There are many big cities which are worth a visit for art lovers, and no doubt Berlin is one of them. The city is famous for its alternative culture and for attracting a lot of artists from diverse disciplines. After having been exploring some different project spaces during a festival a whole month long, we realised that besides a specific local public niche, not so many people outside the art bubble are aware of the many venues to get their art fix. The main reason being that the majority of the public is not fully aware of their existence. We are here mainly speaking about visual arts, which includes photography, paintings or sculptures. Performance arts, like cinema, theater or dance can be seen in different type of venues.
Before explaining in details what those project spaces are, let’s start with a short overview of the different other venues where you can enjoy art. The motivations and raisons d’être of a museum, an art gallery or a project space are multifaceted and this variety will have an impact on what art will be shown. Some spaces will allow more experimentation while others will focus on more institutionalised forms of art. Not to mention the ones that have an impact on the art market.
From big public museums to small private collections
Not all museums present art: technology, science or local history have their places as well. Still, museums are great places to see important art work from various countries, cultures and periods. It’s not a coincidence that those places play an important role when it comes to drawing temporary visitors or permanent inhabitants in a city.
But what exactly is a museum? According to the latest definition by the International Council of museums:
”A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”
Berlin is one of the cities in the world which hosts the highest amount of museums as shown in the World Cities Culture Report, which gives important data and statistics about culture in different cities (e.g. the total number of art galleries, museums, …)
Beside the UNESCO World heritage “Museum Island” which hosts five major museums of the city, visitors and locals can also discover other interesting places via the Berlin Museum portal.
You will find among them some of our local spotters favorites like Die Brücke Museum or the Hamburger Bahnhof.
2. Art Centres
The Museum portal also includes some institutes which are in fact art centres. While their objective is similar to museums – making art more accessible to the public, art centres don’t collect objects. It means that the exhibitions are temporary and thus differ from a visit to another. Usually, art centres focus on Contemporary art, like the KW – Institute for Contemporary Art or the Martin-Gropius-Bau.
Depending on the programme, the building, the location and the vision of the curators, those centres can be trendy, if not even the heart of an alternative culture. While museums collect art work, art centers are more anchored in the art production process.
Germany is also known for another type of space that can be confused with art centres, which is called “Kunstverein”. They differ from art centers by their legal status, organisation and funding behind them but it doesn’t make a big difference for the public. Though there’s no real equivalent in other countries, we can compare them to art clubs or art foundations.
3. Kommunale Galerien
One can complain that contemporary art is too conceptual and thus too distant for the public. If you’re looking for an artistic programme which would be more open to the community, the Kommunale Galerien are a must-see. They are open to all social groups and allow interaction, discussion and active participation from the community.
The programme in each Kommunale Galerie will depend on the vision of its director, but also on its sociological context, its history and the architecture of its building. They can easily show the work of artists who have less recognition among the classical art institutions.
4. Art galleries and private collections
Art can also be a market. If you want to buy some art work, the best way to go is to visit an art gallery, which aim and objective is to sell the work of the artists it’s working with. The gallerist will organise for that purpose an exhibition to attract potential buyers. This exhibition is nevertheless open to anyone.
An art gallery can be everywhere, but some areas are known for their drawing power more than others. It’s the case in Mitte and in the area around Augustrasse, or more recently close to Postdamer Platz, where the hub called “Potse” welcomes more and more galleries and art venues.
Buying art, collecting art… and soon private houses are filled with beautiful pieces. Some collectors open their doors to the public, usually every once in a while and on reservation. When visiting those places, the link between art and everyday life seems more tangible. In Berlin, our spotters draw our attention to the Hoffmann Collection or the Boros Sammlung collection among many other cultural venues in the city.
1. What is a project space?
The diversity of project spaces doesn’t seem to unite under a single umbrella-definition. It is easier to define a project space by looking at it the other way round – meaning defining what a project space is not.
It is neither a museum, since it -usually- doesn’t host any collection, nor a commercial gallery, since it is not driven to make profit. it usually falls under the scope of the off-scene – another difficult definition to grasp.
A project space can be defined with respect to its lack of affiliations – it prides itself with being independent, with being driven neither by the market trends, nor funding burdening conditions.
