Berlin’s public art and the way it is organised seems to gravitate around three notions:
1. A long, vast tradition of art commissions for public buildings (Kunst am Bau), organised in competitions. For the smaller commissions mostly local artists are invited, for the larger ones more well known but still predominantly German artists. A few artists from other countries who’ve lived in Berlin a while, manage to enter in this game now. Whereas it is the field where in terms of volume most projects are being realised and most money is spent – it creates many opportunities for artists – it is being criticised for being quite closed and conservative, similar to the field of architecture in Berlin.
2. Spin-off or overflow from Berlins institutional and gallery scene. With so many artists living here, so many galleries, artist-run spaces and so many good institutions, their activities ‘flow over’ into public space. Institutions organize (temporary) projects in public locations; artists who participate in major exhibitions choose to make work outside. Things kind of happen in public space because there’s just so much going on (and public space is a bit fashionable as well). This can result in great projects by very interesting and internationally acclaimed artists, but the practice remains incidental and the works disappear again.
3. Another Berlin tradition: do-it-yourself. Probably as a result of a strict system for public commissions, and maybe also an institutional art scene that doesn’t make public space a priority or a continuous thing, artists and curators have taken to organising their own opportunities for public art. The fabric of Berlin lends itself to this practice: there are vacant lots to be claimed, spaces to be used as they wait for development, prices are cheap and there are ways around the rules without getting into too much trouble. These initiatives can result in great projects and generate good energy, but getting money for them is a more than fulltime job and most of them can only keep up a few years.
All these three ‘spaces’ seem to exist quite separate, although artists can and do work in more than one space – in fact one could say that operating in all of them is the true challenge for the contemporary artist, quite a balancing act. In terms of quality they all three show a wide range. There’s successful and not so successful projects being realised in each area, in that sense none of them have any claim over the other.
Next step: working these notions into my programme.