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Jonathan Meese, Conan der Meese, 2001-02 (detail)

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Berlin Biennial
March 23 - April 4, 2006

Since the Wall came down in 1989, Berlin has become a post-industrial playground for artists and curators of all nationalities. Abandoned factory buildings have been transformed into makeshift museums and spacious studios, fueling the creation of a host of innovative art activities. In this issue, we break down the highlights of the 4th Berlin Biennial, which subsumes the Mitte district with a slew of installations and events, and profile one of its hot commodities, painter Gabriel Vormstein. We interview Klaus Biesenbach about his cutting-edge KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, his position as chief curator at P.S.1 in New York, and his seminal role in establishing the Berlin Biennial. We wrap our Teutonic coverage by examining a compendium from German magazine 032c, and then go global with reviews of exhibitions about swirling wrestlers, crooked oil pylons, and frozen body fluids.

Architect Cruz Inspired by Tijuana
(New York Times, March 12)
Taking notes from both Donald Judd and the flexible, colorful housing solutions improvised by immigrant communities in Tijuana, architect Teddy Cruz is designing a 12-unit living structure in San Diego in conjunction with advocacy group Casa Familiar, and repurposing a McMansion into multi-family housing. Cruz's designs present an intersection of public and private spaces in a way that recognizes the changing nature of immigrant communities.

Smithsonian Proposes Online Museum
(Washington Post, March 11)
The Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's revamped website will have a heavy interactive component — one that lets web surfers curate online exhibitions, share photos, and communicate with each other. More funding is necessary, but San Francisco digital design firm Method will likely be rolling out an initial site featuring interactive educational programming, by the fall.

"Gas Chamber" Installation Pulled
(CBC Arts, March 15)
Officials in Pulheim, Germany, decided to put an end to a controversial installation in a local synagogue after an outcry from Jewish leaders. The exhibit, 245 Cubic Meters, by political provocateur Santiago Sierra, ran tubes from the tail pipes of six cars into the temple. Visitors donned gas masks in order to peer into the carbon-monoxide gloom. The general secretary for the Central Council of Jews in Germany called the work "deeply offensive."

New Site for Borofsky Sculpture
(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 15)
A newly created public-art committee at Carnegie Mellon University has decided to change the proposed site for a large-scale sculpture by Jonathan Borofksy that will be installed in May. News that the 100-foot-tall piece, Walking to the Sky, would bisect the campus' two large green spaces had drawn sharp criticism from students and faculty. In a related story, Borofsky's massive, mechanical Hammering Man sculpture in Seattle has lost its bearings after 14 years in motion.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude's river project stirs debate » more

Deyan Sudjic named director of London's Design Museum » more

Getty makes room for photography » more

Picasso drawing bought at Costco may be a fake » more

Sydney Opera House architect finally gets his due » more

Logans give monumental gift to Denver Art Museum » more

Questions of veracity surround stolen Pollock » more

Savannah gets Moshe Safdie museum » more

Henry Moore sculpture returned for fear of theft » more

Photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks dies at 93 » more

Note: Some online publications require registration to access the articles. If you encounter a registration screen, try akreader1 as the username and password.

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[ Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art ]


Oliver Croy / Diego Perrone / Ján Mancuska / Nathalie Djurberg

Biennials have become so commonplace in cultural capitals around the world that curators are beginning to look at them less as surveys of what's hot and more as a platform to express the spirit of the times. Breaking the mold of having a super-curator organize the event, the 4th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art chose a team consisting of artist Maurizio Cattelan and two writers-turned-curators Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick. Of course, their reputation as the celebrated directors of the Wrong Gallery, a renegade exhibition space in a doorway, preceded them.

The curators created a five-point program for the Biennial. They began last March with a series of interviews. Five questions — Who are you? Why are you here? When did you come? What do you want? Where do you go? — were posed to artists living and working in Berlin such as Adrian Piper, Tjorg Beer, and Christian Jankowski, and the results were published fortnightly in the magazine Zitty. Last September they opened Gagosian Gallery, Berlin, a pirated version of the international gallery, where they presented five monthly exhibitions — from the venerable Berlin Beauties that featured Dorothy Iannone, Dieter Roth, and Emmett Williams to the fresh-faced YBA — Young Bavarian Art. In November 2005 they published a diary of their candid impressions of Berlin in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, the Sunday edition of a popular German newspaper. Then they compiled Checkpoint Charley, a massive volume documenting more than 700 artists encountered in the curatorial process. Now comes the main exhibition, Of Mice and Men.

Taking its title from John Steinbeck's novel, Of Mice and Men explores the current human condition through the work of more than 70 artists from different generations presented in a variety of venues along one street in Berlin's Mitte district. The evocative sites on historical Augustrasse include a church, a mirrored ballroom, a former Jewish school for girls, a cemetery, abandoned buildings, and private apartments.

