The 10 Best Booths of Art Berlin Contemporary 2012

Buchmann Galerie's installation of Wolfgang Laib at Art Berlin Contemporary
(Photo © Alexander Forbes)

Art Berlin Contemporary (ABC)  kicked off on Thursday morning, dropping its former preclusion towards a pan-fair theme and expanding into a third hall of Berlin's Station center. Though sales have not been particularly brisk, foot traffic is heavy and, most importantly, the work on display represents the highest quality the fair has seen in recent memory.

Structured booths or walls have been dropped for a modular framework of scaffoldings and temporary partisians. ABC also does away with the migraine-inducing florescent lighting of most fairs in exchange for film spotlights directed on the works. These touches both add up to create a more exhibition-like feel — certainly much more so than during it’s “curated” years. Visitors have responded positively. While ABC 2012 is the most international that the fair has ever been, the strongest booths mostly originated from Berlin galleries, with the minimal shipping requirements and freedom of installation space allowing for works of truly impressive scale for an art fair, especially coming from some of the younger galleries. ARTINFO scoured the offerings to pick out the 10 best booths from the overall strong offerings on view.

1) Slavs and Tartars at Kraupa-Tuskany
“Pray Way” was an unrivaled hit at the New Museum triennial, “The Ungovernables,” this past winter. At ABC, it was one of a series of artworks that give the Fair a more institutional than commercial feel. One could see the tendency in the attitudes of many gallerists as well, who seemed to be using the fair as a networking and social opportunity with the press and fellow dealers as much as a platform for raucous sales (of which there were few on the first day).

2) Eddie Martinez at Peres Projects
After last year’s theme, “about painting,” most galleries gave a wide berth to canvas and oil. Not so for Javier Peres, whose three monumental paintings by Eddie Martinez yell definitively that painting is not dead. Produced on Long Island not far from Jackson Pollock’s former studio, where the artist has been spending time away from his usual base in Brooklyn, the thickness and materiality of the paint and mix of figuration and abstraction set them apart.

3) Ulf Almide at Tanja Wagner
One of the youngest gallerists on the ABC, Tanja Wagner’s video installation by Berlin based artist Ulf Almide was one of the biggest drawers of crowds during the first day. Almide filmed heroin addicts in the process of nodding out, the point on the verge of overdose, while standing on the street. Playing on seven flat screens that stand up in portrait orientation as if the subjects are standing in the room with you, they create a disturbingly affective response in the viewer that goes far beyond the plague that is addiction touching on what is perhaps a more pan-societal feeling of burden and overload.

4) Florian Miesenberg at Wentrup
Wentrup’s installation of recently New York-based artist Florian Miesenberg universally was deemed the most creative at the ABC. The large-scale canvases were arranged in something of a tower, supported by the scaffolding which other galleries had covered with sheetrock. Miesenberg told ARTINFO that the work has gotten much more minimal since he moved to New York. Most canvases feature a single, central subject. Well priced, at around €10,000, they were selling at a rapid rate, with three going in the first three hours and another on reserve by two different collectors.

5) Jeff Wall at Johnen Galerie
Berlin’s Johnen Galerie brought Jeff Wall’s “Authentication. Claus Jahnke, costume historian, examining a document pertaining to an item in his collection” to ABC. The photo work in four parts documents the Vancouver collector who focuses specifically on garments produced by the Nathan Israel department store in Berlin which was forcibly closed by the Nazi’s. The photographs are incredibly intimate, with the gallery further strengthening their effect by installing three mannequins with garments from Jahnke’s collection (not for sale) to create a direct conversation between referent and representation.

6) Wolfgang Laib at Buchmann Galerie
Possibly the largest installation in the fair, Laib’s untitled work from last year is an exacting exercise in contrasts with countless small piles of rice grains surrounding three “houses made of granite” as he calls them, which look somewhat like the cement blocks that sit at the end of parking spaces. The effect is strangely anxiety-inducing, playing on the suggestion that the perfect equilibrium could so easily be tipped.

7) Christoph Keller at Esther Schipper
Kellers’s “Expedition-Bus and Shaman-Travel” is not only a convenient place to sit down while traipsing through this year’s significantly larger ABC. It poignantly critiques ethnographic study in the context of Shamanic rituals, suggesting that both are equal in their pursuit of something outside of normal experience and that neither is superior to the other. Olfactory nostalgia sitting in Keller’s restored VW Bus combines with the cut-up educational film about the Other implicates the viewer deeply within the predigested identities given in its minute-long run. 

8) Isabelle Le Minh at Galerie Christophe Gaillard
Perhaps the most self aware work at the fair, Isabelle Le Minh’s “Listing I  You know, the artist who…” takes a shot at the circular conversations about art that it is embedded in at the fair. The constantly running dot matrix printer makes vague references like, “photographed a tarantula” followed by the answer, “Robert Mapplethorpe.” We smell a new art-themed parlor (or drinking) game in the mix.

9) Dirk Bell at BQ
Stemming from his project at Berlin’s Volksbuhne, “Bitte Danke,” Dirk Bell’s two works on view, mix a roughly hewn stencil of box letters spelling “Work Utopian” and “Burn Utopian” on what appears to be bed sheets. They mix a strange confluence of intimacy and aggression that is further complicated by the geometrically abstracted walls covered in the word “End” on which they hang. It’s all a bit in-your-face and uncomfortable, but in a good way.

10) Mogg & Melzer
Maybe it’s not art in a traditional sense, but in a world of mediocre-at-best art fair food, Mogg & Melzer’s artery clogging but amazing Ruebens, bagels with lachs, and assorted other culinary offerings are truly blue chip. That results in some fairly epic lines, however, so don’t expect a quick bite.

To see images of the Best of Art Berlin Contemporary, click on the slide show.