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What at first appear to be straightforward facts of a historiography drift apart with a closer look. This invitation card, for example, marks the transition to the founding of Kunst-Werke. We mostly mention 1 JUL 1991 as the definitive day of the founding, the date when B.E.A.M. e. V. and Klaus Biesenbach of the Gemeiner Kunstverein joined forces and registered the name KUNST-WERKE BERLIN e. V. in the register of associations. But artist Timo Kahlen pointed out to me that the name Kunst-Werke Berlin had already appeared on this invitation card by then—that is, before the official naming and also before the first exhibition at Auguststraße 69, the premises in use today.
The 1993 exhibition ›trap‹—less an exhibition than a statement, according to creators Art in Ruins, Stephan Geene, and BüroBert—radically asks what is left of political activism and political discourses when they are transferred to the exhibition context, and what mechanisms of exclusion and discriminatory structures are inherent not least to the institutions themselves. These questions have been a growing point of interest in art for a few years now. Projects like ›trap‹ show that this is not the first time this has been the case. They point to an exhibition history of protest.
Café Bravo, designed by Dan Graham, is doubtlessly one of KW’s most iconic landmarks. This postcard was made shortly after the café was completed in 1998. What interests me most about it is the reference to »fresh roasted coffees, baked goods & fusion cooking«. »Fusion cooking« here could be synonymous with gentrification—a reference to the development of the ›Kunstmeile Auguststraße‹ (Auguststraße art-mile), as the press has dubbed it since 1994. Though the café’s culinary offer has changed relatively little since then, the vibe is much more sedate today: gentrification is complete.
This flyer was apparently printed and distributed in 1998 on the occasion of the 1st Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art: There was a raffle to win a flight to New York for the opening of the P.S.1 exhibition ›Children of Berlin: Cultural Developments 1989—1999‹, which constituted to some degree an extension and continuation of the Biennale. This raffle shows the institution’s close cooperation with P.S.1, personified by Klaus Biesenbach, but also points to ›Children of Berlin‹ as both the peak and swan song of a Berlin hype that many in the city criticised as reductionistic and as a sell-out.
›The Bet—A Study on Doubt, Contingency and Meaning in Economy and Society‹ was a performance weekend that KW realised in cooperation with Berliner Festspiele in 2013, soon after the appointment of new curator Ellen Blumenstein. Some elements common to Blumenstein’s way of working appear in the programme, including her understanding of supporting programmes as not merely accompanying but essentially part of and equal to the respective exhibition, as well as a connection to local institutions and participants. Apart from offering a platform for the international contemporary art scene, as best represented by the Berlin Biennale directed by Gabriele Horn, the fostering of this kind of connection is one of the main tasks of an association like KW. The programme leaflet, seen here in its closed form, also shows a change to the institution’s graphic design: Studio Quentin Walesch replaced LSD as the KW’s graphic designer in subsequent years.