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Preview in review

As art fair week hits Berlin with four fairs in five days, the scenester of the bunch is always going to be PREVIEW BERLIN (Sep 9-11), the “emerging” art fair, now in its seventh year. Annabel Brady-Brown gives you a walkthrough.

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Photo by Anna Achon

As art fair week hits Berlin with four fairs in five days, the scenester of the bunch is always going to be PREVIEW BERLIN (Sep 9-11), the “emerging” art fair, now in its seventh year. Returning to Hangar2 at Tempelhof Airport, the first of the expected 1200 plus bespectacled art babes massaging champagne flutes wafted through the free-standing white-walled stalls of the 4000sqm exhibition hall last night for the opening, though many were left wondering just where this so-called emerging art was to be found.

Perhaps as a reaction to this year’s ABC theme, painting abounded. And not much of it was pushing buttons. Preview selects the galleries represented at the fair, so expecting any truly underground artists would of course be a bit naive. As one Berlin-based American visitor said, “It’s inevitably a showroom, showcasing artists who have been “emerging” for the past three of four fairs, as if stuck in eternal constipation.” While experimentation was lacking, the few installation and video works on show were generally memorable, such as the powerful series of contemporary art videos from Fresh Paint Tel Aviv, one of the two large collaborations for this year’s fair.

While remaining conservative in its formal approach, there was a strong black and white photography presence. Highlights included gripping images of a Limp Bizkit-loving malnutritioned Russian boy by Evgeny Mokhorev at Galleri Tom Christoffersen, together with American Jeffrey Silverthorne’s nude by a lake. At Warsaw’s neighbouring Starter Gallery, the hush and terror of turned backs and empty interiors was equally moving.

These were the exceptions though. As it bucketed down outside, the trend for this year’s event seemed to be hyperbolic colour and kitsch, verging on the grotesque. Sometimes this was successful, like with Danish Uffe Hold’s Making Sense; a table of mice which looked like they’d been created from the same rubber as Nicole Kidman’s nose in The Hours, with facial features grown from their backsides. Other gaudy works though like hanging inflatables provoked snorts from more than one visitor, and Gonzalo Rueda’s lurid paintings should have been admired only by the pair of stumbling dinner plate pupilled German teens.

Some stalls were clearly relishing the options provided by their space, sheeting the floor with panes of broken glass, as if inviting art-goers to destroy the thing they love. Our favourite though was the cosy shag den at the Swiss Widmer+Theodoridis; entering through calico curtains, a well-jowled Great Dane took pride of place on the central rug, surrounded by designer lounge chairs and a number of multi-layered drawings, paintings and cutouts exploring sexual identity and performance.

At the end of the night though, instead of new discoveries, the amount of gimmick-won smiles was disappointing. We found ourselves lingering half-heartedly over Roberto Pugliese’ Equilibrium, a pair of blind robots playing Marco Polo with participants via microphone and sensors. (Galerie Mario Mazzoli – Berlin). Responding to the work, visiting US artist Orion Martin said, “I think interactive art is stupid. It reminds me of a science museum.

Regardless of your ideas about content, Preview is slicker and cosier than ever. The exhibitors and visitors all seem quite happy with it and the perks that make any fair tolerable, such as the catering,  have definitely been improved upon this year.

After problems with other major art fairs (think: wobbly-walled Frieze), London gallery engineer Liam Newnham was audibly cooing over the production. A number of exhibitors like Alexander Schumacher said Preview was “honest about being an art fair,” a commercial admission epitomised by the barcodes allowing instant links to the exhibitors information from your iPhone, though this clearly rankled a few purer-intentioned artists, including first-time exhibiting artist Rob Chausse, “I’m not keen on art fairs in general…I don’t have anything positive to say.”