Berlin Biennale branded a disaster
Critics say the contemporary art event lacks impact
By Julia Michalska. From Frieze New York daily edition
Published online: 03 May 2012
The Berlin Biennale, one of the most important contemporary art events in Germany, which opened last weekend (until 1 July), has been greeted with derision in the local and national press.
According to its critics, there is not enough art on show, and the emphasis on social engagement and political activism is an empty gesture. “The disaster called the 7th Berlin Biennale” was Ingo Arend’s take in the Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Niklas Maak accused the biennial of “lukewarm cynicism” and “deep-seated stupidity”, while Nicola Kuhn said in the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel that it has “failed spectacularly in its attempt to empower the arts”. At a panel discussion held during the biennial, even Chris Dercon, the director of London’s Tate Modern, admitted “there is not much to see”, but added that “nobody is indifferent to this biennial”.
The biennial has been organised by the Polish artist-provocateur Artur Zmijewski and the art historian Joanna Warsza. International members of the Occupy movement, along with the Spanish Indignado group, have been invited to pitch their tents in Berlin’s KW Institute for Contemporary Art, the heart of the biennial. But the contradiction of “inviting” someone to “occupy” a building, particularly one in this now gentrified part of Mitte, has been considered weak. “Political activism is played down by being made into something aesthetic,” said the Austrian newspaper Die Presse.
The biennial’s opening coincided with the Berlin Gallery Weekend (27-29 April), an annual event with 51 gallery openings. Several commentators thought the works on show in the commercial galleries were more relevant.
But Zmijewski has his defenders. The Polish artist Zuzanna Janin said: “When Zmijewski exhibited at the Polish Pavilion in Venice in 2005, he was heavily criticised. But in the end, everyone accepted it as important work. It seems that the more a work is attacked, the better it is.”
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