A Feminist Guide to Berlin This Fall

Maja Spiess
Sep 23, 2014 1:54AM

With a feminist political party, a feminist film festival, the Gunda Werner Institute for Feminism & Gender Equality, the feminist art salon, and many other institutions and initiatives, Berlin is an example of a city that is making a major effort, if not a difference. I’ve written this guide from my feminist point of view, featuring shows in Berlin that focus on feminism and female artists. 

I start my journey with a portrait that is quintessentially feminist, and German. Otto Dix’s Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden (1926) is now exhibited in Paris, but it was created in Weimar and is an essential part of German history, representing one of the countless incredible and important works of art that were denounced as “degenerate” during the Third Reich, and were destroyed or sold off for next to nothing. For this reason many brilliant examples of German art are found elsewhere in Europe.

Sylvia von Harden is the perfect example of an early feminist: a Neue Frau as they were called in German (New Woman). She was the woman who went out by herself, wore her hair in the short bubikopf style (which translates as “boyhead”), and smoked, drank, and wore a monocle. Von Harden was a journalist, and we are told that she was very pleased with this portrait Dix created of her. With her strong, big hands, and curved nose, Dix created a woman’s portrait that portrays strength, a character trait that was rare up to that point in portraits of female sitters.

Moving on to the first actual show as this is a guide to Berlin this fall...

A. Florentina Pakosta at KROBATH (Sept. 18th – Nov. 1st, 2014) | Marienstraße 10

Agewise, Florentina Pakosta could be Sylvia von Harden’s daughter. Born in 1933, this lady has seen the times where women who were wearing pants were the exception not the rule, and can look back on a long artistic career dealing with issues of gender equality, feminism, and also the times and changes she witnessed. Interestingly, she started a series in 1979 called “Mein Hände” (“My Hands”)—one of the traits that are most striking in Dix’s portrait. In her exhibition at Krobath, Pakosta shows works from the “Trikolore” series—magnificent, vibrant canvases void of figural elements, and composed of constructivist compositions. The first ones were painted in 1989, in response to the events of that time including the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Eastern Bloc.

B. Margaret Harrison at Silberkuppe (Sept. 12th–Nov. 1st, 2014) | Skalitzer Straße 68

Born 1940 in England, Margaret Harrison, founder of the London Women’s Liberation Art Group in 1970, is known as a second-wave feminist artist who creates sexual drawings and paintings that reverse gender norms. At Gallery Silberkuppe, Harrison—the recipient of the prestigious Northern Art Prize in 2013, Northern England’s answer to the Turner Prize—exhibits a selection of drawings and paintings alongside her major 2004 installation Beautiful Ugly Violence (2004).

C. Heike Kabisch  (Sept. 17th–Nov. 29th, 2014) andZora Mann (Sept. 12th–Oct. 11th, 2014) at Chert | Skalitzer Straße 68

At the same address you’ll find Chert, which currently shows Heike Kabisch’s wry figurative installations where the human body is placed in various scenarios to create allegories about modern society. Kabisch uses the concept of the individual to explore human behavior and idiosyncrasies, particularly in the light of the internet age.

In Chert’s outdoor space visitors will find the works by Zora Mann. Her abstract paintings and works on paper are displayed in vitrines around the courtyard space, addressing spatial relationships and depicting geometric patterns and motifs that resemble tribal art. Mann’s first name recalls the story of the Red Zora, a book every German child knows that revolves around the story of a girl who leads a gang of orphans, addressing the struggles that women face in attaining leadership roles.

D. “Bilder, die wir behalten” by Neue Berliner Räume (Aug. 24th – Sept. 27th) | Lützowstraße 70

The next stop is “Bilder, die wir behalten” (roughly translates to “Images that we keep”), which is situated in an empty apartment in Schöneberg. Featuring works by Sinta Werner and Jodie Carey among others, this all-female show is centered around the curator’s paternal grandmother and—as this year coincides with a slew of significant anniversaries—tracing memories around German history over the last 100 years. Arranged by the curatorial initiative Neue Räume Berlin, this exhibition is one of many that they have put up since their formation; always finding new, surprising spaces as their name suggests.

E. Sue Tompkins at Micky Schubert (Sept. 6th–Oct. 25th, 2014) | Bartningallee 2-4 

At Galerie Micky Schubert, we get to explore the works of Sue Tompkins in “Zog, I’m not over today,” a show which opened with a performance of her piece Orange Brainwash Tribute (which can be viewed, here). The exhibition displays a new body of paintings and text works. Tompkins, who was recently featured in Glasgow International 2014, is known for manipulating language, taking it out of context, and giving words new meaning. 

F. Émilie Pitoiset at KLEMM’S (Sep. 17th – Nov. 25th, 2014) | Prinzessinnenstraße 29

Young Paris-based artist Emilie Pitoiset (born in 1980) presents a new show at KLEMM’S, “All the gold that I have.” The show’s press release, a letter from her friend, Sinziana Ravini, includes the following quote by the artist, which touches upon the artist’s tendency to blend the line between reality and fiction in her works:

“This is all the gold that I have. Tell me the story, how you invest in objects? What are the meanings and representations you feed them? Will your story give them a different value? What if the value of an art work was big story, a huge fiction?”

This may be the best clue behind the exhibition, which comprises a central video work and several assemblage works made with found objects including a fur coat taped to the gallery wall, a leather glove holding a cigarette, and an unstretched white canvas with a cigarette attached. 

G. Temporary Autonomous Zone 3 at Teatr Studio, Warsaw (October 2014) | St. I. Witkiewicz Studio Theatre, 1 Defilad Sq., Palace of Culture and Science / 00-901 Warsaw

The final stop on my tour is a little more than a stop. It requires a train ticket that will cost you a bit more than the equivalent of a cab ride from Upper Manhattan to Brooklyn (29 Euro), and I will ask you to leave Berlin behind and go to Warsaw, Poland, on the weekend of October 4th. You will have the opportunity to become a part of the Temporary Autonomous Zone 3 (or TAZ/3), a 24-hour performance event, with an exhibition that will be on display for the month that follows, where feminist artists are invited to bring their practice and create together for one weekend. TAZ/3 will take place in an old theater and is organized by the ff, a self-described “living and evolving network of artists,” which upholds the belief: “Feminism for us means equality for all: human beings of all genders and all origins.” The event will be a giant collaboration, which will play out on various stages and exhibition spaces. This third Temporary Autonomous Zone (it was held in Vienna in 2012 and Berlin in 2013) expands ideas of art and exhibition to a new high—go and witness this exciting endeavor.

Portrait by Leonie Felle.

See more of City Guide: Berlin on Artsy.

Maja Spiess