With more than 350 galleries and 20,000 artists from around the world, Berlin is at the centre of contemporary art.
Berlin, March 2016 Whether an artist, gallery owner, curator, critic, or collector, no art professional can pass by Berlin. As a result, many artists are drawn to the German capital, whether for a few weeks, months, years, or for a lifetime.
Artists such as Thomas Demand, Wolfgang Tillmanns, Candice Breitz, Omer Fast, Ceal Floyer, Alicja Kwade, Olafur Eliasson, Jeppe Hein, Monica Bonvicini, Ai Weiwei, and Daniel Richter all live and work in Berlin. A 2008 report on the business aspects of Berlin’s cultural industry revealed that more than 20,000 visual artists make their home in the city. About 6,000 of them show their work in Berlin’s galleries. After the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the now reunited city developed into a centre for contemporary art with a well-deserved international reputation. Whether painting, sculpture, photography, performance art and installations, artists exhibit their works made in Berlin at all the major trade shows and exhibitions, biennials, and the major Documenta show held every five years in Kassel.
The major hotspots for galleries in Berlin-Mitte, Kreuzberg, Potsdamer Straße and recently again Charlottenburg have developed an excellent reputation. Art apps such as EyeOut Berlin and INDEX Berlin regularly give insight into trendy art venues across the city. www.eyeout.com, www.indexberlin.de
Berlin is currently experiencing an artistic boom like that last seen in the 1920s. A look back at history shows that the excitement of city life with all of its rich contrasts exercised a major draw on artists in inter-war Germany. Berlin was the focal point of the German arts and culture scene at the time. Movements such as Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) and the Secession and artists such as Max Beckmann, Käthe Kollwitz, and Edvard Munch all shaped the image of a creative and turbulent city. With the exception of the West Berlin Junge Wilde movement in the 1970s and 80s, the city only regained its international reputation once the city’s division had come to an end.
Berlin’s arts calendar now features several events that continue to attract more and more artists and art lovers each year. Gallery Weekend, in which now more than fifty private galleries participate, impresses with its high-quality exhibitions that bring in art collectors, curators, and art lovers on an exclusive tour of Berlin’s diverse gallery scene. Berlin Art Week is taking place for the fifth time with the Berlin Senate’s support and brings together private and public institutions, museums, and arts associations to demonstrate how important the art scene is to the German capital. A varied programme of exhibitions, numerous gallery openings, lectures and discussions, performances, screenings, and other special events delight art lovers from around the world. Both recently opened and long-established galleries are among the co-initiators of Berlin Art Week, the exclusive exhibition format at the abc trade fair (abc stands for “art berlin contemporary”), and the more recent satellite fair “positions berlin”. www.gallery-weekend-berlin.de, www.artberlincontemporary.com/de, www.berlinartweek.de, www.positions.de
Equally attractive for visitors to Berlin will be the 9th Berlin Biennale to be held in 2016. The curator team is the New York collective DIS with members Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, Marco Roso, and David Toro. The artist group is known for its innovative exhibition formats and Berlin’s cultural scene is already looking forward to their future input. bb9.berlinbiennale.de
Promoting International and Local Artists
Also worth mentioning are Berlin’s grant programmes that have been bringing important international artists to the city for more than two decades. Key examples of these programs include the DAAD artists programme and Künstlerhaus Bethanien. The United States operates the American Academy at Wannsee, which has also made significant contributions in recent years to the discourse in Berlin’s art scene. Even The New York Times has sent its chief art critic Michael Kimmelman to Berlin several times in recent years to report on art events throughout Europe. www.facebook.com/berlinerkuenstlerprogramm, www.bethanien.de
Art academies around the globe rent apartments and studios for several weeks or months in Berlin for their students to complete their projects. Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Vienna also follow this principle.
Those who don’t receive a grant for their studio work still come to Berlin, organising the experience themselves. As a result, artists from Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, Israel, and Iceland have set up well-networked artist communities in the German capital. Interesting information on exhibition projects and tenders can be found on the Artconnectberlin website, founded five years ago. Another interesting portal, BerlinArtLink, is run in English and provides comprehensive coverage of the international art scene and the latest works. www.artconnectberlin.com, www.berlinartlink.com
The importance of the approximate 150 non-profit and mostly self-funded artists’ spaces was recently honoured by the Berlin Senate. In September 2012, the first prizes for artistic spaces were awarded. Each year, seven selected artists’ initiatives receive grants of €30,000 each. In 2015, the recipients include the Grimmuseum, which gives young artists the chance to show their work, the Autocenter, and rosalux. www.grimmuseum.com, www.autocenter-art.de, rosalux.com
The prestigious Nationalgalerie prize for young art has been awarded since 2000. The 2015 winner was Giessen native Anne Imhof, who will be honoured this year with a solo exhibition at one of the Nationalgalerie’s locations.
