June 3, 2014

The 8th Berlin Bienniale 2014: School Is Out!

The 8th Berlin Biennale, which opened on Wednesday May 28, made me wanna look at The Wonder Years again. With Kevin and Winnie promising to always be together, and Kevin and Paul drinking beer and smoking cigarettes with the rebel kids in the woods. Because at this year’s Berlin Biennale school is definitely out. Growing up happens in a heartbeat. Last Biennale we were still in diapers with Artur Zmijewsky fooling around and screwing it up. And at the 6th Biennale we were teenaging in trendy Kreuzberg. I was no fan of all that. It is great to be grown-up, no question about it. But The Wonder Years can strike a cord, can’t they? "When you're a little kid, you're a little bit of everything. Artist, scientist, athlete, scholar. Sometimes it seems like growing up is a process of giving those things up one by one. I guess we all have one thing that we regret giving up, one thing that we really miss, that we gave up because we were too lazy or we couldn't stick it out… or because we were afraid."

A vitrine at the canteen of Dahlem Museum

Nothing to be afraid of at this Bienniale. The topic is solid: history is an obvious choice in Berlin. And the artists are established. The only panic attack I had was when I thought I lost my cell phone and was digging in my bag like a mole. But the locations are original: Museum Dahlem, where I hadn’t been since the year 1998. It used to be a place where avant-garde artists in the 1910s and 1920s were looking for inspiration in the ethnological collections. And Haus am Waldsee, which I can recommend to visit in summer time so you can go jump in the lake Krumme Lanke afterwards. Yet that Wednesday morning at 10am, attending the Biennale’s preview, it was raining cats and dogs. My friend and I were standing under our umbrellas in the garden. Instead of a Déjeuner sur l'herbe we decided to have our coffee at the canteen in Dahlem Museum. And that’s where I experienced something like “fun” in the context of the Biennale, surprised by the display in the canteen’s vitrines, which showcased the weirdest juxtapositions (like the finest cutlery combined with nails and working tools). My friend had another fun moment ten minutes later, seeing with her eye of expertise the flawed wooden floor, where once a wall must have been. 

A flaw in the floor 

Maybe that is what is, generally speaking, missing at this year’s Biennale: a flaw, a juxtapostion, a contradiction, some tension, a gap. Both Museum Dahlem and Haus am Waldsee are located in a south area of Berlin called Zehlendorf. This is the place where you move to at that time in your life when you want a villa with a garden. Berliners are late bloomers so this tends to happen in your 40s or rather never happens at all. The Biennale drowns in the Zehlendorf atmosphere - starting off in Haus am Waldsee with mimicking a private collector’s house - and yes, also in the rest of the Biennale show the collector species must have felt at ease. A friend of mine suggested that the Haus am Waldsee exhibition in particular seemed so lame because all the art works had approximately the same (reasonable) size.

My friend and I finished the whole show in less than 4 hours, leisurely strolling through its 3 locations, Dahlem Museum, Haus am Waldsee and KW. Excuse me if i’m not talking in detail about the artwork on display. Sure there was some good art we could talk about. But as a whole the Biennale felt as if we had a light lunch - nothing too overwhelming and imposing, and easily forgotten the next day. We finished it off with a bowl of noodle soup with guarantee energy balls and ginger water "Balance" at the Fresh Eatery not far from KW. 

Energy balls in noodle soup at the Fresh Eatery at Auguststrasse