Reignfall in Berlin: The Gallerist’s New Clothes

For those of us who frequently frequent art fairs and big exhibitions, we generally know what sort of pomp and circumstance we are getting ourselves into: fancy galleries, stuffy airs and a general atmosphere of saccharine oppression seem to humidify the artworks and persons in proximity, as if one small misstep of any kind, a spilled latte or violent cough, will throw the fate of creative humanity into certain doomed imbalances. From the viewpoint of the penniless artist, big art fairs are a bit like window-shopping at Louis Vuitton ­­­– for how could we ever afford to purchase, no, “invest” in something, let alone have one of our own artworks grace the temporary white walls, financially supported by a blue-chip powerhouse gallery?

Fortunately, two clever people, united with a small, diverse coalition of artists and galleries, are putting their money where their hearts are and offering us art enthusiasts an alternative experience during Berlin Art Week. The B.AGL Art AfFair: Art Explosion, spearheaded by Jennifer Spruss and Thomas Hegemann, is, according to their press release, “a living and provocative manifesto for an new and improved experience of contemporary art and art professionalism.” Taking over the giant Postbahnhof building adjacent to Berlin Ostbahnhof train station for a week, the B.AGL Art AfFair promises “something new, different and engaging for Berlin. From innovations like the ICAM – the International Contemporary Art Mall, where artists can show unique works at reasonable cost, to the ‘pop-up spaces’ for fresh curators to present new, exciting artists, to even the addition of live concerts every evening – bringing the artwork and the art fair back to life!”​

Versus Goliath

To their credit (pun intended), the B.AGL Art AfFair is “completely independent from Berlin Art Week, organized and financed solely by its participants and partners” – an indirect show of a desire and a belief to change, in their words, a “stagnating art market.” Berlin Art Parasites spoke to Thomas Hegemann and Jennifer Spruss on the eve of the B.AGL opening at Postbahnhof while they were setting up the work of Reinhard Stammer, one of the many artists showcased at this year's fair—get a sneak peek:

B.AGL directors Thomas Hegemann & Jennifer Spruss with artwork by Reinhard Stammer: The future's in our hands. Photo: Chris Phillips

APs: What inspired you to make the B.AGL Art AfFair?

Thomas Hegemann: The B.AGL started in 2009 as a little exhibition with around forty artists. In 2010 this grew to fifty artists, in 2011 there were twice that number, and now we've grown into an art fair. The B.AGL has been created primarily by intuition. It's a bit ironic, but our intention initially was to stand up against the heavily structured and encrusted art market here in Berlin. Twenty years ago, when the Wall crumbled, Berlin was new and open-minded in its art practice – everyone did what he or she wanted and then, a kind of gentrification occurred in the art market. About ten major galleries staged a coup of sorts and began exhibiting only famous and blue chip artists.

A big problem with the art market today is that it's very capital-intensive. As an artist today, you need both social and financial capital to stay afloat, and that's a problem for younger artists and younger galleries – you simply can't step in the market, it's occupied, it's restricted. There is a huge disconnect in Berlin where you have a high-end art market and a rogue, no-end art market. Also, with smaller galleries, we've observed that artists visit each other's exhibitions, friends and family may attend them, but no collectors or enthusiasts show up. Therefore, we wanted to open an art fair that is like a worldwide stage for artists and small galleries to participate. We are exhibiting artists from all over the world this year. The B.AGL is a wild mixture, it's a work in progress. We are an art project that wants to conduct business professionally.

B.AGL directors Thomas Hegemann Jennifer Spruss amidst the paintings of Reinhard Stammer. Photo: Chris Phillips

Rather than have the usual spotlight of the art fair focus on which famous actor purchased which artist, we want to reposition the artists themselves in the center of attention and give them an authentic and true platform to show themselves. We want self-promotion and self-marketing to become a healthy part of being an artist. Perhaps we think of ourselves as revolutionaries, for we are trying to revolutionize the art market! There are a lot of barriers in place between the art and the art enthusiasts and collectors, that of the gallerists, the curators and so on. There are no easy avenues for ambitious artists to show their works on an international level, and such barriers are driving us to create these opportunities.​

We don't know what the outcome of this project will be; it's full of risk. A space like the Postbahnhof is quite expensive but everyone participating has shared the financial risk with us. The artists, galleries and musicians that are in the B.AGL are working to change the old paradigms of working artists: the idea of the artist as non-commercial; that he's only supported by patrons and the wealthy. We want to create a new business model, one maybe similar to the approach of Andy Warhol's Factory, where art, business and party-making combine to make new and engaging things happen..

APs: In your press release, you mention the Armory Show of 1913. Why?

TH & JS: America was quite late to the table in the development of Modernism. The Armory Show was the first big exhibition of modern European non-figurative artists in America, and the show was met with much violent criticism. Since then we have had one reactionary rebellion after another in the art market, culminating most recently with, say, Jeff Koons in conjunction with the financial collapse of 2008. After this happened, out of safety and fear the art world went totally commercial, and that's unfortunately the status quo we are living in today. Where can we get new pulses, new inspirations? Our idea is to revolutionize the market structure and build up a new business model where artists can determine their representation autonomously from galleries. Blue-chip galleries are operating like financiers these days, like credit agencies determining the value of the market. Everyone is following them like lemmings, you know? Therefore, it's a big problem, but we have a big approach, big aims, and so we must take these risks.

Whether B.AGL’s David-mindset has any chance against the Goliath-establishment of the current art market is still up in the air. Yet we’re ready to find out this week at their grand opening!

Article by Drury Brennan