Kai Althoff and Lutz Braun show a total environment they constructed when living together in one of the exhibition spaces while Florian Slotawa presents a sculpture made from all of the furniture in a private home. Erik Van Lieshout screens a video in a container parked on the street that he shot while bicycling across Germany and Pawel Althamer helps an illegal immigrant become legit. Aïda Ruilova premieres a new video filmed in goth director Jean Rollin's Paris apartment, Tacita Dean exhibits a videotape of nuns she followed in Ireland, Susan Philipsz airs a sound installation in the Old Garrison Cemetery, and Bouchet recreates his appropriation of Walter de Maria's Earth Room. The Biennial also looks back while it comments on the present, as Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan display their 1977 photographic series Evidence and Bruce Conner resurrects his 1976 atomic bomb film, Crossroads. Made up of many elements in a mythical city, the Berlin Biennial promises to be a cultural adventure that will influence the course of future curatorial roundups. (PL)

The Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art is on view March 25 - May 28.

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Callum Morton: Mini Monuments

Anna Schwartz Gallery
Now through March 25

  Originally trained as an architect, multimedia artist Callum Morton reinvents iconic projects such as Le Corbusier's urban plans for Chandigarh, India, and Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, transforming utopian visions into drab functional environments. His latest work goes further to explore the monumentality of utilitarian forms through scale models. Monument #1 - Screen suggests a relic from the era of drive-in theaters, rendered in exacting, weathered detail. Monument #4 - Pylon upends the geometry of oil booms past, as the gridlike structure of an oil pylon bends upon itself, while a sound installation, Monument #8 - Pile, which emits a mobile phone ringtone, asserts the deadpan, austere wit that informs Morton's practice. (AM)

Andres Serrano: Selected Works
San Juan

Walter Otero Gallery
Now through May 4

  After his Piss Christ stirred up a furor over NEA funding for its depiction of a urine-dunked Jesus figurine, Andres Serrano earned mainstream notoriety, but he remains as provocative as ever. In this solo show, eight large-format color prints including Piss Christ summarize themes the artist explored in several photographic series from 1987 to 2003, vividly illustrating Serrano's penchant for profaning the sacred and transgressing the limits of decorum. His portraits make glamorous icons, whether featuring a KKK member in hooded regalia, a cherubic boy scout, or a bad-boy pimp, while the artist's fascination for bodily fluids erupts in a different way with Frozen Sperm I, an abstracted interpretation of male potency. (JK)

Inka Essenhigh
New York

303 Gallery
Now through April 8

  In Inka Essenhigh's new paintings, hyperreality takes control as the artist twists and exaggerates seemingly normal scenarios of urban and rural life in playful manipulations of movement. Essenhigh varies between either freezing a single frame of narrative or showing its past, present, and future all at once. Wrestlers catches two humanoid combatants in midair as their bodies collide and morph like fluid in a lava lamp, while Subway traces commuter trajectories through billowing white sheets that tangle and wrap around each other as they cross paths. In these works and others, Essenhigh showcases her evolution as a visual storyteller whose developing pictorial language makes for uncanny, energetic scenes full of adventure. (JC)

Dan Flavin: A Retrospective

Hayward Gallery
Now through April 2

  With England's rainy season in full swing, the warm fluorescent glow exuding from the Dan Flavin retrospective provides an appreciated bright spell. Iconic works such as the diagonal of May 25, 1963, a single shaft of yellow paying homage to Brancusi's Endless Column, and untitled (to Henri Matisse) complement lesser-known assemblages and preparatory drawings from this pioneer of situational art. Exclusively working with mass-produced, commercially available lights in ten colors, Flavin mastered an art of complex subtlety, reflected in untitled (to Jan and Ron Greenberg), a corridor installation that confronts viewers with hallucinatory gradations of light. Colors and shapes shift before your eyes as you move through this illuminating exhibition. (HV)

Johanna Billing: Magical World

Now through March 26

  In her new video piece, Magical World, Swedish artist Johanna Billing simultaneously orchestrates and documents the earnest efforts of a young after-school group in Croatia to learn a song by American psychedelic-soul rockers the Rotary Connection. While her young charges struggle with the foreign language and message of the song Magical World, Billing stresses the camera's observational nature through cuts from rehearsals to atmospheric views of the local landscape, where people mingle in courtyards, and construction sites emerge through window blinds. Symbolizing the future of a country recovering from conflict and moving toward EU membership, the somber and sincere performers give new meaning to hopeful lyrics. (CK)

Magical World is also on view at Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago through April 22 and at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York through May 8.

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[ Gabriel Vormstein ]

Gabriel Vormstein

Relocating images from art history onto newspaper pages, Gabriel Vormstein creates heartbreakingly delicate paintings that disintegrate over time. Made in watercolor and gouache on pages from the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, many of the works feature figures from Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt paintings. But Vormstein also paints wildly expressive abstractions, grim goth images, and hard-edged minimalist forms. Despite the wide range in subject matter, his paintings are surprisingly cohesive, because his tremulous, emotional marks accent the melancholy in any image.

