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November 1999

Make a scene

A look at 5 Munich art galleries run by women

A glance at a recent issue of Zeitgenössische Kunst Galerien München (Munich’s guide to galleries of contemporary art) reveals Bavaria’s capital is home to a large number of contemporary art galleries — 64 in all — of which 24 are owned by women, many of whom have been in Munich for at least 10 years and have been instrumental in the formation and continuing development of the city’s contemporary art scene. Thirty years ago, this high figure would have been considered a coup for the female sex considering that the art world was, in general, a closed boy’s club. Nowadays, however, gallerists are talking less about discrimination and more about how to make their businesses successful. In the 1990s this means being mobile, innovative, and open to international dialogue. Thus, during recent interviews with five influential female Munich gallery owners the issue of gender took a back seat to matters of quality, gallery programming, collector relations and the reputation of Munich’s art community within the international art world. Barbara Gross has been a vital component of Munich’s art scene since 1988, when she opened her gallery in an Altbau at Thierschstrasse 51 to provide a market for under-represented women artists. Hers was the first gallery of its kind in Munich, and she made her reputation by working intensively and successfully at persuading museums to acquire work by unknown female artists. “I visited a lot of museums, and I realized that woman artists were not represented in German museums — or Austrian or Swiss — and so that was the reason to open a gallery: to have real place to make proper exhibitions and try to get [women artists] in museums…” Beginning mostly with Americans, such as Nancy Spero, Ida Applebroog and Louise Bourgeois — artists who were well established in their own country but did not have a reputation in Germany — Gross developed a rigorous program of artists of both genders whose work she felt was of superior quality. It took approximately five years to create the right balance, but regardless of an artist’s gender, Gross’ criteria were and remain the same: “I am always interested in original artists who…don’t follow trends and who have a certain idea of what they want, [regardless of media]. Most of the artists have a certain, let’s say, political engagement or consciousness about society. The first year I showed [only] women artists, and then I changed…to a mixed program…so that I didn’t [acquire the reputation] of being just a gallery for women artists, which I didn’t want. My only interest was to [promote] them faster.” Her current program continues to focus on a range of international artists in five to seven shows per season. In the past two years, her exhibition schedule has included both solo and group shows of artists, such as Ulrike Grossarth, Katharina Sieverding and Kiki Smith, all of whom may be seen in Berlin’s current six-museum exhibition The Twentieth Century: One Hundred Years of Art in Germany; Jürgen Partenheimer, who will exhibit his work at the National Gallery in Peking in January 2000; Rémy Zaugg, who is currently featured with fellow gallery artist Eran Schaerf in Talk Show at the Haus der Kunst; and Leon Golub, who will have a retrospective at IMMA in Dublin in 2000. Gross’ current show consists of photographs by James Welling, a former student of John Baldessari and currently a professor at UCLA, who exhibited work at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover in September. Like Gross, Susanne Albrecht of Galerie Albrecht also has been essential to the development of the current scene. Located just off Maximilianstrasse at Wurzerstrasse 16, Albrecht’s gallery focuses on younger artists, primarily from “Germany and the English-speaking world.” From an early age Albrecht was involved in the arts as a gallerist: before coming to Munich, she learned the art business from her mother who, during the 1970s, owned a gallery in South Tyrol. After working together for nine years, the younger Albrecht moved to the city and opened a gallery on Klenzestrasse at Gärtnerplatz. There she began her program with mainly American artists, notably Dennis Oppenheim, and was part of the dense community of galleries that are still considered to be avant-garde in orientation. In December of 1998, she moved to her current location on the Wurzerstrasse in order to better realize large-scale projects, which were difficult to move in and out of her former space. She now enjoys the company of more established galleries along Maximilianstrasse, although she still considers her gallery program to be young and innovative, especially since she does not limit it by media: “I don’t [pursue a policy] where I say I’m showing only Conceptual Art, I’m showing only painting…” Through 10 shows per year, she promotes artists working in a variety of media, from Munich painter Wolfgang Ellenrieder to UK photographer Alan Brooks. When Six Friedrich and Lisa Ungar