Art Market

The Berlin Artist-Run Galleries You Need to Know

Arielle Bier
Dec 31, 2016 1:00PM

Left to right: Carrick Bell and Michael Rocco Ruglio-Misurell of HORSEANDPONY Fine Arts; Christian Siekmeier of Exile; Barbara Wolff and Katharina Stoever of Peles Empire.

Berlin continues to top the charts as a global cultural capital. The city is saturated with creatives, and the jestful adage “If you throw a stone in Berlin, you’ll hit an artist,” quite frankly, rings true. In recent years, artists, curators, and art connoisseurs alike, have flocked to the nation’s capital to set up shop, chasing after the next big thing. 

Though public financing is scarce and the local art market is relatively weak (compared to New York or London), exhibiting in Berlin has become a necessity for international artists looking to build or establish their careers. Although the commercial gallery culture is more than plentiful, working artists and budding curators with an eye for the most progressive and relevant artwork keep experimentation with exhibition formats alive, pumping fresh energy into the community by contributing their voices and visions to the mix in spaces of their own.


Carrick Bell and Michael Rocco Ruglio-Misurell

Altenbrakerstraße 18, 12053, Neukölln

Carrick Bell and Michael Rocco Ruglio-Misurell. Photo courtesy of HORSEANDPONY Fine Arts.


Founded by video artist Carrick Bell and sculptor Michael Rocco Ruglio-Misurell, HORSEANDPONY Fine Arts is tucked away on a short residential street in Neükolln. Entering from the street, the front room, a patchwork of architectural styles, is used as the exhibition space, which is continuously updated, transformed, and refreshed as they become more established. Artist studios and workspace fill the back rooms and further beyond the far wall is a living space. The dashing artist couple are active members of the local, international arts community and regularly spotted making rounds at openings and events across town. But in 2013, they opened their space to the broader community, inviting curators like Francesca Gavin, Li Tasser and Hannes Ribarits, and artists from Cheryl Donegan, Oliver Laric and Caitlin Berrigan to exhibit, and bring the art world.

Arielle Bier: What inspired you to open a gallery? How did you pick it?

Carrick Bell and Michael Rocco Ruglio-Misurell: Before moving to Berlin in 2009 we were living in Chicago, where we went to graduate school. One of the most remarkable things about Chicago is the huge number of artist-run apartment galleries. When we moved to Berlin, we had this model in mind of how to launch a project space and still maintain your own practice. In 2009, Berlin wasn’t the mythical place of empty buildings waiting to be taken over by radical-anarcho-squat founders, but there were still enough options and empty storefronts that we knew we could cheaply find something interesting. We knew we wanted a live/work/exhibit space, so we connected with a local nonprofit called Coopolis that helps artists and other people in search of space negotiate with building management companies and owners. With limited resources, we sought out the most rundown spaces we could find. After several false starts and over nine months of negotiations, we landed on the current HPFA space. It was a butcher shop originally, but at some point was converted into a döner factory. The site sat empty for over five years and was missing electricity, heat, and most windows and doors. We renovated for six months, found studio mates, and spent two years enjoying the space and running it as a studio community.

Our exhibition program began in earnest in 2013 with the first group exhibition “Alien kissing predator.” As we renovated the space and imagined what we would show, we always joked that we would never show paintings, or that if we did, we would only show them in the basement (revenge of the sculptors and video artists). Partially to work against this impulse, and partially to make fun of ourselves, our first show was a group show of only painting.

AB: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

CB & MRRM: We are relatively conservative with the frequency of exhibitions, planning about five per year with a few additional events. So we have a fair amount of downtime between shows. Typically, we collaborate with other artists and curators and the obligations are spread around. Each year, we also take a pause and instead use the space for open studios—showing our own work and the two other artists using the studio space.

AB: How do you decide which artists to work with?

