Getting The Hang Of Berliner Liste With Mr. Funken

The word 'curator,' a term normally used only to refer to cultural heritage and institutions, comes from the Latin curare and it means to take care of somethingBerliner Liste is having its 10th edition this September and we seek out its caretaker, curator Peter Funken, to find out how the curatorial process works and what he considers good quality art. Mr. Funken, a German art journalist, writer and curator, meets us outside of Kraftwerk, the venue where the fair is taking place, which is as legendary as the curator himself.

A Sneak Peek Into Berliner Liste

ArtParasites: You've been curating for many years now but this is your first experience in an art fair. What are the similarities and what is the challenge? 

Mr. Funken: Normally, as a curator you work with a certain amount of money, a good space and a topic, and from then onwards you have to think in all directions to create a sensation. In this case, the aim is to make a show for emergent art in a price range of not more than 10,000 Euros. In this case, I also thought of inviting galleries and look east, to invite Poland and the Czech Republic, and look north to Scandinavian countries. I lived in Eastern Europe for a while and am familiar with the genesis of Polish art and find it very interesting. 

However, he mentions it is sometimes hard to look for galleries and not come across mediocre art and kitschiness. He came up with the idea of creating a section for artists that live in Berlin and that resulted in a new Photography section for the fair. There are also galleries coming from Zimbabwe, Italy, Latvia, Spain, India, and 20 other countries.

Berliner Liste sneak peek: Michaela Helfrich Galerie will showcase work by Gerard Waskievitz. Photo: Chris Phillips

APs: Where does the curatorial process begin?

Mr. Funken: Galleries apply to participate in the art fair and I decide whether to accept them or not. There were more than 300 galleries and artists that wanted to take part; only 132 will come. Galleries send us a proposal with their artists and sometimes I advice the Direction which artists to choose. Then, regarding the space, we try to organize in terms of technique, so abstract paintings won't be next to surrealist paintings and so on and at the same time; that there won't be ghettos of these techniques too close together. It must be a mix with the aim that the whole fair not be an optic chaos. An art fair is not a white cube but it shouldn't be a horror show either – it should have "Dramaturgie."

Mr. Funken also shares with me that part of his job is to come to a compromise between the business needs of the organizers and creators and his decisions to achieve a good esthetic value for the fair. 

Berliner Liste sneak peek: Artcurator.ru Gallery will be showcasing the paintings of Marcus Scheunemann. Photo courtesy of the gallery.

APs: You mentioned in a previous interview that quality is important in art. What is good quality art?

Mr. Funken: Well, what I consider to be mediocre art, for example, has to do with a certain unconsciousness of what happened in the past; a kind of senseless remake. There's also the matter of technique and of presenting a brand new idea or an obsession. For me, an artist that has an obsession is much more believable compared to someone who is always doing something according to a program. I like when someone can't do anything but that. 

Mr. Funken gave APs a guided tour of where everything will be located at Kraftwerk. Photo: Chris Phillips

APs: Wonderful. You've been in Berlin for a very long time, how do you think the city has changed/evolved in terms of being an art platform?

Mr. Funken: I came to Berlin in January 1984 and back then in those years it was so easy to do experimental things here. It was possible to rent a space for half a year and start short-term projects while renting interesting spaces. However, now it's starting be boring like other places in Germany and in Europe that are totally dominated by money; the so-called gentrification. Artists are not able to pay their rent anymore and this was absolutely different in the 80s and 90s. 

Nevertheless, when asking him what his favorite city was in terms of art, he still replied "Berlin." Yet he predicts that cities like Dusseldorf and Cologne will get stronger and stronger. Berlin should be careful, he shares with me, because it is not written anywhere that it will remain the most important city for the next 25 years. There's no industry here anymore – the city was an important industrial spot before the war – and the surroundings are also quite poor. "Berlin was always a city with an approach of improvisation; to improvise here, to be adventurous."

Berliner Liste sneak peek: Egbert Braqué Contemporary Art Berlin will feature the photographs of Franziska Strauss. Photo courtesy of the artist.

APs: Who are the buyers at Berliner Liste? Do you think young generations are starting to buy more art?

Mr. Funken: I think people are going with their generation; young people are buying art from younger artists. It would be better if people did more experiments to promote young art. Risk is a good thing in art, not [simply] buying because it's a known name. To be fearless with art is more interesting for everybody.

Mr. Funken has also bought art and has a collection at home—he owns, for example, a ready-made by Man Ray, "Obstruction," (which only cost him 400 Euros back in the 80s!). What he promises for this edition of Berliner Liste: "More visitors, some surprises, good food." He says it will be like a cradle for art, where it can be born. With this metaphor, I was reassured that Mr. Funken is the best possible caretaker for this emerging art fair.

Article by Sofía Martinelli