The third Berlin-Paris gallery exchange began this weekend in Berlin, as 27 galleries introduce Paris to Berlin (and next week, vice-versa). In spite of their relative geographic proximity, the two cities host startlingly different contemporary art scenes. Paris, a city whose creative heyday arguably ended half a century ago, hosts galleries for the sale of Modernist works and furnishings—some of which are included in the exchange roster—in addition to contemporary art. Berlin’s gallery scene—a combination of outposts by established German dealers transplanted in the last decades from Cologne and a changing group of scrappy upstarts—has claimed a more central position in contemporary art discourse, if not fully in its market. These predilections reveal themselves in the range of galleries participating in this year’s exchange, from flashy dealers (like Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris) and established ones (neugerriemschneider and Esther Schipper, both Berlin) to Modernist furniture buffs (jousse enterprise, Paris) and newly established spaces (Chert, Berlin).
Many of the exhibitions, which, essentially staged to introduce new products to a new market, feel stilted, with large flashing sculptures, for example, plopped in an empty gallery. But for Balice Hertling’s presentation at MD72, Galerie Neu’s palatial project space beneath gallerist Alexander Schroeder’s home, three discrete projects by Falke Pisano, Luca Frei, and Isabelle Cornaro withstand the displacement and emerge better for the change.
The space itself comprises successive, generous rooms of a typisch Berlin Altbau-style apartment. The first room houses O Eu e O Tu / The I and the You (2008), Pisano’s installation of primary and secondary colored fabrics in saturated tones swathing a bamboo scaffolding. The structure is playful enough to look like some kind of childhood fort, an effect emphasized by its domestic-like context, but is infused with references to modernist forms. Pisano is particularly interested in Hélio Oiticia’s Tropicália (1967), the titular installation of the Brazilian musical, performance, and art movement Tropicalismo. Pisano’s dense, wordy texts simultaneously whisper didactic observations about the triangulated relationship between artist, object, and viewer emerge via three mounted speakers. Each of three voices speaks in a clear, low monotone made the more difficult to follow by each overlapping the next and the dense didacticism that each transmits.
In the next room, Luca Frei’s installation, What Time Is It? (2009), consists of eight alternatively convex and concave pieces of plaster-coated MDF painted white and nestled vertically against one another. The sculpture’s gently curved, textured white surfaces tower above the viewer as they torque away from each another. In this semi-domestic context, the leaning plaster shapes echo the stucco ornamentation of the gallery space yet comprise an impressive visual and spatial impasse.
Isabelle Cornaro presents Paysage avec Poussin et témoins oculaires (III) (Landscape with Poussin and eyewitnesses) (2010), a collection of conspicuously bourgeois domestic objects—from exquisite patterned carpets and porcelain vases with naturalistic motifs to utilitarian baking tins and rubber stamps—arranged as if in preparation for a still-life painting. Made in reference to the composites Poussin would construct for his own landscapes-arranging objects to mimic the perspective that dictated his composition—Cornaro’s installation submits to rules of illusionistic perspective. Large-and indeed, more precious-objects stand arrayed before the smaller, more mundane ones in a simple send-up of this simplifying practice. In MD72’s bourgeois domestic space, with parquet floors and decorative moldings, the collection harmonizes willingly with its surroundings.