Born in Konstanz, Germany, in 1974 and currently based in Berlin, Vormstein draws on an unusual set of artistic influences. Clearly inspired by the Vienna Secession artists, he also incorporates elements from the '60s Arte Povera movement, which promoted ephemeral, everyday materials as a means of questioning the permanence of art.

The found material of the newspaper, with its crinkly, buckling pages, imbues Vormstein's paintings with fragility, and it adds a literal subtext. Like Schiele, Vormstein has a dramatic approach to negative space, but his negative ground is alive with text and images. This complicates the figurative and abstract scenes; mournful figures bump up against a grid of articles, and minimalist forms contend with banal news headlines, which undermine their geometric severity.

A sculptor as well as a painter, Vormstein assembles wall compositions of found wood, fabric, and paint, which he has exhibited as part of his solo shows at Casey Kaplan in New York, and Meyer Riegger Galerie in Karlsruhe, Germany. With the same pared-down expressionism of his paintings, the wiry branches of his sculptures reach for each other across gallery walls, communicating both vulnerability and grace. (BR)

Vormstein's work is on view in Of Mice and Men at the 4th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art March 25 - May 28.

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[ Klaus Biesenbach ]


Clemens von Wedemeyer / Hedi Slimane / Joseph Beuys / Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Sarah Kessler interviews Klaus Biesenbach, curator of film and media at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and chief curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, about Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin and the Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art — both of which he founded — as well as his other current projects.

AK: You founded Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art in an abandoned margarine factory in the early '90s, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. How and why did you make the decision to house KW in such an unusual place?

KB: We were a group of art-enthusiastic students, at an age when you would normally do an internship in an institution. We worked as a group, and worked very closely with the cultural administration in the still-existing East Berlin. They had asked us if we wanted to house the arts institution in such a decrepit building as KW was at the time. We saw the potential of the building, but at first we were told that it was owned by the state and would soon be run with subsidies from the city and the federal government. It turned out that the building was not owned by the state, and the promise of the subsidies vanished when finally the West German law and West German system completely absorbed the former East.

AK: What do you see as KW's role in the development of the Berlin art scene after the Wall came down? What was the institution's mission, and how has it changed over time?

KB: KW's role was always much more international than local — an experimental stage for the newest developments in contemporary art, with very open borders toward pop culture, music, architecture, design, literature, film, and other media. Its role in the Berlin art scene was basically that of a pioneer and a pacemaker that tried to introduce new, international positions — positions that hadn't been shown before in Berlin — to a wider audience. In the very beginning we showed a Robert Smithson exhibition, Vito Acconci's The Red Tapes, and works by artists like Joan Jonas, as well as the work of young students from, for example, Rebecca Horn's class at the Hochschule der Künste (College of Fine Arts).

AK: For a while you served simultaneously as artistic director of KW and chief curator of P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center — what was it like to have one foot in New York and the other in Berlin? How is the Berlin art scene different from the New York art scene?

keep reading the interview »

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Joerg Koch, editor
Published by 032c Workshop, Berlin

032c effectively describes itself as a "visual culture magazine at the intersections of fashion, art, and politics." Published twice a year, it offers a dynamic mix of people, places, and styles that are influencing the zeitgeist. The current issue presents Thomas Demand's reductive view of a Lamborghini Gallardo, Oliver Helbig's detailed look at Rem Koolhaas' Casa da Música, French Vogue remixed by its creative director Fabien Baron, and a selection of art from the Goetz Collection, which features Andreas Hofer, Markus Selg, and Thaddeus Strode. Articles and interviews related to the visual pages follow, including a discussion about green technologies with German parliament member Hermann Scheer, as well as reviews of cultural events in Berlin and savvy photographic editorials that seductively highlight current fashion. (PL)

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Cover Art
Jonathan Meese
Conan der Meese, 2001-02
Oil on canvas
67 x 51 in./170 x 130 cm
Collection Museum Volk-X-mund, Bacharach
Courtesy Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, and Museum Volk-X-mund, Bacharach
All Rights Reserved

Paul Laster
Bryony Roberts
Andrew Maerkle
Greg Zinman
Nikki Columbus
Jocelyn K. Glei
Mark Mangan
Shana Nys Dambrot
Allison Kave
Marlyne Sahakian

Naomi Beckwith
Justin Conner
Rachel Cook
Lisa Cooley
Annette Ferrara
Leigh Goldstein
Katherine Gunderson
Sarah Kessler
Jessica Kraft
Catherine Krudy
Katie Kurtz
Melissa Lo
Christopher Y. Lew
Natasha Madov
Shiraz Randeria
Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts
Hannah Vaughan
Michelle Weinberg

Anjuli Ayer
Morgan Croney
Jules Gaffney

Mailer Design
Jessica Bauer-Greene
Mark Barry

Christopher Elam
Mark Barry

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