BERLIN—The annual ArtBerlin fair, which opened last weekend in Germany’s capital against a backdrop of beautiful September weather, presented a well-drawn review of the European art scene. The fair comprised one hundred and ten galleries, showing primarily German and Austrian art, with a small injection of reprints of masterpieces by Tom Wesselman, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
ArtBerlin’s auspiciously chosen location—hangars of the Tempelhoff Airport, a striking monument of Nazi architecture located at the border of the fashionable Neukölln and Kreuzberg districts—practically guaranteed nearly hundred-percent attendance from the members of the more colorful and diverse Berlin’s art community. In contrast, representation by the general public, i.e., regular Berliners and tourists, was very light, which could explain why correspondingly few numbers of red circles —indicators of a sold work— appeared next to artwork by the end of the fair.
The exhibitors, most of which were German and Austrian galleries, demonstrated that German tradition of wholesomeness and quality is still carefully guarded in the local art market— they steered clear of un-saleable works of conceptualism, such as performances or installations made out of rusty pipes and crumpled paper, showing only high-quality works of interior size: canvases, epoxy panels on acrylic glass, paintings on natural silk in neat glass boxes,
Contemporary art of the kind that increasingly resembles design without its functionality requirement focuses the viewer’s attention on texture, structure, and color. A large number of abstract works presented at the fair is a confirmation of this trend. However, abstractions of 2019 differ little from those of the 30s or 70s, which all but disappeared from the art-market —for example, serial copies of Liechtenstein’s reprints were offered for 28,000 euros each.
Most of the noteworthy works at the fair explored the theme of the “new physicality,” i.e., corporal deconstruction, and a kind of light porn that remained within the artistic scope. A respite for the eye and the mind, a cheerful provocation, at most a superficial Zen-spectacle, which, at its best, pauses the mind for a second. These are the artistic objectives that with typical efficiency are achieved by the modern creators displayed at ArtBerlin.
Of course, a commercial art fair, unlike a Biennale or museum projects, is not intended to discover new artistic ideas or highlight future trends. This format—a contemporary take on Salon, aimed at the mass audience—is popular. But it could achieve a much stronger cultural impact by exhibiting provocative and fresh art, an ample supply of which could be found in countless art studios in the neighboring Neukölln district.