It was March 8th. I was visiting Berlin for the day for the opening of an exhibition I was curating. I woke up around 7:45 and headed down for breakfast. I thought since I am only here for a day, I might as well go the German way and ate meats, gherkins, and some other salady stuff, topped off with a huge cup of coffee.
After breakfast I headed to the Hellenic Foundation for Culture where I was curating the exhibition Silent Nature by artist Stavros Kotsiréas. Stavros and I had to arrange the final details: perfect the lighting, add all the labels, clear up the space, and arrange the brochures. Most of the hanging had taken place the day before so we were able to finish up in about three hours, and after a quick meeting with the foundation’s team we headed off to the centre of Berlin.
As always I got slightly lost with all the different tubes and trains, but I managed to get to Oraniensburger Strasse. It had started raining by then, but the walk to Sprüth Magers wasn’t too bad. I didn’t know what was on, but how can you go wrong with a show at Sprüth Magers? The space showcased a Robert Morris solo show developed as a retrospective. Morris is an American artist who became a key figure in the 1960s with his object and sculpture based works. He was interested in the relationship of the viewer and the work of art within the space and is considered as one of the great avant-gardes of minimalist art. The exhibition was spread over two floors: the ground floor shows works from the 60’s, while the upper floor exposes us to some of his most recent work from 2001. Two works that really drew my attention were: Lead and Felt and Voices. The first one was composed of different abstract shapes made of felt and lead that were spread around the floor. As a viewer you could walk through these scattered pieces and choose your own path, thus every member of the audience could experience the work in a different way. The sense of tactility was heightened because of the materials Morris had used, and I must admit I didn’t stop myself from touching them – I think I was supposed to. The second work was an audio installation that transmitted voices and soundtracks into the space. It was very carefully choreographed and required the viewer to follow the sound and walk around in order to fully engage with the work. The ability of the viewer to form his own path of sound, and the fact that Voices consists of four sequences that all differ from each other, highlights again the individual experience of each viewer.
After grabbing a quick but delicious lunch at Café Cinema I headed back to the hotel – popping briefly into the amazing department store KaDeWe – where I took a power nap followed by a strong coffee. Around 18:30 the artist and I headed to the Hellenic Foundation for Culture and after taking hundreds of pictures of the space, we eagerly awaited the arrival of the visitors to the opening. I think that the waiting is probably the most stressful part of putting up a show. People started arriving after 20:00 and the rooms were fully packed by 20:30. Following a brief introduction by Mr. Oikonomou, the director of the Foundation, people started buzzing away and asking questions about the work.
Silent Nature presents Stavros Kotsiréas’ new body of work which explores issues of inspiration and creativity. The exhibition consists of elaborate constructions and paintings that express the artist’s physical and human environment. Each work consists of two interdependent but self-contained parts: the construction and the painting. The constructions exhibit the artist’s inspiration for the whole work and are composed of inanimate objects that have marked his life: sea shells gathered with his daughters on the beach, old toy trains, paint remnants from his palettes, or pieces of past ink sketches. The paintings exhibit the painterly response to that initial source of inspiration. This body of work explores the artist’s thirst for creation. When at art school (The Royal Academy in The Hague) Kotsiréas first experimented with the small constructions of inanimate objects that have inspired this present body of work. Hence, between then and now, we are able to discern the process of the artist’s development and maturity. The artist reveals his source of inspiration to the viewer, allowing him or her to emotionally respond both to the creative process as well as to the final piece. The viewer is invited to enter into a dialogue where he or she will have the opportunity to sense and react to the artist, who in effect becomes part of the viewer’s reality. The artist further opens up to the viewer by sharing his memories and the secrets that are embedded in the inanimate objects – reinforcing the nostalgic dimension of these works. This is in stark contrast to the model of the introvert-genius artist that has been fostered by the air of mysticism dominating our perception of the creators of art. The works embed a Hellenic dimension as they share a visual link to the easel paintings on wood created by the ancient Greeks. Along with these historic roots, painting is redefined as a medium that can be groundbreaking and unconventional in the contemporary art platform. The works are not a natura morta – nekri fysi in the Greek – but an expression of a silent nature whereby the objects of the small constructions are re-infused with life through their direct, reciprocal and poetic relationship to the paintings.
The opening was a great success – better than I could have wished for my first show. It was followed by a super buffet and drinks, and lasted for quite a long while as guests were still chatting around at 10.30. Even though I was quite exhausted by the end of it, I joined some of my friends at the Green Door Bar close to Nollendorfplatz – a MadMen style mayhem. You had to ring a bell and wait till someone came to open the door, and then it seemed as if you had entered the 1950s (with a dash of 70s kitch). Low lights, everyone drinking scotch, cigars, a wooden bar running along the whole length of the space, and an illuminated drinks wall. After having a fabulous celebratory mohito, we all thought it was time to head home since I was taking an early morning flight back to London.
So in a day: I experienced German cooking, set up an exhibition, took a stroll in the city centre, saw a major show by Robert Morris, popped into KaDeWe, attended the opening of Silent Nature, the show I curated, and discovered an awesome bar. I think I did pretty well. How much could you fir in a day in Berlin?