Compression and Release

With doomsday vibes in Berlin, blockchains in Hamburg, and an art scene brat pack in Zurich, there’s every reason to renew your BahnCard. Here’s a bird’s-eye view of the autumn’s exhibitions north of the Alps.

Sandra Mujinga, SONW-Shadow of New Worlds, exhibition view, Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen, 2019-2020 © Sandra Mujinga / Croy Nielsen, Vienna, The Approach, London / Thor Brødreskift

Courtesy of floods, fires, and flus, the autumn is now the beginning and the end of the social season. In Berlin, Art Week has customarily been somewhat lame, soundtracked by the huffing and puffing of cumbersome institutions and a fair, which, through its various guises, never grew out of teenage awkwardness. This year, it’s called ‘Positions’and promises “a well-proven hygiene concept.” Who could resist? But in spite of every effort, the last two instalments of the usually undisputed queen of the art calendar, the Gallery Weekend in May, were about as charming as a picnic by the motorway, so competition is not great.

As compensation, and in a move that suggests the seasonal change is here to stay, from this year on, Gallery Weekend will reappear in September for another round structured by an annually changing “thematic premise,” similar to Vienna’s Curated By (also in September). The first of these is mercifully simple: Discoveries – i.e. fresh faces, young artists. I suspect only the galleries whose plans happen to fit the theme anyway will advertise their participation, but no matter. Among the long list of exciting exhibitions are Win McCarthy at Galerie Neu, Phung-Tien Phan at Schiefe Zähne, Mara Wohnhaas at BQ. At Barbara Weiss even the artist’s name seems styled for our baroque season’s peak: Cudelice Brazelton IV. Chills!

On the institutional side, the main event has to be the long-awaited reopening of the Neue Nationalgalerie, after a six-year, EUR 140 million renovation of the iconic Mies van der Rohe building by the (sighs) popular architect David Chipperfield. More so than the temporary exhibitions (Alexander Calder in the glass hall and Rosa Barba downstairs), the real scoop is the collection display of works from 1900-45, which – you realise, at the latest, upon seeing it –  has been incredibly and sorely lacking from public view for too long.

At Hamburger Bahnhof, the Preis der Nationalgalerie presents its nominees: Lamin Fofana, Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff, Sandra Mujinga, and Sung Tieu – a strong field in which I am not able to choose a favourite. In a daring move, the Neue Berliner Kunstverein mounts a Thomas Schmit retrospective with an accompanying programme of performances. Fingers crossed that bodies together in a room will remain unproblematic throughout the fall.

In October, Kunstwerke opens a comprehensive exhibition by the American veteran Renée Green, and a group show by the artist Iman Issa. I’m a big fan of artist-curated exhibitions, and Issa’s is sure to be a stylish one. (While on the subject, it should also be well worth braving the rain and PCR-tests to visit Venice before Stop Painting, a curatorial effort by Peter Fischli, closes at the Prada Foundation in late November.)

Exhibition view of Stop Painting, Fondazione Prada, Venice, 2021. From left: Jana Euler, Where the Energy Comes From 1, 2014; Karen Kilimnik, Jane Creep (Druids), 1990, Jane Creep (Blow Dryer), 1991, Jane Creep (Crème de menthe), 1991, Jane Creep (Plane to Paris), 1991 Jane Creep (St Bernard), 1991. Photo: Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy: Fondazione Prada.

Also in Berlin, at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Anselm Franke and Kerstin Stakemeier are serving doomsday vibes with Illiberal Arts, an exhibition and publication project featuring an impressive list of contributors from across disciplines. “The liberal capitalist world order that prevailed after 1989 is today in a stage of advanced disintegration,” they write, “the collapse of this order exposes the illiberal core of its freedoms.” More chills, but different ones.

A short journey east, in Warsaw, the Ujazdowski Centre for Contemporary Art also engages our tense ideological climate with Political Art, a second, elaborated version of an exhibition first presented at Læsø Kunsthal on a small Danish island in 2019. Even in that somewhat off-the-map location, the kunsthalle’s director Jon Eirik Lundberg, who co-curated the Warsaw chapter together with Ujazdowski’s loudly right-wing Director Piotr Bernatowicz, drew negative attention for his inclusion of artists such as Kristian von Hornsleth, Lars Vilks, and Dan Park, whose work range from politically incorrect to plainly racist.