CB & MRRM: This has developed organically over the past few years. Our very first exhibitions were organized with artists we have known for quite a while and always wanted to work with. From there, we’ve built an identity and more recognizable program. Since we invite people to curate most of our shows, we always get a mix of artists we’re familiar with and people whose work we’ve never seen before. From the beginning, and even now, the primary identity of HPFA has been the space itself. Our renovation became more of an excavation, and we thought of ourselves as stewards of all of the bad building decisions made by previous occupants. We’ve kept elements from each moment in the space’s history, from really beautiful jugendstil tile work to totally hideous baumarkt tiles. The fact that the space is far from a white cube, and that nearly every wall is a different texture or material, forces everyone involved in our exhibitions to concretely grapple with the room.

AB: What makes a gallery successful?

CB & MRRM: Exposing ourselves to work we and our audiences haven’t seen or spent time with, providing the space for artists to experiment and create new work with no pressure or expectation, and curating exhibitions that draw on different audiences and communities.

AB: What’s next?

CB & MRRM: For now, the rest of this season is planned and we hope to continue beyond that, subject to funding. We’re excited about our upcoming show later this winter, curated by Rachel Walker and Clarissa Tempestini, looking at magic, its relationship with technology, and the figure of the artist as magician.

Frankfurt am Main

Emiliano Pistacchi, Anthony Salvador

Wildenbruchstraße 15, 12045, Neukölln

Emiliano Pistacchi and Anthony Salvador. Photo by Andrea Rossetti, courtesy of Frankfurt am Main.

Mutual interests and a complementary breadth of art history knowledge brought together artists Emiliano Pistacchi and Anthony Salvador, who began dreaming up an exhibition space of their own. They opened the first show at Frankfurt am Main in 2014. The converted ice-cream parlor and brothel was initially slated for artist studios, but their interest in organizing and mounting exhibitions soon far outpaced their drive to produce work themselves. The gallery program draws directly from their community of jet-setting international artists and curators, and now hosts about eight exhibitions per year, in addition to offsite group shows held at alternative sites such as a billiard bar and an entrance to a park.

Arielle Bier: Where was your first space? How did you choose the name?

Emiliano Pistacchi: In 2013, I moved my studio in Berlin from Wedding to Neukölln. The space was not what you would consider studio-like because it was not an industrial space or loft, but rather an old ice cream shop that was used as a brothel at one point. The space had some rooms in the back that were completely painted red while the storefront was covered with tiles as it was when they were selling ice cream. The shop window faces the street, which made me start thinking that we could develop something to connect art to the public. Claes Oldenburg’s “The Store,” where he sold objects from his studio in a shop he made, always fascinated me, and I hoped to achieve that synergy between studio and presentation. After a few months of renovation, we put up the first show in January 2014 with Stephen Suckale.

Anthony Salvador: Since leaving university I have put on shows as a way to learn more about the art I like. Regarding the name, I was always inspired by the notion of dystopian environments portrayed in films such as Blade Runner—the upper echelon lives in a utopian environment, contrasted with a dystopian one populated by a poorer class. Frankfurt am Main is the only German city with a skyline and is home to the European Central Bank, yet the glass façades of power and finance directly overshadow brothels and slums. This coupled with “Frankfurt” as a nomenclature for utopian ideas—Frankfurt School, Frankfurt Kitchen, and Neues Frankfurt—was fascinating and naming the project after the city felt in line with our ideology.

AB: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

EP: When I moved the studio to Neükolln, I was working two jobs at the same time. My practice slowed down for months. Tools and materials went unused and I felt my practice needed to grow into something beyond where I had been. Working so much provided a budget, which we put towards documentation and production. The energy I wanted to create with my practice came out in the exhibition space.

AS: I am taking a break from making work. Running Frankfurt, doing studio visits, and planning shows has been more enjoyable for me than being in the studio. It feels like a truer extension of my interests at the moment.

AB: What makes a gallery successful?

EP: There are so many different realities that could be considered successful and for every reality there is a different kind of context, time, history, and explanation. Some of the most important Italian galleries that supported movements like Arte Povera do not exist anymore, yet they were successful by developing a dialogue and projects that are still referenced today as a moment of great energy. Nowadays, success seems to be associated mostly with the idea of sales and of a business that grows fast, similar to tech startups. I think we should focus on the artist’s work more by addressing content and cultural value before looking at its market potential. If a gallery could protect, support, and develop the artist’s imagination, this may be a good key for so-called “success.”

