This year’s Art Basel was cancelled due to Corona limitations in traveling and gathering, yet Johann König decided to still show his selection locally rather than cancelling it completely, giving Berliners the opportunity to see an international line up inside of his gallery, housed within the brutalist landmark Cathedral of St. Agnes.
No VR, no machines, no orange wigs, nothing crawling around from a post-apocalyptic artificially intelligent world. Instead, there was playfulness and surprising presence of color. An air of hope, even. I wanted to reach out to touch Monica Bonvicini’s Murano glass hands. The severity of her past work scares me (/simultaneously turns me on) but in these new pieces, there is a sense of camaraderie and compassion in her outreaching pastel arms.
Nothing overtly political was chosen, which is what one may expect given the current climate. I like this. Christian Jonkowski’s lone Polizei motorcade suit that hangs on the wall with a certificate of authenticity was the most brazen of such statements, and even it seemed like a bygone relic rather than an existential threat. The piece that brought the most horror brings us back to the natural order of life, courtesy of Robert Longo: a large hyperrealistic shark baring its rows of teeth.
A number of reappropriated advertisements in a detournement vein are on view from Martha Rossler, Michael Krebber, and Erica Baum. Karstadt ads take centre stage on canvas. Cut out breasts are pasted over advertisements for shapewear from the prime time of American marketing. With adverts observed in a new context, the realm of normalcy found in stock photos is instead transformed into absurdity.
One of Numero’s recently featured artists Jeppe Hein showed new pieces that literally hover above the others, as metal balloons that seem to weightlessly float despite their heft, their delicate ribbons lightly billowing anytime someone walks nearby.
The positioning of Josh Smith’s painting with the words Josh Smith roughly and largely slammed onto the canvas, intermingle wonderfully next to a selection of Andy Warhol. In Warhol’s ideal world, he said everyone would have 15 minutes of fame. Josh Smith makes sure of this. No doubt Andy would approve of his neighbour.
Beyond the factor of inclusivity in race, gender, and background, there appeared to be a new approach in allowing artists to create within a realm not as glossy as the art world has grown accustomed in the last decades. A.R. Penck brought us back to the caves, with crudely painted black symbols on a piece of rough cardboard that may as well have been a pizza box. I don’t mean this in a disparaging way, his radical approach and dismissal of fine art techniques is a critical analysis of the precious capitalist spectacle the art world typically encourages.
While top-paid artist Damien Hirst features a photograph of his beloved cash cow pharmaceutical bottles, the piece appears stark and foreboding: a medicine cabinet filled with various pill bottles, vials, and boxes, lit by fluorescent office lights. Another piece features mounted butterflies intermingling amongst syringes. It is a far cry from his usual poppy-cute pill sculptures, or his patterned pill prints that sold for millions. This new approach to the Pharma industry is an indicator of what has been consistently on tongues of the western world. Last year, the Guggenheim in NYC was publicly criticised in a string of on-site protests for accepting what photographer Nan Goldin called “blood money” for its educational centre, donated by the Sacklar family, magnates of the Purdue Pharmaceutical company. What Hirst will do with the sales of this series should be observed.
In a deteriorating market, the choice for many galleries is suicide or revolution. Berlin remains one of the last cities respecting its creators, seeing them as an opportunity for growth, treating its artists as evolved members and seers of society. The path to a magnificent future is of course not without its dangers, and one of the keys to betterment is recognition of this. It is impossible for us as subjects to stand outside of a spectacle and pronounce a clean slate, just because we want it. The joint effort for change is messy. We must not endeavour to sidestep the mess. We must first expose the whole process. What better way than to expose it in plain sight, inside of a brutalist landmark, built in the midst of a postwar revolution, in the hands of those working toward a more fair and inclusive socialist ideal?
The fair opens 17 June and goes through the 26th.
Reservations for entrance must be made here: https://www.koeniggalerie.com/tickets/
Text: Janna Shaw
Damien Hirst, Twist and Shout (2006); 112 x 92 cm
Monica Bonvicini, Up in Arms (2019); 12 x 48 x 22 cm
Christian Jankowski, Kunst + Krise (2010)
Robert Longo, Shark 15 (2008); 133 x 198 cm
Martha Rossler, Small Wonder (1972); 61 x 51 cm
Michael Krebber, Untitled (1996); 83 x 54 cm
Erica Baum, Towel (2009); 46.5 x 37.5 cm
Jeppe Hein, One Wish for You (medium pink), 2020; 40 x 26 x 26 cm
Josh Smith, Untitled (2006); 152 x 122 cm
Andy Warhol, Spacefruit: Canteloupes (1979); 76 x 101 cm
A.R. Penck, Ohne Titel (1995); 105 x 145 cm
Damien Hirst, Godless (2011); 158 x 119 cm