What makes a city a cultural mecca? A multicultural identity, a vibrant museum and gallery scene, libraries, theatres, music halls… all of these things help, but an active artistic community – especially one that strives to be innovative and supportive of its emerging artists – cannot sustain itself without a government’s committed support. 1.13 billion dollars a year, or roughly 12% of its budget, this is what the German government pledged to the arts this year. This is especially impressive when you consider that the arts are usually one of the first to feel the effects of government slash backs, especially in these tough economic times.
In spite of economic unrest, Germany has committed itself to the arts, sciences, and research; declaring the three to be fundamental necessities in ensuring the growth of its society. Funding is provided for museums, as well as individual projects. In Munich, the three day celebration commemorating the May opening of the Museum Brandhurst (including the blessing by the Catholic Bishop, the Protestant Bishop, and the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church) is evidence of the important role assigned to the arts. In Berlin, alone, there are more than 250 public libraries, 1500 theatres and stages, 175 museums, and 450 art galleries, making Berlin the largest gallery location in Europe.
The second factor contributing to Berlin’s rise as an international art city is its global outlook. It celebrates its own artists by celebrating those of the world. Think about it. What better way to bring global attention to yourself than by bringing the world to you. Consider the mandates of programs such as the Berliner Künstlerprogramm (founded in 1963) which offer grants to twenty international artists a year. Or consider this year’s Fall exhibitions taking place at the Art Center Berlin, a 1600 square meter forum for international contemporary art. There is the exhibition of Jiang Guo Fang, (the Chinese Contemporary Artist); a look at Australia’s Aboriginal art; the Master Sculptors of Zimbabwe – to name but a few of the exhibits being shown simultaneously. Then there is the Center’s Salon. Located on the main floor, the Salon serves as as a sort of commercial art gallery with a cross-section of contemporary artists from places as diverse as South Africa, Estonia, South Korea, Austria, and France.
Another important contemporary showcase is the Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art. Unlike most museums, the KW has no permanent collection. Boasting five floors of show space, the KW’s latest exhibit is on the Berlin based artist Ceal Floyer. In addition to its exhibition space, the KW has six artist’s studios and provides residencies for international artists.
Ceal Floyer is a Berlin based artist who has gained an international reputation for her minimalist installations and performances. Her 2008 Frieze Project consisted of folded beer mats under the legs of chairs and tables. The installation is so simple, it is almost absurd and no doubt you’re not alone in thinking – I can do this. Yet as simple as the action of placing a folded beer mat under the legs of a chair or a table is, it suddenly creates a relationship between chair/table and beer mat where none existed. From separate entities, they are now co-dependent. Her Nail Biting Performance, 2001, is equally simplistic. It consisted of Floyer walking onto the stage of the Birmingham Symphony Hall and biting her nails in front of the microphone. The end result? An actualization of stage fright which mirrors one’s general vulnerability in front of an audience.
A German artist who has achieved international recognition is Tina Buchholtz. She is well known for her large, abstract work with its ordered thin lines and dots. Although abstract, Buchholtz’s art makes a continual reference to the figurative with titles like Elevator and The Last Dinner. Her work has been exhibited in galleries in Hong Kong, Zurich, and Rome. Another very interesting young artist is Michael Just whose sculptures and installations question the idea of space (there will be more on his sculpture in the next two weeks).
Perhaps the most important lesson other cities can learn from Berlin is this: Respect and support another nation’s art as much as you would like the other nation to respect and support your own nation’s art. The lesson is one that could benefit each one of us.