Another way of defining it could be through the diversity of project spaces and the motivations of the people behind them.
2. The diversity of the project spaces in Berlin – Or – the power of examples
The plethora of project spaces in Berlin emphasizes once again the lack of a single model for a project space. This diversity was also the fuel of the first edition of the Project Space Festival.
One might be tempted to think that relying on the space itself could help in defining what a project space is, but one couldn’t be more wrong – Berlin showcases project spaces which operate beyond a venue of their own, and they do so through various collaborations or taking over the scene of the city at large.
L40 is an interesting example of a project space focusing on site-specific projects in the public space, despite residing in a beautiful building. So, many times, putting together shows in the public space of the city, beyond an own location, comes as a choice.
Center is a project space, which keeps going by passing on their keys to younger artists on a regular basis. The current managing team doesn’t even restrict themselves to the space of their venue, but has put together shows all the way to Grunewald.
What is necessary when starting a project space is eventually a driven idea. The city provides the framework and the network to sustain it. There are several examples of private apartments transformed into a project space: for a one-time event, or once a month, or on a regular basis.
And the spaces differ tremendously, same as the motivations behind them. Some people start a project space with the desire of showcasing emerging artists, or connecting artists to each other, or by connecting themselves to other culture makers in the city.
SOX is only 70 cm deep – a window on the street blending in with the Kreuzberg-district. The two artists running it like to keep it discreet, meaning they choose not to put a big sign drawing attention to it but to leave its discovery to the pace of the passers-by.
One can spend an entire summer in Berlin exploring different models of project spaces from transformed spaces to private living rooms – and so we did.
1. A fragile scene
The project spaces of Berlin represent quite well its artistic activities. Most of these places are independent, they usually don’t sell the work they are presenting. It means that they often live from their own financial support. This can explain why so many places have temporary existence or are often part of private appartement be it only for a few hours a month. One important and recurrent parameter for this scene is its fragility: a sudden rent increase (eg. for General Public) or complaints from the neighborhood (eg. for Sonntag) can put an end to an adventure. But let’s not panic, these places are able to reinvent themselves, a stop on their way can easily be the signal for a change of concept or simply a restart.
2. How the prizes are distributed
In 2009, a price was created thanks to the influence of journalists, curators, actors of the independent art scene and in collaboration with the Berlin Senate. This network is called Das Netzwerk Freirer Berliner Projekträume und -Initiativen and its intention is to highlight the independent art scene of Berlin. Each year the project spaces of Berlin can submit their project (they were more than 100 for the 2013-2014 edition), among them seven winners will be rewarded with the same amount of money. We found out that the sharing of the prize wasn’t planned at the creation of this network, but the result of discussion between partners and members of the jury. Their aim is to reward an independent scene and not to establish a ranking of the project spaces. They are indeed so diverse that each space is in its own category.
3. The prize ceremony
The ceremony where the Berlin Senate representatives are handing out the prizes takes place under the form of a bus tour. We spotters from Berlin and Brussels this time got the chance to join the ceremony together with the jury and members of the network Das Netzwerk Freirer Berliner Projekträume und -Initiativen. During this journey on the last Friday of August we got another glimpse of the project space scene in Berlin. Another, because we were following the Project Space Festival since the beginning of August and therefore had visited a few of the project spaces of Berlin.
Meeting is set in the beginning of the afternoon. The bus is waiting in front of the cultural department “Senatskanzlei – Kulturelle Angelegenheiten” in Mitte. First stop on the road map at after the butcher in Lichtenberg. The curator of the place welcomes us, the officials give the prize, some pictures are taken, and the tour must go on if we want to be on schedule. All along the journey we will welcome on the bus the curators of the winning spaces one after each other until the final destination in Ausland.
The bus ride gave us the chance to discuss with some of the jury members, and to get to know the history of the prize: how the seven project spaces were selected among the numerous applicants, selection being the theatre of many discussions that rounds after rounds highlight the best initiatives. This young prize rewarding the independent art scene and project spaces of Berlin is a kind of miniature version of the longer journey proposed by the Project Space Festival during the month of August. A really interesting approach revealing, supporting and presenting the artistic activities of a city and definitely an interesting pathway to explore this city.