Silly me. The art in galleries, of course, isn't the only art going on here, and it's interesting to note that, although it's opposed in theory and practice to the gallery art, the other art burst forth the other day with stunning vigor.
I refer to what might broadly be called "graffiti," or what I prefer to think of as "street art," and although I've been rather desultorily documenting it since last year, I've neither the knowledge nor the software to post any of it here, which is a shame because a lot of it has disappeared by now and I'd like to document the new crop as well as showing the old crop.
My favorite in all of this is a woman named Swoon, whose intricate, lace-like paper cutouts, four feet high, suddenly blossomed all over my neighborhood (and other ones, like Kreuzberg) last year. Her works invite contemplation and, since some of her basic forms change from piece to piece, you want to find as many as possible. Two days ago, I saw two small trees, one of black paper, one of white, about a foot tall, at street level, on a wall. Looks like she might be back.
There's lots of paper graffiti around at the moment, with one newcomer pasting up huge tiki gods in the most unlikely places, all done in light brown chalk so you can barely see them. Another guy is using stylized skulls on brown butcher paper, and there's a crew of three who depict themselves as square-headed Bart Simpsonoid beings floating high above the street. One of them may be Paris, the 12-year-old brother of Spair, who's 15, both of whom Swoon was very enthusiastic about last year, with good reason in Spair's case, because his jellyfish-like beings rendered with a shaky line are very spooky indeed.
Two members of the Greek pantheon have also impressed me recently. First was Zeus, whose piece I missed totally until one night, which is when it's supposed to be viewed. I saw a bunch of thick lines on the sidewalk on Auguststr. near the start of Gipsstr. and thought it was a graf tag, but one night as I walked that way, its genius was revealed: the thick line exactly, and I mean ex-act-ly, follows the shadow of a parking sign cast by the streetlight next to it. It's a piece which invites interaction, ways to play with the ways in which the piece is "there" or not. I love it. Then there's Nike, whose charming oil paintings of female nudes are nailed up beneath billboards. There's one quite near Friedrichstr. station, which I noted today has been defaced by a regular tagger (a Berlin tradition: Keith Haring's Wall piece was only up a few hours when some dickhead drew a thick orange line through it; at some point I'm going to write about how envious destruction of people's had work is a very important element of life here). Three more, identical paintings of a woman facing left in what I believe is called the Crane position in yoga, stand near the corner of Torstr. and Ackerstr., and some idiot apparently wanted one and decapitated her in a ham-handed attempt to pull her off. And I can't remember where I saw the third one, although I think I know. I'd better grab these with the camera fast.
A lot of these artists have banded together in a loose association called Urban Art, whose big star is CBS, which is actually a crew whose initials stand for Crash BrotherS. CBS stuff is all over the place, in the most amazingly improbable places from the yellow fists with knotted limbs beneath them to a sunrise high atop an apartment building to stickers declaring in German "CBS is Everywhere," which is pretty much true. And then there's 6, who draws big 6s on things, along with mysterious URLs and messages, in whitewash. Everyone who's met him says he's harmlessly demented.
Incidentally, a good, if undercurated, place to explore this stuff is here, although it's kind of Hamburg-centric. The stencil work and the cutouts are very nice; I saw my first stencils in Brussels in the late '80s, and remember vividly a Mohawked mouse doing a swan dive into a huge piece of cheese somewhere near the Grand' Place.
And somewhere between the free-for-all of graffiti and street art and the narcotizing atmosphere of the galleries is another project I ran into, most notably because it suddenly appeared in a space Urban Art had had a two-day show I missed. Called Topshop, it's a hilarious version of the many "discount" shops which seem to infest every storefront that's not a gallery around here. Inevitably staffed by Vietnamese, and with a bizarre mix of solid inexpensive stuff, garish decorator items (folks, the clocks alone are so horrible they've got to be seen to be believed), and cheap crap, they're obvious indicators of the severe financial condition most people here live in. Among the things I saw offered were pillows made from shopping bags from the horrible "box" grocery stores we have here (goods are just put on the shelves in their shipping cartons, no fresh meat or cheese and very limited vegetables, if any, but all rock-bottom prices!), a number of do-it-yourself projects (blank business-cards, machines to make badges, a diorama you can photograph with a 3-D camera), and tons of CDs, DVDs, and books and magazines. This does have a connection to the art-world: the insufferably boring Dr. Bazon Brock is among those reading there tonight, and there are several links to other "high art" bastions, but there's enough anarchy and fun going on there to make it worth dropping in on.
I'm not going to buy anything, of course, until the 26th, because that's the clearance sale.