Christian Siekmeier, the director of Exile, a gallery that opened in 2008, recalls an instance when “a very affluent collector” pressured him to accept a steep discount, threatening that he “would go buy the piece from the artist’s studio.” The gallerist was left with no choice. “The 19% VAT has made a huge difference,” Siekmeier says, “and creates one more hurdle in an already difficult art market.” But he believes the problem runs much deeper.
He points to the lack of government funding for galleries in the city, despite the crucial role they play in its cultural sphere—and recent economic development. Cultural politics in Berlin are “blind-sighted” towards galleries, which provide support to artists, Siekmeier says. “Galleries, project spaces, and artists promote the city globally, through art fairs and local programming, and even with Berlin’s desperate approach to tourism, they are sadly ignored from the [government] in favor of big institutions.” Meanwhile, politics among galleries dwell on an unhealthy sense of competition, he says, which harms productive collaborations and hinders a sense of community amongst the larger creative art world.
With a similar eye to the city’s lack of support, Rech proposes that the city implement incentives for younger galleries, such as tax breaks, and grants from the government, much like those that galleries receive in Amsterdam and Vienna. (The latter, for example, offers stipends for participating in prestigious international art fairs to a number of its galleries.) And while there are a few incentives that have been in place in Berlin, they’re being scaled back. For example, the funding for “Art From Berlin,” a program that supported galleries to participate in international art fairs, was cancelled last month without any consultation.
These motives have led galleries to other cities, most recently Croy Nielsen, which opens next week in Vienna, where the VAT on art is 10%. Reflecting on galleries relocating, Siekmeier admits he’s contemplated the move as well. And this exodus doesn’t seem to be fading any time soon. Mike Ruiz, who starting Future Gallery
out of his apartment in 2008 and converted it into a commercial gallery in 2012, is facing similar challenges. “I am considering moving the business to the U.S. and maintaining a showroom in Berlin and [expanding to] Mexico City,” Ruiz tells Artsy.
Despite this, some young galleries have found success over the last few years. Jennifer Chert, who started her gallery in 2008, notes that while the VAT increase posed a hurdle, the gallery has been able to grow due to a strategy from the beginning of working closely with young international artists. “A strong and daily relationship” with her artists—especially those based in Berlin—has been essential, Chert explains. Together with their artists, Chert has been able to get through difficult times, “investing everything we could in promoting their work and the growth of the gallery itself.”
“The market seems strong and stable for now,” Chert continues. “We have taken up new artists—we just started our collaboration with Alvaro Urbano—and have continued to participate in fairs which were new to us.” (Chert participated in Art-O-Rama for the first time this past August). This month the gallery was joined by a new partner, Florian Lüdde (formerly of Esther Schipper Gallery), and in April it moved to a bigger location in Kreuzberg.