Market Optimism at Art Forum Berlin
At the preview and opening night of the 13th edition of Art Forum Berlin, titled “Desire,” there were high energy, lots of sales, and plenty of big collectors, although mostly European ones.
The Messe Berlin
At the preview and opening night of the 13th edition of Art Forum Berlin, titled “Desire,” there were high energy, lots of sales, and plenty of big collectors, although mostly European ones. The fair featured 127 exhibitors from 26 countries, but the group was somewhat weighted toward the local scene with 63 German galleries and 28 from Berlin. Housed in a large, austere hall on the exhibition grounds of Messe Berlin, the fair felt insulated from the economic situation that had plagued recent auctions and art fairs. But the event was not without some controversy; as local journalist Conny Becker told ARTINFO, quite a few European galleries were not pleased with the fair's new schedule. Historically, Art Forum runs in late September and early October, making it the first European fair of the season, beating out Frieze, which took place in mid-October in London this year, and FIAC, held last week in Paris. Art Forum opened today, after the other fairs, due to a scheduling conflict with the exhibition hall. As a result, more than one gallery decided to skip the fair entirely, said Becker, as it was difficult to de-install a FIAC booth and set up shop in Berlin just a few days later.
Although Art Forum was no longer first out of the block, as Bruno Delavallade of the Paris/Berlin gallery Praz-Devallade noted, “Berlin was never Basel,” referring to lower expectations overall for sales. The mood at the fair was much like Berlin itself, with a more youthful, laid-back attitude, especially compared to that of Frieze and the Armory Show in New York. As New York collector Michael Hort confided, “Berlin is more cheerful in economic terms. Frieze is more somber, while Art Forum is a very regional fair. At Frieze it was an achievement if they sold anything. Berlin is insulated from that.”
Hort was not the only visitor at the fair who stressed the youth factor. Whether it was young collectors, dealers, or artists, everyone seemed to think this spirit helped the overall mood — and sales. An example could be seen at the booth of Berlin’s September gallery, one of 30 first-time galleries at the fair, where the floor and walls were painted an attention-grabbing neon yellow. As of 5 p.m. at yesterday’s professional preview, September had sold ten works, including an untitled 2008 black monochrome work on paper by German artist Carsten Fock for €1,200 ($1,530), to the German government. September partner Frank Müller said he looks for younger collectors — “people like me” — and that it doesn’t make sense for him to try to sell works for €300,000.
Many galleries reported that works in the several-thousand-euro price range were selling well. Delavallade said this is the second time he's done Art Forum and that he's had big collectors this year from France, Switzerland, Belgium, and the U.S. Praz-Delavallade had already sold several of Los Angeles-based artist Andrea Bowers’s mixed-media works on paper from her “Workers Rights Posters” series from 2008 for €1,500 each, including Raise Less Corn #1. The gallerist also reported a lot of interest in work by Sam Durant and Jim Shaw. The fair, he said, “is not a flop.”
Also selling reasonably priced works was the New York/Leipzig-based Pierogi gallery, which last did Art Forum six years ago. They brought along their well-known flat files, containing a large number of works on paper and photographs that collectors can peruse. The gallery reported selling Lynn Talbot’s Vermillionaire (2008), priced at €2,200, and said that several pieces by Karla Knight had gone to a Berlin collector. The largest and most impressive work at their booth was American artist James Esber’s acrylic-on-PVC-board painting Scrum (2008), priced at €13,600, which had not sold during the preview. Owner Joe Amrhein, himself an accomplished artist, said had he spotted plenty of the usual collectors, and several Americans, including John Friedman from New York, but said they are holding back and waiting to see what happens before spending again. “Maybe it’s good that things slow down a bit,” he added. “The best art is done in a more depressed market.”
While lower-priced items did especially well, Art Forum also offered a strong market for blue-chip art. Eigen + Art, based in Leipzig and Berlin, had one of the most impressive booths, with a large Neo Rauch painting, Fluchtversuch (2008), gracing one wall. The work sold to the private Berlin collection Pietzsch for €500,000. Gallery partner Kerstin Wahala said while most of the collectors at the fair were European, she had seen a few Americans. “The last few years we missed the European collectors,” she said. Eigen + Art also showed a provocative series of large photographs of female nudes by Martin Eder called “The Poor People,” priced €18,000 each, in an edition of 3; none had sold during the preview.
Contemporary Fine Art, one of the largest galleries in Berlin, with a staff of 20, had a surprisingly small single booth (many of the more established galleries have double booths). But in this case, size didn’t matter. Hanging on the outside wall was a grouping of small paintings from 2008 by Daniel Richter priced at €25–40,000, seven of which sold at the preview. Inside the booth, red dots were seen under many Georg Herold works, including the sculpture Lost Intolerance (2006), which sold for €65,000 to a Danish museum, and the wooden-beam work Balken im Rucken (1998), which went for €45,000. The gallery's Philipp Haverkampf said that Art Forum was “never the strongest” and was “a very German fair,” although he did see more Americans coming back from previous years. He said that the market was a bit slower this year, which allowed collectors to make more careful decisions: “The time when people are running around in sneakers might be over.”
New York collectors Susan and Michael Hort might not have been wearing sneakers, but they were making the rounds at a brisk pace nevertheless. They purchased several untitled works by Marc Bronner, all in the €2,800 range, from Berlin’s Galerie Crone and were also spotted at the fair’s Freestyle Gallery, a section featuring younger artists and less-commercial work, where a funkier flavor reigned and one could lounge on enormous throw pillows and sip espresso. The Horts purchased three oil-on-canvas paintings by Alexander Tinei, including Girl (2008) for €2,000, at the booth of Budapest’s Deak gallery.
Also reporting quick sales during the preview was New York’s Freight + Volume, which sold Canadian artist Kim Dorland’s painting Jesus Saves (2008) for $12,000 in the fair’s first two hours. Another Dorland painting, Herd (2008), priced at $14,000, was on reserve to a German collector who owns a castle (the gallery wouldn’t divulge his name). At the booth of Padua's Perugi gallery, young Italian artist Laurina Paperina’s violent, yet hilarious and compelling, animations were doing brisk business. Two of her 8-video installations sold for €3,700 each during the preview. Owner Andrea Perugi said that one of the artist’s best-known collectors was Takashi Murakami.
Alex Redding of Nosbaum & Reding from Luxembourg said that while sales are lower in Berlin than at some other fairs, people there have a greater knowledge of art. The gallery presented a solo exhibition of the young Austrian artist Christoph Meier, whose works would fit in well at the recent, much-talked-about “Unmonumental” exhibition at the New Museum in New York. The artist’s Dish Fountain (2008), which looked like a hot dog (or wurst?) cart with boiling water, was on offer for €4,200, and was reportedly also drawing interest from the German government.
All in all, the consensus among the dealers ARTINFO spoke with was that Russian and Asian collectors were scarce at the preview, but that with confident, educated European collectors and a few choice Americans making the rounds, Art Forum was doing just fine in these times of economic uncertainty. And word has it that next year the fair will once again take place before Frieze and FIAC, just like old times.
[Editor] Mark Lee