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Preview Berlin: Thinking outside the booth

Now in year five, Preview Berlin will be holding its ‘cutting edge’ ground Tempelhof’s Hangar 2… with a new conceptual space and first-time exhibitors from postcommunist art scenes.

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Preview Berlin entered stage left onto a still-young Berlin art fair scene in 2005. First housed in Prenzlauer Berg’s Brotfabrik, it mopped up visitors who made the trek from Messe Berlin’s international exhibition grounds, where Art Forum had established its base in 1995.

When Art Forum dragged the global art market to town, Berlin threw everything it had on the table. By the time Preview came along, one-year-old Berliner Liste was already waiting in the wings with a caravan of commercial mid-market artists; they took up residence in disused buildings, for buyers who fancied a bit of Berlin grit with their art. Others followed.

Preview’s focus on “emerging art” was completely new. Founded by a small team of Berlin-based gallerists, curators and artists, its exhibitor list was filled with work from western and eastern Europe and the US. After carefully extending its reach with a programme of dinners throughout the year, Preview spread confidently, adding galleries and countries year by year. Last year, the show took over the main hall at Tempelhof Airport (it’s now back in Hangar 2).

Traditionally, an art fair acts as the festive curtain-raiser for the art season ahead and a display window for the global art market. Switzerland’s Art Basel, the most successful of the global art fairs, is the template for the rest.

Art Forum now has former Basel directors at the helm: for a few days each October, collectors, art industry types and paying members of the general public head into a maze of white-walled booths containing the most marketable names in art from the largest galleries around the world. And the buying begins…

Like a lot of good ideas, Preview started by asking, “What if things were different?” There isn’t, after all, the money in Berlin that there is in Basel – no Swiss gold reserves, off-shore bank accounts or ski resorts. And barely any industry. There are movie stars, but it seems they’re not the reliable buyers. The truth is that Berlin is not a place to sell art, it’s a place for making it. Think of it this way: Deutsche Bank sponsors the Frieze Art Fair in London. Not Art Forum in Berlin.

So how can Berlin attract the collectors? By offering them something different from what they get in Basel. And what Berlin has that’s different is artists, plenty of artists; space, and interesting spaces; and the unique flair of a young international capital with an innovative scene. So why not give the collectors the whole romantic trip – a foray into the Berlin sweatshop of art-in-the-making, marketed as an opportunity to discover the art and artists of the future?

Preview does just that. In true contemporary-art style, it had to be conceptual – so Preview fairs are curated around a concept. Pieces are chosen on the basis of how they fit. Sometimes the pieces generate the concept. Last year’s wall-free edition less regress more congress was an open space for video works and installations. It was the strength of these works that gave the fair’s curators the idea.

And if you’d just arrived from the dazzling white maze of Art Forum, or one of the scruffier local fairs, or even the Gallery Weekend crew’s ABC which, last year, resembled a high-school open evening, Preview was clearly very, very, different. The art was coming at you, not posing compliantly and waiting to be ravished.

This year, new blood will be provided by eastern Europe, and its unique emerging art scenes. Next year, the concepts take over once more: TU students were invited to brainstorm about “transformation” and the result will be “put into practice”. What makes Preview exciting is that it is not, as many other fairs are, a snapshot recording transformation in art at a given moment: it is transformation made into art-exhibition – art in motion, pure and simple.

As the world changes, and technology changes, art changes. As the format changes, the experience changes. That may sound like artspeak, but it’s mainly about keeping things fresh. Entertaining. Art exhibitions are calling themselves shows now. It all seems pretty appropriate. As Bert Brecht knew, entertainment is the beginning of communication, and without communication, there is no art.

GIVEAWAY!!! We’re giving away 15 pairs of passes to be used on any one day (October 8 through 10). Write an email to [email protected] for your chance to win. Please put “Preview” in the subject line of the email and make sure to send by Friday, October 8, 9:00.