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The fourth annual Berlin Art Week takes place this month throughout the city. Josie Thaddeus-Johns breaks down the sprawling program with a selection of highlights

Photo: Untitled 475 by Cindy Sherman, 2008

15.09. – After Berlin’s annual summer break for the art scene, September is a feast for Kunst-starved eyes. The venue-spanning celebration Berlin Art Week includes an impressive three art fairs (Positions, abc and Liste) showing the best of the city’s galleries’ works. While these ticketed fairs cater mainly to collectors and gallerists, Art Week in general is accessible to a less professional audience. The flagship exhibition series “STADT/BILD” explores the idea of the urban space and its significance in the contemporary mindset, spanning four different institutions and continuing through mid-November. Aside from this central theme, there's an overwhelming amount of work to soak in, including a notable photography retrospective and an art installation in the distinctive octagonal Schinkel Pavillon.

“STADT/BILD” (“Image of a City”) takes Berlin itself as a starting point for discussion. As part of this series, the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle shows Berlin-based artists such as Anri Sala and Jan-Peter Sonntag exploring the notion of a “Xenopolis”, or how a capital city can represent a nation yet belong to no one. Meanwhile, the KW Institute’s contribution to this set is entitled “Welcome to the Jungle”, offering a starting point for artists to escape deep into their subconscious, away from the civilization of the city. Rather than sitting on the therapist’s couch, Berlin is getting analyzed in exhibition format.

Reflections of the self are unavoidable in the work of Cindy Sherman, whose self-portraits are on show at ‘me’. Throughout her photographs, the artist deconstructs cultural stereotypes of film and media, often using costume and makeup to manipulate her own image. Taking herself as the subject, she enacts personas that are amalgamations of tropes filling popular media: visual paraphrasings of images from advertising, classical paintings and film. In this show, Sherman presents works from the Olbrich collection that span her entire career, including her iconic “Untitled Film Stills” from the 1970s (which  James Franco recently re-enacted at Pace Gallery in New York City).

While Sherman’s work presents a variety of masquerades, Paul McCarthy’s work at the Schinkel Pavillon creates a sculpture of his body as an unflinching take on the artist’s own mortality. “Horizontal” comprises a hyperrealist effigy of McCarthy’s naked body, appearing almost as if in a morgue. While the artist is perhaps best known for his butt plug sculptures (one of which, “Tree”, caused a stir among conservatives when it was installed at the Place Vendôme in Paris last year), the “Horizontal” series confronts the viewer with our human condition and how this intersects with the vanitas of the art world: While McCarthy’s work will live on, preserved through media and art production mechanisms, it’s hard to avoid the thought that the artist’s own body – as well as ours – is tragically finite.

Josie Thaddeus-Johns

Berlin Art Week, Sep. 15–20,

STADT/BILD, Sep. 16 – Nov. 8,

Cindy Sherman, Sep. 16 – Apr. 10
me Collectors Room

Paul McCarthy, Sep. 11 – Nov. 22, Schinkel Pavillon



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