Category: Exhibitions

Berlin Biennial

Perhaps the strongest features of this year’s fourth Berlin Biennial are the 12 venues lining the city’s Auguststrasse. The sombre exhibition, entitled Of Mice and Men, is constructed in a narrative arc that begins at one end of the street in a Romanesque church, continues through old stables, private apartments and a former Jewish girls’ school and ends in a graveyard.

The Biennial guides the viewer through a low-key, existentialist consideration of life and loss. The tone for this journey is set inside the St. Johannes-Evangelist church with Kris Martin’s Mandi III (2003). The all-black arrivals board–of the type found in airports or train stations–only occasionally clatters to life; devoid of letters and numbers, it evokes unseen comings and goings and the passage of time. At the other end of the Auguststrasse, the Biennial concludes in the Old Garrison graveyard with Susan Philipsz’s sound work, which teeters between the eerily sweet and the banal. Discreet, tree-mounted speakers intermittently emit the artist’s unaccompanied voice singing the Yardbirds’ “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.” Inside the graveyard’s lapidarium, Berlinde De Bruyckere’s faceless and abstracted taxidermied horse is vulnerably suspended–a strangely substantial ghost.

Consistent with the majority of the venues, the vast former Jewish girls’ school retains prominent traces of its past occupants. The school’s fixtures, wallpaper and posters and its students’ art exist untouched, often resulting in an uneasy conflict with the exhibited works and only occasionally producing a dynamic symbiosis. Bucking the biennial trend of presenting a cross-section of very recent art production, the curators included several projects originating in previous decades. Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan’s sober Evidence (1977)–photographs displayed in one of the school’s classrooms–offers a surprisingly evocative pairing of context and work. The artists compiled the black and white series documenting crime scenes, laboratories and scientific experiments from the archives of public and private agencies and corporations. The mysterious institutional activities depicted seem to exist in a sinister vacuum between documentary past and science fiction, ominously echoing the temporal limbo of the abandoned educational institution where the work is presented. As poignant counterpart to Mandel and Sultan’s project, Bruce O’Connor’s slow-paced and matter-of-fact film Crossroads (1976) presents a montage of the awe-inspiring nuclear bombings of the Bikini Atoll.

Although the charged exhibition sites occasionally threaten to overwhelm the work, the curators’ decision to integrate the show into an existing urban context is an effective antidote to the ubiquitous curatorial standardization of international biennials. With a consistent roster of art stars, many of these exhibitions function as a series of solo shows that are easily transferable from one venue to another. This year’s Berlin Biennial commissioned a number of the presented works, occasionally resulting in successful site-specificity. One example is Jeremy Deller’s new video Klezmer chidesch (2006). Projected inside the former post office stables, it features a group of elderly klezmer musicians. Originally from the former Soviet Union, the band’s members now live and work on Auguststrasse and are shown performing a celebratory and humorous theme song specifically composed for the Biennial.

In the lead-up to the Biennial, curators Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni and All Subotnick undertook numerous activities and projects to establish their presence in Berlin. From the temporary, tongue-in-cheek Gagosian Gallery, operating since fall 2005, to their contested publication Checkpoint Charley (featuring unauthorized reproductions of the work of more than 700 artists “auditioned” for the Biennial), the curators’ reach extends beyond the exhibition to engage with a wider community. Cattelan’s own prankster practice invited expectations of a light and fundamentally humorous Biennial–an expectation that was not met. The Biennial’s press material emphasizes the curators’ desire to present an exhibition that reflects on the “anthropologically universal,” a phrase presumably referring to universal human experiences such as birth and death–recurring themes in many of the Biennial’s contributions. However, since the exhibition largely presents artists born and based in the Western hemisphere, and of those, less than one third are female, any claim to universality seems somewhat disingenuous.

As though in response to these inherent conceptual inconsistencies in Of Mice and Men’s curatorial premise, Ulf Aminde’s video wall features a multicultural parade of Berlin buskers. The work’s most compelling feature is the combined sound of all the musicians, reminiscent of the transcendental drone of a Glenn Branca symphony. Tucked away in a cellar off Auguststrasse, Aminde’s work features the multiethnic face of Berlin, revealing a reality that hovers at the margins of this city’s art scene.

Marginality and loneliness are consistent themes throughout. Anti Sala’s 2003 video time after time is effective in this context. Like a premonition of De Bruyckere’s ghostly equestrian sculpture, an emaciated horse endures the terrifying roar of passing traffic at the side of a highway at night.

The uncanny also appears to animate Paul McCarthy’s 1992 Bang-Bang Room. This lumbering mechanical room, with claustrophobically retro wallpaper and multiple doorways, echoes the ambiance of the tired school gym where it is installed. Occasionally the BangBang Room comes to life, its four walls and doors awkwardly banging open and shut, a spectre of the human implicit in its violence.


