The 4th edition of Art Berlin Contemporary (abc) gained special attention because the former main art fair in Berlin, the Art Forum, had to be cancelled earlier this year. At abc, the number of exhibitors almost doubled in comparison to last year. So, all eyes were on abc now. Four years ago, abc started out as an alternative to Art Froum - now it feels like a somewhat hostile takeover of a number of its exhibitors.
The promising aspect of abc was the hybrid concept of the fair: The two curators, Rita Kersting and Marc Glöde, set the title 'about painting' and invited selected galleries to feature a specific artist. On one hand there was a 5 days museum-like theme show for and on the other hand there was the artist's art dealer sitting at his bench on the opposite side of the wall.
I liked abc's approach to break up the increasingly boring identical appearance of global art fairs. It seems, the curators demonstrated their regained power over art market forces and relegated the 125 participating art dealers to the benches. About half of the galleries were from Berlin and the others were mostly the usual International crowd.
I did not like the show's architecture by Jan Ulmer within the Station Berlin, a beautiful former postal railway station in Gleisdreieck, because it was difficult to find orientation.
I was exited to see a show about painting in Berlin that is only 180 km away from Leipzig and its previously über-hyped Leipzig school of painting (no, there were no Neo Rauchs in the show...).
It is a frequent tradition of avant-garde to abandon painting as dead form of art. The Detroit-based artist, Michael E. Smith, seems to refer to this attitude, by putting old socks into a plastic container of yellow coloured water and highlighting it by a spotlight.
There were interesting pieces by the young German artist Michael Müller, made from ceramic tiles, black lacquer and aluminium frames.
Very convincing were also the paintings by the Burundi-born South-African painter Serge Alain Nitegeka. He paints on wood and plays very confidently with abstraction and representation in different layers of paint.
The 1984-born Mexican artist Pablo Rasgado even makes the museum walls his material: he cut out a piece of the wall's plasterboard, painted it partly and featured the reverse side just around the corner.
There were well-established positions, by artists like Daniel Buren, Erik van Lieshout or Per Kirkeby. John Armleder, for instants, put an Arne Jacobsen chair in front of his painting and made it an installation about the conservative expectations of buyers of paintings. I think that was a little to simple...
Overall, I would say, the concept of abc is an interesting alternative to the increasingly uniform major brand name art fairs.
by Chris Neuschler
Art Berlin Contemporary
from 7th - 11th September 2011