>< Berlin calling

Berlin calling

Tuesday May 4, 2010 | 10:11 by Lisa Ruyter

originally published at


A cheap plane ticket purchased on a whim resulted in me attending Berlin’s recent “Gallery Weekend” (and the May 1 ‘riots’ party). As I have not really been to Berlin in years, it gave me a lot to think about. I decided to go with an open mind and little advance research, to get a reasonable overview of the scene. I did find out about a few openings, but also came across velvet ropes and guest lists.

My first impression is that the scene is much, much bigger than before, so big that one really needs to make choices about what to see and do. I guess there are 500 some galleries in Berlin, 40 of which participated in Gallery Weekend.

My second impression is that the Gallery Weekend was trying to be just that—a weekend for a carefully selected group of people. If you came, like me, without a particular invitation, you were pretty much on your own. If I didn’t know people in Berlin, I would not have met a soul. I would have eaten every meal alone. I imagine that would have turned me off deeply if I were a serious collector who didn’t have a particular gallery invitation.

My third impression was that the programming was decidedly blue chippy international artists, rather than being focused on the new and local talent on which Berlin has built its reputation.

I do wonder what exactly this Gallery Weekend is meant to accomplish. Zürich has done them for years. There, it is clear where you are supposed to be and when; there are gallery clusters, so the openings are split over three days for the three clusters. There is talk of a gallery weekend to come in Vienna, where I live, in September. We could organize it on the Zürich model, as the galleries already cooperate in coordinating their openings. But it is also quite easy to imagine it being organized in a way that leaves out new arrivals and curious outsiders. (This week in Vienna we have an art fair, but also a new kind of event, for the second year. A selected group of galleries have organized shows, all curated by artists, on the theme of “Art & Film” (

And what of the upcoming New York gallery weekend? Are so few people buying in New York that such an event is necessary? Are these meant to be an alternative to art fairs? Is it necessary to have an event in order for sales to happen? Does the size of a city change the meaning of such an event?

My main question, in the end: is this event model really sustainable? As soon as there is a group of galleries presenting what you can already see anywhere else in the world, the rest, the core local scene, seems irrelevant. And yet, that is often where the good stuff is. Will people continue to visit if they think the local scene is irrelevant?