingence”, until 15 June), and Galerie Cinzia Friedlaender is displaying works by Martha Jungwirth (“Devoid of Pedagogical Value”, until 27 July), the only female member of the 1968 group “Wirklichkeiten” (realities).

Meanwhile, exhibitions featuring art market favourites including George Condo, Richard Artschwager, and Joseph Kosuth (all at Sprüth Magers until 22 June), Alice Aycock (Galerie Thomas Schulte, until 29 June), Carsten Nicolai (Eigen+Art, until 18 May), and Ugo Rondinone (Esther Schipper, until 30 May) continue to chip away at Berlin’s reputation for solely dealing with emerging art.

The lack of local collectors continues to be a complaint among dealers, however. According to a study published by the Berliner Institut für Strategieentwicklung (Berlin Institute for Strategy Development) this month, only 22% of Berlin galleries say that sales to regional collectors make up the largest contribution to their turnover. “They’re like a national heritage and should be put under protection,” says one young Düsseldorf-based collector.

The international appeal of Berlin Gallery Weekend is therefore its strongest selling point, which the organisers are hoping to build on with the recent appointment of Cédric Aurelle as the new managing director. And where once there were only the private collection museums of Christian Boros and Erika Hoffmann, this year the German collector Axel Haubrok and the Swiss couple Burkhard Varnholt and Salome Grisard opened large, new art spaces in the city that will need filling.

The opening of Carsten Nicolai's "crt mgn" at Eigen + Art. Photo: Marco Funke
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