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Night Images:
Art and Clubbing

Wolfgang Tillmans, Panoramabar (Sweaty Window), 2002
©Wolfgang Tillmans,
Courtesy Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Köln

In the 70ies and 80ies artists such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were revelling in New York’s night life. Today, many artists not only enjoy bar hopping in the Big Apple; the city’s night life also provides them with ideas and topics for their art. In Berlin, the connections between the art scene and clubbing are particularly close: In locations like the “Berghain” guests may encounter works of top artists. Dominic Eichler went on a foray through the Berlin scene .

Wolfgang Tillmans, Snax, 2002
©Wolfgang Tillmans,
Courtesy Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Köln

Recently Berlin’s legendary club Ostgut reopened in a new location - in a former power station and in a new incarnation as Berghain. The new venue, like its predecessor, has two levels and the somewhat smaller upstairs Panorama Bar has retained its old name. For years theses clubs have enjoyed the reputation of being not only the best in Berlin but also, depending of course on whom you ask, among the best in the world. Their fame stems from their combination of hardcore low comfort post-industrial anti-design interior, an active commitment to booking the best of the best in electronic music producers and DJs, and a tough door policy ensuring an unique and vibrant mix of high and low life, and sexual dissidents of all persuasions. Berghain and the Panorama Bar are gay clubs sometimes, but only in part and not exclusively and not in a standard or mainstream sense.

Piotr Nathan, Rituale des Verschwindens, 2004
©Phiotr Nathan

The atmosphere and crowd is suggestive of a highly artificial community of the liked-minded insistent on celebrating difference and exploring alternatives. All this makes for a fascinating not yet brain dead clubbing trip in a dirty utopian temple. Depending on the night, a sojourn in this place might extend until noon the next day, the clubbers united in an experience of ritualized hedonism - fertile ground for every kind of experience. That said, Berghain is no place for the faint hearted or those easily shocked. Unlike most clubs there is often not a naïve teenage or twenty- something patron in sight, no conspicuous displays of wealth, no suit wearing post-working day revelling machos, and no gaggles of thin made-up girls looking for a steady boyfriend. But what do Berghain and the Panorama have to do with contemporary visual art? The impetus for this article is the fact that their new interiors of Berghain and Panorama Bar, in addition to the usual club-style features, are also home to some serious works of art amongst other by Wolfgang Tillmans, Piotr Nathan and Marc Brandenburg .

The Klobar at Ostgut with works by Marc Brandenburg, 2003
Photos: © Norbert Thormann

In the lofty entrance hall is Nathan’s enormous and impressive wall work Rituale des Verschwindens (Rituals of Vanishing)- consisting of 175 aluminium panels covering a massive 27x5metres – that depicts scenes based on historical engravings. Depicted are the four elements fire, water, earth and air – not as allegorical figures common for the Baroque period, but in the form of scenes based on historical scientific illustrations. Nathan has enlarged the postcard-sized originals to a monumental format which, at close sight, turns into an abstract pattern of lines. He choose images of the eruption of Vesuvius, a sandstorm in the desert, a coastal hurricane and the North lights. Together these images evoke a world filled with natural spectacle seen through a historical filter that has forever shifting subjective lens. Nathan lives in Berlin and also participated in the last Berlin Biennale. The subject of his materially poetic and sometimes elegiac work often addresses homosexual subjectivity in a wider socio-political and cultural context.

Wolfgang Tillmans, Ostgut Freischwimmer (left), 2004 © Wolfgang Tillmans,
Courtesy Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Köln

Tillmans and Brandenburg, like Nathan are also no strangers to club life in Berlin or for that matter, the themes related to sexual and identity politics. All of them are also represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection with works in their principal mediums photography and drawing respectively. In the new Panorama Bar there are two large-scale Tillmans photographs, one is an abstract blue print from his Freischwimmer (2004) series that suggestive of free flowing hair and the other Nackt (2003) shows a Courbet-like close-up of a shaved woman’s crutch. Tillmans is unarguable one of the best-known German photographers of his generation. In 2000 he won the prestigious British Turner Prize and his work is regularly exhibited in major institutions internationally.

Marc Brandenburg, Untitled (Pillendose), 1999, © Marc Brandenburg
Deutsche Bank Collection

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