He is an experienced gallery owner and since 2013 the President of the Federal Association of German Galleries and Fine Art Dealers (BVDG). I met Kristian Jarmuschek in his remarkable location in Berlin where we discussed current developments regarding art fairs, the question of locations for creative people & galleries in cities, the gallery of the future and much more besides.
You were present at the ART COLOGNE press conference with Daniel Hug in April when he talked about “Colonialism” in relation to the expansion-driven approach being taken by the MCH Group/Art Basel. What do you think of this assessment?
In principle, the approach shown by the MCH Group has been known to us for years, after Miami and Hong Kong had been set up and a statement of intent had been made that investments would be made in regional art fairs in the future. The Rhineland is a region strongly supported by a stable, tradition-conscious culture of collecting art. This is why I can understand, from their economic perspective, that they would want to offer their customers and galleries a location in the immediate vicinity.
I wouldn’t describe setting up this fair in a neighboring location as an attack, but rather as a statement of intent.
Nonetheless, it remains a fact that ART COLOGNE takes place in the spring and ART DUS in the autumn. The first point to make is that I see nothing to object to, especially as the ART.FAIR was in existence beforehand. In addition, the MCH Group is named as a participating sponsor of the Fair, meaning that it is not first and foremost labeled as “Art Basel Düsseldorf”. Let’s concentrate on what is actually going to happen and how the new fair turns out in the autumn.
The creation of new events and the regionalization in the art market is clearly growing stronger wherever we look. In this context, it is manifestly an understandable development when the city of Düsseldorf, which has a strong art market, is given its own art fair. The idea of giving one’s own customers something new isn’t exactly revolutionary.
How do you evaluate the effects of the new Art Berlin on POSITIONS, of which you are a director?
It is important for me that the Cologne Fair sees this as a long-term commitment and that it is fully aware of its responsibility to Berlin as an Art Fair location.
The art forum berlin was a popular format in the art fair world. But at the end of the day, this format wasn’t able to satisfy the demands and interests of the participating galleries. At the time of the art forum the art scene was still characterized by what the city represented in the 1990s – that already sounds so terribly long ago, doesn’t it? (laughs)
Back then people went to both cities as a gesture of respect. It is still firmly established in the Berlin art scene that one goes to the opening of new exhibitions – in both cities – as a fixed social event:
At the heart of the art scene in Berlin was always the desire to see, to show and to be seen; it had less to do with the art market per se.
The question Art Berlin has to ask itself is: Will the fair manage to generate sufficient international attention (both in terms of content as well as financially) to make it worthwhile for participating galleries to come and exhibit? What Cologne can depend upon with ART COLOGNE is that the Rhineland and the Benelux countries are a strong support. There is a concentration of collectors as well as the interest in and a sense of tradition for the promotion of art, in addition to the purchases made by galleries. So far there has been little evidence of this in Berlin. Here many things are perceived as self-evident – for me, this presents a real challenge.
For POSITIONS this means first of all: It is fantastic that there is now a second art fair in Berlin. The organizers will certainly get together to delineate their main areas of interest. For the time being, I would simply say: I am curious and find it exciting if a well-established fair organizer such as the Koelnmesse wants to invest in the Berlin art market location.
… in other words, this is to be seen as a compliment to Berlin (both laugh)! You have just made reference to the development in the last few years. How have the topics that land daily on your desk as President of the BVDG changed?
I can make out two trends: The one has to do with the global economic development, especially relating to financial markets – in brief, that would be events such as the Dotcom Bubble of 2000, Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the Financial Crisis of 2012 which spread over Europe and beyond. All of these have had consequences for the mental and, therefore, also the economic situation of art buyers. The feeling that money works on its own disappeared, that one invests money and overtime earnings are generated – something we were led to believe – unfortunately proved to be “fake” because, in reality, it was all about credit refinancing and not real investments, closely linked with property politics in the USA.
In all events before the crisis in the financial markets, there was a curiosity about undiscovered young artists. If there was a city which in the last ten to twenty years was all behind the discovery of new artistic talent, then it was unquestionably Berlin. For example, one could run around the city center and hope: “I am going to discover the new shooting star”. This willingness led to many galleries living from the interest created by introducing young artists to the marketplace.
