In the mid-noughties, art galleries sprouted in Berlin like wild mushrooms. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of private commercial art venues in the city went from about 300 to 500.
Then came the financial slump. Soon after September 2008’s crash, the first of about 30 galleries, some of them high-profile places such as Bodhi from India and Goff+Rosenthal from New York, closed up shop. In the interim most of the city’s mid-sized galleries, many of which emphasized content more than cash, seemed to be humming along. But now some of them, too, are sadly shutting their doors.
Sönke Müller, who has exhibited young Europeans and New Yorkers since 2001, closed his gallery this summer. So did Klara Wallner, who pioneered the edgy Brunnenstrasse art hub. COMA burst on to the Berlin scene in 2006 with lots of young energy, but has disappeared. Gitte Weise returned to Australia. And Feinkost – a smart gallery on a still-desolate strip where the Berlin Wall once ran, is closing this week. According to a 2010 study by Berlin’s IFSE (Institute for Strategy Development), half of the city’s current 470 galleries have an annual turnover of less than €50,000.
“There was a period when it seemed like the Berlin art world was the new Hollywood,” says independent curator Lisa Bosse. “Then people realized that it’s a lot of work to run a gallery. Even so, the good curators will still be there.”
Carson Chan, director of Program, a project space that explores the overlaps between art and architecture, agrees. “It’s not as if the Berlin art world is dying off. The city is just recalibrating.”
True. While many galleries have closed (Haunch of Venison’s Berlin branch is the latest loss) scaled back, or moved, new ones do keep appearing – perhaps in a less frenzied way than in the past. Capitaine Petzel and Sprüth Magers Berlin, both of which opened in 2008, are two blue-chip cases in point. Koch Oberhuber Wolff, a vast gallery showing challenging art, opened in 2009. Art-world fixture Xavier Laboulbenne opened a space in trendy Kreuzkölln just two months ago, joining grassroots project spaces that will always exist in a city that prides itself on its creative spirit.
So Berlin gallery-goers will definitely have to rethink (or at least double-check) their itineraries. Luckily, emerging art stars always find new places to exhibit, and, without a fixed venue to run, many former gallerists feel free to curate their dream exhibitions in larger spaces or institutions. “I have a backlog of exhibition ideas that wouldn’t have worked in Feinkost anyway,” says Moulton. “I have close relationships to my artists. I’ll miss being here. But in the future, it will be a different bottle, same wine.”