Post Brothers: : What is it that makes Germany so different for art so different, so appealing? – 'A rock that keeps tigers away'
- A Rock that keeps Tigers away
1 What comes to mind when reading „Germany as a site and a space for art?“ How do you experience working here? Are there any benefits or drawbacks, or other peculiarities?
I’m not sure Germany is so “different” but it certainly is appealing. My first thought is that “Germany” as a vital site for art is unquestionable, both in the past and in the present. I think many other countries have more difficulty making this claim and have more of a chip on their shoulders, with more to prove in some sense. At the moment, Germany is the centre of Europe (and perhaps the world), and the most stable economically and politically, so being in Germany is in many ways a form of survival for artists, especially those coming from more difficult circumstances. Also, unlike the USA, art in Germany is something that is valued and supported by the state and by the public more generally. There are lots of ways that “normal” and “middle-class" Germans interact with art in valuable ways, and I think this tradition of cultural policy is one of the reasons why Germany is so attractive to me and to other foreigners.
The thing about Germany for me is that there are lots of very different German art scenes:
Berlin in my experience is part of a super-international network. The more german-focused galleries and institutions there are largely on the margins. There are plenty of people there, including me at one point, who hardly are aware that they are in Germany. Smaller cities in Germany seem to be much more oriented towards “German art”, and draw their resources and artists from those networks, but these places can be stagnating for artists, as they don’t really provide international opportunities or connections. At the same time, some of the best shows around are happening in Kunstvereins and Kunsthalles in places I’d never heard of before, and this is a huge benefit for artists and art workers here. The cities of the Rhineland and places like Hamburg and Frankfurt are what I consider to be the most emblematic of “Germany” as an art scene: very multicultural and often dysfunctional urban dynamics come into contact with old institutions, lots of public funding, big collections, and lots of history, while also leaving space for younger artists from outside to have an influence on the scene. I really like the particular ways the local and the global come into contact in Germany.
Munich I would consider to be in a similar situation, but I think it is a bit more of a closed circle, and generally more focused on either local heroes or big names from elsewhere.
When I compare the complaints of artists here to those of artists in places like, say, certain post-soviet states, where there is very little money or support, I feel that artists in Germany can become quite spoiled, and are very limited in their thinking of how to live and work as an artist today. Artists in more difficult circumstances don’t wait around for grants or to be picked up by a gallery, as these do not exist. Instead they just do it, they carve out their own spaces and take risks, which in some places becomes not just a financial or social risk, but a necessary one, a matter of operating against or outside the given power structures which are literally out to get them.
Munich is a weird place, where the city has really been constructed with mostly only the rich and powerful in mind, which pushes the more interesting cultural aspects to the margins. Compared to other German cities, it is pretty monocultural and not a very welcoming community, very suspicious of foreigners. But my experience living and working in Munich, and especially working at Kunstverein München which has a very long and reputable history, has been that there is a very informed and experienced public and lots of platforms for art and artists. The members, who fund lots or most of our activities, do so for many reasons: some do so to establish their social standing, or are active collectors, or are well versed in art history etc., while others are more curious and engage with our program as an intellectual exercise. While the latter may demonstrate less expertise, there is less pretension and more openness. I think art is something that is encouraged in Germany in ways it is not in other countries, yet I also see that “art” is often viewed as ART, with all the class values, conventions, and expectations that come with it. In Germany, you do not need to prove to people the social value of art as such, but you often need to prove to them why one practice may be art at all, which is a conversation I am not used to having nowadays. What is also very beneficial in Germany is that there is a motivation, at least from public and private foundations etc., to create international connections, by bringing artists in from abroad and exporting artists from here to other places. That, and the constant flux of artists in and out of the schools and in and out of Berlin, makes Germany a hotbed for production. No matter where or at what scale one is working, there is always need for more support and more money and resources, but I am very lucky to be working in Germany and I am happy to get a bit of an insider’s view on this, while also understanding that it is not the same everywhere else. So in that case, Germany is certainly different and appealing, but also an extremely privileged space.
2 Which factors are important when developing works, from both the intellectual and the operational point of view? Examples?
I gravitate towards artists and projects that deploy a particular logic throughout the entire process, that an ethic is expressed not only in the results of the work, but also in how the work is developed and implemented. While some complain that we should be showing more locals or more famous artists, that is not our role at the Kunstverein. Our role is to really bring in practices and artists coming from very different perspectives, and to provide a space for them to do things they otherwise couldn’t do. In Munich there are so many amazing museums doing really comprehensive shows, lots of public exhibition spaces showing generally local artists, and at least a handful of exciting commercial spaces that have very focused programs, and we have no interest in competing with these stunning people or doing the same. So instead, I try to think of what I am not seeing here and how that could add to the discussion and inspire our public and colleagues in some way.
3 How important are educational systems, discursive platforms or spaces and/or institutions in your own professional career?
I studied at a Bauhaus-style school in Canada, where we had lots of different teachers with different ideologies, motivations and working methods, and I think this was very beneficial to my development. The German art school system is a very hierarchical world. In Germany, many of the artists commit to a particular mentor for their entire education, which I believe can be useful (depending on the teacher), but can also limit how one understands their possibilities as an artist. For most German-educated artists that I encounter here, my first recommendation is to do residencies in other countries (and not just in the “centres”) and to make connections with a broader range of artists. Residencies and doing writings and curating exhibitions around the world has greatly influenced how I think about my practice and greatly expanded the types of artists I am interested in. I studied in Vancouver and in San Francisco, and those set up a series of particular networks. Yet it was the social relationships that I built during studies that helped me find a bigger community. My first trip to Europe was to go to Lithuania, and that made me realise that some of the best art activities, institutions, and artists, were not happening in the centre, but rather in some very specific places. After school, I went back to my old job of being a gardener and continued to write and curate independently.
I’d invite artists to projects and then develop a friendship, and then these would lead to other opportunities. Eventually I was still gardening, but every month or two I’d be travelling to Europe, or Mexico, or elsewhere, and publishing across the world, or attending residencies or workshops and making new friends and colleagues. I never worked in an institution until coming to Munich, before this, I lived in a village in far eastern Poland, yet I was working all over the place due to writings and projects with artists that I had met over the last 13 years (in the year before coming to Munich I was in 15 different countries, doing residencies, studio visits, projects, exhibitions, and presentations). While I am now working in a very traditional format (indeed at one of the places that created and developed a certain form of exhibition making), I am very lucky to have made friends and encountered lots of art spaces and platforms that operate completely differently, and these are the places that I continue to look at and gain inspiration from.
4 To which extent have the conditions and mechanisms of production changed over the last years and how have any recent changes influenced or changed your practice?
I think the internet has made me a bit more jaded regarding certain practices, and it has changed how I first encounter an artist’s work. I see a lot of the same strategies reiterated again and again, and I think it is important to compare and contrast similar projects so as to really understand which direction is most inspiring. My wife is a very materialist sculptor and this has also made me pay more attention to how things are physically made and the choices that happen along the way. Like I mentioned before, I believe even if one outsources most of their production, how and why they do this needs to be integral to the logic of the project itself (even if their choice of a material or process is purely an economic or aesthetic decision). There are so many options available to artists today and I think it is important for artists to be aware of how their choices inform the work, even if it is invisible in the end. Nowadays, my interest is less on the artists' project or a specific work, but rather a method, motivation, and/or style of inquiry and how that is communicated.