Five art works seen at Art Berlin – Jasmin Werner, Zuzanna Czebatul, Buck Ellison, Anna Vogel & Otto Dix

  • 21.09.2017

Last week marked the inception of art berlin, the new modern and contemporary art fair in the German capital. The expectations were high, given the sometimes controversial decisions taken to make what was previously known as abc art berlin contemporary more successful (curatorial concept out, art cologne stakeholders in, among other things). I visited the fair on Saturday and Sunday, so the excitement and high stakes of VIP preview and collectors frenzy was already over; what I experienced was a pretty conventional fair.

Booths were in most cases filled with works by more than one artist, which wasn't allowed a year ago - at abc, it was solo booth only, and preferably no paintings. The change of concept must have been good for dealers though, who were able to show the range of what they had to offer rather than to make a statement. Some of them though, particularly those who could afford to, did. I noticed that the trend of reasonably-sized sculpture is gaining some traction, and that there's a bit less ironically bad figurative painting; I also noticed that this was a quintessentially German fair, with most exhibitors hailing from the country itself; I initially thought of it as a pity, given the multitude of international galleries whose program I would've liked to see at art Berlin; but in the end, seeing the richness and diversity of Germany's gallery scene - alongside the large crowds of interested visitors - felt inspiring. Among the hundreds of pieces on view, I selected five that still resonate with me. Here they are.

Jasmin Werner, Divine Spine, 2017 at Gillmeier Rech, Berlin

Jasmin Werner has been producing sculptures based on stairs for some time, since her excellent exhibition “Status Faux”, which took place earlier this year at Gillmeier Rech, was filled with pieces similar to “Divine Spine”, the one on view at the gallery’s booth. Werner seems to have fun with perverting the very idea of the stair itself by making it unusable: this one was small, probably not even solid enough for a mouse to walk it up, and some of its steps were made of spoons. You could taste a sharp and slightly bitter type of absurdist humor when looking at the piece; additionally, its visual appeal between readymade and arte povera was undeniable. For a hight of 64 cm, Werner’s sculpture packed more punch than a lot of gaudy things on view at the fair.

Zuzanna Czebatul, Spooning in Love and Anger I, 2017 at Piktogram Gallery, Warsaw

Lovers of spaghetti, tight embraces and a humorous approach to contemporary art must have been enchanted by Zuzanna Czebatul’s “Spooning in Love and Anger I”, on view at Piktogram’s booth. The sculpture was composed of various limbs intertwined in a complicated knot. Half of them were made of soft, baby blue fleece, and the other half of aggressively orange latex. Together, these hand and feet seemed as much a celebration of body contact as a creepy reminder of the last time someone groped you in the ubahn. Beyond the first “haha” effect though, Czebatul’s sculpture reflected something poetic and subtle. Touching and being touched are gestures that mirror a person’s emotional status; the only difference between a stroke on the cheek and a violent backhander is only intensity, really.

Buck Ellison, Cheese board, 2016 at Balice Hertling, Paris

How white can a image be? Californian photographer Buck Ellison has been steadily exploring the bland anxiety that permeates the lives of Caucasian yuppies and upper-class people, and “Cheese board” is no exception to this research: in a setting that appears to be one of those soulless concept stores of the Bay area, a man and a woman inspect a cheeseboard. They look like something between environmentalists and those people who genuinely enjoy hanging around start up incubators; hipsters, basically. However, the moment captured by Ellison seems intimate, private, and almost peaceful; in this work, as in many others, the artist precisely and savvily blurs the lines between the bliss and sterility of privilege.

Anna Vogel, New Cities, 2017 at Conrads, Düsseldorf

The surface of water is one of those images circa five million artists - good ones included - have tried, and often failed, to represent. Anna Vogel took on the challenge through what appears to be an immensely detailed process. First, she simply takes a photograph, and then reworks it digitally, distorting certain lines and sharpening angles; in a third, painstaking step, Vogel starts applying vertical lines of ink all over the image by hand, clouding the darker surfaces of the print. At first glance, “New Cities” looks like a conventional, low res picture printed on a large surface (160 x 120 cm in this case); only with a closer look does the viewer realise how thorough both the processes of thought and manual labor must have been to achieve this impression of digital corruption.

Otto Dix, Dame, 1922 at Fischer Kunsthandel und Editionen, Berlin

The adage “I can’t even” is one of those trendy utterances you see popping up on your social media feeds every day in reaction to things cute, stupid, or beautiful. In this case, it appears that Otto Dix’s “Dame” can’t even. It’s no secret that Dix is one of art history’s most brilliant representatives when it comes to catch a character visually; for a work realized almost 100 years ago, the woman portrayed on this etching seems contemporary as hell. Her pettiness, ennui, cheap jewellery and mordant eyeroll look fresher and cooler than most hipsters on your instagram feed, and the snarky detachment on the woman’s face is exactly how so many of us react when scrolling through our phones. Add to this that “Dame” was only one amongst many fantastic works by the German artist on view at the booth and you’ll just start wishing for, well, more Dix in life.