AS: Galleries that can support themselves and their artists while fostering a scene are what I consider successful. This brings to mind the galleries and dealers in Cologne during the 1980s such as Daniel Buchholz, Max Hetzler, Esther Schipper, and Monica Sprüth—all of whom were part of a generation of gallerists that engaged with a young scene at its advent and maintained continuous growth, becoming mega-successful commercial galleries years later. Colin De Land is another person that comes to mind. He started doing shows in a basement gallery called Vox Populi before eventually starting American Fine Arts, Co. He welcomed experimentation, and from what I’ve read, seemed to foster a scene among his artists.

AB: What’s next?

EP: January 2017 marks our third year operating and we will have an exhibition by Steve Bishop. Anthony is currently in Los Angeles exploring the possibility to link our program there. We also invited a guest curator to host a show.


Rachel Alliston, Julianne Cordray, Ignas Petronis, Eva Wiedemann

Gneisenaustraße 52, 10961, Kreuzberg

Eva Wiedemann, Julianne Cordray, Rachel Alliston, and Ignas Petronis. Photo by Maximilian Haslberger, courtesy of DECAD.

DECAD is the brainchild of artist Rachel Alliston, who enlisted lawyer Eva Wiedemann, art writer Julianne Cordray, and curator Ignas Petronis to help run the nonprofit devoted to critical discourse of art in the public sphere. Research and publishing are important features of DECAD, who are building a library and archive of socio-political texts about visual culture, and founded the publishing house Press LMP in 2015 for open-access digital and limited print editions about art, architecture, and urbanism. An intensive program of lectures, artist talks, and screenings have been the core objectives of DECAD, however, the group are in the process of expanding to an adjacent storefront, and will begin a program of curated exhibitions in 2017.

Arielle Bier: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Rachel Alliston: DECAD started very casually when I was at grad school in 2012. It allowed a little objective distance from what I was making in studio. The project’s title is a reference to Pythagorean thinking around relations of the abstract to the concrete. Originally, the lectures and events I organized focused on art in public space, however, DECAD has since broadened to include politically oriented works that fall into categories of institutional critique and socially engaged practice. I wanted to open a permanent space for the project when I moved to Berlin from London in 2014. A friend, Eva Wiedemann, had recently passed her licensing exam as a lawyer, and decided to specialize in intellectual copyright and the arts. When I found a space in Kreuzberg but the landlord wouldn’t rent exclusively to a foreigner (and was probably worried about renting to an artist), so Eva offered to co-sign. She became an official part of DECAD and we renovated the space together.

AB: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

RA: I understand DECAD as a definite part of my work as an artist. It’s a work I made. This project combines social sculpture and feminist art practice in a moment after institutional critique. In order to have time in my studio, building a team was really important. We also frequently call upon Ekua Yankah, a cultural consultant to the UN, for advice on funding applications.

AB: How do you describe your exhibition program?

RA: For the first five years, DECAD consisted of critical lectures and artist talks as well as a research library and an archive on art and society. We’ll begin an official exhibition program in 2017 with four exhibitions per year, each organized by a different guest curator. It’s always easiest to work with people you know, but most importantly, I want to bring a diverse range of curatorial practices into the space, some of which regularly incorporate what is political in art, as well as others that don’t. I’d like to see how very different types of art production and works can be read as entangled with socio-cultural criticism.

AB: What’s next?

RA: We’ve recently expanded to include a storefront space in the same building where the exhibitions will take place. The lecture program will continue in the original space in the Hinterhaus (back house). The first show in in the storefront opens in March 2017 and will be curated by Louisa Elderton.


Paul McDevitt

Schönhauser Allee 28, 10435, Prenzlauer Berg

Paul McDevitt of Farbvision in Tamina Amadyar’s exhibition “EVERY DAMN DAY.” Photo by Tamás Kende, courtesy of Farbvision.

After moving to a new live-work space in Prenzlauer Berg, an area known for its substantial artistic and punk projects in the 1980s, artist Paul McDevitt discovered an architectural gem during renovations—a former butcher’s shop from the beginning of 20th century. Deciding it was too good to keep to himself, he turned it into an exhibition space devoted to solo artist projects. Uncovering local history guides the British artist’s work and visions for Farbvision. His former studio was also the site of the first independent gallery in the DDR, but didn’t make it into the history books since archival papers were burnt when the wall came down. Nostalgic for the exhibition ephemera and documentation like posters and cards, McDevitt inaugurated a series of Risograph editions to accompany each show, meant to provide affordable art in the community.

