Thursday, September 16, 2004

Change Of Season

Last night at 1, as I went to bed, the wind was blowing steadily. I noticed that the bedroom was cold, so I shut the window. But it's mid-September, and this isn't Texas. Another summer, such as it was, is gone.

Such as it was: we only had a few actually hot days, a few more warm ones. And it may not be totally over yet: according to the weather forecast, we have a warm weekend coming up. But the basil I planted earlier this summer looks to be all roots (and what leaves there are have now been spoiled by the fine yellow dust which covers everything both in and outside, thanks to the construction next door), and I often find myself stopping to wonder if I should wear a jacket before I head outdoors.

One thing's for sure: the art season's started. Saturday was the first Galerierundgang of the season, the open-house where galleries are allowed to stay open late, and the first collectors come into town, drawn by the Art Forum Berlin, this city's often-pathetic attempt to compete with the big contemporary art markets in Cologne and Basel. This will be the second year in a row that I won't be there, absent some freebie floating my way; my last attempt to cover it for the new administration at the Wall Street Journal was quickly tossed back in my lap because I spent too much time talking about works and trends and didn't try to find out who had bought what for how much -- information which is carefully kept aside until well after the event, and managed in such a way as to only draw attention to acquisitions people want publicly discussed. Truth to tell, neither my feet nor my esthetic receptors miss it, because there have always been far fewer diamonds than lumps of coal. About its only real virtue is that I get to see what's going on in Leipzig, where there are some very interesting painters at work. Since painting is hardly at the center of the galleries in my neighborhood (or, when it is, it sucks), that's always nice.

But there have been a lot of new galleries opening up of late right around my house. The reason for this is not so much that there are tons of great creative people whose work needs to be seen as it is that the local government will give a tax break to a landlord who shows art rather than let a building sit empty. Since landlords rarely understand art, they lease the space cheaply to a gallerist. Near me on Torstr. was a nice big space which became a gallery one day (it had been a TV repair shop), showed for about a month, and then the gallery went away. For three months workers toiled in the space, and one day the most high-tech-looking hair salon you've ever seen opened up, art-directed to the hilt. It was in business for two weeks and then it was gone. A month later, another gallery was in there. I found myself remembering the Turkish artist who did such a realistic installation of a travel agency at Mehdi Chouakri's gallery back when he was in this neighborhood that I lamented the gallery's sudden disappearance, but wondered why the travel agency only occupied half the space, since it appeared that there was still an office in the rear. Just part of the zany goings-on at that place back in those days.

I have to say, most of the stuff showing in these new galleries is deadly dull, though. The most successful, and one I pass every day on my way to the store, is Galerie Markus Richter, which I took to calling the "everything proceeds from theory" gallery, because it sure doesn't have any goddam content. But at least it's slick. Some of this other stuff is so bad you wonder if it's some ironic commentary about technique, but, given the clueless people running the galleries, it's probably sincere. About the only thing in the 'hood currently showing that interests me at all -- and it interests me a lot -- is a show at theNBK of one of my heroes, William Eggleston, and another photographer named Wilmar Koenig, both shooting similar stuff -- Memphis in the '80s and Madrid this year. I've only looked at it briefly (and sorry, folks, that last link is only in German), but I'll be back at least once before it closes.

Still with the onset of cooler weather, I seem to have gotten an ingrown reflex to turn to art, a sort of artotropia. You walk the streets, it's chilly, you step in a gallery, the person in charge raises their head in case it's a wealthy collector, it's not, they sort of sigh, and they leave you alone as you wander around wondering a) who could possibly have made this crap and b) who would even think of buying it. You do that til you warm up, you say "Danke," and you leave. Maybe I'll get invited to an opening or two, avoid the cheap wine and the inevitable headache-inducing Beck's, step outside for a cigarette when the equally-inevitable professor starts in with the explanation of what the art on display is and why it's so important, and notice that, even though it's only quarter past seven, the sky above Berlin-Mitte has gotten dark, and a cloud is scudding over the moon. That will feel like Fall.

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