Friday, 16 November 2012

9: Crap art exhibitions

If sports are for drunken wife beaters and art is what you crave, then you’ll definitely feel at home in Berlin. From the moment you step foot in the city you will be part of the world's creative avant-garde. Of course, as a member of this movement you will be expected to be able to talk about how wonderful and brilliant all art is. This is absolutely crucial. 

Even if you are not prepared to talk about art, you will have to learn to swan through exhibitions in dimly-lit cellars and cobwebbed, cold lofts with heavy eyes. NB: make sure you issue gasps of surprise at regular intervals. This is an expected courtesy in any world gallery, but no other world city has more art space per square metre. If you don’t like modern art, don’t move to Berlin. 

You will often be invited to gallery openings, which you must call by their French name, vernissages. Chances are you will be notified of the latest vernissage through a Facebook invite. All artists have Facebook pages and you will soon find yourself being blackmailed to 'LIKE' their digital alter ego. Clicking 'Like' will get you further invites, not liking will mean you will generally be ignored, so I would suggest an indiscriminate policy of either always LIKEing, or never LIKEing. Anything in-between gets political. 
 When you are at the vernissage's venue, behave as follows. Hold your chin for pensive poses, occasionally changing arm and pointing to detail from a distance. Never comment on anything; remember, artists are sensitive and they’re everywhere in Berlin. Be wary of their hidden sensitivity at all times. 

Whatever you do, do not try and understand the art you see. When you have no idea why something is hanging somewhere in the street, don’t presume to find a deeper meaning. Remember: all art is valid in Berlin. A shit-stained cloth that reads murder is deep, not daft.

Berlin has galleries everywhere exhibiting everything and quite often nothing. Sometimes everything is exhibited through nothing. Often nothing is saying everything. Large walls with bits of cloth, metal and chocolate wrappers may be advertising the apocalypse, you'll never be sure: Clarity is taboo. Installations are a favourite and you shouldn’t be surprised if these involve you getting naked and mentally self-flagellating. 

If you don’t see the point of much of the art you are looking at, chances are it’s your fault and you’re not looking hard enough. If you can’t see that a white wall is a lot fucking more than a white wall, then you obviously know nothing about art. 

Look harder, for goodness sake. If you can look no further and are called upon for comment, use words like arty, original and penetrative. Berlin is one of the most open and tolerant societies in Europe, where few artists are subjected to any kind of criticism, so if somebody asks you if you like their art and you hate it, try one of the expressions from the list below. 

“I haven’t seen something like this for years”
“Your art is truly astounding”
“This sends a real fuck you to the traditional art world, definitely”
“Your work is so full of ideas it’s hard to look at.”
“Did you do this yourself?”

If you find your sense of taste frustrated beyond acceptable limits, try being the Banksy of the moment. You don’t even need to prepare to do this, you can become an artist with whatever is in your pocket (and if you have a hat, even better). Simply empty the contents of your pocket and rearrange them dramatically with small, esoteric notes scribbled onto the back of your cigarette packet or nose tissue, preferably inside your hat and in front of the event’s main exhibit. For example, you might take a condom, a cigarette (butt), a business card and a rolling paper, arrange them before the main exhibit and call your stunning breakthrough piece ‘Many words for modern’. 

If you are caught you will have to see out your culture jamming and pretend you are the Jackson Pollack of smoking paraphernalia. If somebody asks for more, tell them the hat represents the post-modern human psyche and that the contents are mere particles captured from a fragmented reality. 

Should an audience gather and you find yourself running out of words, move your arms in dramatic yet ostensibly threatening thespian waves and make for the drinks counter. If you are further disturbed for details of your mood shattering reflections, tell the whipper-snappers that every artist is allowed his private time with some Whiskey. 

You might be reading this thinking “I’ll just avoid the exhibitions." But the fact is it isn't that simple. The reason Berlin has so many galleries is because everybody in the city is a brooding artist: Berlin is a fishnet roaming for lonely souls and drifters. Oscar Wilde said that when people disappear they often reappear again in San Francisco. Berlin is similar: nobody really knows why they're here, but everybody came for a reason.

From mumbling comic strip writers to silent filmmakers, the city is a haven for self-exiled creators: vagrant painters, body sculptors, analogue photographers, breakthrough porn-stars, middle-aged S&M masters, political exiles and apocalyptic writers.  

Chances are most new friends you make will be artists and at some point they will invite you to their shows. The more you practice the above rules, the more you will be able to attend such venues and be a ‘yes man’ guest of honour. You will get free drink and have the chance to meet pretty German people who want to talk about nothing other than art. You may even find a beautiful partner who knows of other similar venues or sprays stencil in abandoned buildings on Sundays

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because somebody is an insurance salesman, they are not an artist. They might be peeing on walls with beautiful urine calligraphy in their free time. 

Deep, not daft
 To prepare yourself for being an artist in Berlin, start practicing moulding mud and making things out of your garbage.

You could also take some buckets of paint and let them drip dry slowly over your clothes. Paint-stained clothes are a great give-away that you’re an artist. 

If you try the above and find yourself becoming dedicated and ready to make a stronger artistic statement, try stapling your lips to animal hair or blogging about your vomit for the next two months. 

More background on being an artist in Berlin available here.

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