Political Art aims to protect “basic notions of democracy and values of Western civilisation” by exhibiting these “defiant” positions. Sure, moralism in art is annoying, and Ai Wei Wei (who withdrew from Lundberg’s original lineup in protest) is just as tacky as Dan Park, in spite or even because of his heal-the-worldpolitics. But the problem here is one of sensitivity and intelligence, a lack of sophistication by which art risks collapsing into propaganda – the precise tendency the curatorial statement purports to want to avoid. Quite unwittingly, then, this exhibition might too tell us something about the “illiberal core” of the liberal world order. This is no reason not to visit Warsaw’s Gallery Weekend in late September, however, where plenty of private galleries and project spaces offer refuge from Poland’s increasingly illiberal institutional landscape. One tip: Zuzanna Bartoszek’s new paintings at Galeria Stereo.

Heidi Bucher during the skinning proces of Gentleman’s Study, performance 1978. The Estate of Heidi Bucher. Photo: Hans Peter Siffert.

Elsewhere in Germany, there is no Preis-related build-up of suspense. At Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Wolfgang Hahn Preis, usually presented for the fair in April, goes to Marcel Odenbach, whose accompanying exhibition I will look forward to seeing in November.

In Hamburg, the Kunstverein presents a project initiated by the artist Simon Denny called Proof of Stake – Technological Claims, which will explore questions of ownership within the murky realms of “the technical.” The nearby Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof has become a kind of mini-Basel in recent years carrying on a remarkably strong and young programme. From 11 September, the Danish artist Adam Christensen promises gay drama with the cheeky title, translated from a Lana lyric, Küss mich, bevor du gehst. In Munich, the gallery pas de deux Various Others takes place from 10 September, along with a string of compelling institutional exhibitions: Alexandra Bircken at Museum Brandhorst, Bea Schlingelhoff at the Kunstverein, and Heidi Bucher at Haus der Kunst.

The next weekend, coinciding with the frenzy in Berlin, the Zurich Art Weekend has been generously planned to allow die-hards a two-day recess before the preview days of Art Basel the week following. Kunsthalle Zürich shows a comprehensive overview of the New York-based collective ART CLUB2000 – a 1990s art scene brat pack, which will hopefully be interesting for the hitherto uninitiated to discover – while Migros Museum opens a big exhibition by the long-rising star Korakrit Arunanondchai titled Songs for dying / Songs for living. The latter will arrive in Hamburg after the Denny show.

ART CLUB2000, Untitled (Times Sq./Gap Grunge 2), 1992–93, C-print, 8 x 10″. From the series Commingle, 1992–93, courtesy ART CLUB2000

In Basel, the fair makes a bold-as-brass return alongside another group show of women painters with little in common at Fondation Beyeler. (In October, they follow up with a landmark Francisco Goya exhibition.) Kunsthalle Basel has not managed to time its autumn exhibition for the rescheduled fair, but the swathe of international visitors will be able to catch the last of the summer exhibition by the young American artist Matthew Angelo Harrison.

Also in Switzerland, it is well worth following Nicolas Brulhart’s programme at Fri-art, the Kunsthalle in Fribourg, which will be celebrating its 40th anniversary with an exhibition by the institution’s first director, the artist Michel Ritter. In the small Alpine town of Glarus, the Kunsthaus (under the new directorship of Melanie Ohnemus) opens solo exhibitions by Elliot Reed and Bri Williams.

Across the mountains in Austrian Graz, the newly configured venue Halle für Kunst Steiermark likewise shows two African American artists: Kevin Jerome Everson and Doreen Garner. Just as in Munich it is nice to note that it is no longer so unusual to see an entirely female lineup of solo presentations across all major venues. This might be a sign that institutions are beginning to respond to the demand for more diverse programming, finally going beyond thematic tokenism and condescending correctional group shows to a more serious engagement with individual practices. And so, even amidst the frantic hedonism of our newly compressed social season, difficult reality continues to rear its head. As it should. But it is really only the meta-discourse that strains, as it is the parties, the people, and the travelling that exhaust – not the exhibitions as such. Of all our problems, the art itself remains the least.

Kevin Jerome Everson, Brown Thrasher, 2020, 16 mm film (digitalized), color, sound, 2:46 min. Courtesy the artist, trilobite-arts DAC, Charlottesville and Picture Palace Pictures, New York / ​Binoculars. Courtesy the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York.