At last count there were at least 600 galleries populating Berlin proper, and that’s not including the museums, non-profits and pop-ups that draw the watchful eyes of art lovers around the city. The competition for viewers and the more elusive buyers is stiff; and yet, temptation beckons from within every storefront, beyond every broken warehouse window and among every all-white altbau—the temptation to start a new gallery space. Admit it, you’ve considered it: renting a small, perhaps partially abandoned corner of this culturally rich city, exhibiting the artists you admire, curating the innovative, avant-garde shows you’d like to see, maybe working up a catalogue or two––how hard could it be? This week we chat with ReTramp owner and founder Verity Oberg to find out just what it takes to start up and maintain a gallery space in Berlin.
BAPs: Why did you decide to start a gallery in Berlin?
VO: It was really almost a natural process. I grew up in Berlin and started hanging out at Tacheles in the late 90s. I moved to New York in 2001 and got to know a lot of artists, moved back here in 2005 and continued my habit of visiting galleries. I started hanging out at Stattbad a lot and eventually started curating shows with George Ironside (now of VAGE) in the former dressing rooms. After that ended, I wanted to continue doing what I loved and opened Retramp.
BAPs: Were you intimidated by the huge number of spaces already in existence here?
VO: Maybe I should have been, but no! I moved to Neukölln just before it was overwrought with art spaces. Actually, let me correct myself. Neukölln has a long tradition of galleries and cafes, and I stumbled into a very supportive collective of art spaces, many of which had been around for years, if not decades, when I arrived. There is a large discrepancy between the younger galleries in the area and those that established themselves here in the 1990s and early 2000s. One of the things I long for is more communication between the two. But back to your question: no, I was not intimidated. I felt there was little space for experimentation, for spaces that do not only show established artists but also leave room for artists and ideas to evolve through experience.
BAPs: How did you find the ReTramp space?
VO: Through a mix of coincidences and luck, probably. After living in a WG for a few years, I decided to move in with my then-boyfriend. One day, while talking a walk, I saw a sign in the window and called for an appointment. We agreed to take the risk of living in a gallery and moved in shortly after.