German Art World

“Based in Berlin” – A Summary

The “Based in Berlin” exhibition in Berlin co-initiated by Klaus Wowereit in the summer of 2011 attracted widespread criticism. Although it was not a bad exhibition, its impact on cultural policy was far from convincing.

The exhibition’s advisory board boasted top names from the art world: Klaus Biesenbach, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Christine Macel were on hand to support the five young curators of Based in Berlin. To be selected as one of the 80 participants, artists had to be living and working in Berlin and have only attracted institutional attention to themselves in the past five years.

As is the nature of such selection processes, the candidates chosen were not all of equal quality, yet alongside better-known names such as Keren Cytter, Cyprien Gaillard and Danh Vo some less well-established artists were selected who nonetheless merit closer inspection. Mariechen Danz, who has long been causing quite a stir in Berlin with her performances and installations, Rocco Berger with his mechanically produced Oil Painting (2010) and Juliane Solmsdorf’s chair sculptures from her Neuer Lustgarten (2008) series received a positive reception. What was less convincing was the fact that the selected works of key artists often fell short of their oeuvre’s true quality.

Change in tack following protest

The main exhibition centre in Monbijou Park simultaneously served as a forum for a variety of free events, many of them with interesting formats. This was also the starting point for tours of other exhibition venues such as the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (nbk), Hamburger Bahnhof and the Berlinische Galerie. Choosing a temporary exhibition at different sites as the exhibition format was clearly a success and is characteristic of Berlin. However, those responsible for the exhibition only involved the institutions after members of the Berlin art scene protested against the project in early 2011. In an open letter entitled “Haben und Brauchen” (i.e. To Have and To Need), unequivocal criticism of the project was expressed. Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit in particular was accused of merely exploiting this unique exhibition project for his own election campaign ends and of ignoring the chronically underfunded infrastructure which exists in the Berlin art scene.

Investment and impact

The question, it would appear, is thus not only whether the exhibition was good or bad, but also whether the 1.4 million euros which were invested in it achieved the desired objective. According to the Berlin Senate and Klaus Wowereit, this objective was to take stock of contemporary art production in Berlin with a view to reviving the debate about a permanent Berlin art gallery and ensuring that the Berlin Senate and Parliament are qualified to reach a decision on this when adopting the next budget. The goal was to examine the work produced by young Berlin artists in particular and to explore the possibilities and requirements for a physical presentation of this work.

For the foreseeable future, the debate about a permanent art gallery has been abandoned. According to the draft budget for 2012/13, the four million euros per year earmarked for the art gallery were reduced in the budgetary debate to an additional 500,000 euros per year for Berlin art. If the Based in Berlin debates achieved anything at all, it was to make it clear that the art scene is already giving the city a permanent boost and requires more effective support of existing infrastructure rather than additional institutions. This conclusion was not the desired political outcome, however, and will thus clearly reap only limited rewards.

Powerless despite diversity

Ultimately, “taking stock” means not only analysing and documenting the existing situation, but also categorizing it – something which this exhibition fails to do. Although its curators claim that trends were identified such as a critical examination of mass culture, an interest in referentiality and a return to pop, these observations remained vague and were not reflected in the exhibition’s concept. There was a conscious decision to remain unspecific and showcase the diversity of the Berlin art scene.

The exhibition organizers, however, are satisfied with the results of their costly “summer’s fairy tale”: 110,000 visitors were recorded. The interest in contemporary art in Berlin is considerable – a conclusion that could also have been drawn without this exhibition, however. Oh yes, and the building in Monbijou Park will not be torn down for the time being, as Based in Berlin has made it clear that this site offers a unique locational advantage which should perhaps be used again in the future. A raft of permanent political measures, however, will not result from the realization that urban space is not only needed but also enhanced by artists. One possibility would have been to create a long-term property company able to allocate building land and buildings to artists.

Powerless despite diversity, in other words – but at least this exhibition has proven to Berlin once again what a multifaceted art scene it boasts, and how all kinds of great programmes could be designed if only sufficient funding were available. Berlin, however, continues to ask itself how this diversity can be promoted in a sustainable way in the future. The logical thing to do would be to invest an additional 1.4 million euros each year in fine art and its infrastructure in Berlin.
Katharina Schlüter
The author has a doctorate in art history. She lives and works in Berlin.

Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
August 2011

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