With less 110 galleries in comparison to last year, this year’s edition of Art Forum Berlin, taking place from October 7-10, witnessed some noticeable changes in format. This 15th edition presented the gallery section and the young section under the same roof, making the whole event smaller and more manageable for the viewer. But the greatest novelty consisted in young galleries being able to invite other galleries to participate, which they consider “young, surprising and important”. Art Forum Berlin’s strategy not only meant that galleries took greater responsibility in the overall program of the fair but also promised some room for experimentation.
In what felt like an innovative and experimental model in sync with the flair of the city, Art Forum Berlin aimed to brand itself more clearly and attract collectors who might otherwise have divided their attention between Frieze and Paris Photo, taking place the following weeks.
Echoing the dilemma of the city itself, which in the last years has shifted towards a progressive professionalization of its structures and players, the fair seemed to propose a back-to-the roots kind of attitude as an answer to the on-going debate. This delegation of responsibility, introduced by the paring up of younger galleries, proved highly arguable. Long-established galleries with a solid program saw their booth presentation weakened by being placed next to younger galleries with presentations which though interesting left plenty of room for discussion. This was even harder felt since some international galleries from past editions were now absent.
Challenging yet not radical enough, even if more video could be seen in comparison to last year’s edition, the overall tone of the fair was very cautious. Hardly any painting, not to mention any memorable painting, could be found. Valèrie Favre (Jocelyn Wolf – Paris, Galerie Barbara Thumm Berlin) was an exception to this. As well as classical positions such as Georg Baselitz and Sigmar Polke (Galerie Bo Bjerggaard / Copenhagen) and Imi Knoebel (Fahnemann Berlin). Also remarkable, were Jürgen Klauke as well as Katharina Sieverding‘ photos (Galerie Wilma Tolksdorf, Berlin/Frankfurt am Main).
Worth mentioning for their valuable presentations in the Fokus Section were Galerie Eva Winkeler (Frankfurt/ Köln) with paintings by Oliver Voss and Rashawn Griffin, Klemm’s (Berlin) with artists Falk Haberkorn and Gwenneth Boelens, Kai Middendorff (Frankfurt / M.) with a film installation by Neïl Beloufa and Galerie Jette Rudolf (Berlin) with drawings by Constantin Luser and sulptures by Johannes Vogl.
At the end of the day, undecided between positioning itself as a serious player in the Basel – Armory – Frieze league or as an alternative to it, Art Forum Berlin faces a serious identity problem. An alternative positioning would definitely go hand in hand with the city’s low-budget underground spirits, but runs the risk – if not radical enough in its choices – of jeopardizing the fair. By turning it into a satellite of itself, Art Forum Berlin ended up with little power to draw collectors, especially considering that the Berlin Biennale takes place just a few months before.