In the meantime, the financial world had gambled away its chances and there were no more opportunities to invest money in traditional investment products. In other words, new possibilities are being sought for investment funds – there is a new option appearing for “brand-name artists”. The interest in Picassos, Monets, Richters, Koons, Polkes, Hirsts is growing, in other words in artists who – according to popular consensus – have managed to become a “brand-name”. Consensus, in this case, means supported by galleries and auction houses – the resale revenue of these artists’ works means, in other words, a certain fair value or even increase in value when the work is resold. That explains why, of course, “brand-name artists” are drawing the greatest interest at the present time. In contrast, against this background, it appears risky to invest in 15 graduates of the Berlin University of the Arts in order to bet on one of them one day possibly becoming a great name. No, today one decides in a certain métier for a Polke, a Richter, … There are artists who are successful as being secure investments with a globally perceived and accepted fair value via the resale market.
The consequence is that galleries which place their bets on promoting young artists are actually limited in how they work and operate. From a purely economic viewpoint, it is wise to turn to artists who already have a certain market value and who belong to definite recognized artistic trends – as an example: the fair value of individual ZERO artists increased through their belonging to this movement.
This development is disadvantageous to the promotion of young artists …
… what I also see, when, partly at the political level, when last year the amendment to the Cultural Property Protection Act (KGSG) was being aggressively debated, it was suggested that the German art market is making profits that run into the millions, which is political ignorance, because the media often only report on sensational art purchases in London or New York. This is then falsely applied to Germany. This is not the case though, for in Germany (in actual fact) a great deal of preparatory work is done in galleries, however, less in the rate-of-return area. You can calculate for yourself how much profit a sale price of €1000 means to a gallery set against the costs of exhibiting the item.
At the same time we are faced with a general societal phenomenon:
We have less and less time.
Although we are actually of the opinion that we should have a lot more time through modern networking and mobility, because we can use any spare time we have, such as waiting for an underground train to arrive, we still have the feeling that work is increasing in volume, not decreasing. The pressure exerted by modern communication is enormous and robs us of the time we could have used for something else.
At a symposium of the BVDG a few weeks ago in the House of Electronic Arts in Basel, I posed the provocative question: “Isn’t it wrong if I as a gallery owner do everything in my power to make visiting my gallery, which is what I want to promote, actually more superfluous? If I make my gallery available in cyberspace, so to speak, aren’t I doing, even more, to make people think that coming to the gallery is superfluous? In this way, the fundamental thinking behind a gallery is increasingly robbed of importance, namely to provide a space for the artist to exhibit his work, where he can develop his ideas further and can use his art to shape the exhibition area.
I myself still cannot picture a cyberspace gallery which could replace the immediate experience of an artwork in an exhibition.
And it is this direct experience of a piece of art that excites people and, in the last analysis, motivates them to purchase a work where speculation is not involved.
… in other words what is partly missing is the courage or the necessary funds to make a purchase. How can galleries successfully launch themselves into the future – especially in the light of the above-mentioned developments which can spread uncertainty and unanswered questions?
I believe that in the future, too, it will be important for the gallery to stage good exhibitions, to have good exhibition areas, to take part in art fairs and to do all this on a sound financial footing. Here in these former Tagesspiegel premises, we find ourselves in the Potsdamer Straße, in a forgotten corner, so to speak, of the pre-Unification period, in an area on the periphery with all the phenomena one would expect. It is only now possible, 28 years after Unification, to be here in the heart of Berlin and, despite this, in a position to find the new creative geniuses. The less important question, in my opinion, is: How should creative artists and galleries proceed from here?
It is far more important to focus politically on how to avoid creative people and galleries being driven out of the heart of the capital.
As long as we want galleries not just to deal with blockbusters but also to promote and support upcoming talent, this means exhibiting artists who are at the moment possibly unknown. This, in turn, means these galleries have to be in places which are central and easily accessible. Otherwise, the advertising expenditure becomes economically unjustifiable. On the one hand, we talk about art as a luxury item; on the other, our political goal is that art should be accessible to the public at large in Germany.
Of course one has to be networked as perfectly as possible – today this can be achieved through social media such as Instagram and Facebook. Neither platform is structured as a sales platform. Well-established gallery owners may well counter by asking why they should use Facebook if their customers aren’t even found there. However, new generations are growing up for whom the use of such networks is absolutely essential.
