2015.01.05 Mon, by Translated by: 彭祖强
Best of 2014 Berlin

No apologies, it is an idiosyncratic selection, reflecting what I saw and what I missed—including unforgivable gaps. There are big names and new names; this list betrays my personal interest in China, but contains little painting. Too much has become ungenerous, dry and vain. Abstraction is becoming the Western equivalent of the most masturbatory Literati work. Whether we call it “Zombie Formalism” (Walter Robinson) or “MFA-clever“ (Jerry Saltz), we end up bending for beige.

Best of 2014 Berlin

Michael Sailstorfer, “B-Seite” at Haus am Waldsee

In a villa at the western edge of Berlin, far from the beating art of Mitte and Potsdamer Strasse, is the Haus am Waldsee—a small kunsthalle and the location of a mini-retrospective of Michael Sailstorfer (b.1979). It was worth the effort of getting there—I went twice. A humorous assault on sense and sensibility including decaying wall-mounted melons, tire inner-tube clouds, grinding icons, crowded rooms of containers and a knock-up bowling alley that echoed too loudly, “B-Seite” was a fascinating introduction to one of the most interesting artists working in Germany today.

Michael Sailstorfer,

Michael Sailstorfer, “Mit dem Kopf durch die Wand”, Demolition waste, skittles, skittle balls, 200 x 1300 x 500 cm (78 3/4″ x 511 3/4″ x 196 7/8″) , 2002 (courtesy the artist and Johann Koenig)

“Sed Tantum Dic Verbo (Just Say the Word)” at Blain|Southern

Curated by Glenn O’Brian and including works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Douglas Gordon, Joseph Kosuth, Richard Prince, Rob Pruitt, Ed Ruscha, Dash Snow, Lawrence Weiner and Christopher Wool, it was a museum show in a gallery. Wow, what a (male) team! O dear, a critical absence. Still, a great show.

Joseph Kosuth “One and Three Lamps”, 2 black and white photographs mounted on board, lamp, dimensions variable, 1965 (copyright Joseph Kosuth/ ARS, New York; courtesy: the artist and Sprüth Magers, Berlin, London).

Joseph Kosuth “One and Three Lamps”, 2 black and white photographs mounted on board, lamp, dimensions variable, 1965 (copyright Joseph Kosuth/ ARS, New York; courtesy: the artist and Sprüth Magers, Berlin, London).

Reinhard Mucha, “Frankfurter Block—Arbeiten am Hohlkasten 1981–2014” at Sprüth Magers Berlin

This was the best gallery show this summer, pipping Liam Gillick at Esther Schipper. The day I walked in, Mucha was working in the installation/archive/fortress, accidentally becoming part of it. Another show that should be in a (major) museum.

Rheinhard Mucha at Sprüth Magers, Berlin

Rheinhard Mucha at Sprüth Magers, Berlin

Angela Bulloch, “In Virtual Vitro” at Esther Schipper

What a year it has been for Esther Schipper, with one extraordinary show after another, most playing on musical themes. Three shows could be in the top 10. Liam Gillick’s “Revenons à nos moutons” and Philippe Parreno’s “Quasi Objects” were both engrossing, but here I will mention the show that left me fascinated but confused, reading up on Bulloch’s work for the past 20 years. Where to begin? Music, avatars, Robert Morris, bean bags, totem poles, a felt stage… There were so many references, but among my favorites was the contemplation of the subjective experience of art, space and music.

Angela Bulloch at Esther Schipper

Angela Bulloch at Esther Schipper

“Rendez-Vous: Sortie de mon corps” at SAVVY Contemporary

SAVVY is an art space, institute and archive of African contemporary art and its interrelations with the world, and I am immensely grateful to Thomas Eller for introducing me to this extraordinary place and its equally extraordinary team, led by Dr. Bonaventure S.B. Ndikung and Dr. Elena Agudio. The introduction was “Rendez-Vous”, curated by Olivier Marboeuf, from Espace Khiasma in Greater Paris. Particularly impressive was Gwenola Wagon & Stephane Degoutin’s “Dance Party in Iraq” (2012-2013), a compilation of intercepted private dance-videos of US soldiers jiving in uniform. (SAVVY Contemporary, Richardstr. 20, 12043 Berlin-Neukölln)

