The number of galleries going out of business has long been an issue. Recently, however, the failures seem to be rising fast. Werner Tammen, Chairman of the Berlin Galleries Association, puts the number of galleries in the capital at just over 300, which is a pretty dramatic decline, considering that just a few years ago there were almost 400 galleries in the German capital.
Along with rising rents, the supremacy of the large galleries is frequently cited as one of the main catalysts for this change. The large galleries entice the artists away from the smaller ones who have nurtured them, and starve the smaller galleries of their collectors – and thus their livelihood. One of the reasons the big galleries do this is because they need to fill their extensive exhibition programme, which is growing along with the number of branches – often in addition to their offices in New York, Paris and London.
The Gallery Weekend in Berlin, which this year celebrates its 14th birthday, gives the smaller galleries the rare opportunity to rectify this situation – at least temporarily.
In order to take part in the Gallery Weekend, the galleries had to pay €7,500 each, and in return were listed on the official map and were allowed to make use of an exclusive limousine service. Although the event was limited to 47 galleries, the number of galleries that opened over the weekend and benefited from the arrival of national and international art collectors in the city is probably far greater.
However, auction houses such as Christie’s, Van Ham and Grisebach also jumped at the opportunities presented by the presence of so many collectors in Berlin that weekend, which irritated the officially participating galleries. However, any criticism made little difference – the auction houses still managed to publicise themselves and their exhibitions.
The concept ‘Gallery Weekend’ does not win applause and approval from all sides. The most vocal criticism came from Christian Siekmeier, founder of EXILE Galerie, who took to Instagram to question the criteria for admission to that exclusive 47, and accused the makers of creating class differences and suppressing critical opinion while still exploiting the fantastic diversity of the Berlin art world.
The exhibitions and events that took place outside the strict official boundaries of the Gallery Weekend were usually the more interesting ones anyway. The network exhibition Ngorongoro II in Berlin-Weissensee, at which well over 100 artists presented their works, deserves a special mention.
That Berlin, despite its problems, is becoming increasingly important as an art metropolis is proved by the renowned New York Times holding its Art Leader Network conference for the first time here this April. The makers of Art Monte-Carlo, which took place over the same weekend, are also clearly convinced of the city’s importance – they even provided their collectors with a shuttle service of private jets to the Berlin Gallery Weekend!
Berlin, as an art location does not seem to have to worry about its future. Even so, let us hope that all those who have even remotely anything to do with the art business will get a chance to participate.