Looking at the Stars

Berlin
02.24.11

Left: Artist James Franco, MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, and dealer Javier Peres. Right: Spider Man. (All photos: Philipp Ortmann)


IT WAS SUPPOSED to be the best of times. A-list actor and Academy Awards co-host James Franco had chosen Berlin’s two branches of Peres Projects to launch his continental art career, and you could feel the anticipation in the air upon arriving the Saturday before last at the Kreuzberg location, where a small gathering of film fans and art sluts joined listless paparazzi and camera crews on dinner break from the Berlinale in loitering about the gallery, which was filled with burnt-out children’s play houses, a few video installations, and a scatter-art piece in the corner. With the exception of Spider Man, there were no Hollywood or even art-world elite present, save for a couple of hack scribes (three, for those who wish to count me) and Klaus Biesenbach, pale with networking fatigue.

The nucleus of early arrivers suddenly multiplied into a swarm as dealer Javier Peres sauntered in alongside the artist, whom he led, somewhat illogically, to the tiny back room of the gallery to conduct an impromptu press conference. I suspect that all hell would have broken loose were it not for the expert crowd management of Peres’s sweet and adorable bear of an assistant, Nick Koenigsknecht, who gently pushed our photographer to the center of the action just as Franco and Peres engaged in a congratulatory huddle with Biesenbach and—who’d have guessed?—Hans Ulrich Obrist.

The mob scene was even worse at the Mitte location, where a crowd queued up to do a once-over of the work, which seemed to comprise ballpoint-pen scrawlings on framed pages of a boys’ adventure book, a wooden tree house–like contraption, and several film and video works that resembled a cross between Kenneth Anger and James Benning. I would have been happy to be at an opening for either of those artists with about one-third of the crowd, honestly.

Left: Director Bruce LaBruce. Right: Curator Michael Rade and artist Anne Guro Larsmon.


“What is this place supposed to be? A holocaust museum?” quipped Bruce LaBruce, in town to direct a Schoenberg opera—and that about summed up the spookily cavernous environs of the Lake District Recreational Authority, a club in the basement of Peres Projects’s Mitte branch, where the invite-only after-party took place. Though LaBruce was apparently the only one to pay attention to his surroundings. Perhaps that’s why he made his exit about ten minutes later—either that, or the invitation to the Berlinale soirée at the Canadian Embassy was more tempting.

We sat for half-an-hour trying to figure out who, exactly, the buxom redhead with sunglasses-at-night was—Has-been movie star? Billionaire mogul collector’s wife? Gallerist? Hag?—till I discerned that it had to be drag artiste extraordinaire Zazie de Paris, who was featured in a much talked-about short at this year’s Berlinale directed by legendary downtown actor John Heys. We were then introduced to a young Canadian critic still giddy after having moved to Berlin the week prior. She grilled us about the art world here. “It depends on which art world you’re talking about,” replied curator Michael Rade. “Of the six hundred galleries here, all but fifty of them are project spaces. If you’re disestablishmentarian enough to see this as a sign of health and vitality, you’ll like it and flourish. But most New Yorkers drawn here by the ‘cool factor’ are dissuaded after a year, when they figure out it’s not going to do anything for their careers. They pack their bags and go home.”

By then, we were ready to pack our own bags, but instead of going home, a small group—including Rade and artist Anne Guro Larsmon—convinced me to take a taxi with them to nearby Soho House for a nightcap. Since it opened last spring, the Soho House has been something of a bizarre blemish on the Berlin landscape—a social club for a city that doesn’t need one. Berlin is, after all, about as unpretentious as it gets, and anyone that fancies themselves members of some sort of creative or media elite is more likely to be an object of ridicule in the eyes of those who actually produce the city’s culture. Anyway. At least it would be an opportunity to see the former East German Communist Party Headquarters, where Soho House decided to set up occupancy in some pseudo-ironic gesture, as though willfully connecting the party hacks of yesteryear to Berlin’s newest class of status-seeking social climbers.

Once inside, I was instantly adopted by some PR lackey who insisted on giving me a grand tour of the facilities. The evening reached its zenith with us marching past the velvet ropes on the second floor, where none other than the Material Girl was said to be holding court, in town presumably to squirt lighter fluid on the embers of her filmmaking career. (I’m guessing that it hasn’t gone very far after her debut a few years back with what’s-his-name from Gogol Bordello.) When asked who we were with, I name-dropped a well-known gay escort agency. As though I had uttered the magic words, I felt two pairs of hands whisking me away, and I soon found myself… back out in the D-list gutter, where I arguably belong. Oh well. It was just another Saturday night, after all.

Travis Jeppesen