Self-referential Encounters at abc art berlin contemporary

Last day at abc. Much has happened since the opening and visitors were still rushing in, wandering through the intermingling gallery stands. Pop-up exhibitions were organized, artist talks held, books signed, children guided, networking done, performances staged, artworks liked and criticized respectively. But purchases made? Talks about prices were held in the background or at the many after parties and private dinners. The real businesses were made offside the fair. It even seemed as if it were a taboo to address financial matters directly at the fair. What is more, I realized some self-reflective, self-criticizing and self-referential approaches towards topics like economics, the current financial crisis and market prices, which were addressed by some artists in the creations of the booths, for instance. What I encountered was a range of critical voices that not merely questioned the economic crisis but rather the art market and the value of art within it.

There was, for example, Patrick Panetta’s highly conceptual work at Andrea Kaufmann that messed with the typical art fair system. Through an announcement in the daily newspaper TAZ he sold the booth to another artist, handing over the rights of being represented by his gallery at the fair. What the visitors got to see was a painting by Christine Zieron, who took advantage of the publicity and the professional representation during the four days. The focus really seemed to be pushed away solely on the selling part, emphasizing Panetta’s conceptual and experimental art practices. Typical for his oeuvre he was once again questioning the art production conditions which gave it a significant twist at an art fair.

Another ironic and self-referential approach towards critiquing the art market could be found at Arndt. At their booth the Indonesian artist Uji Handoko eko saputra, in short Hahan, has put together a cartoon-like, rather gimmicky presentation. In a range of black and white drawings and two very colorful paintings, he commented on the catastrophic situation of his generation of artists in Indonesia, who face exploitation, loss of identity and a rather worrisome financial situation. To highlight his statement, in three sculptures titled The New Prophet (curator), The Devout (artist) and The Almighty (collector) – the titles speak for themselves – Hahan is making fun of the Indonesian art market that is artificially hyped by collectors. Within these works the young Indonesian artist, who flew into Berlin to set up the exhibition, questioned the power of the curator, the conditions of the artists and the pretension of the collectors that altogether influence the businesses of galleries in Indonesia. I guess his criticism on this current crisis cannot exclusively be regarded in reference to his home country.

At Galerie Zink another rather cynic comment on the financial crisis and art’s economic sphere could be encountered. Muntean and Rosenblum’s installation consisted of a classical fair display that either accidentally caught fire or was deliberately set on fire. Combining charred walls, traces left by smoke, flying sparks, destroyed canvases, deformed furniture, and gallery staff that was not able to escape the fire either, the art collective created a catastrophic scenario that evoked various interpretations. It could be an ironic statement on the artist’s ephemerality on the market, which is always hunting for the next big shot, for instance. Or is it simply the gallery/gallerist that is burned out?

A more socio critical position was presented at Sassa Trülzsch’s stand where the bourgeois aesthetic of art as decoration was questioned. The display consisted of a collaboration between Klaus vom Bruch and Winfried Bullinger whose works were positioned one above the other. Bullinger’s photographs of African nomads were hanging upon vom Bruch’s decorative wallpaper, typically found in bourgeois salons. Their provocation of critiquing the first world and the behaviors of art buyers, who are frantically hunting for the exotic and unique, was a strong position of self-criticism and self-reflection at the art fair.

To sum up, I enjoyed seeing some self-critiquing, self-referential, ironic and cynic works that were not only questioning the art market at large but also the responsibilities of collectors, galleries and art fairs. I appreciated the open and experimental format of abc that allowed these critical positions to be represented. It will also be interesting to follow trail of abc’s ulterior motive of activating and sustaining Berlin’s art market and its arts culture in the future.

This blog post was originally published at abc art berlin contemporary’s Journal within the framework of the EYEOUT residency at abc.

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