Berlinische Galerie State Museum of Modern Art, Photography, and Architecture Foundation under Public Law Alte Jakobstraße 124-128 10969 Berlin

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Review by Christina Degethof

In the shadow of the global media attention commemorating the fall of the Berlin wall on 9th November 2009 the Berlinische Galerie presented Berlin 89/09, a survey of national and international artists’ impressions of the last twenty years in Berlin.

The stark title avoided any nostalgic connotations by singularly addressing the two decades selected. Focusing on 41 artistic contributions, these works were loosely grouped into three sections, separating those that held thematic traces of the city, from changes within it and alternative concepts of Berlin. Curators Heinz Stalhut and Guido Fassbender brought together various artistic projects, including some created exclusively for Berlin 89/09, such as that of Fred Rubin and Tim Tranterworth. Some works were revived, having slipped from public focus and re-exhibited, including those of Tobias Hauser, Michel Majerus and Norbert Kottman, while others were more well-known, like those of Tacita Dean and Sophie Calle, but were presented anew in the context of the exhibition.

While 1989 brought about many changes, side effects in Berlin were felt outside a concrete time frame, especially the political impact and new capitalistic realisations. Participating artists in Berlin 89/09 focused their attention on the leftover voids and wounds, collecting unwanted and unconsidered evidence. What made these approaches more than merely documentary studies, however, was that they often captured more than just an object or factual event, emphasising that memory and thoughts are hard to catch, and even harder to keep.

One of the first experiences of Berlin 89/09 was a postcard of a well-known Berlin landmark, issued with every ticket and transformed into a critical statement. Originally a temporary site-specific installation in 2002 by artist Michel Marjerus, the postcard functioned as an image carrier, no longer restricted by time and place. The sophisticated tactic of bringing audience and object together in unexpected ways such as this was a thought-provoking achievement and one that was fully functional from the start of the exhibition. The postcard exacerbated other connotations of Marjerus’ work, hinting that the visual substitute exists beyond the initial focus of the work. Alongside the developed scope of works, so the exhibition’s play on juxtaposition and sideways is another feature of the show.

It was a pleasure to see Olaf Metzel’s Fünfjahrplan in this context, overlooking the long entrance gallery of the show. His sculptures are often controversial and provocative due to their titles and themes. The relief here of 1985 even predated his highly debated 1987 work for central Berlin, which was abandoned later to a Friedrichshain site near the river. Provocation stemmed from the formal similarities between its elevated presentation here and the former state emblem of the GDR. A closer look betrayed expectations, however, as the work is unfinished and raw with main parts of the original symbol missing. Metzel’s work derived an extra kick in the exhibition from French artist Sophie Calle, as she too hinted at our unreliable memories of association. Her work, The Detachment from 1996, presents photographed locations around Berlin that once housed symbols and traces of the old political system. Calle fills these voids with individuals’ recollections of these places. Memory is once again revealed as an unreliable source.

The Berlinische Galerie played its trump card well in Berlin 89/09. There was ample space for the utopian Built Tatlin by Norbert Kottmann, as well as a huge wall painting by Tim Tranteroth. While the latter seemed to extend beyond our vision, Fred Rubin’s Halb-Wert/Zeit confronted us both physically and with hefty, long forgotten memories. Interestingly, it was in its shadow that we encountered semi-precious jewels, offered by Alicja Kwade’s Bordsteinjuwelen. A video work of Dellbrügge & de Moll rounded up the exhibition by focusing on Artists Migration Berlin. The work placed the visitor in the centre of various artist’s statements, which reflected back on us as a part of Berlin. Without their work, this exhibition would have been at a loss, but without us, the viewer, it would have lost half its message. I think I will send a postcard.

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