An interview with Berlin gallerist Johann König plus art sale hightlights.
Housed in a converted 1920s bank in Paris’s elegant eighth arrondissement, Tajan is one of the best-known private auction houses in France. Its “Femmes Artistes” auction on 8 March shows why it’s also one of the few French auctioneers to gain global attention in the face of foreign titans such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Scheduled for International Women’s Day, the auction, says Tajan’s senior modern art specialist Caroline Cohn, was proposed by an anonymous Parisian collector “to pay tribute to the contribution and influence of women on the history of art”.
Sonia Delaunay-Terk, 1952, oil on canvas, 105 x 194.5cm, (€400,000)
“Portrait de Femme”
Tamara De Lempicka, c1924, oil on panel, 29 x 18cm, (€150,000)
“Autobiographical Stories (El Rehen)”
Sophie Calle, 1989, photography & text, 160 x 90cm & 40 x 40cm (€40,000)
We’ve been here before but it’s been such a useful thing every year that we might as well tell you where we get some of our inspiration from: occasionally it’s the Catlin Art Guide. Curator Justin Hammond gets in his private art plane (maybe he doesn’t but how else would you do the mileage? Not on a bike) and looks at every graduation show in the UK, scribbles some notes, takes some pictures and voila – this book whizzes off the press, as it has for the last four years. Aside from its beauty as an artefact, and despite the gloss paper which makes notes in the margins tough, it provides the aide memoire so important for art writers: how not to forget just how good were those that graduated.
Berlin gallerist Johann König has established himself as a smart power dealer for young artists such as Jordan Wolfson and Alicja Kwade. Now the 31-year-old has turned landlord: König is transforming a Brutalist Catholic church in a quiet corner of Berlin’s Kreuzberg district into a creative community. Come the autumn, Galerie Johann König will settle into St Agnes’s main space; important local cultural players such as the architects Robertneun and publisher Jörg Koch have already moved into other portions of the building complex or will do in the near future. A café, bar, sculpture garden and artist residency are also on their way. Monocle caught up with König on site to check on renovations.
You’ve had successful galleries in Berlin for 10 years; the first in Mitte, the current one near Potsdamer Platz. Now you’re renovating a church complex in an area that was flattened in the war. Why did the space appeal to you?
When I saw it, I thought ... wow. It’s a real challenge. For me, and for the artists. The other important aspect is that here I can develop something more than just the gallery. The project will influence the whole area.
How much are you investing?
We bought it on the British model, which means you buy it for 100 years. But we’re paying for the entire renovation, and hope to keep to around €3m for the whole thing. It adds up to about €1,500 per sq m. We’re keeping rents as low as we can and we’re not planning to make profits on the building, just the gallery.
What is the building’s history?
St Agnes’s Catholic church left this space in 2005, then they sublet it to a protestant church, which couldn’t afford it anymore. What’s interesting is the period of the architect: Werner Düttmann built Akademie der Künste, and was responsible for hiring Mies van der Rohe to build the New National Gallery. He was head of Berlin city planning in the mid-1960s. That [situation] no longer exists – where someone responsible for state building development is also an architect. We’ll have a show here curated by Rem Koolhaas about this [Architecture by Civil Servants, which was on view at the 2012 Venice biennale].
The gallery covers 450 sq m and you’re horizontally breaking up the nave, but it’s still very high. Are the artists hoping to make outsize work here?
It’s not so much about size. A lot of it is the light from above. It also doesn’t make you feel small, like Gagosian in New York. Maybe because it’s a church it has a friendly atmosphere.
You’re running the renovations, as well as the old gallery. How do you do it?
We have a new baby, too! It’s the support of my architects and the sales team at the gallery. But I always need to have a project, it’s in my genes. I’ve been doing the gallery for 10 years now. The programme is defined, artists are doing well, and I was searching for another challenge.
Where’s the art scene in Berlin going?
It’s much bigger than it was, and hard to define. It will be more international, not so connected to Berlin’s identity. These days, young people are a year in Paris, a year in New York, two years in Berlin. They’re here because it’s cheap to live. But that might change. And if it does, they might go to Bucharest or Brussels.
And is St Agnes a place where that change won’t happen?
Yes, we’re building our own bunker, with our own peer group, creating a foundation. The biggest problem in Berlin is the development of the city itself, which pushes people away. We don’t want to be pushed away. We want to keep independent and not be too commercial. I can be commercial but I like being non-commercial, too. I don’t like being commercial because of financial pressure.
It’s said that Berlin has no art collectors. Is that true?
There are more and more younger collectors. People from the fashion, media, and tech industries – they’re my age. They’re not big-time collectors but they’re starting. Something shifted; I think in that generation, feeling good is more important than status symbols. They don’t buy a Porsche. They buy property, or invest in art.
And for artists?
If the city makes sure it stays mixed and there are still affordable rents for artistic practices, it will be fine. If not, it will end up like New York or Paris. They are great cities, but they are simply not so open. By the way, we have more space at St Agnes’s opening in 2014, and would love creative people from outside Berlin to join us.