Can a television advert for Nike or Levis really be considered art? Likewise, can seemingly ordinary photographs of intimate social occasions and landscapes be considered an authentic act of creativity? Can a documentary? Ralf Schmerberg is one visual artist who has managed to successfully reconcile art and commercialization. Originally from Stuttgart, Schmerberg arrived in Berlin during the iconic Love Parade era; the one-time butcher has established himself as one of Germany’s most feted autodidactic photographers and directors, not to mention fiercest social activists.
His accolades are plentiful, including a permanent collection of selected promotional works in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, photography awards from Polaroid and Kodak, a “Gold Medal for Humanity” at the New York Film Festival in 1996 for his documentary about Africa “Hommage á noir,” and “Most Valuable Documentary of the Year” at the Cinema For Peace Gala in 2008 for his G8 Summit documentary “Trouble – Teatime in Heiligendamm.”
The artist-led collective Mindpirates is currently exhibiting a retrospective compendium of Ralf’s artworks, films and photographs than spans and celebrates his fifteen years as a professional artist in Germany’s capital.
Set up as a community-based platform for mutual exchange and public presentation, this multi-purpose artistic haven, situated on the banks of Berlin’s Spree, boasts a cavernous gallery, intimate project room (the Projektraum) and ridiculously cool clubhouse (the Vereinsheim) housed in a resurrected flourmill. Regularly curating and hosting cross-disciplinary artistic projects, Mindpirates strives to critically examine the boundaries between art and its relationship to society through screenings, performances, get-togethers and exhibitions: a suitable setting for an artist such as Ralf who blurs the lines.
“What’s special about this particular exhibition is that this is the first time I’ve mixed my photographic work, my film and video work, and my installation work, to show the full scope of what I do,” states Ralf. “I don’t mind mixing the commercial with the non-commercial because the ideas, themes, images and people are all Berlin. It’s very reflective.”
Ralf’s work is also very personal, as the assortment of family photo album-style images attests to. Found on the fifth floor gallery and blown up to eye-pleasing proportions, photographs range from the intimate to more straight-up documentary style, including those of friends at New Year’s Eve house parties, smiling children, blooming flowers, scorched furniture and transvestite brides, to those of the Berlin skyline taken from various vantage points (rooftops, airplane wings) across the city.
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