Of Mice and Men,
The 4th Berlin BiennialOf Mice and Men: The 4th Berlin Biennial
Curated by Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, and Ali Subotnick

The cinematic allure of this biennial, titled Of Mice and Men after John Steinbeck’s novella, was undeniable and indelible. The various settings along Augustraße—including a ballroom, cemetery, and church, as well as private apartments, horse stables, and the exhibition’s touchstone use of a shuttered, former Jewish Girls School—configured an exhibition-as-film-set dynamic, populated with the seductive, figurative acuity of works by artists such as Mark Manders, Matthew Monahan, Rachel Harrison, Francesca Woodman, and Tadeusz Kantor. Cribbing from the dispersed urbanity of an exhibition such as Jan Hoet’s Chambres d’Amis (1986), the stakes were heightened beyond location scouting or using the city as background. The spectral implications of World War II, the Holocaust, and the division of East and West Berlin lingered untethered as mood enhancement within the neglected patina of many of the settings. As curator Okwui Enwezor commented at the time, the exhibition was “dazzling in its settings in desolate, crumbling apartments and an abandoned Jewish school on the potholed, charmingly decrepit Augustraße. The curators guided viewers through spaces haunted by history.”1

While the placement of Paul McCarthy’s Bang Bang Room (1996) in the former Jewish Girls School, for instance, or the presentation of Tino Seghal’s Kiss (2002) in the run-down vintage chic of Clärchens Ballhaus, enacted emptying-out theatrical gestures that actively held their own against that haunted patina, the decontextualized gloss of unspecified periodizing that characterized the biennial seems increasingly significant with time. Displacement and trauma are implied backdrop presences, and works of art role-play or stand in while the viewer enacts the tracking shot. Perhaps an apotheosis of auteur-curating, the scenographic pre-conditioning of artwork and viewer has increasingly become assumed bulwark and background to the circulation of contemporary visual culture and biennial fanfare.

––Fionn Meade

1 Artforum, December 2006, p. 296

Published in The Exhibitionist, Issue 9 (March 2014)
Copryright Fionn Meade unless otherwise stated