I can imagine that in future simply looking at art as “reception behavior” will be sufficient for people – after all, we are referring to knowledge about something and no longer learning in a deeper sense:
Learning is available everywhere, whereas education can only be acquired when learning has been assimilated.
There are certain things in a picture which cannot be seen and appreciated because without the necessary education there can be no understanding of the references and allusions.
A further phenomenon is that ownership is playing an increasingly different role as can be seen in streaming and sharing models. The purchase of art, however, is a question of owning something precious, something unique which belongs only to the owner. Similar to the difference between learning which is available everywhere and personal education, when it comes to artworks it is a question of possessing them, preserving them and presenting them. This is somewhat different to simply looking at them and liking them.
Do you see a merging together of the two terms Gallery Owner and Art Dealer if in the future more and more gallery owners also offer their own online shops?
This difference only exists in Germany. The original task of the gallery owner was to discover at an early stage the unknown artist with his works fresh from his studio, to establish him through his contacts and good exhibitions and from this success to be able to make a living from this. The term art trade refers to the marketing of works of artists who are already established, which is why art dealers in former times did not go to fairs for contemporary art. Yes, I do think that this division will increasingly lose its significance in the future.
Especially in view of the necessary balance between experiencing an artwork, imparting it to others and selling it, there have so far been very few convincing solutions for online sales platforms. From a business point of view it is absolutely clear:
It is an advantage if I am accessible everywhere and offer my product outside of set business hours of analogous shops.
Would you say that reputable gallery owners have an advantage over newcomers in the area of digitalization or do they have some catching up to do?
If reputable gallery owners have already built up an established and loyal base of collectors and customers, then they can depend on quite different things which newcomers first have to acquire.
Which steps are you taking as a gallery owner in order to face the future?
We are trying to deliberately create situations in which people find enjoyment thinking about the art which we exhibit.
I would like to remove the chilly reserved atmosphere, the sense of distance many people feel in galleries.
For the visitor to an art gallery, it should be about more than just coming to look at art – whereby, of course, the exhibition is the occasion for the visit, but where you can say on arrival that you are pleased to be there and happy with the atmosphere. I am also simply pleased to be surrounded here by so many good galleries, that means with great accessibility to visitors.
Here we are dealing once again with the question of how a city sees its societal role, namely shaping the competition in such a way that creative people remain in the heart of the city. Who does the town or city belong to? To those who live there. What we have here compared with other world metropolises such as London or Paris is precious: living environments in the downtown areas. Nonetheless, in the last few years far too little attention has been paid to preserving it.
What do you really appreciate about the German gallery and art dealer scene?
The work of German galleries has always been focused on discovering, promoting and supporting artists in their careers.
For an artist, it is a long journey from launching a local career, to a regional, to a German-wide, and ultimately to an international career. Why is it that so many artists live in Germany? Because here in Germany artists develop further through the network of galleries and sponsors and also through social discourse; and they can work on their artistic expressiveness, in order to become visible later.
What I’m seeing is that insufficient attention is being paid to the large number of people whose personal career is dependent upon looking after artists.
Things are easier in life if we have a normal profession. Gallery owners also take the risk of preparing an exhibition without even knowing exactly what the artist is currently painting. In this context, the comparison with a businessman is schizophrenic, for if I advertise a product, then I must know that I can deliver it, how many items I can deliver and what it is. Sometimes the only thing I know is that a certain artist is sending me something, and sometimes it’s just one picture which I don’t even know whether I can even sell at the end of the day. In this sense, outsiders have many misconceptions relating to the profession of a gallery owner. A large number of German gallery owners and art dealers not only have a great deal of ambition but above all a large measure of idealism.
Interview & Photos: Eva Karl. Written permission is required for the reproduction or publishing of images and the text – even parts thereof.
Translation: Karen Christenson
Thank you, Kristian Jarmuschek! You have an exceptional talent for coherently presenting economic and political relationships in the field of art and analyzing current developments.
Photos were taken during the exhibition “TIMECODE” with its eponymous installation of the Berlin-based artist PETRA LOTTJE.
Get more information about BVDG and Kristian Jarmuschek’s gallery Jarmuschek + Partner in Berlin.
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