Berlin Biennial

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Particular Beauty

jul. 15, 2010 – aug. 15, 2010         Particular Beauty

Ilya Genin
Alice Grebanier
Simon Laufer
James Pryor
Maia Reim
Linda Sheehan


Some things are beautiful not because they conform to an ideal measure of perfection but precisely because they so freely depart from any such standard. These things distinguish themselves by the grace, and lack of self-awareness, with which they assert their own identity. Without setting out to do so, they flaunt our expectations and mesmerize us with their particular beauty.

Ilya Genin nominally photographs human expression. Sometimes it is a prolonged stare, others it is a fleeting smile. Closer examination suggests that the countenances he captures are a surrogate for a more profound subject: human engagement. Beauty, in Genin’s imagery, lies not so much in any particular face, but in the invisible forces that connect all of the multiple faces in his compositions.

Alice Grebanier finds aesthetic refuge in a cold subject. We know ice to be a hard, inhospitable solid, but her eye moves beyond the obvious to show us that material’s more malleable qualities. In her photographs we see that ice flows. We see this in sheet-like folds draped upon an underlying contour, and in rounded forms slowly launching themselves into space. In photographing ice, Grebanier does not photograph coldness … she photographs grace.

Simon Laufer finds beauty at moments when other photographers might rightly lament that they have been deprived of their vision. Laufer was not frustrated in trying to look through a rain-drenched windshield; he found beauty by looking at it. He noticed that water bends light. Laufer played with his camera’s focus to discover that the effects differ depending on whether he focused near or far. He often released his shutter at moments revealing least about the exterior space. He made interior photographs, and through these he opened a portal to an inner world. Laufer’s imagery is a Zen garden, delivering to us an invitation for inner contemplation.

James Pryor expertly traipses along a precarious path. He makes arresting photographs of animals – one might even call them portraits – that boldly engage the viewer in seemingly modest ways. We are hooked before we realize it. The contentment his photographs promise is rationally implausible, yet they do provide comfort. He provokes curiosity, strengthening interest in a vignette entirely of his making. And yet, because the sense of identity within his subjects remains intact, his subjects are not exploited and we do not feel cheated. We gladly plumb the depths created by this photographer’s quirky, manufactured authenticity.

Maia Reim haunts abandoned rooms, places where the lives of unnamed residents played out through domestic experience. The inhabitants have long since gone. Left behind are remnants of their choices. Reim mines these not so much to resurrect who those people were, nor why they chose this or that, nor the nature of their lives back then, but rather because she finds beauty in the state of their things now. Color matters as much as composition. Her imagery is thickened with an implied patina of experience. While we see these things and spaces in the present tense, they also carry a ghostly, muted suggestion of their owners’ final gestures.

Linda Sheehan is blessed with a vision that sees beyond function and context. The objects she photographs have little relationship to the subject of her imagery. Literal content is merely a vehicle for subjective expression. Yet her photographs are not pure abstraction. They retain enough information so that we recognize in them something familiar. Like those moments when we search for a word that is on the tip of our tongue but cannot quite find it, we intuitively know that we know the point from which Sheehan has leapt. Yet we have difficulty naming it. In relinquishing our need to capture what cannot be contained, we join Sheehan and unmoor our own appreciation of beauty.

Many paths lead to beauty. No one path is better than any other, although some are well worn and others remain untread. In forging their own way, these six photographers remind us that beauty is not a static destination. Beauty can take many forms. The most exotic of these may also be the most familiar. If we search among these, we may find yet more examples of particular beauty.

Ricardo Barros, Curator

On the Wave of My Memory

oct. 1, 2010 – oct. 31, 2010         On the Wave of My Memory

Valera Iskhakov

Dalet Gallery dedicates this exhibition to the 60th bithday of the artist.

Refractive Brain Therapy


jan. 15, 2011 – feb. 26, 2011         Refractive Brain Therapy

LiQin Tan

“Refractive Brain Therapy” is a conceptual animation-installation project that consists of a few large digital metal prints along with 3D animation and LCD monitors through large water-filled vats.

In this exhibit, LiQin Tan shows a decidedly unique understanding of refractivity. The project touches on the natural means, more important, a social phenomenon as well. In Chinese ideology, the phrase “refractivity” holds the dual meaning of 1) initiating an illusion; 2) leading towards social reality, with applications to psychological activities, including brain washing.

The Importance of Small Things

mar. 4, 2011 – mar. 26, 2011         The Importance of Small Things

Brigitte Rutenberg

Brigitte Rutenberg does very detailed ink drawings by the thousands on stamp-sized pieces of vellum paper and Mylar with which she assembles her PAPER QUILTS while her 3-D GLASS BOOKS with ink drawings consist of hinged glass panels reminiscent of the under-glass painting done in the 1800s. With these works she draws attention to “the importance of small things” for which women’s work is traditionally known.

