6th Berlin Biennial
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The sixth Berlin Biennale for contemporary art investigates the relationship between current art practice and ideas of “the real”.
The works on show scrutinise different artists’ approaches to “reality”, including the “fictional arsenal of the mass media and consumerism”.
In locations around Berlin, 45 international artists show their different positions on the topic.
The curator Kathrin Rhomberg sees the second half of the 19th century as a historical complement to the present, and there is an exhibition of 40 works by German realist painter Adolph Menzel (1815-1905), an attentive observer of his environment whose life was closely connected to the history and development of Berlin.
At Rhomberg’s invitation, Michael Fried, the American art historian and Menzel expert, is curating the show, in collaboration with the Alte Nationalgalerie and the Kupferstichkabinett (see opposite page).
Menzel’s paintings are juxtaposed with German photographer Michael Schmidt’s works from the “Frauen” series (1997-99), which play with our preconception of representations of gender, and form a central part of the biennale being shown in public places and the media throughout its duration.
Rhomberg says “Menzel’s realism can be very informative for the present day, but I don’t want to start a debate about realism.
In recent years, the 20th century has—at least in the west—featured strongly in exhibitions and artistic projects, but I find that there were comparable upheavals in the second half of the 19th century.
In a way, the industrial revolution corresponds to what we call today a technological revolution. The implications for people are similar to those of the earlier industrialisation.”
“Artists Beyond”, a prelude to the biennale supported by the European Commission, introduced artists working in their studios on works for the biennale to the public, giving them an insight into the way artists work.
Rhomberg, who curated the Czech and Slovak Pavilion of the 53rd Venice Biennale, invited seven European artists for the project: Mark Boulos, Phil Collins, Marcus Geiger, Nilbar Güres, Petrit Halilaj, Thomas Locher and Marie Voignier.
“Real Players”, taking place at the beginning of June, is the third workshop for about 12 junior curators, promoted by the KW Institute for Contemporary Art with support from the Goethe Institute in Munich, the Allianz Kulturstiftung (Cultural Foundation) and BMW.
The programme, consisting of seminars, debates and studio visits, offers participants the opportunity to meet top international curators.
Rhomberg has limited the number of artists to 45 and selected them from across the generations and without imposing too stringent thematic guidelines.
Many of the artists are not yet very well known, but she has worked with most of them in the past, including Cameron Jamie, Gedi Sibony and Ion Grigorescu.
For the first time since the biennale started in 1996, she has focused some of her attention on west Berlin: “The west [of the city] has accomplished incredible transformation processes,” she says, “and Kreuzberg with its strongly immigrant character reflects the future of European society.” The biennale sees itself as a part of this development, mounting new displays at unusual and forgotten venues: Cameron Jamie shows in a workshop at Mehringdamm underground station, and in Oranienburg Strasse the Austrian Hans Schabus follows clues to private lives through a patchwork of carpets from Berlin apartments.
Petrit Halilaj, whose house in Pristina was destroyed in the Kosovan war, is showing the framework and timbers of the house in the KW building with sketches, sculptures, videos and children’s drawings.
In contrast to some biennales, the works in Berlin relate to each other. Rhomberg says: “This dialogue should open up the possibility of new experiences and perceptions.
There are many factors in the exhibition to do with uncertainty—an aspect strongly characteristic of our age: inquiring whether one can still actually envisage the future and if so, how? We want to try to generate a view of the world with a different perception in order to create new perspectives.
The question is, how can we develop new concepts and new implements for accessing the present?”
After representations from the biennale managing director Gabriele Horn (director of the KW in Auguststrasse), the show was postponed from October to the spring in the hope of better weather; competition with the Swiss edition of Art Basel is not mentioned.
Its budget, according to Horn, is €3m, including €2.5m from the Bundeskultur-stiftung (Federal Cultural Foundation). Rita Pokorny