Arielle Bier: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Paul McDevitt: It was an impulse decision. My family and I moved into a live-work space last summer in Prenzlauer Berg. One of the rooms I intended to use for my studio was a former shop, which had white foam-board attached to the walls. When we pulled down those boards and removed the drop ceiling, we discovered the most amazing decorative tiles underneath. A year ago, Farbvision opened with an exhibition by Erik Steinbrecher, who installed an amplified snare drum with two electric razors skittering around on the instrument’s surface—like some hyper-fast drum solo. It was a noisy and darkly comical piece, and a perfect manifestation of the path ahead.

AB: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

PM: It’s not hard as my studio is in the same place. I also have a wonderful intern. Unsurprisingly, the space took over at the beginning because we had to build a website and develop the structure for the project, but the balance feels right now. The space is blessed with a capacious cellar, which is used as a print workshop for both Farbvision editions and for Infinite Greyscale, the record and book label I co-run with Cornelius Quabeck. These three activities run concurrently on one site. They are interconnected and inform one another in interesting ways.

AB: How do you decide which artists to work with?

PM: I’m only interested in doing solo projects with artists. Group shows make for a great party, but rarely a memorable exhibition. The room is busy enough with all the tiles so one artistic statement is enough, like with our current show by Tamina Amadyar, which consists of one very large painting. There have also been live events in the space, including performances by Lætitia Sadier and Jan St. Werner. I hope to do more with sound and performance, especially in connection to the record label. The program naturally draws heavily from my own community, and it seemed pragmatic to establish the space and its audience that way, especially without a budget for travel or shipping. This community is essentially an assemblage of artists I admire, so it’s been a privilege to work with them. Now that Farbvision is somehow established, the future program can involve a broader spectrum of artists, and hopefully more from overseas.

AB: What makes a gallery successful?

PM: For spaces such as mine, I like to see something of the character of the artist running the space, and feel the sense of energy, doing things against the odds. With the market stuffed full of fabricated art, I admire projects that have a DIY ethos, where you can see the fingerprints. I want to hear a beating heart. It’s also an issue of control. So many of my artist and musician friends are in increasingly dire financial straits. The established system of commercial galleries and art fairs doesn’t work for most of them anymore. When we graduated 15 or 20 years ago, we were encouraged to put our faith in that structure. Now it’s time to take stock and do things how we want to regardless of scale or whether it ever turns a buck. This isn’t anything new, but maybe it’s something that got lost behind the sheen of money and glamour that laminated much of the art world from the 1990s on, especially in London, where I used to live. You don’t get that many good working years. Might as well do something interesting.

AB: Do artists make better gallerists?

PM: No. Many gallerists are amazing at what they do and really don’t get enough credit for the risks they take. I don’t have an expensive business model or ongoing responsibility to artists showing at Farbvision, but I do understand artists and am very open to other people’s ideas. I’m well qualified to run a certain type of space but don’t expect to see me buying dinner for 20 collectors in Basel anytime soon.

AB: What’s next?  

PM: The 2017 program is brimming with great projects. The first three shows next year will be Albrecht Schäfer, Yair Elazar Glotman (who will also release a record on Infinite Greyscale), and Annika Ström. There will also be a number of new editions, plus gallery exchange with Dolph in London.


Peles Empire

Barbara Wolf, Katharina Stoever

Karl-Marx-Straße 58 (Hinterhof), 12043, Neukölln

Barbara Wolff and Katharina Stoever of Peles Empire. Photo by Trevor Good, courtesy of Peles Empire.

The roving, collaborative project Peles Empire was conceived by artists Barbara Wolff and Katharina Stoever while studying at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. Their artwork and project spaces are set on the backdrop of the Neo-Renaissance Peleș Castle—a grand palace in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania—which the artists have copied, dislocated, and recreated. In their work, printed images of various rooms and elements from the castle are applied to walls, sculptures, and other surfaces, creating a context for what philosopher Jean Baudrillard called Simulacra and Simulation. Peles Empire’s project spaces in London, Cluj, and the latest in Berlin, are lined with reproduced elements of the castle, which other artists are invited to engage with and respond to.

