Anna K.E. Installation view at abc, 2012
Image courtesy of Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin
Photograph by Katy Hamer
Dieter Meier, The Race (video), 1988
Installation view at abc, 2012
Image courtesy of Grieder Contempoary,
Zurich, Switzerland
Photograph by Katy Hamer

An art fair is an art fair, is an art fair. However, art berlin contemporary, otherwise affectionately and conveniently known as abc is a fair with a twist. Featuring a manageable 129 galleries and showing an international roster of artists, the fair is dwarfed by its superstar comrades such as The Armory Show in NYC but still holds it’s own.  In what is the second year as a replacement to the now defunct Art Forum Berlin, abc was able to adopt the art fair mentality without, necessarily the fair interior layout or the obvious presence and importance of sales that usually hangs in a thick fog resting in a haze, invisibly near the ceiling. Walking into the venue at Luckenwalder Strasse 4-6 in Berlin, visitors were greeted by a smattering of sponsor tables featuring magazines such as Frieze d/e and Spike Art Quarterly from Vienna. Not accidentally, abc and Berlin Art Week (September 11th-16th) along with Preview Berlin and Berliner Liste are all scheduled at the same time, making for frenzied yet enjoyable days filled with contemporary art. Abc also aligned itself with the über cool, minimal French fashion label A.P.C. which loaned their logo to various adult and children sized t-shirts and a selection of tote bags including, a lovely heavy knit, black bag with silky applique text.

Acquiring my press pass and entering the fair, I quickly came across many familiar galleries, not necessarily in traditional booths but rather in uneven spaces, raw construction exposed to the average passerby. Rather than operate in proper rows, the layout was more open and happenstance, not seeming to be installed in a particular fashion. I proceeded right (preferring to walk counter-clockwise). I passed several gallery areas which in a particular moment, were empty while others were able to pull in small groups of visitors who mingled, chatting amongst themselves, leaning in to inspect the art. Much of the work was a mixture of painting, photography and video. It wasn’t until I turned the corner, arriving in a section that ran along the wall right from the entrance, that I felt sparked by artist Bettina Buck showing conceptual sculptural interventions with Galerie Opdahl, Berlin, installed on the floor featuring rock, foam and bronze. I spoke to a few of the gallerists, including Gilles Neiens of Galerie Opdahl, smiling after admitting to not speaking German and commenting approvingly on the aesthetically minimal artworks hovering in this nook in between abc proper and the specially commissioned project by New York’s Artists Space. The organizers responsible for abc did a great job in incorporating galleries that have been able to carve out a particular niche within the European market. Such was the case with Johnen Galerie showing a selection of photographs by Jeff Wall and original 1920s fashion owned by the Claus Jahnke, costume historian.  Also, large paintings by Anna K.E. with Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin where a favorite as they were encompassed by a large installation featuring several videos revealing the process of Miss K.E. as she dutifully makes her work, sometimes bent over, ass bare, baggy sweatpants hovering around her knees.

David Adamo, Untitled installation view at abc, 2012
Image courtesy of IBID Projects, London & Untitled, NY
Photograph by Katy Hamer
Timur Si-Qin, Installation view at abc, 2012
Image courtesy of Societé, Berlin
Photograph by Katy Hamer

Some artists who one would expect to be present were, including David Adamo, who is American but Berlin based and had a large installation with IBID Projects based in London and also sponsored by Untitled Gallery, NY. His wooden sculptures look as if they’ve been gnawed by a larger than life size hamster, and the result sprawled across a fairly large area at the halfway point of the fair. Utilizing objects adding a hint of color to the otherwise, natural, un-tinted or painted works this time were a line of standard pencil erasers. The erasers were in an organized line, stretching across a section of the installation that could have been a bench if not for the erasers which functioned as an intervention along the smooth surface. What Adamo does is render once functional objects, now useless within the realm of their original purpose. Such seemed to be somewhat of a theme running through abc. Artist Timur Si-Qin, represented by Societé Berlin deconstructed in a way as well. The artist, toying with masculinity and gender, presented heavy-duty swords that appeared to be something out of a Lord of the Rings film, in Plexiglas cases on white pedestals. Each sword stabs directly through three bottles of Axe body wash, the oddly colored liquid frozen in a swirly mass at the base. The works were both humorous and also somewhat stoic in this documented moment of production in liquidation. Now dried in a waxy mass, the body wash operates as a paint, a watercolor, an iridescent bodily fluid unnaturally released by interruption of an external object. The light made a shadow which stretched from the base of the pedestal to the wall, a cross, a monument determined to fade the same way a moment of pop culture, once relevant, can easily be forgotten.

Michael Joo, Untitled (Santiago, 7.9.11-v1.0), 2012
Installation view at abc
Image courtesy of Blain Southern, London and Berlin
Photograph by Katy Hamer

Another artist who made reference to war, or protest, or police intervention, is Michael Joo with Untitled (Santiago, 7.9.11-v1.0), 2012. Joo, was one of two artists in a booth by Blain Southern based in London and Berlin. The polished shields were installed on the white wall,  a memory of the colorful battle that may have taken place. Michael Joo is a Korean-American artist interested in perception. He uses various media to arrive at a suggestion or visual inquiry meant to challenge the viewer and allow those present to make his or her own assumption at the result of the aesthetic, ocular proposal.  The Untitled work was particular appealing to me as it communicates with painting and sculpture. The work is both united by an imaginary group and also a singular piece, made of aluminized low-iron glass and oil based enamel paint, what is easily perceived as a shield carries a particular level of fragility. The installation was one of the highest priced in abc, at $350,000 according to David Ulrichs as reported in AiA online.

Mona Hatoum, Bourj II, 2011
Installation view at abc, 2012
Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
Photograph by Katy Hamer

In being reminded of the (mostly) invisible price tags that accompany each work, we once again are asked to gather ourselves up and stand reminded, in that what closely resembles a large art exhibition, is in fact an art fair.  What organizers, Guido Baudach and Alexander Schröder have done, along with appointed director Maike Cruse, is to bring together a certain classification of galleries, who in turn brought a clean, distinctly familiar variety of contemporary artists. Whilst it is unspoken yet understood that all the work being shown was for sale, it is still questionable as to whether the art was meant to fall into the hands of a seasoned collector, or catch the eye of museum curators and the like. Either way,  an estimated 24,000 visitors passed through the halls at Gleisdreieck and the fair offers yet another an exciting new reason to visit Berlin in early September. Already scheduled for September 2013, a little later in the month, Art Berlin Contemporary will take place from the 19th-22nd. We can look forward to an expansion of galleries, additional lectures, presentations and an idyllic mirroring of the flourishing contemporary art scene, nestled in the many bicycle ridden streets, various neighborhoods and scattered throughout this diversely international capital of Germany.

Art Berlin Contemporary was on view at Station-Berlin, Luckenwalder Strasse 4-6 from September 13th-16th, 2012. A catalog will be published on occasion of the abc by Mousse Publishing, Milano.

More soon!