Artists at Work and Living Here – Studio Spaces in Berlin
Beyond the well-known and established showrooms and platforms for contemporary art, it can be more difficult to locate artists at work. The majority of studio collectives and individual work spaces are found in the latest hotspots for creativity in Kreuzberg and Neukölln. However, as rents rise, artists are moving to Wedding, a district with a large inventory of empty industrial space that’s become attractive to those seeking studio space.
One example are the former garages of the BVG, Berlin’s public transport company, which have reopened as a privately-run culture centre called the Uferhallen. Artists such as Jonathan Meese, Mika Andersen, and Wolfgang Ganter have set up their studios here. www.uferhallen.de
The hidden places of art production can be found in former factory buildings and commercial complexes that were abandoned after the Fall of the Wall when many industrial and commercial businesses left the city. Many of the vacated spaces were rescued through an initiative of the Kulturwerk bbk berlin e.V., an association of visual artists in Berlin. Together with the Berlin Senate and other partners, a grant programme to support studios was developed that now offers around 830 subsidised artists’ studios and studio apartments. In Neukölln, the studio buildings at Donaustraße 83 and Hobrechtstraße 31 are just two of the former factories that have been revitalised in this way. Located between Maybachufer and Kottbusser Damm, they now house 20 studios. www.bbk-berlin.de
Along the banks of the river Spree in Treptow, the Kunstfabrik am Flutgraben provides space for 40 studios. Among the artists working here are many prominent names such as Eberhard Havekost and Daniel Pflumm. The Kunstfabrik is located on the site of a former tram depot. www.flutgraben.org
The interest in unconventional and historic locations that can be converted into artist space has not abated. Investors, including several art collectors, are constantly creating new creative studio spaces in former breweries, crematoria, and even a former Communist party car park. Examples include the Kindl brewery in Neukölln, the Krematorum Wedding, the Malzfabrik in Schöneberg, and Atelierkontext, an exhibition space/studio in Lichtenberg. The Funkhaus Nalepastraße is another location far from the city centre, this time in Oberschöneweide. Built in the 1950s, this building was converted into an arts and cultural centre some years ago by a new investor. Recording and artists’ studios are available to rent. funkhausberlin.blogspot.de
Private Art – For the Public
The art boom in Berlin has also led collectors to put their private collections on public display.
One of the most famous of these is that owned by communications magnate Christian Boros, currently shown in a former World War 2-era bunker. Boros had the massive building gutted and redesigned as an exhibition space. Works by trendy international artists, including Tobias Rehberger, Olafur Eliasson, and Alicja Kwade are part of what has become a renowned contemporary art collection. The roof of the bunker, once one of the city’s most well-known techno clubs, is now topped by a penthouse where Boros makes his home. www.sammlungboros.de
Erika and Rolf Hoffmann came to Berlin shortly after German unification in 1990 to give their collection a suitable setting. The couple moved their collection of concept art to their private residence in a former sewing machine factory in Berlin’s Mitte district. The art is displayed throughout their home, which is open to the public on most Saturdays. The collection includes works from the 1960s by Lawrence Wiener as well as works by contemporary multimedia artist John Bock. Many of the works are some of the artists’ earliest pieces. Since the death of her husband, Erika Hoffmann continues to manage the collection on her own. www.sammlung-hoffmann.de
Dr Thomas Olbricht, who is also heir to the Wella fortune, has been buying art since his youth. However, his passion is not limited to contemporary art. He is fascinated by so-called exotica, the kinds of things royalty once exhibited in the cabinets of curiosity that were the precursors of the modern museum. From tusks and unicorns to editions of Gerhard Richter and representatives of 21st century art, Olbricht’s collection covers an incredible range and is on display at the “me collectors room”. me, by the way, stands for “moving energies”.
Olbricht regularly invites other collectors to show their collections in his premises on Auguststraße. He also works with curators to put together thematic exhibitions that create a constant flow of new input. The museum shop itself is worth a visit, with its selection of unusual objects on sale, some of which are only available in limited editions. www.meberlin.com
The Sammlung Bastian is another Berlin highlight, directly opposite Museum Island. The owner has erected a spectacular building designed by star architect David Chipperfield to house his collection. Heiner Bastian, once Erich Marx’s art consultant and curator of his collection at the Hamburger Bahnhof, has thus built a memorial in Berlin to his passion for art. His collection includes works from the art brut movement and pieces by Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys, and Damien Hirst, among others. Two floors of the building have been rented by the successful Galerie CFA – Contemporary Fine Arts, which has been promoting hip art in the German capital since the early 1990s. Julia Stoschek will also be presenting her collection in Berlin from June 2016. www.galeriebastian.com
Booming Gallery Scene
Berlin has more than just one hotspot of the international art market. No other major city in the world has such a large, dense art scene: Germany’s capital is home to around 400 galleries. There are also about 150 non-commercial showrooms and off-spaces that regularly show new exhibitions. For almost 20 years, a new gallery has opened almost weekly at various locations across the city. Some veteran gallerists from the Rhineland have even shifted their entire business to the German capital. The galleries offer more than 57,000 m2 of exhibition space for some 6,000 artists from home and abroad to show their work. One of the latest arrivals is renowned Cologne gallerist Michael Kewenig who works not only with well-known and established artists such as Beuys, Boltanski and Kounellis, but also with contemporaries such as Ralf Ziervogel. His new gallery lately opened in the Palais Happe, the second oldest town house in the city in Berlin’s Mitte district; his show warehouse will be in the former substation at Moabit. kewenig.com
The majority of the artists working in Berlin today flocked here after the Fall of the Berlin Wall as the newly named capital awoke from decades of post-war slumber. Reclaimed factory buildings such as the former margarine factory in Auguststraße became internationally renowned art centers. Under the leadership of the current PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, Kunstwerke, now called the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, has achieved an international reputation as a laboratory and a place to cooperate in pioneering trends in
contemporary art since it was founded in 1990. www.kw-berlin.de/de/
One of the liveliest and most prestigious gallery districts in Berlin made its home in Mitte with lightning speed. Among its early leaders was Gerd Harry Lybke, who moved to the Spandauer Vorstadt neighbourhood in 1992 from Leipzig to offer his painters from the now world-famous Neue Leipziger Malschule a forum in Berlin. Lybke’s gallery Eigen + Art has since become well-known far beyond the borders of Germany even as it continues at its same location on Auguststraße. Even as many galleries left the city by the late 1990s, names such as Kicken and neugerriemschneider moved in to lend stability to the Mitte gallery scene.
