“There were times when I considered applying to MA programs in art history or curatorial studies, but I realized that what I really wanted was more engagement with artists themselves,” Casso said. “I always enjoyed and appreciated the chance to talk about work during studio visits, and I thought about running a space and working on exhibitions together as one possible way to deepen that dialogue.”
He quit banking earlier this year after committing to becoming a gallerist—he said his colleagues were “happy I made the decision to actually open it”—and decided against opening a space in New York or his hometown of Los Angeles. He realized that in a city like Berlin, he could have a sort of out-of-towner advantage: He could bring the artists he bonded with in New York to Berlin for the first time, and introduce a new group of people to their work.
“I determined very early on that it would be important to be able provide artists with some sort of differentiated opportunity, and Berlin is a city that enables me to do so,” he said.
After Ojo, Sweetwater’s second show is a solo show of the New York-born Christopher Aque, who has shown with the Chicago outfit Regards, but has yet to exhibit in Europe.
Sweetwater’s 200-square-foot exhibition space is in Kreuzberg, a lively neighborhood that boasts stellar Lebanese take out joints and a bar that has been open continuously, 24 hours a day, since 1979. Up two flights of stairs is the two-room exhibition space in what normally would have been rented as an apartment. Because of that it felt already lived in, lovably so, like one of the Upper East Side galleries that are housed in a former townhouse, with the exhibition areas framed by bay windows that look out onto the street.
Such a space, which also has a small kitchen and office, would be exponentially more expensive in New York or London, Casso said, although he would not disclose his rent. And yet rents in Berlin are not as cheap as they used to be. EXILE owner and former Berliner Christian Siekmeier, who gave a scabrous exit interview
in July after he moved the gallery to Vienna, called it “impossible” for a small or mid-sized gallery to exist in Berlin. Siekmeier claimed that “interesting spaces have become increasingly rare while a kind of political blindness and antagonism amongst the gallery scene have created a defeatist distance and eroded much of the city’s original energy.”
Casso says that characterization is at odds with his experience. In the few months since he’s lived in Berlin, he’s felt accepted by the arts community, which is “interested in and excited by fresh ideas and perspectives.” Plus, he noted, the departure of some galleries creates space for new faces like him.