Berlin inaugurates contemporary art hall

Berlin inaugurates contemporary art hall
Photo: DPA
Berlin's new contemporary art hall opened on Wednesday night with an inaugural exhibition by artist Candice Breitz in the heart of the city. The Local’s Kristen Allen was there to check out the hype.

Such a concentration of well-heeled, well-groomed Berliners is a rare sight to behold in a city of poor aspiring artists. But there they were, packed into the clean-lined new art hall to see Breitz’s video installation series, “Inner + Outer Space” and catch a bit of Mayor Klaus Wowereit’s speech.

Click here for The Local’s photo gallery of the Kunsthalle.

“It’s certainly interesting to see it staged this way,” Berlin-based Mexican painter and video artist Enrique Villaseñor López told The Local over the crowd noise. “I think this building will act as a magnet.”

The boxy bright blue and white building, designed by Adolf Krischanitz, is eye-catching indeed. For the next two years, the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, or “Temporary Art Hall Berlin,” will occupy the prominent Schlossplatz, featuring art by contemporary Berlin-based artists near some of the city’s most famous and central landmarks.

Appropriately, the Breitz exhibtion features three video installations that focus on pop icons and the cult of celebrity, media and collective identification. For the three pieces – “Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon), King (A Portrait of Michael Jackson) and Queen (A Portrait of Madonna)” – she filmed fans of the musicians as they sang along to entire albums they heard on headphones. Breitz then synchronized the recordings and grouped them on separate screens so that the audience experiences the songs in a surreal a capella chorus of individual idiosyncrasies and personalities.

“It’s really quite funny and embarrassing, sort of like what you would look like if someone caught you singing in the shower,” Beate Schulzt told The Local as she eyed the screens of people singing along to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Some of the video subjects had dressed up in Michael Jackson “Thriller“-era garb, going as far as mimicking Jackson’s dance moves, meanwhile one woman oddly chose a belly dancing costume, and others sang shyly, refusing to look into the camera. The footage from this and the other two sections conjures a raw personal discomfort, forcing the audience to watch their most private air guitar moments.

“I’m not convinced,” Anne Schneider said as she stepped out of the dark, crowded room that featured the “King“ portion of the exhibition. “This is art for the masses, you could explain it in three sentences.”

But accessibility is the main point of the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, Mayor Klaus Wowereit said in his opening remarks. “What does contemporary art in Berlin mean? When you come to Berlin, then you are a Berlin artist and a Berliner,” he said, gesturing to Breitz, who is from South Africa.

The privately-funded Kunsthalle plans to make itself available to Berlin-based artists of any nationality as part of the ongoing efforts by the city to encourage international attention to the city’s art scene.

The bright new bastion of art, located where the grand Neptunbrunnen palace once stood, will only have a short time to enlighten the people, though. In two years, the city plans to rebuild the palace, which was demolished by the communist East German government in 1951.

“But the success of this evening shows that we urgently need a permanent space like this,” Wowereit said. “And we are working to get it at Humboldthafen [near the central train station].”

The first part of the Breitz exhibition runs until November 27, and the second installation runs from November 28 to December 28.