Berlin is known as the artistic mecca of Europe, a place where abandoned, historic buildings are easily repurposed as artists’ studios, and galleries and experimental creative spaces are sprinkled throughout the city. Without high living expenses, artists are able to produce work at a leisurely pace, and can count on support from the government. However, without the hunger to survive in order to create, it is challenging for artists to break through the “glass ceiling” that elevates an artist’s status from ‘unknown’ to ‘sought out’.
Last weekend was the 7th annual installment of art berlin contemporary, an unconventional fair run by Maike Cruse with a goal to change this status quo.
Dubbed by Artnews as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Art, as well as one of the Most Influential Women in European Art, Cruse has played an important role in Berlin’s developing art scene. Since 2005, she has worked at the KW Institute of Contemporary Art, the Berlin Biennale, and co-initiated the experimental Galerie im Regierungsviertel in Gräfekiez, which mounted the hugely successful ‘Forgotten Bar Project‘, a series of one-night shows during Art Forum Berlin (2008-2010).
On top of this, she also served for several years as the Communications Director for Art Basel, Art Basel Miami Beach.
It is of no surprise that two years ago Cruse was the choice for art berlin contemporary’s (abc) first director.
Originally a committee formed by nine Berlin galleries, ABC is responsible for Gallery Weekend (May 1-3) and art berlin contemporary in mid September (17-20), which partners with Berlin Art Week (September 15-20). It is now an entrepreneurial company led by two people: director Maike Cruse, and general manager Christiane Rhein, partnered with gallery owners who participate in an honorary capacity.
In an interview with BerlinArtLink.com at the beginning of her directorship, Cruse said challenges for ABC include the
“attempt to encourage the international art world in the city but also to revive the Berlin art market and further develop it with new ideas and concepts.”
Another challenge, which Cruse is taking on, is to develop the international growth of the art market in Berlin; while it is easy for artists to create work there, it is still difficult to find local buyers. This year’s Gallery Weekend had 47 of the city’s 400-plus galleries open their doors, showcasing hundreds of local artists’ work to visitors and collectors around the world. With events that started on April 29th through May 4th, the Weekend strategically positioned itself as a starting point for visitors on their way to the Venice Biennale, which officially opened May 9th.
The abc art fair is also finding success in attracting the attention of serious collectors. According to Artnet, last year’s edition drew in a record amount of sales. All profits from the two main exhibition platforms get reinvested into abc’s expenditures, however, and are used to promote Berlin’s art market. As Cruse says, abc is like a “marketing platform for 120 international art galleries”. This year, abc took place in Station Berlin and accepted exhibitors based on an open call for applications.
Below is an interview I had conducted with Maike Cruse before the fair (sorry, there are reasons I couldn’t publish earlier):
With increasing popularity each year, how do you keep abc from becoming a traditional art fair?
MC: abc has a very unique format – galleries present single positions only, mostly new pieces that the artists have made for this edition of abc. Therefore abc looks much more like an exhibition than an art fair.
How do you see abc evolving in the next 5 years?
MC: We hope to professionalize abc even more and make it even more interesting for international guests so that they will travel to Berlin in the fall. It is difficult to say what it will look like in 5 years from now, as the artworld develops quickly and here at abc we try to keep up with it – since we are a small structure, we are extremely flexible and can react to those developments.
What are the biggest developments in this year’s version of abc compared to previous years?
MC: We developed new architecture with the Berlin and NY architecture firm June 14 Meyer Grohbrügge + Chermayeff. The halls are structured into 100m2 rooms, that are defined by their corners. The galleries were able to choose to present works in the corners or use an entire room for their show. Furthermore, we will dedicate one third of the hall space to create an exhibition with works from Berlin private collections including Elmgreen and Dragset, Mandla Reuter, Nora Schultz, Ana Mendieta, and others that Berlin collectors have acquired and stored. And of course, the main gallery show of abc presents new works every year. This year we have installations by Ryan Trecartin, Saadane Afif, Jorinde Voigt, Pae White, Alicja Kwade and many more.
Do you think that the abc model (open and more performative) is one that can be exported to other countries as well?
MC: Art shows are usually designed according to where they take place and abc is a very Berlin model, as it is fostered by the vivid gallery scene and by the fact that many of the artists live here and make site specific pieces for abc.
Can you also provide some insider tips for navigating through Berlin for art enthusiasts?
I would recommend the exhibitions Stadt/ Bild at various museums in town and the Paul McCarthy show at Schinkel Pavillion. There are also many private collections opening their doors*, and then of course, the galleries around town.
*Now that the fair is over, there will need special permission to see these collections, but you never know!
Next time, I’ll be reporting FROM Berlin directly. Sometimes there’s just too much to do in NYC. If you’d like to see more photos from the fair, check out art berlin contemporary‘s website.
Question to you readers: Do you think that art berlin contemporary can maintain its “exhibition” look? Or do you think that it will eventually look just like any other international art fair?