Primeval Geographies

apr. 1, 2011 – apr. 30, 2011         Primeval Geographies

Irena Kononova

Dalet Gallery presents this solo exhibit of Irena Kononva as a part of a project called CONTEMPLATIVE REALMS. These pictorial excavations intend to peel layers of superimposed earth histories as well as layers of our mind and soul. The geological layers of soil that are often depicted in the paintings correspond to multiple layers of paint. Fluid element is omnipresent, as it would be in aquatic primordial nature, but it also hints at the fluidity of our imagination and thinking process. The vast landscapes are void of figures although human presence is manifested by subtle signs. The paintings are filled with biomorphic shapes that blur the boundaries between organic flesh and crystalline mass, merging life with dead matter, making viewers guess if what is depicted is a mountain or an animal. It is fitting that sand – a product of long interaction between stones and water – is one of the physical components of these works. These paintings map out utopian lands, but more than anything else they are maps of our unconscious.


apr. 1, 2011 – apr. 30, 2011         Sea of SAMSARA

Sky Kim

Dalet Gallery presents this solo exhibit of Sky Kim as a part of a project called CONTEMPLATIVE REALMS. “SAMSARA” is a Sanskrit word meaning the eternal cycle of life, or literally the “continuous flow” that captures the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. Sky Kim’s 30 foot-long scroll series captures this continuous flow, the imprinted path of noble transmigration through microscopic scanning. This vitality and non-stop evolutionary movement are what is going on in the center of her work. The visual intensity is a result of meticulous hand drawn labor and the numerous patterns made with a certain logic and creative mind are intriguing to look at, but complicated to create. There is a constant tug of war embedded in the organic undulations in her work. The images are comforting, yet dizzying; fluid, yet stagnant; organic, yet abstract; delicate, yet obsessive. Symbols of water and blood represent what we once were in the womb, the beginning point of life, and of her personal memory of her stillborn twin sister. In her work, each circle, the most perfect form found in nature, and each line contain the energy which allows a being to consistently evolve into a complete form of nature.

The Secrets of the Wind

apr. 1, 2011 – apr. 30, 2011         The Secrets of the Wind

Juri Kim

Dalet Gallery presents this solo exhibit of Juri Kim as a part of a project called CONTEMPLATIVE REALMS. Juri Kim’s work is an attempt at visual communication. She is interested in the relationship between text and image and between perception and knowledge and personal experiences. She uses text that she has collected from every day life to create a visual lexicon. Ms. Kim employs the Braille Alphabet writing system to prove the idea that what you see is what you know. The act of filling her painting with dots that are units and cells charged with a special and personal meaning is a practice that is reflective of a Zen exercise. The work is a constant act of finding and losing, remembering and forgetting, asserting and denying, inventing and destroying, daily evoking life and death. She wants to open a visual window for viewers to explore new possibilities.

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The Orchestra of the Damned

may. 6, 2011 – jun. 25, 2011         The Orchestra of the Damned

The variety of the exhibited works reflects the 60-year period spanning the artist’s early paintings (dated 1951) to a recently created series of collages and mixed media on wood and paper.

In his paintings in oil paint and mixed media, Hart visually forges a concretized world of highly personal mythologies.

The central platform of the exhibition is Hart’s recent series of oil paintings, “The Orchestra of the Damned”, in which he creates a compelling metaphor on an anti-war theme, one engaging a contrapuntal collision between the beauty of music and the brutality of war. The figurative musicians in the paintings are all veterans of foreign wars. Much of his work represents complex reformulations through collage; these are deeply personal and symbolically relevant images on wood and paper. The artist has also created three-dimensional works on wood using collage and mixed media on various objects. Besides these paintings in oil and mixed media, Hart engages in book art; here he utilizes a style resonant of Gothic imagery and the visual power of medieval illustrated manuscripts.

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Gatekeepers of the Cycle

may. 6, 2011 – may. 28, 2011         Gatekeepers of the Cycle

The inter-penetrating layers of symbolism, misticism, and narrative in my work constitute a timeless world of ancient rituals and divinatory rites.

In synthesizing techniques of the old masters, ancient mystical teaching, and contemporary science, my work focuses on the uniqueness and universality of inner landscapes and transcendent experience.

– Chris Sedgwick

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jun. 3, 2011 – jun. 25, 2011         Autofiction

I paint the world in flesh and bones. Day after day, I write the living autobiography of my vision of the world. I seek to trigger the visual insurrection of an image, to reverse its point of view. Iconoclastic, vitalist, I seek to animate and to report, to expose the inner vision of that which surrounds and encompasses me, and expose it to the outside. I consider nothing or no one as “important” subject matter; but see only “small” characters in my republic
– Thibaud Thiercelin

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The Spiral

sep. 2, 2011 – oct. 15, 2011         The Spiral

The Spiral, a title of the Iskhakov’s new show at Dalet Gallery, is used by the artist as an allegory for enhanced dimensionality of his paintings. This increase of depth of layers and meanings does not result in any significant shift from Valera’s trademark hedonistic style as much as it results in addition of new stylistic and emotional dimensions. By analogy to a curve which revolves around a central point but in the same time gets progressively father away from it, his essential visual vocabulary remains unchanged (sensual female bodies, or sill life with rhythmical patterns on the background), but a viewer can see how different in spirit his latest paintings are from the retrospective works, exhibited nearby.

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