Berlin, Berlin!Last summer I was having discussions with David A. Bailey, a renowned, internationally operating curator based in London. “Everyone should go to Berlin!”, Bailey exclaimed. In his opinion Berlin has become a more important centre of contemporary art than London or New York – and has been so for quite some time.
The capital of Germany with its 3,5 million inhabitants had charmed the curator to such an extent that he is planning to acquire sponsorship for his next big project from BMW, a car corporation coming from the same country. Most probably BMW as a company and Berlin as a city have not too much more in common than the capital B, but the notion of Berlin as the current centre of contemporary art is certainly correct. How come the Zeitgeist of contemporary art has landed just there?
A frequent visitor of Berlin, the Finnish art historian Harri Kalha thinks part of the charm of the city is based on its cultural policy. “I am drawn to Berlin because of its vital grass roots level. New York, for example, is facing the threat of becoming hygienic to the point of no smell,” he says. Culturally active people living in Berlin also appreciate the opportunity of multicultural interaction, which makes the grass roots grow and fuels creative potential.
More and more artists have moved to Berlin from Finland. One of them is Jukka Korkeila, a successful and old Berlin goer. Korkeila first arrived in Berlin in 1997 for an extended period of time as an exchange student. He soon made an important gallery contact, the Galerie Gebauer where his first Berlin exhibition opened in 1998. Since then Korkeila has been living in Berlin on and off for the last couple of years.
“In Berlin it has been possible to relate your own work to the international art scene and to sharpen both your teeth and thoughts. There is a totally different visuals arts tradition and tolerance there compared to Finland – all forms of human existence are present. For example, the once a year organised GSD Gay Parade, which collects hundreds of thousands of people and stops the traffic has changed my life including many others. These things have been important in terms of growing as a human being and as an artist”; Korkeila says.
At this point, there are approximately 500 or 600 galleries in Berlin and according to Korkeila, keeping up with what is going on in them equals a full time job. The competition is hard but at the same time there are still opportunities to work in an independent and non-commercial way.
Concerning Finns moving into the city Korkeila comments: “There are a lot more Swedes in Berlin than Finns and it is only a question of time when a little “Svenskstad” is founded within the city. It is possible to end up at a party where only Swedish is spoken.” I am afraid this is not quite as possible anymore in the bilingual Finland.
Everyone seems to be pointing out that Berlin is much cheaper to live in than London, Paris or Helsinki. This – in addition to the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the place – is a relevant reason for people to move into the city. “However, 6000 artists competing to get a work space have changed the course of the prices and they are going up. The growing number of galleries is creating a fermenting situation and the visual arts have become an important economic sector.” What about the recession then?
According to Korkeila, there is a permanent tradition of impermanence in Berlin. “What is coming after the recession – and Berlin? Is it Minsk, Cracow or St. Petersburg?”, he is asking.