Recent projects in the Spandauer Vorstadt have brought fresh air to the scene. These include the elegant headquarters of Sprüth/Magers on Oranienburger Strasse and the 2007 building at Am Kupfergraben 10 near the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island designed by British star architect David Chipperfield for art collector Heiner Bastian. In addition to Bastian’s own gallery, this venue is also home to Galerie Contemporary Fine Arts. Gallery partners Nicole Hackert and Bruno Brunett have earned a reputation as the pacesetters of the art market thanks to their early discovery and promotion of art market stars such as Peter Doig, Daniel Richter, and Raymond Pettibon. Within walking distance of CFA is the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle, formerly the German Guggenheim, which hosts three to four important exhibitions annually. www.eigen-art.com, www.spruethmagers.com, www.cfa-berlin.de ,
One of the new art hotspots on Auguststraße is located in the city’s former school for Jewish girls that has been renovated with a 20-year lease by Charlottenburg gallerist Michael Fuchs. The project offers several gallery spaces including one for Michael Fuchs’s own gallery and CWC (Camera Work Contemporary), a branch of Camera Work, a Charlottenburg gallery specialising in photography. The Kennedy Museum is located on the building’s second storey.
Equally attractive are the building’s restaurants. They bring together the older and the younger history of the site. Deli Mogg offers pastrami sandwiches and does its best to connect the Berlin of the 1920s with the hip Berlin of today. www.maedchenschule.org, www.moggmogg.com
Another centre for art is found a little further south along the former path of the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie. One of the most famous of these is that run by New York gallerist Michael Werner, now called Veneklasen Werner. This brought a bit of Chelsea’s gallery scene to Berlin, making it bigger, more professional, and more expensive. The influential Carlier|Gebauer gallery and its neighbour Barbara Thumm have made their home in the block around Charlottenstraße and Markgrafenstraße since the 1990s, surrounded by a
Spanish food wholesaler and Turkish bridal shops. www.vwberlin.com, www.carliergebauer.com, www.bthumm.de
A little further south, right behind the Axel Springer building, the Lindenstraße 34/35 gallery building opened in 2007 in close proximity to the Jüdisches Museum. Gallerist Claes Nordenhake acquired the stately 1912 building in 2003 together with a Swedish collector.
Nordenhake was the first foreign art dealer to set up in Berlin when he brought the gallery he founded in Malmö in 1973 to the German capital in 2000. Today, a total of thirteen galleries are housed in this building. The long-established Düsseldorf blue-chip Konrad Fischer gallery has its Berlin branch on the ground floor. www.galerienhaus.com
A small gallery spot opened near Moritzplatz, home to the Aufbau Haus, an important cultural centre, when up-and-coming Galerie Klemm’s moved into Prinzessinnenstraße in 2013. www.klemms-berlin.com
The long-time multi-cultural centre of Kreuzberg between Mehringdamm and Schlesisches Tor is a trendy location for the hip Galerie Wentrup. Galleries like Chert at Schlesisches Tor also present established artists and the rising stars of tomorrow. One of the latest projects is by Johann König: The St Agnes Church, built by Werner Düttmann in 1967, will soon be opened as an exhibition space for young art. König comes from an influential family in the international art trade and is one of the most charismatic young gallerists in the city. Not far from König’s Galerie St Agnes is DUVE, a young successful gallery with a focus on concept art. www.wentrupgallery.com, chert-berlin.org, duveberlin.com
Most of the established galleries in Berlin have several moves behind them, from one art centre to the next gallery hotspot. The gallery spaces near the Jannowitzbrücke or behind the Hamburger Bahnhof have since closed down.