While we were all watching the world burn in 2017, it looks like the fire ignited many artists to make great work, and many curators to show it. Of Berlin’s best art shows in 2017, a baker’s dozen rose above the rest, and imprinted themselves on our hearts and minds. In no particular order, these are the 13 best Berlin art shows of 2017. If you are worried that reading a list of all the brilliant things you weren’t at will further your winter blues, you’re probably right — but lucky for you, a couple of these gems are still running.
1. Candice Breitz, “Love Story”, KOW Berlin
Candice Breitz’s “Love Story” offered an incredibly thought-provoking commentary on our collective perception of refugees in western/central Europe. At the core of “Love Story” is one of the most crucial questions of our times: how can we create empathy in a heartless world? Breitz explores this by getting two megastars, Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin, to recount shocking true stories of violence, war, trauma and abuse as if they were their own. These accounts are based on the real lives of six refugees currently living in Berlin, and it’s chilling how much empathy they conjure when plucked out of the news cycle and placed into the mouths of famous white actors. The overall impact is discomfiting. Thankfully, Breitz doesn’t just use the two actors to front these histories; the six participants also voice their own experiences. “Love Story” is an intelligent and subtle work which avoided pandering to sensationalism; we’re excited to see what Breitz does next.
2. Lu Yang, “Welcome to LuYang Hell”, Société
Lu Yang took us into her virtual hell, and we revelled in our condemnation. Post-internet art might be on its way out but, somehow, Yang managed to draw us back in. She doesn’t care for the defunct and overcooked ideas of what it means to exist in digitised world — rather, she revels the internet’s narcissism. The artist’s virtual face literally sneered out at us from every corner, most memorably in the form of a giant hot air balloon monster. Honestly, Yang, condemn me for life.
3. Anna Uddenberg, “Sante Par Aqua”, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler
Uddenberg’s latest solo show consists of four soft textile objects, which resist easy definition. Are they absurdist massage chairs from the future? Deconstructed car interiors? Futurist fetish spa furniture? Every piece begs to be touched, to be engaged with. “Twin Generators and Upgraded Space” was a personal favourite: the soft, fur-lined mechanical-bull-meets-salon-chair calls you to take a ride as you shuffle your feet about the enclosed space.
Anna Uddenberg “Sante Par Aqua” is running till 13.01.2018 at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin.
4. Dara Friedman, “Dichter”, Supportico Lopez
Late last year, Dara Friedman held an open audition where people were asked to recite a personal poem which had influence and meaning in their life. Friedman then chose 15 of her favourites to be filmed on 16mm film in a Kreuzberg studio. Friedman adapted Jerzy Grotowski’s vocal techniques to fill the speakers’ bodies with their own sound waves, investigating ideas of thinking with the body as well as the mind. The result was an eerie and arresting multi-video installation. The red, pink and purple backdrops united each of the works, and created a bold and memorable aesthetic.
5. “the new liquid model”, DUVE Berlin
This packed-out, one-night exhibition featured works by Jala Wahid, Rindon Johnson, Julia Colavita and Adam Chad Brody, followed by a contemporary dance performance by Shade Therét. “the new liquid model” explored the environmental, social, structural and political impact the world has on the body, bringing us back to the physicality of human existence. Any show that ends with the audience participating in an impromptu jelly fight definitely deserves a mention.
6. “Jaguars & Electric Eels”, Julia Stoschek Collection
“Jaguars & Electric Eels” was the second exhibition of the recently re-opened space showcasing art collector Julia Stoschek’s immense collection. Stoschek selected 28 media artists whose work explores evolution, nature and the supernatural. The result questioned our binary understanding of the artificial and the natural, while moving towards a hybrid future.
7. Hiwa K, “Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet”, KW Institute for Contemporary Art
In conjunction with Schering Stiftung, KW Institute for Contemporary Art presented a selection of works by Hiwa K, winner of the 2016 Schering Stiftung Art Award. “Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet” combined work from the last ten years with Hiwa K’s latest project, which was co-produced by the Ernst Schering Foundation themselves. Together, the works formed a deeply personal exploration of Hiwa K’s own diasporic identity, deconstructing the resulting social and political implications through stories told by the artist, as well as his friends and family members. This quotation from 2016’s “Don’t Panic” sums up the tone of the whole show:
“Last time I saw my mom before my farewell, I said, ‘Mom, I am leaving for good. I don’t know…maybe I will not make it like the other 28 people who got shot last week.’ She said ‘Son, if death comes, don`t panic. It is just death.”
8. “Squishy: eels swim in snakey”, Julius
The dramatic space at Juliusstrasse 38 amplified the playful artworks by Débora Delmar Corp, Joey Holder, Ittah Yoda, Sachin Kaeley, Miriam Lenk and Selou Sowe. Aside from the bold works and memorable staging, “Squishy: eels swim in snakey” is definitely a contender for Best Show Title of the Year.
9. Ed Atkins, “Old Food”, Martin-Gropius-Bau
Atkins is known for his digitally rendered films featuring strange avatars in even stranger settings. In this regard, “Old Food” at Martin-Gropius-Bau was no exception. The multi-room video installation, featuring interweaving loops of video footage, “Old Food” was a show for the curious, and those who aren’t easily unsettled.
Ed Atkins “Old Food” is running till 07.01.2018 at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin.
10. Olymphia, “Termination of the World’s Last Harbour”, Acud Gallery
Created by Olymphia (artist duo Kristian Emdal and Loke Rahbek), ‘Termination of the World’s Last Harbour” merged music, dance and live sculpture to form one of the most engaging shows of the year. Four orange-robed performers moved across a sheeted expanse, intertwining with each other as a poem/narrative sounded overhead. They began to mix a plaster-like glue, before playing with various ropes and props — the overall narrative was often unclear, but it was undeniably hypnotic.
11. “A NEW PRESCRIPTION FOR INSOMNIA”, Horse And Pony Fine Arts
As a space, Horse and Pony Fine Arts always leaves visitors with a sense that the world is falling to pieces. Denying the white cube and revelling in rawness, “ A NEW PRESCRIPTION FOR INSOMNIA” fit right in. Curated by GeoVanna Gonzales, the exhibition featured work by Omsk Social Club, Julia Colavita, Lorenzo Sandoval, Michele Gabriele, and many others, all of whom identify as “Nation-rejecting State-founders, alienated in their own habitat”.
12. Preis Der Nationalgalerie 2017, Hamburger Bahnhof
Sol Calero, Iman Issa, Jumana Manna, and Agnieszka Polska were the four incredible artists contesting for this year’s Preis Der Nationalgalerie. The joint exhibition displays an installation from each artist; while their styles and aesthetics differ wildly, they are united by an engagement with social and political issues. Polska (the winner) presents two films which portray the sun as a helpless witness to the slow destruction of our earth. Although the idea seems endearing, Polska brutally comments on the collapse of our ethics and our ecosystem. Calero’s “Amazonas Shopping Center” is a personal favourite. Calero created a participatory, multi-purpose installation in the form of a kitsch shopping centre. Whilst also being immensely fun, the hyper colourful and “tropical” installation riffs on stereotypical ideas of Latin-American culture. Go see it while it is still running!
“Preis Der Nationalgalerie 2017” is running till 14.01.2018 at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin.
13. Jasmin Werner, “Status Faux”, Gillmeier Rech
“Status Faux” (great name) was Werner’s first solo exhibition at Gillmeier Rech Gallery. Using the framework of Sara and Tobias from the Old Testament, Werner created stair-like sculptures that were perversely unusable; they led to nowhere, much like the metaphorical ladder we all attempt to climb in our own “faux” lives.