ART & DESIGN

All the Highlights of the 2016 Berlin Biennale


This weekend, the 9th Berlin Biennale opened in Europe’s favorite expat capital, curated by the unabashedly American, thoroughly post-boundaries collective DIS, consisting of Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, Marco Roso, and David Toro. Spanning five venues across the city, including the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Mitte, which has presided over the biennial since its founding in 1996, this year’s edition is provocatively titled “The Present in Drag.” “Drag is not just a man in female clothes or vice versa,” Boyle said. “We are using the term in a broader sense—as a shapeshifting representation of self and of environment.” Toro added, “Drag on the one hand implies disguise and deception, and on the other, true self-expression. In a sense, we feel that the present is currently in Drag, where even transparency is a type of mask.” Roso explained that in all the satellite venues—an art school, a business management school, a bunker-turned-private art collection, and a retooled river boat like the ones so popular with summer tourists—”there’s a dichotomy between the micro and macro, the personal and the public.” “As the title suggests,” said Chase, “instead of unmasking the present as though it contains something we have to ‘discover’, we want to look at its many faces and incarnations.” Here are eight highlights from an expectations-shattering show.

1

Shawn Maximo Without exploring every inch of the KW, a visitor might miss the American artist Shawn Maximo’s installation. It’s not in the galleries, courtyard, or halls of the museum, but in the bathroom, which Maximo has made over into a “de-gendered” washroom complete with a bidet. Ensconced in the building, the room is tricked out with windows on all sides peering out into synthetic wilderness. (Another “window” is a TV monitor playing the trippy work of the video artist Kathleen Daniel.) As an architect who has designed commercial environments for companies like Gucci and MAC, Maximo repurposed his talents for a slick political intervention.

Photo by Asia Typek.

2

Shawn Maximo’s installation at the KW.

Photo by Asia Typek.

3

GCC The very identity, and many projects, of this international collective hailing from the Persian Gulf are geared towards confusing and complicating the aesthetics of the Gulf Cooperation Council and its constituent nations. For the Biennale, they have filled a large room in an upper floor of the European School of Management and Technology with sand, a maroon track field, and the sculptures of a mother and son in contemporary attire from the Arab Gulf States. New Age aphorisms play over the speakers, and the mother’s pose indicates that she is practicing “quantum touch” on her child. A windswept scene of modern, globally hybridized beliefs, the installation expresses how capitalist and spiritual trends alike have been adopted in their highly traditional but swiftly modernizing home states.

Photo by Asia Typek.

4

GCC’s installation at the European School of Management and Technology.

Photo by Asia Typek.

5

Guan Xiao The Chinese artist Guan Xiao filled the Fuerle Collection with a suite of beguiling sculptures combining car parts and other industrial products with ornamental flourishes and more abstract forms. Taken altogether, they feel like totems to a society devoted to utility and consumerism like ours. Fresh as they are, these monuments to fetish hold a tense balance of disparate times and places.

Photo by Asia Typek.

6

Guan Xiao’s installation at the Feurle Collection.

Photo by Asia Typek.

7

Julian Ceccaldi A diptych of huge, illuminated paintings by the Canadian illustrator Julian Ceccaldi play on tropes of romance, sentimentality, and cultural tourism at the KW. A waifish elder and a strapping lad are juxtaposed in both paintings, as are atmospheric details with strong connotations of love and desire (the Eiffel Tower, falling cherry blossoms). Age, beauty, and place, along with two distinct genres of representation—European figurative painting and Japanese Manga—are both displaced and merged in melancholic suspension.

Photo by Asia Typek.

8

Julian Ceccaldi at the KW.

Photo by Asia Typek.

9

Jon Rafman Perhaps in a riff off of the mythological Ourousboros who devours its own tail, Rafman has populated the terrace of the Akademie der Kunst overlooking the Brandenburg Gate with a menagerie of animals who are improbably swallowing one another whole: dog inhaling lion, iguana consuming sloth, and so on. The experience is intensified by a VR environment designed by the artist on Oculus Rift. Visitors wander to the brink of the building with their heads in heavy goggles, taken, like the animals, inside a reality not their own.

Photo by Asia Typek.

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Jon Rafman’s installation at the Akademie der Kunst.

Photo by Asia Typek.

11

Josh Kline The American artist Josh Kline’s new video is installed in the basement of KW, strewn with a sand-like substance on the ground which, on closer inspection, is in fact kitty litter. Titled “Crying Games,” the figures that appear onscreen are actors whose own faces have been grafted over with those belonging to notorious political figures like Condoleezza Rice, Tony Blair, Dick Cheney, and George Bush. With great intensity, they repent to the camera in a confessional tone.

Photo by Asia Typek.

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Josh Kline’s installation at the KW.

Photo by Asia Typek.

13

Katja Novitskova The Estonian artist Katja Novitskova has taken over the public areas of the European School of Management and Technology to install hellish, altar-like settings by way of outsize, computer-generated images of flames and horns printed onto cut-out aluminum flats. Straddling cutting edge technology with primitivist energy, and installed at a institution of higher education for business, Novitskova’s sculptures tell of an obsession that has burned at the heart of Western culture since its founding, with “growth, status, wealth, hierarchy, and fire.”

Photo by Asia Typek.

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Katja Novitskova’s installation at the European School of Management and Technology.

Photo by Asia Typek.

15

Telfar The Liberian-born, New York-based fashion designer Telfar collaborated with creative director Babak Radboy to create a fully merchandised exhibition of mannequins on the ground floor of the Akademie fur Kunst, selling a system of uniforms to Bienniale visitors that are continuously advertised on the bodies of the various docents, security, and other temporary employees of the institution. In doing so, the project seems to slyly question the various roles of participants in art enterprises, and what constitutes work and what constitutes consumption

Photo by Asia Typek.

16

Telfar’s installation at the Akademie fur Kunst.

Photo by Asia Typek.