Arielle Bier: Where was your first space? How did you choose the name?

Peles Empire: Initially, in 2005 we opened as an illegal bar in our home in Frankfurt’s red light district, with a printed backdrop of the Peleș Castle’s Princess Bedroom. It was open to the public every Thursday night. After moving to London, we explicitly looked for a flat that could also host exhibitions. It was in the basement of an old building near Brick Lane, underneath a photographer’s studio. We changed the name to Peles Empire as a humorous nod to the absurdity of the castle itself (a historicism, copying different iconic architectural styles). The first show featured icons painted by Kurt Günther Wolff. Over the years, the bar element was more or less taken out, and since 2009 we’ve focused principally on exhibitions.

AB: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

PE: Opening our permanent installation to other artists—the same backdrop of all our exhibition spaces, really taught us a lot about seeing other people’s and our own works. Whereas we initially tried to question methods of seeing art, opposed to the established “white cube,” we are now focusing on opening our collaboration up to others to see where the paradoxical freedom emerging in our exhibition space leads both us, and other artists as well. The exhibition space is the “static” element to our practice, while our other works are more “dynamic” in the sense that they deal with the castle’s method of reproduction, becoming in parts, very abstract.

AB: Are you drawing primarily from your own community?

PE: We are very interested in connecting different art communities, not only virtually but also in the form of real exhibitions. This was also the reason why we opened an exhibition space in Cluj, Romania, for a couple of years, the home country of the castle. We hope to maintain connections by exhibiting artists from cities where we have lived and/or worked before.

AB: What’s next?

PE: We opened our new exhibition space on Karl-Marx-Straße in Neükolln last summer with a solo show by Oliver Osborne, followed by a group show with Simon Fujiwara, Maria Loboda, and Andrew Mealor. Our current exhibition opened on the 8th of December with Mark Barker, Mariechen Danz, and Benedicte Gyldenstierne Sehested. For next year, we have already planned several shows, starting in March with a duo exhibition by Alastair Mackinven and Benjamin Saurer.

Ashley Berlin

Lauryn Youden, Kate Brown

Oranienstraße 37, 10999, Kreuzberg

Lauryn Youden and Kate Brown. Photo courtesy of Ashley Berlin.

The creative seed for Ashley Berlin was planted in a living room. Musician Emma Czerny (of Magic Island) and artist Mark Stroemich began hosting exhibitions in their apartment under the name OTHER Projects in 2013, alongside curator Elena Gilbert and artist Lauryn Youden. In late 2013, curator Kate Brown joined the team and the gallery doubled as her living space, which was vacated for each show. The project has since shifted locations and expanded, but still maintains the intimacy that comes with exhibiting in private spheres. In its current iteration, Ashley Berlin, co-run by Youden and Brown, functions as a nonprofit exhibition space and residency. It is located in an altbau factory-turned-apartment building in Kreuzberg, which is part of a lineage of local contemporary art galleries—formerly occupied by Galerie Micky Schubert and Or Gallery Berlin before it was offered to the two Canadians.

Arielle Bier: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

Kate Brown: I am not an artist, so it’s more straightforward for me. However, balancing work and life with running a non-profit gallery takes energy for us both, and at times it has been financially hard. We took a break this summer for example, largely because Lauryn needed to focus on her art practice for upcoming exhibitions, and because I was six months pregnant and had another curatorial project at Kunstsaele Berlin with Maurin Dietrich. During this time, Lauryn moved her studio space into Ashley, which was a perfect opportunity to offer the space as studios to multiple artists—and there was a clear need for artist studios in our community. It is exactly this condition—the flexibility and spontaneity—that gives all alternative gallery spaces such vitality. We find different models because we must, but also because they have that freedom, as opposed to galleries running with a for-profit structure, who are consequently bound to yearly quarters and so on.

AB: How do you decide which artists to work with?

