2014 Berlin Biennale
“More than Mitte”
Juan A Gaitán is the curator of the 2014 Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. This year, he has resolved to break out of the art scene that has become increasingly concentrated around the Museum Island in the centre of Berlin. Searching for contrasts in terms of museums and aesthetics, he is inviting international artists to exhibit in Berlin's periphery.
Juan A. Gaitán, you last lived in Mexico City, one of the world's great metropolises. Now you have moved to the German capital to prepare for the eighth Berlin Biennale. Can there be any greater contrast?
My flat in Mexico was near the "Angel de la Independencia", a copy of Berlin's Victory Column – so from my point of view the difference isn't all that great. But seriously: economic growth in Mexico has resulted in many artists working at international levels – no differently than in Berlin. There are internationally operating galleries. And the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México alone runs 24 museums there. To me, the situation of contemporary art in Berlin seems even more precarious – even if the social reality in Mexico City very obviously is far harsher.
In the relatively brief history of the Berlin Biennale, selection of the exhibition venue was always a definitive curatorial statement as well. You have decided in favour of two localities in the bourgeois west, Berlin's periphery – Museen Dahlem, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Haus am Waldsee. Why?
My choice of the museums in Dahlem near the Free University is connected with current cultural and political efforts to concentrate all museums into a relatively small location in the centre of Berlin – in a city that is far larger than just the "Mitte" district. But it also signals interest in a theoretical consideration of differences in museographical objects. The contrast between contemporary and historical art on the one hand and ethnologically describing objects on the other seems important to me. The fact that they are all elements of museum culture is not enough to make them the same. Instead, what we are dealing with here are heterogeneous cultural practices that in many cases cannot be reconciled.To me, the Haus am Waldsee represents a European, suburban, industrial culture of the 19th century that established the Romantic image of nature and was propagated by ethnographers, philosophers and intellectuals of the time. The Villa, with its expansive garden by the lake also stands for art patronage and the culture of the bourgeois salon. It's a place that many people in Berlin don't know exists.
At the start of 2014, in the run-up to the eighth Biennale, you opened "Crash Pad", a room installation by the Greek-Norwegian artist and architect Andreas Angelidakis in the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. Next came the Australian conceptual artist Agatha Gothe Snape, whose on-going text work can be seen on the eighth Biennale website,and Olaf Nicolai, Danh Vo und Tarek Atoui from your team of consultants. How did you make your selection?
Many of the invited artists don't live in Berlin, but instead in their countries of origin. Some come from India, Pakistan, South Africa, Colombia, Mexico, France or Germany. I did not select them as representatives of a particular country, but rather because they are good artists.
Often a connection arises through an affective relationship of artistic contributions to history. Many artists deal with the phenomenon of the image. Images educate and change us. For the conception of the eighth Biennale it was important to me to have two different approaches here – an analytic-investigative one and an applied one, but which critically reflects its own medium.
There are now countless art biennales internationally. What distinguishes the Berlin Bienale from, for instance, the one in Busan, Cuenca or Istanbul?
Apart from Venice, I regard Berlin as the most important of the biennales in Europe. There is a very large art scene here in the city that creates a basis. The Biennale offers locally the most significant platform for contemporary art. My sole curatorial requirement is to stick to the budget. Other than that I'm totally free. Perhaps there are one or two biennales internationally that curatorially allow for something as experimental as Berlin.
The eighth Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art will open on 28 May 2014. It will be curated by Juan A. Gaitán, a Columbian who was born in Canada in 1973. An author and art historian, he worked from 2009 until 2011 as curator at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Since 1998, the Berlin Biennale has been held every two to three years at various different locations chosen by the curator.