7th Berlin Biennale. Thoughts and Comments.

The Biennale is in town and nearly everybody is disappointed. The exhibition itself is more of an agitation than an exhibition in the classical sense. Though nobody really knows, going through Kunstwerke and the other exhibition spaces, one can get the idea, that the actual exhibited works (if they even are works) were not chosen for their quality but rather for their „in the face“ political statement. This years curator (and artist) Artur Zmijewski does not make the mistake to take sides too openly, though he is very much in favor of a radical idea of basic democracy. So one hits on the occupy (indignado, etc.) basecamp in the ground floor of Kunstwerke. Next to sprayed and handwritten signs with slogans for a better world in all kind of languages you have gender-, politics-, and whatever people like to talk about discussions, film-screenings and some guerilla gardening very well hidden in the backyard. Because people are protesting, they have made call outs for donations (from food – but please, please biodynamic or vegan, we do not kill animals! – to transporters for their free use). Together with the high end gallery weekend art-crowd running around their on the opening weekend, that is a nice contrast in a way – on the other hand it is really naive to think, something like an occupy camp cannot be easily enjoyed by people used to all sorts of irony. One could now get on and ramble about the other works, but hey, there is really not much to say about them than what you do see – the head of a giant Christ the salvator statue for instance, next to it a palestinian artist with stamps from a (non existing) state of palestine (and, yes, there is a hidden critic on religion there, using the artist himself and his work, for he is a religious man, which is in my eyes very disrespectfull). 

What works out great is the hunger for scandalization that is maybe the most important part of this years Biennale. Even before it started there were two media arousels – one about a book recycling (which we in germany do take more serious because of the third reich) and about the logo of the Biennale, which resembles a nordic rune (in germany again only used by neo-fascist movements), although it has a different design background (its parts are made of signs of important currencys like Dollar, Yen and EURO). This is most definitely a calculated and pretty smart way to play with the medias and to criticize them this way – the scandalisation and eventism that is everywhere. The (very) bad press the Biennale has received this year maybe (in a strange twist) helpfull and healing for the institution Biennale itself. After the big success in the beginning, it kind of ran its course into a summit of professionals and mostly highly complex concept-art, rather than being a sexy show of what is going on in the (now because of the Biennale famous) Berlin art scene. The better – or lets say more accesible – art was shown in the last years during the gallery weekend, now even the better (and aesthaetical more appealing) political art is to be found in the bigger and smaller players in the gallery-scene. In the aftermath of the exhibition there will be a lot of discussion on this topic, not only because of its costs (approximately 2.5 million euro). One can expect the next Biennale to be a more classical approach to an curated exhibition – and maybe it will get a good amount of attention too, without being an agitation. 

The biggest drawback on the whole concept is the two sidedness of its apporach – you have the high costs and the politics, and you have the artists who receive (wow!) 1000 EURO each for participating. The staff (especially guards and so on) are even payd worse (as far as i know it is 6.80 EURO an hour) – and so everything that is promoted on the outside is conteracted by the austerity of everybody participating and working there (except the curators and so on, of course). As far as I am concerned, that is really sad overall. But if you are in Berlin – go yourself and see. It is definitely interesting.




Über philippkoch

author and curator, specializing in literature and writing on visual arts
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