5th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art: 1st Impressions

by Travis Jeppesen on April 3, 2008

Today was the first day of the press preview for the latest installment of the Berlin Biennial, curated by Adam Szymczyk and Elena Filipovic. I generally make it a rule to see a show at least twice before I review it, but first impressions can also be good a gauge of things, so before I start going into the high points and low points, I just thought I’d hazard the warning that I’m planning on going back a few more times, so the opinions offered below may change over time.


As far as I understand it, the curators’ concept is to divide the exhibition into two segments – a day program and a night program. The former – situated at KunstWerke, the Neue Nationalgalerie, the Schinkel Pavilion, and Skulpturenpark Berlin_Zentrum – features more or less a static exhibition of works (with the exception of the Schinkel Pavilion, which will be the site of revolving exhibitions curated by selected artists), while the night program will consist of a schedule of lectures, readings, screenings, and performances. Based on what I saw today, I have to say that I’m looking forward to the night program – it seems that this is where the real curatorial energy has been invested.


If pressed to sum up my impression of the work in the KunstWerke and the Neue Nationalgalerie: shabby. Albeit, it’s a very Berlin type of shab that would easily be at home in many of Mitte’s fashion boutiques. There are no well-known artists at all in the exhibition; much of the work looks very studenty. Heavy on the installation side, with hardly any painting, and quite a few videos thrown in for good measure.


One of the few pieces that really stand out is a video by Zhao Liang, City Scene. The artist wanders through Beijing at night with a video camera in hand, filming whatever natural “scenes” he happens to stumble upon – fist fights outside of bars, shady incidents with men forcing women into cars, a punk rock club…. At 23 minutes, the video is powerful, disturbing, and poetic – it could have gone on for much longer. You can’t say that about much video art these days.


To be continued…

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