Fall has always been my favourite season with a reason, and this past week has only confirmed that. We had Boros' refurbishing, Johann König's festive secularization of St. Agnes, Preview, plenty of Berlin galleries proudly presenting their new programs... and where all the heads were impatiently turning to, full of expectation: art berlin contemporary.
First impressions can often deceive, but after further walks through the three Hallen of the former postal train station, I assumed what my intuition first told me right on thursday: there was something stunningly positive floating in the air, that exciting feeling typical of a fresh new start.
But how was it exactly? Let's go down to details.
What it is so strikingly innovative about abc's new format is precisely the fact that in spite of being conceived as an art fair, it does not looks/feels like such.
At times, it reaches the quality of a museum, a biennale... something with a certain institutional flair, while on the other hand it still works as a classic gallery space, a concept store, a platform for discourse, a book fair, and there is yet a bit of that young vibe of an art school Rundgang in the air...
All in all, something very casual, very refreshing, very Berlin. What allegedly was the intention of the initiatiors, to come up with a new formula for an international fair.
Artist's positions were really varying, but they all could coexist in this house. From both established and emerging artists, to gallerists, curators, gallerists playing curators, collectors, designers, theoreticians, book publishers... they all mingled here.
We found a good array of sculpture/installation, painting and other easy-to-display formats, and fewer video works, sound pieces or public art. Because although "hybrid", this is essentially a fair, so don't you forget: S€lling. Although the intention was not so in your face, and that is part of the reason why it feels way more relaxed in here than in any other fair we know.
Another aspect that I already mentioned in a previous report:
the architecture design seriously contributed to create this atmosphere, allowing the works to properly breathe.
Galleries were actually free to choose the settings of their spaces. Some of them stood out of the intricate landscape of works of the first Halle by creating their own boundaries: see Timm Ulrich's creaking doors at Wentrup Galerie or Dan Peterman's Archive (for 57 people) at Klosterfelde.
We had a bit of everything. A Corinne Wasmuth solo at Johann König, documenta artist Theaster Gates (among many other furniture-based works that I spotted), the finalist of the Preis für Junge Kunst Mariana Castillo Deball, a real crowd-pleaser by Slavs and Tartar brought by Kraupa-Tuskany, or Berlin darlings like Timur Si-Qin presented by Société.
But there was also room for such big names like Jeff Wall, who showcased historical dresses and photographic works in a sort of set design at Johnen Galerie. The combination of fashion and history probably got me too astonished to recall Helmut Newton's Fundation...
... but maybe also because of being in quite a dreamy mood after seeing Chiharu Shiota's installation at neighbor booth Arndt
In a nutshell, abc has presented itself as a terribly inspiring event but I'm still a bit reluctant to call it "fair". This year's edition was meant to be crucial for the further development of the art scene in Berlin, and now in retrospect it's raising a lot of questions. In a city with no real established art market, will this format ever be profitable, or is this just another typical Berlin illusion?.
It is obvious that abc might want to get more international representation in order to reach a larger audience (especially dealers) and therefore establish the fair and enhance the market. Although this year's edition was clearly looking towards New York, the participation was mostly dominated by the local scene, so it felt like home most of the time.
Now it's only about time to see how it evolves: abc will be back in one year under the direction of Maike Cruse, and they already announced a date to mark in our calendars: 19 – 22 September 2013.
We will be glad to be there again and tell.