The critical secrets of Berger & Berger

Global Criticalvol. 1, issue 1, 7 December 2019 

We met the Chinese-Italian collective Berger & Berger in Sainsbury’s. As we followed their trolley from aisle to aisle, we tried to unpack their practice.  

Art collective Berger & Berger

Global Critical: It is unusual to meet artists in supermarkets, but from your latest documentary it is clear shopping has a certain significance to your art practice.  

Jo Berger: Yes we both like supermarkets a lot. They are fun. We keep making new discoveries. Supermarkets are very inspirational for installations, props, and for shooting on location. The everyday is a major source of contemporary art, so we are not claiming originality. We just like that. 

GC: Where is the criticality then?  

Dolly Berger: In our latest documentary we show people the ways of shopping art, it is easy just like shopping groceries at supermarket. People seems have too many assumptions about art fairs and art market and so on. You don’t need to analyse the roll of toilet paper you are going to buy, and then you don’t need to think too much when buying a piece of art. So we call it “art shopping” not “collecting”, there is no rules no hierarchy in it, you just need to go and enjoy.  

JB: The criticality is implicit in the figures of Jo and Dolly Berger. We embody criticality – we activate it. So, we don’t need long explanations. I mean, yeah, as artists, we have superpowers of observations, I guess. I guess yeah, it’s like maybe we are unconsciously trying to demystify the art apparatus. Consuming and making art with a certain light-heartedness. We’re saying – don’t take yourself so seriously! As art students, we have the right and duty to do so. We can make our own rules. 

GC: I suppose that this new concept of criticaliticality requires new tools of engagement, what do you use? 

JB: Oh yes we are researching innovative tools, and old fashioned ones too, like rulers.  

The criticaliticality measure (above) and criticaliticality revealer (right) are among the innovative tools adopted by Berger & Berger

GC: You have coined a new term “criticaliticality” and it looks like it’s becoming trendy? 

JB: Yeah I guess there was a niche, or if you want, a demand in the market. We tend to focus on the supply side really, but we have a knack for identifying trends. Dolly is particularly good at it. That is only one aspect of what we mean by criticaliticality. 

GC: Your mission statement is “For your best art experience”. It seems you have adopted a business-artist model? 

JB: Well yes, it’s inevitable in the current socio-economic context. The romantic artist no longer exists. These days you need to be an entrepreneur. But the business-artist model is quite boring frankly – all admin and management. We like to call ourselves a collective to sound less boring. A collective of two with two priorities: 1. to make fun for ourselves and 2. to deliver this fun to art audiences.  

DB: Yeah, our company is very care about user experience.  

JB: Yeah. Because we deliver a global public good. 

GC: How do you work together? 

JB: A lot of online chatting. And we have clear roles and responsibilities. Having said that, we’re both Directors in our company. But we also have separate job titles: Dolly is the Technical Lead, while I am the Business Manager. 

DB: Yes, working through WhatsApp is very productive, most of time we just chatting and know what we are going to do. 

JB: Yes but sometimes we chat on Instagram too.

GC: Dots seem to be very important in your work at the moment. Why dots? 

JB: Yeah we love dots. We are going to write a criticalitical history of dots. Dolly say something? Dolly is the dot specialist. 

DB: a dot is a start point, it is the beginning of everything about art. Lots of artists are using dots in their work, like Yayoi Kusama, John Baldessari… and galleries are using dots, usually as a stamp of purchase, there’s too many things you can read from it. Also dots is a big fashion trend of art in these years, yes, it is back.

GC: What is your favourite London gallery? 

JB: Both Tate Modern and Tate Britain are very family friendly. They provide tools for playing. They don’t care what you do. They let you make your own art. I like that. I think Dolly also like that, right Dolly?  

DB: Yes, our good neighbour Tate, they are very inspiring places, and Tate is very supportive to people doing creative activities in there, it’s like open studios for people, I really like that. 

GC: From galleries to art fairs, you seem to very care about the institutions, is there any concerns and critiques in it? 

DB: Yes we are care about institutions, cause we are kind of establishing our own institution, so we need to know how these things work and what we can do. In this case I don’t want to judge or make criticism to my fellows, that would be rude. 

GC: So you are expanding your business? 

DB: well, it just a very beginning stage, now we have two documentaries and some writings, and we are planning more products maybe with other media or dimensions, we are…developing. 

JB: Yeah. 

GC: Let’s talk about rules. Do you think rules are for breaking? 

JB: We don’t care about rules. We engage on our own terms. But we try not to be arrested or chucked out of galleries. Like Dolly said, we don’t want to be rude to anyone. We want to be nice. 

DB: Yes, we are not mean to satire or offence anything, that’s important. I think the rules is there, and we are in a different dimension, not the opposite nor the same side. We don’t break rules cause we can’t touch it.  

GC: And finally, what is your next project? 

JB: We’re not going to tell you.  

DB: No. 

Research trip: Ridiculous!