Scott Redford, “Burn/Rate” at 11m2
I have been a fan of Redford for 20 years, so I was looking forward to this concentrated show of conflicts, including Post-Modern, Post-Pop, Post-Conceptual reflection and homoerotic subversion crammed into SUCH a tiny space in well-to-do Charlottenburg. (11m2, Mommsenstrasse 8, 10629 Berlin)

Scott Redford

Scott Redford “Burnrate” at 14m2

Seven films about time and space” at neugerriemschneider

With films by Olafur Eliasson, Sharon Lockhart, Antje Majewski, Simon Starling and Rirkrit Tiravanija, “Seven Films” cleft against the loud and immediate, a winter show that rewarded patience. Ai Weiwei’s drive-along map, “Beijing 2013”, caught my attention first, but it is James Benning’s “Stemple Pass” (2012) that still haunts me eleven months after I first saw it. Enthrallingly claustrophobic despite depicting a hut in the middle of the great American outdoors, it is the introvert’s version of “Infinite Jest”. It was also the Unabomber’s hut.

James Benning at neugerriemschneider

James Benning at neugerriemschneider

Guan Xiao, “Something Happened Like Never Before” at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler

A bland building on Alexanderplatz houses Berlin’s TAZ newspaper and, along a long, thin corridor, a really exciting, small gallery. In this gallery was a poised video and sculpture-installation show by Guan Xiao. I continue to rate Guan’s video work more highly than the sculptures but only because there is such a lot going on in the films. And we will seem much more of them in 2015.

Guan Xiao at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler

Guan Xiao at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler

Ryan Trecartin, “Site Visit” and Kate Cooper, “Rigged” at KW
A year ago, KW made a horrific mess with their contribution to a triple-crime scene called “Painting Forever!” (the two other criminals were the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle). But all is forgiven. KW has apparently realized that it doesn’t know the first thing about painting, so best to keep clear of it. Conceptual and installation art is really its “thing”. On one hand was Ryan Trecartin’s hyper-mall brain splat (with a range of comfortable chairs, including lazy recliners), and on the other was Kate Cooper’s elegant hyper-popism.

Kate Cooper, “Rigged”, 2014 at KW (image courtesy the artist)

Kate Cooper, “Rigged” at KW (image courtesy the artist)

Sue Barker, “I become almost a shadow” and Julie Mehretu, “Half a Shadow” at carlier | gebauer

carlier | gebauer know lots about painting. Sue Barker’s show “I become almost a shadow” eclipsed Julie Mehretu’s “Half a Shadow”, whose grey gestural marks seemingly abandoned her previous signature architectural style. As good as Mehretu was, Barker’s wafer-thin sculptural canvasses redefined fragility in painting. On the other hand, Mehretu’s drawings were abrupt, blunt, coarse and arresting. I can’t decide. They were both great.

Julie Mehretu at Carlier|Gebauer (photo: Chris Moore)

Julie Mehretu at Carlier|Gebauer (photo: Chris Moore)

What else happened?

Alexander Ochs closed his space in Besselstrasse in Kreuzberg with a huge show informed by over 20 years of friendship with China (“My Chinese Friends”) and relocated to a grand apartment in Charlottenburg (Schillerstrasse 15), close to another Berlin gallery institution, Max Hetzler (Goethestrasse 2-3). His main contribution this year, however, was to helping organize the vast Ai Weiwei show at Berlin’s premier kunsthalle, Martin Gropius Bau.

randian 燃点 magazine members and partners were busy too. Thomas Eller curated “Die 8. der Wege” (“The Eight of Ways”), for anyone who wanted a moment of Beijing without Weiwei (except for He Xiangyu’s sculpture). Momentum held two major video shows across multiple locations—“Pandamonium”, curated by David Elliott and Li Zhenhua, and “Fragments of Empires” (on now), curated by David Elliott and the founder of Momentum Rachel Rits-Volloch. Ming Wong had a wonderful show, oh, also at Carlier Gebauer. Among others joining Ming Wong in Berlin now is He Xiangyu and, on a DAAD Residency Program, Zhou Xiaohu. Meanwhile, the love affair China’s art world has had with Berlin is finally being reciprocated, so expect some interesting developments in 2015—from artists to museums and galleries.

Li Binyuan at

Li Binyuan at “Die 8. der Wege” (The 8 of Paths), Berlin