Berlin - a Mecca for art enthusiasts

June 4th, 2008 - 9:19 am ICT by IANS  

Berlin, June 4 (DPA) Long considered a backwater of the arts world, the German capital is today attracting a wave of art dealers, gallery operators and collectors from around the world. Along with New York, Paris and London, Berlin has become a “must” for those in search for modern and contemporary works as well as new trends in art. Hundreds of new galleries have sprouted up in the past eight years.

Before and immediately after the fall of Berlin Wall, the German art scene was mainly to be found in the industrial west, in cities like Cologne, Dusseldorf and Kassel. Berlin, wallowing in debt and devoid of wealthy entrepreneurs, had lost its reputation for arts patronage.

A fact Klaus Wowereit, the city’s governing mayor, appeared to confirm a few years back when he coined the slogan “poor but sexy” for Berlin.

Not until the late 1990s did the art scene start to pick up. Artists began flocking to the city from Europe Asia and Latin America, lured by a liberal, easy-going life-style and wealth of surprisingly low-rent studios.

Galleries multiplied in the central Mitte district and the adjoining Charlottenberg, Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg suburbs, as art dealers began moving from the Rhineland region to Berlin around 2000.

Ulrich Fiedler and Michael Werner were among them. “Our customers didn’t come to Cologne any longer,” says Fiedler.

Reinhard Onnasch, a wealthy property dealer with a hang for art, opened his unlikely sounding El Sourdog Hex gallery last year at a prime location not far from the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, with its case histories of Berlin Wall escapes.

“He kicked off by exhibiting the work of talented artists such as George Brecht, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Stefan Wewerka, Jason Rhoades, Bernd Koberlin and Roberto Matta,” says gallery manager Susanne Lenze.

Unlike most gallery owners, Onnasch exhibits but never sells any of the vast collection he’s ammassed over the years. All told, he now has more than 1,000 internationally valuable paintings, sculptures and drawings, most of which stem from artists of his own generation.

Shortly after the opening of the El Sourdog Hex gallery he exhibited work by the American artist Jason Rhoades. “I first saw Rhoades’ work at the Whitney Biennale in 1995,” Onnasch said.

“At the time, there was a considerable hubbub surrounding his work which only subsided after there was more intensive examination of his output. We showed 12 examples of his work. Unfortunately, Rhoades died far too early in Los Angeles in 2006, aged 41.”

Work by William N. Copley, Markus Luepertz, Peter Halley, John Wesley, Richard Hamilton and Edward Kienholz will complete a three-year round of exhibitions at the gallery in 2009, after which Onnasch plans to wind up his El Sourdog Hex venture, says Lenze.

Another powerful player is Volker Diehl, who has been staging exhibitions of contemporary art for 20 years, providing a platform in the process for such international artists as India’s Shilpa Gupta, China’s Zang Huan and Susan Hiller from the US.

Last month Diehl surprised the art world by becoming the first western gallery owner to open a branch on the Smolenskayer Embankment in Moscow, where he has caused a furore by displaying two impressive neon-lighting installations.

A relative newcomer to Berlin is the German entrepreneur and contemporary art collector Christian Boros, who has had a gallery built in a forbidding five-storey Nazi-era bunker close to the Friedrichstadt Palast, Europe’s biggest variety theatre.

Three years ago Boros had architects revamp the bunker interior floor by floor. This now enables him to portray to the best advantage his collection of more than 400 works.

Atop the bunker, Boros resides in a luxury penthouse, complete with swimming pool, garden area, and magnificent view across town.

Towards the end of World War II, the bunker served as a refuge for thousands of German railway workers during British and US bombing raids.

Onnasch says the global art market is “overheated and in need of a cooling off period” - a fact underlined in May when $86.3 million was paid at a New York auction for Francis Bacon’s 1976 Triptych painting.

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