We recently wrote about Berlin in our art travel special edition, and we also had an honor to speak with Pascal Feucher from one of the most renowned Berlin’s galleries – Urban Spree. As mentioned in our article about Berlin, it’s impossible to sum up of all this amazing city’s art spots in just a few paragraphs. Therefore, Pascal helped us in our exploration of Berlin’s amazing art scene. We talked about galleries, street art, and what seems the most significant for the art scene of the German capital – its cosmopolitan aura that nourishes creativity and innovations. As Pascal says: “In Berlin, people are hungry for art.”
Urban Spree Gallery is something you can’t miss if you find yourself in Berlin. Set up in a vast postindustrial compound, the gallery defends an artistic grassroots approach, directed towards cities, street & graffiti artists, photographers and contemporary artists. But most importantly, it reflects vibrant Berlin cultural and art context, and contributes to the local and international scene. Finally, Pascal Feucher was so kind as to give us some recommendations on what to see and where to go when we come to Berlin. After reading this interview, you won’t only be more informed about Berlin, its history, culture and art scene, but you will wish to pack your things and book a trip to this amazing city. And, enjoy!
On Berlin Contemporary Art Scene
WideWalls: When someone labels Berlin as one of the global centers of contemporary art scene, usually no one objects. How do you see Berlin art scene today? Based on your experience and knowledge, could we say that Berlin is still one of the top cities to be visited when it comes to contemporary art?
Pascal Feucher: Berlin is not such a big place for contemporary art. It’s not a rich city, there are only few art collectors, no auction houses, no international top gallery, no big art fair either. It’s actually a marginal art market even for German standards (think instead Cologne, Hamburg, München). There are lots of galleries, but they wouldn’t survive without the international market and art fairs. At the top of the food chain, museums are excellent but there is overall little money for contemporary art production, innovation and risk.
However, Berlin’s strength lies rather in its creative nest. Berlin is a place to discover artists as the city is in a perpetual movement, with artists coming from all over the world to live the Berlin life, even for a few months. It’s a major pole of attraction for young emerging artists. That’s why you need to be in Berlin, as the next generation of top contemporary artists is right here, right now, or will be. Then, I’m pretty sure the art scene will gain muscle over time and start to rival Paris or London.
As for Urban Spree, we are deep into street art/graffiti/street photography, and yes, this is a top city for us! Berlin is contemporary art unfolding in front of you. Berlin art is wild, unpolished, rough, rebellious. It’s in the streets.
WideWalls: Berlin’s art scene is inherently linked with political and social context (i.e. Berlin Wall, Reunification, etc). What’s the situation like today? Is contemporary art scene completely independent from social and/or political context?
PF: Berlin Wall and Reunification are still vivid symbols for peace and stability in Europe. For the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall last year, we invited French contemporary urban artist Zevs to paint our big wall and he chose to liquidate the soviet flag. Cold War is over but geopolitics in Europe are unstable, mostly the ghost of the Soviet Empire reenacted by Putin. The Wall is done but it doesn’t mean there are no threats any longer.
WideWalls: In the past four or five years, there have been many discussions concerning the issue of gentrification, and its effect on Berlin’s art and cultural scene. There are even those who claim that Berlin is not what it used to be (a city of abandoned factories that were used by artists, squatters, free art), and that many interesting things are moving away (i.e. to Hamburg). What’s your opinion on this subject?
PF: Gentrification is a strong theme, but as you can understand, it’s a fight from the base, from the underground, from people evicted, not a fight of the elite. And in this case, nothing is more powerful than street art. There is a lot of resistance, protest and artivism against gentrification: Italian street artist BLU covered in black his landmark paintings in Kreuzberg to protest the commercial use of his paintings and Life (Berlinkidz) just painted over it with a huge ‘Fuck Gentrifizierung’ in his pixaçao daredevil style.
Lots of graffiti and social/political messages flourish on the streets and rooftops of Berlin. But this is real, it’s not contemporary art.
On the issue of the underground moving away from Berlin, Leipzig for instance has been heralded the new Berlin as lots of space and ridiculously cheap rents attract a range of people/artists who can’t afford Berlin anymore. But those cities lack the international aura and cosmopolitism that only Berlin can offer.
About Berlin Street Art Scene and Politics
WideWalls: Urban Spree Galerie is located quite near Berghain, the famous nightclub placed in a former power plant. How much does the music (clubbing) scene in Berlin influence art and vice versa? Are they connected at all?
PF: Berlin has a strong electronic and experimental music scene and visual arts connected to it are also represented in galleries or in festivals (like CTM). For example, we will host a laser installation of Robert Henke (Monolake) in the gallery early August, for the Krake Festival, so that’s directly connected to the electronic music scene and considering that we are in the middle of it makes art sharper, more in context. Huge warehouses in the center of the cities are perfect hubs for both art and clubbing.