KB: We hold six exhibitions per year, intermingled with public and sometimes private events. Our program is ever-evolving and interdisciplinary, but our core focus is on fostering dialogue between Canadian and German artistic communities, something that we have been working on in collaboration with the Canadian Embassy in Berlin since 2013. In that sense, as two Canadian expats, we are definitely working within our own community, but we strive to find a wider context for the artists we know and come to know. We have offered several Canadians their first solo exhibitions in Europe, and it’s been so exciting to watch them continue emerging afterwards. We also find that the art scenes within Berlin can be rather tribal and segregated, and we make a concerted effort to subvert that condition as much as possible.

AB: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

Lauryn Youden: For us, as a non-profit space, it’s about contributing to and supporting the creative community here in Berlin, and doing that by actively taking part in it and offering visibility and a platform.

AB: Do artists make better gallerists?

KB: Artists often curate the most interesting exhibitions and projects because of their heightened sensitivity and emotional proximity to art. The other aspects of running a gallery: administration, accounting, writing applications—the invisible labor that goes on—just requires commitment, organization, and a sense of responsibility. There’s no magic stroke of genius involved, but it is essential.

AB: What’s next?

LY: At the moment, we feel an urgent need to program discussion and dialogue as opposed to our regular program which has been largely exhibition focused. We have a few exhibitions planned for 2017 that will be announced in January, but we plan to focus more on readings, talks, and screenings.


Clémence de La Tour du Pin, Antoine Renard

Kurfürstenstraße 174, 10785, Schöneberg

Antoine Renard and Clémence de La Tour du Pin of Center, courtesy of the artists.

Center is located in a narrow, triangular storefront, on the ground floor of a social housing building at the edge of Park am Gleisdreieck. The area, once host to abandoned train tracks and overgrown woods, is now a manicured multipurpose park—one of Berlin’s most recent urban renewal projects since German reunification in 1990. Set between Station Berlin—the converted train station and site of abc (art berlin contemporary) art fair—and the commercial gallery cluster on Potsdamer Straße, new building projects sprouting up provided opportunities for artists to step in and revive unused spaces. The storefront is lined from floor to ceiling with windows and doors, which used to be adorned with the building caretaker’s plants, until artist Lin May Saeed took over in 2003 and founded Center. Over 90 artists and curators have shown at the nonprofit exhibition space, set initially in the middle of a no-man’s land, which has now become a hub of activity. In 2013, Saeed invited artists Clémence de La Tour du Pin and Antoine Renard to co-direct Center, and in doing so, managed to transfer their collaborative online work offline, and bring together an art community IRL.

Arielle Bier: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Clémence de La Tour du Pin: I didn’t want to start a gallery, in fact—I was driven to it. In 2013, Antoine proposed to work on an online video project. We started exchanging ideas with artist Jol Thomson about a collaborative platform based on a DIWO (Do It With Others) approach. From those conversations, the name and web platform unfolded. Simultaneously, I was invited by the artist Lin May Saeed to run the art space Center, so we decided to take our embryonic video project offline and a few months later, launched the first exhibition, “Fight.”

Antoine Renard: We bought two flat screens and each Friday, over a few months period, we hosted artists and writers for a “blind video battle” named “Fight : Two Artists, One Text, New Videos” (2013–2014). The forum became an arena, evolving from something purely digital into a physical installation. We chatted on Skype and used WeTransfer to send video files, working with artists Steve Bishop, Cécile B. Evans, Zoe Barcza, Sandra Mujinga, Olivia Erlanger, Amalia Ulman, Hanne Lippard, Max Ruf, Yves Scherer, and Renaud Jerez, among others. Every week was a new setup. We spent lot of time discussing with each artist. It was very rich and intense, and luckily the art community began following. Since we didn’t stream the videos on our website, people had to come each week to see the new video battle. That’s how we started our network.

AB: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

AR: We had day jobs and spent most of our evenings planning and installing. During that time, Center became our practice like a social sculpture. It was not just about curating, we would turn our ideas into exhibition projects, a lot of them came from issues we encountered in our life: being young artists, living in a trashy studio, being addicted to the Internet. It was as much a gallery space as a self-made post-graduate program.

