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Axel Wieder to become the new Director of the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art

Editors’ Choice

Axel Wieder, former director of Bergen Kunsthall, will become the new director of the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. The selection committee chaired by Katharina Grosse unanimously decided for Wieder as the successor of Gabriele Horn on April 22, 2024. Wieder will take office on August 1, 2024, and from then on manage operations in preparation for the 13th Berlin Biennale, which will be curated by Zasha Colah and take place in summer of 2025.

Image above: Axel Wieder, Foto/Photo: Victoria Tomaschko

Axel Wieder, new Director of the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art: 
“The Berlin Biennale is one of the most outstanding experimental platforms for contemporary art in the world—it makes new curatorial approaches and artistic positions accessible to a broad public while consistently maintaining its critical vantage point. I am very much looking forward to continuing these traditions as well as Gabriele Horn’s visionary work, including her astuteness regarding cultural policy, together with a fantastic team. It is important to me to continue to open the Berlin Biennale up to urban society, develop collaborations, and redefine its relationship to Berlin as an art hub. In doing so, I view the long-term project process of the biennale model as an important quality, one that facilitates investing into substantive debates and dialog.”

Axel Wieder studied art history and cultural studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the University of Cologne. He has been director of Bergen Kunsthall since 2018, where he produced a widely acclaimed, interdisciplinary program with an international focus and local roots together with the team, which encompassed exhibitions, live projects, and a broad event and outreach program. Previously, Wieder was the director of Index – The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation in Stockholm (2014-2018) as well as director of Programs at Arnolfini in Bristol (2012-2014). He was responsible for the program of Ludlow 38 – Goethe Institut in New York from 2010 to 2011 after being responsible as artistic director of Künstlerhaus Stuttgart from 2007 to 2010. In 1999, he founded Pro qm, a bookshop and discourse platform, together with Katja Reichard and Jesko Fezer in Berlin. Wieder has held teaching appointments at various universities and art academies, including Bauhaus Universität Weimar and Zurich University of the Arts; he publishes in magazines and anthologies. 

In his work, Wieder focuses on the history and theory of exhibitions, architecture, and the social space as well as on questions of political representation. His activities successfully expand the scope of work of art institutions towards becoming open spaces, in which art can be shown in its connection to adjacent areas of society and with attention to different practices and discourses. Under his leadership, the program of Bergen Kunsthall succeeded in attracting new audiences through collaborations and an ambitious program. The most-visited exhibitions in the history of the institution were shown under Axel Wieder’s direction. Joar Nango’s exhibition there was named the best exhibition of the year in Norway in 2020.

Katharina Grosse, Chair of the Board, KUNST-WERKE BERLIN e. V.:
“We are very pleased to have been able to win over Axel Wieder as the future director of the Berlin Biennale. Wieder not only has a broad professional network at his disposal, he is also familiar with current discourses as well as the organizational processes relevant for a large-scale, international exhibition format like the Berlin Biennale. His committed approach to strategic opening processes of cultural institutions to new groups of visitors and partners convinced us, as has his considerate, team-driven, and future-oriented leadership style. We look forward to working together in the future. We wish to express our heartfelt thanks to the outgoing director Gabriele Horn, whose over 20 years of dedication have made the Berlin Biennale what it is today: one of the most important and preeminent biennials in the world.”

Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska, Artistic Director of the German Federal Cultural Foundation: 
“In the twenty years that the German Federal Cultural Foundation has been supporting the Berlin Biennale, Gabriele Horn has been a constant force. Under her direction, the exhibition developed into one of the most important international forums for contemporary art. Gabriele Horn navigated the Berlin Biennale through turbulent times with great skill and determination. In doing so, she always pushed changing curatorial concepts and the artists to the forefront. Now one era ends and a new one begins. We are looking forward to working with Axel Wieder, who is connected globally as well as being firmly rooted in Berlin—an excellent foundation for shaping this new phase with much experience and intuition.”

Axel Wieder will succeed Gabriele Horn, who led the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art since 2002 and simultaneously took office as the director of KW Institute for Contemporary Art between 2004 and 2016. Horn was responsible for 10 iterations of the Berlin Biennale, ensuring the local and international establishment of the exhibition as well as its institutional stability. Under her leadership, the Berlin Biennale, of which the first iteration in 1998 was an ambitious statement above all else, has become a part of the city’s artistic and programmatic reality following its fourth iteration and could be held every two years due to financial stability. Horn made it a professional institution, built sustainable structures, and thus made it fit for the future. At the same time, she preserved an important degree of autonomy, which the Berlin Biennale required for its demanding work, as well as its experimental character. Meanwhile, the Berlin Biennale with its respective focal points has not only developed a local but an international audience. Gabriele Horn will go into retirement as of July 31, 2024.

Klaus Biesenbach, Founding Director of KW Institute for Contemporary Art and the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art: 
“I congratulate Gabriele Horn on her tremendous achievement. With her art-oriented and determined leadership, she has established the Berlin Biennale as one of the world’s most innovative and recognized exhibitions in contemporary art.”

The selection process for the future director of the Berlin Biennale was organized by KUNST-WERKE BERLIN e. V., the supporting association of KW Institute for Contemporary Art and the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. Axel Wieder came out on top in an open application process with numerous international applicants.

The selection committee that conducted the search for the new director was headed by Katharina Grosse (Chair of the Board, KUNST-WERKE BERLIN e. V.). Other voting members of the commission included Krist Gruijthuijsen (Director, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, until June 30, 2024) together with Emma Enderby (Director, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, since May 15, 2024) for KUNST-WERKE BERLIN e. V., Christine Regus for the Senate Department for Culture and Social Cohesion, Berlin, as well as Ekaterina Degot (Artistic Director and Chief Curator, steirischer herbst, Graz), Matthias Mühling (Director, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau München), Hoor Al Qasimi (President and Director of Sharjah Art Foundation), and Franciska Zólyom (Director and Curator, Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig) as representatives of the international art scene. Members of the commission in an advisory function were Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska (Artistic Director, German Federal Cultural Foundation, Halle) and Katharina Kurz (Treasurer, KUNST-WERKE BERLIN e. V.).

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