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Berlin Has a New Art Fair. Can It Attract the Buyers?

The centerpiece of the week was a new art fair at Station Berlin, a postindustrial exhibition venue. Art Berlin, featured 112 galleries, almost 80 percent of which were based in Germany. The event, owned and co-organized by the owners of the Art Cologne, replaced the gallery-run Art Berlin Contemporary (ABC), which for the previous nine years had struggled to market large-scale artists’ projects within the commercial context of a fair.

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Art Berlin featured work from 112 galleries, almost 80 percent of them based in Germany.

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Carsten Koall/European Pressphoto Agency

“There’s a perception that people will come to a fair in Berlin, but they won’t buy,” said London-based Pippy Houldsworth, one of just five exhibitors with galleries in Britain or the United States. “In the current global climate, some dealers were nervous about trying a new fair.”

Ms. Houldsworth said that Art Berlin’s owners had managed to bring in collectors from Germany’s more affluent Rhineland region, as well as from Belgium and the Netherlands. The fair attracted 33,000 visitors, according to the organizers.

“They wanted to bring in a new audience, and that did happen,” Ms. Houldsworth said. She said she had made five sales, including the 2017 painting “Yellow Siller,” by Uwe Henneken — a Berlin-based artist much preoccupied with Shamanism, who was also on show at the Sammlung Boros private museum. Priced at 12,000 euros, or about $14,400, it sold to a German collector.

The organizers made a deliberate effort to keep the costs relatively low, enabling younger galleries to show works by emerging names at approachable prices.

The Berlin dealer Katharina Maria Raab said smaller booths had cost exhibitors about €4,000. Ms. Raab, who opened her gallery in 2015, was showing a concrete and steel relief, inscribed in Arabic “Do you want freedom?” by Manaf Halbouni, a Syrian-born artist based in Dresden. In February, Mr. Halbouni stirred controversy in that city with his sculpture “Monument,” made from three upturned buses, like barricades in war-torn Aleppo. His much smaller piece at the fair, whose exposed barbed wire and concrete stressing rods had a special resonance in postwar Berlin, sold to another German buyer, priced at €7,000.

“It was so much better compared to last year,” a local collector, Gudrun Wurlitzer, said of Art Berlin. “You didn’t know if ABC was an exhibition or a fair.”

Mrs. Wurlitzer and her husband, Bernd, were also part of the Berlin Art Week program, showing works by younger artists at their “Pied-à-Terre Collection” in a communist-era apartment block featured in the 2006 movie “The Lives of Others.” A silk-and-wool carpet, “The Empty Space,” designed by the Berlin artist Sultan Acar attracted admirers. Woven in Nepal in 2016, the carpet lyrically evokes a vacant rectangle of pavement in Berlin on which an equestrian statue of Kaiser Friedrich III once stood.

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Sultan Acar’s 2016 carpet, “The Empty Space,” together with sculptures by Raphaela Vogel and a painting by Christian Jankowski at the Wurlitzer “Pied-à-Terre Collection” in Berlin.

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Wurlitzer PTC

It is available for sale, priced at €25,000, on the Wurlitzers’ “Artitious” website, typifying the more fluid relationship evolving in Berlin among artists, collectors and commerce.

“There are two art scenes in Berlin,” Ms. Wurlitzer said. “There is an official one, and there is another scene in which artists hold pop-up shows, share exhibitions and self-market themselves. We’re trying to create an online forum which brings both scenes closer.”

Berlin remains a city of artists. The city’s reputation for being “poor but sexy” might be under threat from gentrification, mass tourism and the gig economy, but about 8,000 artists are still registered with the city’s specialist social insurance plan, the Künstlersozialkasse, according to Ute Weiss Leder, a spokeswoman for the Professional Association of Berlin Visual Artists.

What can yet another contemporary art fair do for them?

Not much, said Marta Gnyp, an art writer and adviser, who lives in the city. “I wonder whether Berlin needs an international fair,” she said. She pointed out that Gallery Weekend was already very successful at attracting foreign collectors. “With the busy international art calendar, they won’t visit Berlin twice a year,” she said, adding that she thought Art Berlin could work well as a more modestly focused “regional” fair.

Over-ambition has become something of a hot topic in the German art scene after Documenta14, the sprawling contemporary exhibition, ran into financial trouble and required a government bailout. And with the upper levels of the international art market becoming increasingly homogenized, there is growing appreciation of regional events — if it is a region where something interesting is happening.

“In all the internationally oriented fairs like Art Basel and Frieze, you see the big names you find everywhere,” said Mr. Feuerle, the globe-trotting Berlin museum owner. “I don’t see too much local art from the country, which to me is boring, as I come to see and explore something different and new.”

Berlin is a city with plenty of artists trying to say something new. Art Berlin could gain the reputation as the fair to discover them.

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