abc Art Berlin Contemporary has become as famous for its schizoid, non-conformist and sporadic booth presentations as its location Berlin is for its multiplicity of architectural styles. Displaying works without a ‘white cube’ booth format encourages a more organic presentation which adheres more to a site-specific aesthetic where artists responds directly to location, architecture and space. The fair’s current layout is largely without walls, which echoes a city infamous for one of the most political works of architecture in history, The Berlin Wall. History and its associations aside, abc is a fair with an amalgamation of styles that includes: walled booths, free standing walls, floor sculptures, sound, installations and purpose built enclosed structures assembled together for the duration of this event. Some galleries excelled in their choice of artists and clever use of space, whilst others presented rather underwhelming monumental works which in my opinion played on the ceiling height and not much else in terms of engaging with spaces allocated. It seemed more about spectacle in these instances.
David Adamo at IBID Projects is one of such successes as the artist uses limited space effectively by presenting several totemic wood sculptures, some of which some are stood upright whilst others placed directly on the ground with wood shavings loosely scattered around the works. The whole set-up conjures labour, craftsmanship and rawness of material. One can perhaps imagine the artist working these large wood blocks into their present form in situ before the opening. It has an immediacy that appeals to the viewer but also relies on physical engagement of the work as one can experience it by sitting or walking through and around the installation. Some of the sculptures have erasers (rubbers) aligned in rows across them which I found humorous. It is as if the work comments directly on permanence in art-making. If you make a mark on wood it lasts for ever and you can’t just ‘erase’ it away.
IBID’s director Magnus Edensvard worked with the fair’s unconventional display and explains the choice of Adamo partly for this reason. Edensvard describes Adamo’s sculptures as ‘not necessarily needing walls but in this case the piece marks out the space and suggests it could be a stage or social platform’.
He also noted Marcel Frey sculpture-cum-furniture works at Galerie Thomas Fischer as an impressive presentation.
Sofie Bird Møller’s Korridor, 2012 at Sassa Trülzsch sees large reworked18th century manuscripts assembled to form a corridor like the title of the work suggests. This arrangement of five large paintings are arresting as one is able to study the manuscripts from recto and verso views. Møller often experiments with presenting this work and has previously exhibited it outdoors and on floors allowing for multiple modes of display.
Moveable walls and texts are a dominant feature of Dirk Bell at BQ. In signatory Bell style which sees the artist appropriate text as sculpture, here, the words: ‘DENKENDE’, ‘REVOLVER’, ‘BURN OUT’, ‘WORK OUT’ and ‘UTOPIA’ form a fragmented semiotic wallpaper for the walls and floor that make up this installation. This work by Bell can be described as a labyrinth of words and meaning which reference the beginning and the end of living in the present. He also subverts the Volkswagen logo to form ‘M’ and ‘W’ which represent man and woman as equals united in the car manufacturers famous circular logo.
Fair first-timers Blank Projects conceptual booth incorporated several sculptural objects assembled by South African artist James Webb. ENTITLED, 2012 uses the traditional Japanese Ikebana arrangement for invasive plant species of the country the work is being presented in. Here in Berlin, what seems an innocent and beautiful arrangement of flowers and foliage are weeds and other invasive plants of Germany that have been arranged by a local Ikebana expert in Berlin. The floor neon piece is a re-working of South African gang tags whilst the text mirror piece is has the word ‘Know Thy Worth’ inscribed across it in Arabic calligraphy. Webb has reworked this sign in reference to the sign ‚Know Thyself‘ at the entrance to the Oracle of Delphi. This mirror piece signifies the history of the origins of Arabic language in South Africa which precedes the English language. Webb’s practice is all about subversion and disentangling belief systems.
Other stand out presentations adopting this ‘wall-free’ approach include Slavs and Tatars magic-carpet with neon base at Kraupa-Tuskany, fragments of Theaster Gates wonderful Huguenot House (2012) installation at dOCUMENTA (13) at Kavi Gupta, Ulf Aminde’s multiple standing screens at Galerie Tanja Wagner and Timm Ulrichs exceptionally assembled sound and sculptural installation at Wentrup.
Presenting works without walls is not without its problems as at times one cannot always differentiate between booths and some works are far too domineering in this non-conventional approach. However it does embody the spirit of a city that has a history of rebellion and anarchy, perhaps it is not so surprising abc would adopt such a format which is in the ethos of its city.
photos and text BY JAREH DAS, EDITOR FOR EYEOUT