“… the most important display of contemporary art . . .” (Kulturstiftung des Bundes)
New works produced expressly by contemporary artists from all around the world, as well as renowned curators: the Berlin Biennale, founded in 1998, has secured a place in the ranks of international biennials.
It is a “beacon of contemporary art,” a “laboratory for courage and creativity,” said the former minister for culture Bernd Neumann, praising the Berlin Biennale at the opening of its sixth exhibition in 2010. The Berlin Biennial had made its debut twelve years earlier, with the goal of presenting an imposing, international show of contemporary art in Berlin every two years, and offering primarily young, less established artists a platform for their work.
The idea for a biennial in Berlin came about in 1995, during that year’s Venice Biennial. Gallery owners, curators, and art patrons complained that, after the loss of the aperto section for young artists, the Venice Biennial no longer had a forum for the most recent developments. As a city that has been the embodiment of new beginnings and change since 1989, Berlin seemed to be the perfect place for a brand new, large scale show, especially since there had long been a desire for better representation of contemporary art in the capital. Upon the initiative of Klaus Biesenbach (now the director of MoMA PS1 in New York), Eberhard Mayntz, and other committed collectors and art lovers, an association known as the berlin biennale für zeitgenössische Kunst e.v. was founded in 1996.
At first it was planned that the show would premiere in 1997, but it was not until September 30, 1998, that the first Berlin Biennial—the only biennial of its kind in Germany—opened its doors. The artistic director Klaus Biesenbach curated the show with the help of Nancy Spector and Hans Ulrich Obrist. While the first show mainly focused on presenting the local art scene and the city of Berlin as a site where artistic questions are contemplated, the second biennial was opened up to international artists as well. Since then, art from Africa, South America, and Asia can be found next to works by those whom Okwui Enwezor calls the “G7 artists,” artists from the seven leading industrial nations; for many of them, Berlin is the center where they work and live. Most of the participating artists produce new work especially for the biennial.
Each biennial takes place in a different, memorable place in Berlin, and each is strongly influenced by the style of the various curators. After Biesenbach’s premiere team, Saskia Bos led the second Berlin Biennale in 2001, while Ute Meta Bauer headed up the third Berlin Biennale in 2004. Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, and Ali Subotnick realized the fourth Berlin Biennale in 2006, followed by Adam Szymczyk and his co-curator, Elena Filipovic, who worked on the fifth Berlin Biennale in 2008. Kathrin Rhomberg was selected for the sixth show in 2010, and Artur Żmijewski, and Voina and Joanna Warsza were chosen for the seventh Berlin Biennale in 2012.
Responsible for the eighth Berlin Biennale in 2014 is the freelance author and curator Juan A. Gaitán. Will this latest show once again be an “art laboratory” and retain its innovative quality as a kind of “open space” that allows for experiments and presents trends for discussion, as the producers and curators hope? Not every version of the biennial is going to arouse the enthusiasm of art lovers in the same way that the surprising first, fourth, or fifth biennials did. Interested visitors still have time—up until August 3—to see for themselves if the Berlin Biennale can once again do justice to its reputation as one of the most significant presentations of experimental, future-oriented, contemporary art.
25.3.2014 Stefanie Gommel