Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin

Michèle Faguet

September 10, 2010
Temporäre Kunsthalle, Berlin
October 29, 2008–August 31, 2010

Sometime in the wee hours of September 1, 2010, the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, true to its name, permanently closed its doors. Initially weary of its program, the TKB’s audience had become massive—if not always enthusiastic—during the course of the institution’s brief, yet tumultuous, history. Over 200,000 visitors drawing both from the city’s cultural set (artists, curators, writers) as well as its sizeable tourist population (flocking from Museum Island directly across the road) attended the nine exhibitions and five project room shows (with many more thousands seeing the three façade projects)—impressive numbers that nevertheless fell short of patron Dieter Rosenkranz’s much publicized wish for 1,000 visitors daily to the (million-Euro) white cube his private foundation, Stiftung Zukunft Berlin, had made possible.

The story has been told countless times in the local press and goes something like this. During the last days of the iconic Palast der Republik—a GDR cultural center and former home to the East German parliament, demolished in 2008 amidst a slew of controversy—the skeleton of the building served as a makeshift venue for events. Most notable was the DIY week-long exhibition “36x27x10,” curated by Thomas Scheibitz, featuring a vast line-up of international artists residing in Berlin, many of whom despite extensive exposure elsewhere had scarcely shown in their adopted hometown. In light of its critical success and with hopes for a permanent Kunsthalle in Berlin, initiators Coco Kühn and Constanze Kleiner procured the financial support of Rosenkranz and assembled an artistic advisory board—composed of curator/directors of other institutions, Katja Blomberg, Julian Heynen, Dirk Luckow, and Gerald Matt— for a temporary solution to be constructed on the empty lot adjacent to the demolition site, now slated for the much disputed reconstruction of the Baroque palace that once occupied this plot before it was torn down by the East German government. To New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman the provisional structure, designed by Adolf Krischanitz, appeared as “[…] a kind of oversized trailer […] like a handkerchief covering a corpse.”

That first year featured four large-scale exhibitions by established artists including Candice Breitz, Simon Starling, Katharina Grosse, and Allora & Calzadilla—a program that, although reflecting the increasingly cosmopolitan character of the local landscape in recent years, endured a great deal of scrutiny by a public eager for its new Kunsthalle (albeit a private one) to comply with what many argued should be its function: to more broadly and democratically represent the local art scene. Low attendance, bad press, and an excess of interpersonal drama exacerbated by the absence of a clear hierarchy within the administrative structure led to the departure of Constanze Kleiner who was followed a few months later by artistic director Thomas Eller along with the entire advisory board. The press conference scheduled for June 30, 2009 that would announce the forthcoming program was abruptly canceled and curatorial manager Angela Rosenberg quickly got to work to devise a brand new program. She was joined by new managing director Benjamin Anders—a freelance marketing consultant brought in to replace Eller amidst, you guessed it, more controversy—whom Rosenberg credits for helping keep the institution afloat.

And so like the “[…] fast boat for contemporary art” that it was (in the words of Gerald Matt), the TKB resumed its programming without so much as a pause, with a new year dedicated to large, group, artist-curated exhibitions of (mostly) Berlin-based artists. With its new free admission policy, implemented by Rosenkranz in his quest to reach a mass public, along with the vast number of artists now being shown in the space—ranging from a “mere” 17 in Tilo Schulz and Jörg van den Berg’s lively “squatting. erinnern, vergessen, besetzen” to a whopping 566 who participated in Karin Sander’s audio tour entitled “Zeigen”—exhibition attendance soared and the grumbling abated as grumpy Berliners (no doubt) found new things to complain about. Conceived, according to Rosenberg, as more than just a series of what she calls Sympathie Ausstellungen (exhibitions in which curators simply invite their friends), the new format sought to reflect the complex social and professional networks of present-day Berlin while meditating on curatorial and exhibition practices in general. This was clearly the case with Phil Collins’s “Auto-Kino!” (2010)—an indoor drive-in cinema complete with cars and 35mm projections of classic and experimental film and video—and John Bock’s “FishGrätenMelkStand,” (2010) a Gesamtkunstwerk consisting of a four-story steel scaffolding giving structure to the ramshackle rooms filled with objects and installations by 63 invited artists along with culturally significant relics inserted by Bock himself. (“A labyrinth you crawl through like a hamster,” said one friend.)

In its final weeks, while the TKB saw two-hour lineups of visitors perhaps already nostalgic for its imminent erasure from this contested landscape, the future spot for the fake palace filled up with construction cranes, pedestrian walkways, and an information center in the form of a small white cube bearing a striking resemblance to the contemporary art center soon to be dismantled. On the evening of August 31, a final blow-out took place featuring a line-up of musicians (and their lap-tops) from Carsten Nicolai’s electronic music label Raster-Noton (the ‘90s are still alive and well in Berlin, although many of the decade’s conservators are too young to remember it) and a closing ceremony in which many thanks were given and white lilies distributed with the notably awkward absence of Kleiner. (Mention of Eller was not made). The late-night consensus seemed to be that perhaps Berlin doesn’t really need a permanent Kunsthalle after all—with its numerous galleries, public institutions, project spaces, and other fly-by-night cultural ventures. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to embrace the institutional and economic precariousness of a city that enables production more than exhibition.

Meanwhile, despite Mayor Klaus Wowereit’s stated commitment to developing such an institution, no decision has been reached among city bureaucrats leaving its future almost as precarious as that of the new Berliner Stadtschloss, a three-sided replica of an imperial palace that will house the collections of the Ethnological Museum, the Museum of Indian Art, and the Museum of East Asian Art (numbingly named the Humboldt Forum, with a humbling nod to the Kosmos of Alexander von Humboldt). Stiftung Zukunft Berlin’s website calls it “one of Germany’s most important cultural construction projects,” and in a bizarre turn of events has positioned itself as a leading proponent of the reconstruction of the palace (although the site claims that it is “more than just a palace”). And that’s right: it is more than just a palace. It’s a gigantic, ideological mess.

“Rebuilding a Palace May Become a Grand Blunder,” New York Times, December 31, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/01/arts/design/01abroad.html http://www.stiftungzukunftberlin.eu/en/humboldt-forum

Management & Bureaucracy, Museums

Michèle Faguet is a writer living and working, all year long, in Berlin.

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