Three to Watch

The only constant about the artistic landscape in Berlin is that nothing stays the same. Sure, there are common practices in the city: a rich culture of artist-run project spaces, hybrid/mixed-used venues and an unusually high concentration of artists who regularly DJ. However, mostly due to the financial precarity of earning a living here, it’s a city on the move. A large percentage of artists and cultural workers “based” in Berlin keep their studios and offices here while largely earning their income outside of the city.

In recent years, Berlin has become an international crossroads of sorts.

Although the financial incentives to work here are limited the city still possesses a magnetic draw for young creatives, hosting a large, semi-migrant community of young international artists who come here post-MFA in search of an affordable and relatively peaceful place to develop their practice.

Not everyone stays, but the influx and efflux of creative energy combined with the capital’s cultural legacy and strong base of institutions, exhibition spaces and adventurous cultural producers has made Berlin a dynamic hub for contemporary art. SOMA is pleased to introduce three emerging artists whose influence is felt both in Berlin and beyond.

Ariel Schlesinger, Untitled (bicycle piece), 2008

Ariel Schlesinger | Oxford’s English Dictionary defines reverse engineering as “the reproduction of another manufacturer’s product after detailed examination of its construction or composition.” The Israeli, Berlin-based artist Ariel Schlesinger repurposes mass-produced objects to startling and poetic effect. Working with everyday materials like bikes, printer paper, rolls of masking tape and tea biscuits, Schlesinger’s subtle interventions create a mundane sort of magic: two cookies twist in a gentle embrace, a repurposed lighter is transformed into a gaslamp and a paper cup is torn to reveal liquid still contained inside. After two solo exhibitions with the Berlin and Ljubljana-based gallery Gregor Podnar, the artist has been included in a string of solo and group exhibitions throughout Europe. His auto-destructive Untitled (Bubble Machine) is included in the upcoming exhibition Under Destruction at the Swiss Institute in New York City in late June, the artist’s third exhibition in the United States.

Petrit Halilaj, The places I’m looking for my dear are utopian places, they are boring and I don’t know how to make them real, 2010

Petrit Halilaj | At the 6th Berlin Biennale, the work of the 25-year-old Kosovar artist Petrit Halilaj’s installation stood out for its subtlety and scale in an exhibition full of heavy hitting political art. A number of rooms at Kunst-Werke were dedicated to the young artist’s work, including his massive installation The places I’m looking for, my dear, are utopian places, they are boring and I don’t know how to make them real, which greeted visitors in the museum’s entry hall. Made from reconstructed beams, the wryly-romantic work was an outsize replica of his parents’ new home, its half-finished quality simultaneously evoking the ruins of their prior home, which was burned to the ground in the Kosovo War. Halilaj’s participation in the Berlin Biennale made critical ripples: Centre Pompidou curator Christine Macel selected him as her pick for Artforum’s Best of 2010 and The Places I’m Looking for… featured prominently in the lion’s share of critical responses to the Berlin Biennale, quite an accomplishment for the exhibition’s youngest artist. Halilaj will present with Chert Gallery at Art Basel’s Art Statements, a section for solo presentations by emerging artists, and will open a solo exhibition at the Kunstraum Innsbruck in September.

Painting competition hosted by Leila Pazooki and Galerie Christian Hosp in Dafen, China

Leila Pazooki | Imagine Manet’s Olympia, her gaze direct as ever. Only this Olympia has none of the original’s brazen directness or nudity, instead she is clothed in what looks like a strange black jumpsuit. Leila Pazooki’s Aesthetics of Censorship, an ongoing research project that documents the censorship of art textbooks in her native Iran is only one facet of a multi-disciplinary practice that explores the elision and transformation of cultural, aesthetic and geographic borders. Pazooki’s neon work Moments of Glory struck a chord with critics at the recent art Dubai, spelling out a catalog of clichés familiar to non-Western artists and curators like “the Iranian Jeff Koons” and “Japan’s Andy Warhol.” The artist’s most recent project, Fair Trade, explores the relationship between artistic production and its reception in a globalized art world. Currently on view at Galerie Christian Hosp in Berlin, the exhibition presents the results of a painting contest the artist held in Dafen, a Chinese village home to factories where local artisans churn out copies of art historical masterpieces for hire.
Alongside a recreation of the London National Gallery’s room 17a, Fair Trade includes 100 copies of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 1537 painting, “Allegory Of Justice,” ranging from meticulous replicas to childlike renderings. Look closely and on some you’ll see impressions from bubble wrap on still-wet paint.

– Jesi Khadivi