Dodging the crowds within the hectic scramble between Berlin’s confined East Side gallery spaces during the annual gallery weekend is no mean feat; lots of street-art, cool spaces jammed with bodies, kids and buggies, all hopping from one show to the next. How cool is Berlin? Well actually Berlin is pretty cool in all sorts of ways, but I have to say that a lot of the delicious gallery spaces are showing stuff that would look more at home in a thrift store art display. Hard to believe that this is the land of Beuys, Darboven, Feldman, Kiefer, Bernd and Hilla Becher and the rest. So, it was that on entering my 30th space, that tired feet and a proportionate measure of irritation accompanied my entry to Galerie Martin Mertens. And guess what, this was not only less than repellent, it was actually very good.
Italian-born Robert Bosisio’s reveristic, impressionistic figurative paintings were an immediate ‘wow’ and presented an oversized refuge from the business of the gallery. These large paintings, balance on the edge of painterly pointillism and the cinematic. In saying this I have in mind Kubrick’s impressionistic imagery within 2001: A Space Odyssey; this may seem a strange reference, but there is something about Bosisio’s paintings that evoke the same kind of nostalgia for a purity of vision unsullied by You Tube or digital painting.
Bosisio is technically and conceptually a very good painter, the soft focus of the works is evocative without being overly-romanticised and large scale without being overblown or grandiose. The figurative imagery is oddly both generic and specific at the same time, making reference to individual models through rendering of what look like tattoos whilst not being able to make out specific facial features. These are particulate portraits of humankind, atomised in paint, and seemingly ready to be blown away like the parachute tufts of a dandelion head. If you are wondering why I have chosen not to name the paintings individually, this is because they function as a body of work, conjuring an overall impression of unity and reflection.
Alongside this I was fortunate enough to witness the material contradiction of a series of intense sculptural works by the Polish-born artist/woodcutter Gregor Gaida. As much as we are led into a state of dreamlike musing by Bosisio, Gaida pulls us into an extraordinary hyperreality of dynamic figuration, wooden forms penetrated by torturous extrusions and interventions, plastic interruptions in exquisitely carved wooden forms. For anyone who thinks that woodcarving is pure craft within the context of contemporary art, think again. In Apeirophobia 2016 we witness Gaida embodying a fear of the infinite expressed as a body come Moebius strip. His more dynamic figures cavort illusionistically across the space, chalking out a real-world line for use to transgress – or not.
Whilst Gaida is undoubtedly a material perfectionist, the facture is not at odds with the communication; he manages to combine the visceral qualities of Bacon and the quasi-religious projection of Blake, both in a way that evades any accusation of the figuration being ‘Banksyesque’. I suspect this is a guy who is obsessed with making and is searching for the fitting, spitting image. The pace of the plaster works is quicker and the imagery more demonstrative, and whilst the density and deliberateness of the dense wooden and acrylic sculptures may jar the senses a little, one can sense that there is a serious and rare intent here.
The images from the show tell their own story, but the combination is choice and absolutely great curation from the gallery. In Berlin it’s not so odd to find these gifted European imports, but my search for home grown talent here, to my disappointment, foundered. This is a wonderful show (until 29 May 2019) that, for me, snatched Berlin Gallery Weekend from the jaws of mediocrity. Hence, highly recommended.