We went to the opening of a show called Ridiculous! The introduction says there are 18 artists who are not afraid to look stupid, that sounds exciting, we are going to see how stupid they are.

‘Ridiculous! ‘ Exhibition, Elephant West, London

The exhibition is showing at Elephant West, a combination of art space and bar, which is a very nice place. We were attracted by the delicious smell as soon as we went in, it was dinner time and there were lots of people. We can’t wait to see what kind of ridiculous show it is, but we were dead bored within ten seconds. It’s totally not what we expect to see, not funny, not stupid, not ridiculous, we thought it might relate to our kind of things, but no. We even didn’t see the artists (except the lady doing performance). It showed some works looks exaggerate and trying to say: “we are ridiculous!” but we don’t think so :/

when people ask you is it ridiculous? and you don’t know how to reply

And the press release doesn’t even mention humour, it mentions silliness and absurdity. But all the work looked so contrived it lost all silliness. The silliness was supposed to make us reflect on serious matters (“identity formation, epistemology, sexual attraction, class conflict and mental health”). It wasn’t even absurd, or it was too obvious to be absurd. Actually it was not absurd, because real absurdity, or absurdity done well, verges on the sublime. We didn’t have any sublime experience.

Perhaps the title was a) unimaginative and b) optimistically raising expectations. We were expecting humour but we found little of it. The funniest thing was they put the price list on the entrance, Dolly said.

We know that humour in art can be difficult (Refs: The artist’s joke; Art and laughter); the joke falls flat if there is no shared context etc. Perhaps the work was simply not that great. We are too disappointed to go into details and we don’t want to be critical of young emerging artist. Perhaps they needed a good crit?

For example, Jo liked ======’s approach to video performance but… The video “=======” was the closest to both being funny and raising issues but, the editing took the surprise or incongruity away. It made it almost didactic. You just couldn’t help compare it to ======, less as a reference and more as a benchmark. Jo thought that the ============= was slightly anachronistic (are ====== really like that these days?). In fact, Jo thought that even the ============= was debatable, making fun of a certain socio-economic class ======, no doubt not the kind that were in the audience anyway. So who was it targeted at?

Dolly trying hard to see the funny side

Berger & Berger sing John Baldessari

Introduction and study objective

John Baldessari is our hero, it goes without saying. As part of our research, we decided to re-enact one of his greatest sayings:

I will not make any more boring art

Berger & Berger sing John Baldessari


We decided to sing it just as Baldessari sang Sol LeWitt’s paragraphs on conceptual art. This methodology is not dissimilar from sitting in front of a masterpiece in a museum with your sketchbook (and sketching of course).

We tried different genres – pop, rock, “Let it go” from Frozen, opera, melodic, electronic etc. We didn’t find that the music genre affected the piece. It was easier to sing without background music because karaoke style was a bit distracting. Dolly didn’t know “God save the Queen” so we couldn’t sing that and opted for Happy Birthday to you.


The old-school sketching-type research methodology is still a valid strategy. It allowed us to really get into the work.

We demonstrated that although we come from different settings, through our art we can overcome cultural differences. Happy birthday is a globally recognised song.

The key to not making boring art is to have fun yourself making it and this is our philosophy.

Rock version

Art and interstitiality

What are you looking at?

During our research on shopping and art shopping we have become interested in the interstitial spaces of art. For example, the gallery corners where no work of art is on display. There are many things one can do in such spaces, both as artists and as consumers (as the photo documenting a Christie’s customer shows). Sometimes it is just the case that the wall is more interesting than the pieces on the wall; sometimes one needs to rest one’s eyes; but who knows what really happens in those spaces?

Critically speaking, we see a lot of artistic and commercial potential in these overlooked spaces. For example:
– new ways of displaying artworks where people less expect them (innovation, future art)
– commercial potential: monetising these empty spaces with, say, pop up drink or aroma dispensers, or any other innovative retail; charging for resting one’s eyes or for conversations with walls, etc.

What lies under the painting?

This impressive array of switches and sockets begs the questions: is it part of the work? Is it powering up the painting? Is it for sale? Can we charge our phones there? Can we charge people who need to charge their phones? Why does it look more interesting than the painting, and, has anyone even noticed it because there is no explanatory wall text? Should it be moved further up, and the painting further down? Do the coaxial cable sockets let you speak to the shop assistant when you want to purchase a piece? If not, why not? Have these options been fully assessed and evaluated?

This interstitial piece also offers lessons in curation to art students. There is always enough wall space if you look up or down, or in the corners. So don’t complain.


Criticalitical [crit·i·ca·lit·i·cal]


Artists or artwork that has or demonstrates criticality.

“That painting is extremely pretty but not criticalitical, so it’s not art.”

“The work of Berger&Berger is very criticalitical.”

“Criticaliticality is a way of dealing with criticality, it helps you survive it. Criticality fills me with overwhelming ennui.” (Jo Berger, personal communication, 4 January 2020)