Review: 9th Berlin Biennale 2016

©9. Berlin Biennale für zeitgenössische Kunst / 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art 4.6.–18.9.2016 / GCC / Installationsansicht / Installation view

It’s hard to believe that the first smartphone was introduced to the market 20 years ago. 20 years ago was also when the first Berlin Biennale took place, back when worldwide sales from the biggest art galleries amounted to an estimated 10 million – quite a bit less when compared to today’s 200 million US dollars. A lot has happened since then, leaving one to justifiably ask, “if this is the future, what is the future?”.

When it is not curating a biennale with a grateful carte blanche, New York collective DIS actually runs a website and poses clever questions. In collaboration with Gabriele Horn, the newly ex-director of Kunstwerke Berlin (a position that’s now been taken over by the Dutchman Krist Gruijthuijsen) who is now able to fully dedicate herself to the Biennale, the American curatorial quartet placed the work of participating artists across various locations.

At the Biennale a certain corresponding input overload is to be expected – spread out over two and a half concentrated days when, if you’re like us, you want to see everything. The KW on Auguststraße was the starting point. Here London-based art collective åyr presented an impressive living-cube installation ARCHITECTURE. Two years ago, they realized an installation at the Venice Biennale of Architecture that took a critical stance against Airbnb, had to change their name afterwards, and now form a bridge with this piece to a show that opened in Venice just last weekend. And here it goes: the four young minds behind this were all born in 1988.

Happily, a work by American artist Cécile B. Evans (b. 1983, Cleveland) is playing in the lower main hall. The screen for her video installation What the Heart Wants is embedded on a smooth surface of water and lets a sense of space between the screen and the room melt into seeming infinity. On the way out, it’s worth taking a look at Alexa Karolinski’s video, which was made in collaboration with author Ingo Niermann and is titled Army of Love.

Enough with affairs of the heart, next is on to the Akademie der Künste. The works on display here are all about consumer culture. Fashion labels, juice bars, and the Happy Museum by Simon Fujiwara broach the issue of the individualization drive. The organizers particularly liked Pariser Platz with the Brandenburg Gate, Hotel Adlon and the tradition-steeped embassies that are located around it. Without any natural light, the Feuerle Collection is showing Josephine Pryde, who was nominated alongside three other candidates for the Turner Prize just a few weeks ago. A comparatively colorful work by German artist Yngve Holen was hanging on the opposite wall. Title: evil eye.

Finding out exactly what the Reederei Rieder ship, the Blue Star, took out with it on a two-hour cruise was a challenge that we didn’t overcome, so we had to make do with the Instagram posts of boychild’s Saturday evening performance, which was not particularly surprising, but apparently complemented the program well. The last stop was the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT), opposite the new Stadtschloss (which is still a building site) – you have to really ask yourself how the students will react to the art-loving public during the week. In front of the library sat a controller who didn’t allow us to investigate the reality of the building further.

In the style of works by Simon Denny and Katja Novitskova, a specially installed door leads into a vacant hall with a large window façade and heaped up sand is home to a sports field race track. The work, Positive Pathways (+) by the GCC collective from the United Arab Emirates, addresses the tendency towards capitalistic ideologies in the Arab Gulf states and how it stands in contrast to the rich, immaterial depth of its own culture. In this moment it becomes clear how starved the public is after so much celebration of the superficial (even when it’s New York Post-Internet art), how it’s had enough of the nonchalance and still isn’t satisfied. A path in the right direction has been made, a look into the future, a dealing with the now – that’s all justified and couldn’t fit any better.


The 9th Berlin Biennale will be open for an impressive 15 weeks, so until the 18th of September, 2016 – somewhat superseded at the end by abc, which starts three days before. Furthermore, there are online events on the Biennale’s website and a specially written hymn, The Anthem, that you can stream from the festival’s website. “We like the idea of a biennale that you can’t get out of your head,” says Lauren Boyle, who next to Solomon Chase, Marco Roso and David Toro is the forth and only female member of DIS, especially since the collective has become smaller anyway. If they achieved that with their “first and last” biennale is still to be seen. (A fitting analogy: appropriate to the oversupply of the overly democratic World Wide Web, the irrelevant superfluity of everything appears to be an essential part of the program.)

Those looking for quick answers would be well advised to visit Julia Stoschek. A collector from Düsseldorf with a focus on video art, her Berlin branch at Leipziger Straße 60 is presenting an impressive 38 works from 20 artists in the exhibition Die Welt am Draht – named after Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s two-part television film from the 70s. The unchallenged favorites are Rachel Rose’s two videos (A Minute Ago and Palisades in Palisades). Proof at a distance that New York Millennials can make art that’s moving at the first glance – and therefore the opposite of irrelevant.

Julia co-founded one of the first fashion blogs in Germany in 2007 and became a freelance consultant for digital strategies after publishing her first book in 2010. After an eventful four years with Condé Nast working mainly in the digital department of Vogue Germany, she decided to launch her own online magazine with her dream partner, Veronika Heilbrunner. She is based in Berlin and loves to read books.