English / Deutsch



The 1st Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art was based on an interdisciplinary approach. In order to reflect contemporary art in its multiple layers the exhibition was designed as a forum for artists, architects, designers, writers, musicians, choreographers and fashion designers, theatre directors and cinematographers.

The curatorial team started their work by looking at Berlin itself. Ideal points of departure became: the city’s hybrid cultural landscape, its future role as cultural capital (at the time a big topic for the media) and presentations that showed the rich diversity of contemporary art production.

More than 70 international artists that were then based or at least temporarily lived in Berlin showed their art (mostly new productions) at this three-months exhibition. The selected exhibition venues—the KW Institute for Contemporary Art on Auguststraße, the dilapidated building of the Academy of Arts at Pariser Platz and the former Postfuhramt on Oranienstraße—were chosen to reflect the transition and diversity of Berlin. Aimed at an international public, the exhibition Berlin/Berlin intended to highlight the permanently changing character of the city and foster interdisciplinary collaborations between individual artists over the course of the biennale.

The idea of a biennale in Germany was born in the context of the Biennale di Venezia 1995 after the forum for young contemporary art aperto (founded in 1981) had been lost. Departing from the local, the 1st Berlin Biennale was an international exhibition, which tried to describe the city’s current discourse and give international artists living in Berlin a public platform.


Klaus Biesenbach with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Nancy Spector

1st Berlin Biennale, 30.9.–30.12.1998; from left to right, Klaus Biesenbach, Ulrike Kremeier, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Nancy Spector, Douglas Gordon, Miriam Wiesel, Jens Hoffmann, Daniel Haaksman; Foto: Jens Ziehe

Graphic Design
Stephan Müller (aka Pronto)

From the catalog

Intro – Berlin Biennale

Conceptually, the berlin biennale raises many expectations. Historically, the international biennial exhibition has functioned as both an arena for competitive, nationalistic presentations and a public relations tool for its host city. The economies of tourism, high-level visibility, and cultural legitimacy are all driving forces behind the establishment of such exhibitions, a trend that appears to be proliferating with the founding of biennales in Sydney, Taipei, Kwanju, Johannesburg, and Lyon, as well as the nomadic, biannual manifesta exhibition of young European art. Because Berlin – the post 1989, reunited, soon to be capital of Germany Berlin – has been the focus of much speculation, the recent institution of an international biennale for contemporary art here has only accentuated the hype. The city has been designated by many interested parties – collectors, gallerists, artists, politicians, and journalists – as the next “cultural capital”. Whether this will be the case remains to be seen, but the desire for such civic transformation is behind much of the support for this project.

For us as curators, the task of inventing a biennale for Berlin has not been uncomplicated. From the start we have acknowledged the fact that such exhibitions are, in general, commercial ventures and venues for barely disguised nationalistic gestures. Beyond this, however, the city poses its own very unique challenges. The Berlin we have encountered since we began working in together in 1996 is a city in transition; it is a projection and not a reality. As the future capital, it promises to garner economic, social and cultural development. But at what cost? How much of the past needs to be erased, how many streets and places have to be re-named, how many people need to be dislocated to achieve the dreams of a powerful few? Contradictions abound in this dystopia. While the rhetoric is entirely future-oriented and Potsdamer Platz is teeming with cranes, the prevalent style of urban renewal reveals a deeply embedded nostalgia for the city’s Prussian past.

Our initial response to this paradoxical situation was to propose a biennale that would take place in time, an exhibition that would occur over a two-year period rather than happen every two years. This was to reflect the emphatically temporal nature of a city that looks forward by elimination its past and looks backward to decorate its future. Our impulse to create a non-static exhibition also represents a certain resistance to the traditional, neatly packaged biennale (that usually takes place during peak tourist season) as well as an attempt to mirror the ephemeral nature of much of the contemporary art being produced today. The berlin biennale has thus already been inaugurated. It “opened” at documenta X in Kassel in 1997 with the Hybrid WorkSpace. The present exhibition Berlin/Berlin is about Berlin today. It is anti-futuritstic and anti-nostalgic; it represents the heterotopic environment of the city as we have experienced it during these past two years. The remaining chapters of the berlin biennale will unfold in time between the end of 1998 and 2000, as new curators tackle the issues of this ever mutating city and its shifting representations.