by Nadja Sayej
One peculiar little design shop has popped up in Berlin’s west end — it’s called BurnrateBerlin.
“Contemporary art is over,” the owners will tell you, rolling their eyes as they sprawl over zebra-print couches, sipping machine-perfect cappuccinos in a prewar-built storefront. This is Europe, remember.
The co-founders Glenn Geffken and Scott Redford hail from the art world. They stepped outside of the “white box” gallery world to fuse forces and bring together a postmodern boutique for 1980s artefacts that functions as an artist’s project space.
Billed as “a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price,” it is a throwback to the Memphis Group, which was founded in Milan in the 1980s. The postmodern design movement was a counter-movement to the Bauhaus idea of “form follows function.” They weren’t afraid of zany, outlandish aesthetics for design that fearlessly ventured into colourful kitsch, from gaudy mirrors to toy-like lamps.
Postmodern design is making a comeback, as French designer Natalie du Pasquier designed Memphis-inspired patterns for American Apparel, while the Swiss Terrazzo Projects revives Memphis-inspired design in concrete sculptures. As Vogue noted, pre-fall fashion has gone by the way of Memphis design this year with relevant brands like Christopher Kane and Prozena Schouler making their way with blocky squares and patterns that gives a throwback to the era, while The New York Times revels in the revival for the Memphis comeback.
“Partly, it’s a backlash against boring minimalist interior styling and the coming-of-age of kids born in the 1980s,” said Redford. “Memphis and pomo is really a design epoch, as with the 1920s revival in the 1970s, some styles just seem right for repurposing and the pomo time is now.”
Walking into Burnrate is like entering Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. There are large florescent Swatch watches hanging from the walls as Kanye West blares in the background. Glossy items sit in the front windowsill as friendly neighbors wave as they walk by, each of them colourful city characters. Burnrate carries rare Memphis knockoffs from Japan alongside novelty items like Memphis sneakers by Adidas. It seems as though the only thing missing is Pee Wee’s talking chair.
They have over 500 design items from the 1980s and 1990s, including Pantone chairs by IKEA, Keith Haring shopping bags and ghastly, colourful furniture which would fit in a Eurythmics music video.
The Burnrate Instagram account shows clocks, pottery and VHS tapes. They carry Sowden du Pasquier’s wall clocks, mirrors by Memphis founder Ettore Sottsass, teapots by Marco Zanini and Matteo Thun, as well as porcelain items by architect Aldo Rossi.
“My favourite piece is the two Vilbert Chairs by Verner Panton for Ikea,” said Redford, “A very late piece for him.”
They also carry pieces by Frank Gehry, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Gunther Forg – the only thing that seems to lack is their representation of female designers from the 1980s.
They have a sense of humour, however, which is why they also carry classic Fischer Price items, as well as limited-edition Space Invader sneakers.
“It’s post-gallery art, art as product,” they muse, giving a tour of the space. As they grab a remote control and turn on a broken flatscreen TV, it plays a muffled, cracked pattern of what could be interpreted as abstract art.
Rotating exhibitions will be on view, including local and international “post-contemporary art.”
This shop is not something you might stumble upon in the city core. It’s a gem tucked away in the west end, set in a former antique shop in a leafy residential neighbourhood.
For those of us who didn’t study finance, “Burnrate” is an economic term defining negative cash flow. “It’s a measure for how fast a company will use up its shareholder capital,” said Redford. “It’s about startups running out of money.”
The term was culturally introduced by graphic designer turned visual artist Peter Saville, who used it to describe the acceleration of cultural consumption.
“It’s the slow decline of so-called high art into low art or pop culture,” said Redford, who has the term “Burnrate” in florescent letters, glowing outside the shop at night. “This is a defining feature of our age; art is now a branch of pop culture.”
Redford says he loves the Memphis Group design because “they were anarchistic, wild and crazy brave,” he said. “They were rebels and caused a real revolution with a very knowing edge, a sophisticated and witty use of art and design history. Many establishment people hated post-modernism, especially the buildings of Michael Graves.”
It’s an offline space that draws a parallel to the current crop of work online. “If you look into the tropes of the Tumblr image flows, you find all elements of postmodernism – palm trees, marble columns and pastel colors,” said Geffken. “But do the kids really know where it origins are? Does it matter? Back to the future!”
Nadja Sayej is a Canadian reporter, broadcaster, photographer and cultural critic based in Berlin, Germany. In covering architecture, travel, design, technology and art, she writes for The New York Times, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, The Guardian, The Economist, Forbes, PAPER magazine, Maclean’s, The Globe and Mail,GOOD magazine, among others.
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