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
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.