CLTP:  Center became our practice for a while. There was no clear distinction between our art practice and exhibitions for the gallery. At the time, we decided to live in our studio to save money so we could afford running Center. This lack of intimacy drove our attention to certain aspects of today’s living and needs, influencing our exhibition projects like the suicide-zen-bedroom “Aftercare” (Center, Berlin, 2014), a rehab dormitory art fair “EDENunlimited/tbc.tbc” (Alt Stralau 4, Berlin, 2014), and a hallucinatory teenage squat “Windowlicker” (Center, Berlin, 2015).

AB: How do you decide which artists to work with? Are you drawing primarily from your own community?

CLTP: We’ve hosted solo, duo, and group shows, off site projects, hybrid collaborative shows, reading, and performances. We like the exhibition program to be spontaneous so we organize shows when we feel a necessity, when we have something to say. Many relationships with artists and spaces were driven by friendships, some we met through blogs and social media. We don’t have rules and prefer not to be fixed at any particular logic or pattern—it’s one of the few advantages of being independent from the market.

AR: Our concept was to work with young international artists. A lot of them were living in Berlin or London but many are also students from Städelschule in Frankfurt. We had a vested interest in artists engaging with technology and post-digital issues but this evolved over time and we opened the spectrum to more traditional practices such as painting and text-based performance. We worked within our community as much as we contributed to developing it.

AB: What’s next?

CLTP: Right now, we have individual projects underway and we’re also preparing a duo-exhibition in New York, so we invited Irish curator Thomas Butler to take over CENTER from December 2016 with his project Room E-10 27. Next year, we want to focus on off-site projects.


Christian Siekmeier

Kurfürstenstraße 19, 10785, Schöneberg

Christian Siekmeier of Exile with photographs by Bill Jacobson. Photo by Keith McEvoy, courtesy of Exile.

In 2008, photographer Christian Siekmeier settled in Berlin, founding two exhibition spaces in Kreuzberg under the name Exile. The name was meant to reflect as a place of uncertainty but also renewed expression—topics that hit close to home at the time while moving countries and starting a new life. Exile’s program is known for showing young emerging artists in equal measure to historically undervalued positions or established figures, ranging from Sol LeWitt, Nathalie du Pasquier, and Kazuko Miyamoto to Martin Kohout and the collective FORT. The binding thread and part of the namesake, however, is a commitment to self-evaluation and desire to keep critical distance from the status quo. Over the years, Exile has grown into a commercial gallery, and moved locations a number of times—most recently to a converted apartment space in a prime spot amongst a gallery cluster near Potsdamer Str.

Arielle Bier: Where was your first space and what did you show?

Christian Siekmeier: I was always interested in opening a space and developing my own program. When moving back to Berlin in 2008, after a 12-year hiatus in London and New York, I decided to take the opportunity of opening a gallery and it began quite intuitively. I rented the very first space I looked at. It was two 100-square-meter lofts in a warehouse building on Alexandrinenstraße in Kreuzberg. The ground floor became the first Exile location, and the third floor was my apartment where I also held exhibitions. Rents in Berlin were still cheap and I saved up some money while in New York that allowed me to pay for the deposit and the first couple months’ rent.

AB: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

CS: Exile was a new chapter. Soon after opening the gallery, I stopped making my own artwork and decided to focus solely on developing the space and the program. Looking back, my own work came to an end when leaving New York and Exile smoothly replaced it as my sole focus of attention. In a sense, I don’t see such a difference between the two, as I am just as creatively inspired and involved with Exile as I was with my own artistic practice.

AB: What makes a gallery successful?

CS: For me, success means maintaining a balance between financial sustainability and the greatest possible freedom for any given artistic project.

AB: What’s next?

CS: Exile begins 2017 with solo exhibitions by Kinga Kielczynska and Erik Niedling, followed by a dialogue exhibition between artists Beatrice Balcou and Kazuko Miyamoto. Currently, I am working on a group exhibition, shown at both Art Cologne and in the gallery during Berlin Gallery Weekend. As a continuation of Exile's focus on acoustic, text, or sound-based works, we are planning to host Acoustic Salons in a unique private location at a Palais in Vienna next year.

Arielle Bier