Cyprien Gaillard’s reign as the Berlin art scene’s king was extended on Sunday evening, winning the 2011 Publikumspreis (people’s choice prize) for his work, "Artefact" (2011) in the Nationalgalerie’s Young Art Prize exhibition at the Hamburgerbahnhof. The French artist previously won the juried prize — along with its award of €50,000 sponsored by the Friends of the Nationalgalerie and BMW — in September, beating out Klara Lidén, Andro Wekua, and Kitty Kraus.
Celebrating the last day of the exhibition, which also closed on Sunday, the popular prize was evidently more of a gesture of good faith to and from the masses than holding any monetary compensation. Udo Kittelmann, director of the Nationalgalerie, said jokingly that the award was in many ways a chance to see if the jury for the main award and the people were looking for the same things in art whatsoever. Apparently, they were. The prize was decided through a series of surveys throughout the exhibition where visitors were asked to evaluate the four works largely on the extent to which they spoke to the viewer rather than operating on some esoteric plane.
To that end, it’s easy to see why Gaillard got the win. His film, shot first on an iPhone jury-rigged to a remote with tape and later transferred to 35mm, surveys the ancient city of Babylon, now in Iraq, about 55 miles south of Bagdad. Gaillard focuses on the temporal incongruities of the fabled city, which at the time of the film was still under patrol by U.S. troops. High-powered lasers shine against millennias-old ruins, a contradiction brought further to light by Gaillard’s retrograde process of making the film.
However, forgetting that arty conceptualism, the film is visually striking. It’s soundtrack, a sung repetition of the word “Babylon”, serves to place one directly into the meditative space of the film. It lets the artifacts, landscapes, and military convoys wash over you in an overtly unimposing but profound way. On the other side of the spectrum, Kitty Kraus’s kinetic sculptures, though asserting a kind of jovial triviality of movement, shroud their conceptual aims at a critique of commodity fetishism a bit too tightly.
Udo Kittelmann summed up the exhibition in perhaps the best way that one could, saying, “What is remarkable, as is often the case with this prize, is that all of these artists come from different countries, yet have all come to Berlin to live and work.” In that light, as a pulse-taker of Berlin’s art scene, the people got it right.