Last, this, next year …

Berlin Art Week 2021 © Silke Briel

The tenth Berlin Art Week begins today. A look back—and one ahead.

In interviews and questionnaires, photo spreads, portraits, and features, our aim at Berlin Art Week Journal has been to introduce readers to the artists and exhibitions of this year’s Berlin Art Week since early August. We published texts dealing with ›Berlin’s cultural policy‹ or we asked a number of key Berlin art scene figures where the city stands in terms of contemporary art. And how we should proceed from here.

Now things are finally getting underway. As of today, our more than fifty project partners will be presenting their programmes. This year also marks something of a milestone for Berlin Art Week itself, which is being held for the tenth time in this form. Berlin Art Week was launched in 2012 with the declared aim of bringing together the various players in Berlin’s art world and presenting the city’s art scene in its entire spectrum: from galleries to project spaces, major museums to art associations. Ten years later, that is still very much the core concern. And yet some things are different this year—or at least they feel different.

»As important as it is to focus on maintaining and cultivating an international network, art and culture must also be anchored in the city in a different way.«

The most obvious changes are of course consequences arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Structural effects of the various lockdowns, contact restrictions, and limitations on events and travel seem even more apparent this year than last year, when everyone seemed happy that anything was happening at all. As a result, one now senses a certain return to the local.

As important as it is to focus on maintaining and cultivating an international network in such a situation, the shift also offers a great opportunity to anchor art and culture in the city in a different way. For the relative smallness and concretion of a local context can help to foster and maintain a higher degree of discursive density—and, as a result, a different degree of involvement and a feeling of responsibility. But it is important to seize this opportunity, and to support what can grow out of it accordingly. In any case, the time has come to take action. After all, the pandemic only exacerbated problems that have plagued the city’s art scene for some time.

»Art is the result of a network of producers, players, and institutions of various kinds and must be supported as such.«

From the mid-noughties at the latest, Berlin was known first and foremost as a ›hub‹, as an international touchstone for artists and other members of the art world. The capital was essentially a production locale. It was here, in this city—with its cheap rents and vast spaces, or so the story goes—that art was made. Yet that same art was often shown elsewhere in the museums and biennials of the world, often sold to international collectors around the globe. This international dimension must be ensured, or else the city will sink back into provincialism. And nobody can want that. This is precisely why more needs to be done to improve local conditions to make sure that Berlin’s reputation as a city of the arts does not devolve into a hollow marketing pitch. Art is the result of a network of producers, players, and institutions of various kinds and must be supported as such.

»The enormous diversity and scope of art in Berlin cannot be taken for granted. It grew historically out of a specific situation and can just as easily vanish.«

To this end, it is important to get a handle on the real estate issue; it is important to ensure that art and culture are anchored in the city and its society; and it is important to look closely and distinguish who is responsible for what and which screws need to be turned instead of rashly reaching for generalisations. Specifically the latter point requires to actively define the relationship between politics and culture in terms of a critical engagement and a productive conversation.

While the generally heightened awareness of the vulnerability and precariousness of infrastructures might stem largely from the pandemic, it also makes us more conscious of the fact that the enormous scope and diversity of art that is produced and shown here in Berlin is not a matter of course. It grew historically out of a specific situation and can just as easily vanish. So as you spend the next few days wandering through project spaces, galleries, museums, and art associations, as you look at exhibitions, watch performances or attend screenings, remember: even if it often doesn’t seem that way—it’s up to us, here in the city, to decide how it is to continue.