Actually a lot of parties in town often include art in their program, whether it’s installations, performances, small photography exhibitions, live painting, videos. Art is everywhere and pervades everything. In Berlin, people are hungry for art.
WideWalls: Many say that some great art production can be found in former factory buildings and commercial complexes that were abandoned after the fall of the Wall when many industrial and commercial businesses left the city. If this is correct, could you give us your opinion on this, or recommend some place like this?
PF: There is almost none of this left. The obsolete East German factories collapsed rapidly after 1990. There was a transition period where they were abandoned and squatted and now they are rehabilitated as luxury apartments or destroyed. Most places or squats are closing. Berlin achieves its transformation and regains a higher density now. I see Berlin as a balance between the underground and bohemian culture inherited from the Cold War era and the 90s and the fact that Berlin is nowadays the capital city of Germany whose main aim is to achieve efficiency, rationality and limit chaos. And the two scales are unequal.
Urban Spree is actually located in an industrial compound, the former maintenance train yards of the East German Railways (called RAW), a few hundred meters from the Berlin Wall. This is one of the last large post-industrial compounds left in the center of Berlin and its future is rather uncertain.
WideWalls: If you ask someone who recently visited Berlin for recommendations where to find some nice art places, they usually mention Kreuzberg first. OK, Kreuzberg is great, but there are many other great Berlin’s boroughs where people can find great art and fun as well. Do you have some recommendations?
PF: Mitte is still the best borough owing to its cluster of national museums, great galleries and private museums (like the Boros Sammlung hosted in a former bunker). My favorites places are Hamburger Bahnhof & Martin Gropius Bau, always great and refreshing exhibitions there (Ai Wei Wei, Kippenberger, Saraceno, to name just a few world-class exhibitions) I love the Mies van der Rohe designed Neu Nationalgalerie (unfortunately closed for renovation). This topographically uncertain territory around Potsdamer Platz and the Potsdamer Str. itself becomes now an established corridor for art and galleries (Circle Culture Gallery is excellent).
I would also recommend to spend half a day in Teufelsberg, off the beaten track, a former NSA spy station built on an artificial hill with an incredible story behind it. These buildings are nowadays abandoned and decayed and they are known as a famous graffiti spot. So, lots of stuff to discover there. Improbable land art at its very best. And the view of Berlin is amazing.
Past, Present and Future
WideWalls: What’s happening in Berlin these days? Is there something particularly interesting that you would suggest to someone who is visiting Berlin these days (or during summer in general)?
PF: In Berlin you have to follow your instinct. The city is so big and features so many events that you can’t apprehend it totally, always leaves you a bit frustrated when you are just visiting. But summer is more about going to the lakes, cycling around, picnics in the park, going to some music festivals (like Fusion), chilling…This is the sunny side.
WideWalls: For us at Widewalls, June is dedicated to traveling and discovering great places. However, it’s not just about art, but also about travelling and discovering other cities, countries and lands as well. Could you tell us what your plans are for this summer, where will you be spending it?
PF: Going on vacation with my family in August. I just don’t know where yet. Last year, we explored quite a few countries in Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic) and living in Berlin is a perfect gateway to explore Eastern Europe and discover great countries and artists.
WideWalls: Finally, what’s going on at Urban Spree Galerie? What are your plans for the summer, are you preparing some new amazing projects or exhibitions?
PF: We lately produced the photographic show of Norman Behrendt, “Burning Down the House”. It’s a strong and ambitious project, shot over 5 years, which shows the inner face of graffiti writers, going against the comfortable imagery of the vandal. And it’s so much about Berlin! We are taking contacts now to export the series to other institutions after summer.
Besides, we are preparing a show with one of the hottest collectives at the moment -“The Grifters”- which will open mid-July together with the release of a photobook co-published with them. As for Norman, the idea is to show “graffiti without graffiti”, exploring the surroundings of the practice, its landscapes, camouflages, lifestyle and actors but without any action-pumped shots. August will be devoted to a big screen print festival (Druck Berlin Festival) organized by our resident screen printer Dolly Demoratti. Expect a lot of wall paintings in our compound too! Summer action!
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Berlin Mitte, detail (courtesy of wikipedia.org)
Urban Spree, Graffiti without graffiti exhibition (courtesy of urbanspree.com)
Kreuzberg urban art (courtesy of airbnb.com)
Berlin Wall remains at Potsdamer Platz (courtesy of wikipedia.org)
All Images used for illustrative purposes only.