joined forces in 1997 and opened their space at Steinheilstrasse 18 in Schwabing, each had established a reputation independently. Ungar, originally from Vienna and a collector herself, had started a gallery in Munich in 1993, after having worked as a private dealer in Paris and an art consultant in New York City. Friedrich had helped to create Munich’s contemporary scene in the late 1960s when she opened a gallery with then-husband Heiner Friedrich. Later, she collaborated with Sabine Knust and Fred Jahn — both now independent gallerists — to promote international artists, before opening a gallery under her own name. She was the first in Munich to show the work of Americans Cindy Sherman and Louise Lawler, as well as to collaborate on a longtime basis with Robert Longo. When the two women met in the early 1990s, Friedrich was working from a conveniently located but increasingly expensive townhouse in Bogenhausen and Ungar from a spacious but inconveniently located loft in north Munich. As Ungar remembers, “We had befriended each other… She used to come to my openings and I used to go to hers… We started talking about possibly doing something together… We just started dreaming about the perfect space, and once we [had it] we would join forces.” As it turned out, they chanced upon the ideal property almost immediately. With its sliding steel entrance, white walls, concrete floors and glass skylight, the unit could easily be mistaken for a warehouse in Soho and was snapped up at first sight by the pair. The gallery now serves as the venue for a rigorous schedule of 10 to 12 shows per year, which highlight both a core of German and Austrian artists — such as Munich sculptor Stephan Huber, whose Gran Paradiso may be seen at Munich’s Neue Messe and whose DepositoPo installation was included in this year’s Venice Biennale — and mid-career artists such as Elke Baulig, Thomas Rentmeister and Dietmar Tanterl. Ungar is also working to incorporate more Americans into their program: the gallery’s second show featured New Orleans native Lynda Benglis. Over the past two years, Friedrich and Ungar have been devising ways of gaining a wider public for their artists. A successful example was their recent group show entitled End of Time, whose “concept was to use photography and video as a means of showing problems of the 1990s,” by situating their artists, such as Eva Schlegel, Siegrun Appelt and Candida Höfer, within a larger, more international discourse that included work by Richard Billingham (UK), Willie Doherty (Ireland), Nan Goldin (U.S.) and Tracey Moffatt (Australia). As their program becomes more refined, both anticipate that their Schwabing location will help to increase their audience, especially since the Pinakothek der Moderne is under contruction on the Gabelsbergerstrasse and newer galleries, such as Philomene Magers Projekte, have moved into the area. For Philomene Magers, a cofounder of the Berlin art fair, collaboration is essential to strengthening Munich as a center for contemporary art. In fact, her current exhibition, L.A., was organized with fellow Munich gallerist Sabine Knust, in cooperation with galleries in Los Angeles. Magers inaugurated her Munich gallery during the 1999 Open Art weekend with a continued on page 43 continued from page 39 show by Sylvie Fleury, and her sleek white cube at Theresienstrasse 7 in Schwabing lends cool elegance to the otherwise blunt and brutal mid-rise in which it is located. Born in Bonn, Magers studied art history and philosophy in Munich before opening a gallery in Cologne in 1992, where she continues to show artists from the 1960s to the 1990s ranging from John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha and Robert Morris to Karen Klimnik and Wolfgang Tillmans. In the summer of 1998 she formed a partnership with Monika Sprüth, who now runs the Cologne gallery so that Magers can be in Munich. Soon after the merger, both decided to open another location in Germany, and since “most of the artists we’re working with are not represented [in Munich] we thought that it would be good to come here…I really thought strategically about moving to Munich… now [that its] museums show internationally renowned artists and not just provincial [ones] who happen to have been professors here at the Art Academy for the last 20 years. The cards are open. Everything can change now.” In the near future, Magers will be opening an even larger gallery on Schellingstrasse, keeping her current space open as a project room for young, emerging artists — expanding the possibilities in Munich for exhibiting contemporary positions. “I think that there are some really interesting things going on concerning contemporary culture here now… I highly appreciate the Süddeutsche Zeitung magazine and I think that the people doing that are...very much within the theoretical discourse which is important... But there is no contact between the art scene [and] these people… Somehow [we need to] link all these things that are going on together.” <<<

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