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Berlin Special Part 1: Interview Sabrina van der Ley (Art Forum)

M. Claassen (Artfacts.Net) in interview with S. van der Ley (Art Forum), 30.9.06

AfN: Mrs. Van der Ley, how did you come to the arts?

Van der Ley: I visited the cathedral of Monreale in Sicily right after school and I decided to study history of arts as main subject. It was the ancient art at first. I began to work in galleries after my basic studies. I did an internship in London, later in New York etc. So I landed in contemporary art and wrote my thesis in present arts.

AfN: And then the Art Forum came into existence?

Van der Ley: There were a few things before! I came to Berlin in 1997 for to work at Hoffmanns. I was curator then and out of this job the founders of the Art Forum asked me whether I would like to attend the project. It was a great challenge for me in which I enjoyed to be engaged.

AfN: Now it is the eleventh Art Forum. The business economics explains that the phase of establishment of an enterprise last ten years. Businesses which survived this time are stable. Do you agree?

Van der Ley: [laugh] So, I had luck. It seems as the past two years had set the upward tendency. There is an uptrend regarding the number of visitors, sales and galleries especially in the last three or four years. So I could sign this statement.

AfN: There are 50 well-known art fairs worldwide with an up warding tendency and they become more. Where does the Art Forum sites itself between this competition?

Van der Ley: One is served by its local entourage so we cannot compare. Meanwhile Berlin is the capital of contemporary art and that has to be the orientation of the fair. It would be absolutely stupid to organize a fair like in Cologne, encyclopaedically from let's say the classic modern up to the present because that doesn't happen in our town. That doesn't have to exclude a certain historical part like Kicken, Becker or Kaufman. But the focus is set on new productions no matter if the artist is 23 or 73.

AfN: Are you unique with that? The fair…

Van der Ley: No, we are not alone. You never be the single one. But if you look at the German scenery it is evident that there is no need for a second encyclopaedic fair.

AfN: Yes

Van der Ley: Of course the Art Forum is founded as a classification to the Art Cologne and has a different focus. A specialty of the Art Forum is the concentration on the latest productions and less on the usual suspects. There are some other contemporary art fairs but they present the usual bluechip-ware. It is typical for Berlin that you discover and recover things all over the year.

AfN: So, Berlin as location for production is further featured. Many gallery owners mentioned that it would be the keenest Art Forum in sales. Do you agree to that or is this statement precipitate on the fair's first day?

Van der Ley: In principle you should wait until the end of a fair to resume but this is one of these weekends where the mood is good and the galleries can sell there goods and present fresh things in there booths. We are at the beginning of the fair season and when it has a good start normally there will be a good sale after the fair again. The people can choose in quite an adequate work out of three exhibitions without standing in line.

AfN: There was a panel discussion at the end of the Berlin KunstSalons about the Berlin fair scenery. We got four fairs at the same time. Did your laid-back position last?

Van der Ley: [laughs] I did say that I wouldn't open a fourth fair because it would be stupid and we all could return to our galleries. That isn't true. Actually it seems to work well that every fair gets its own standard. I don't know about the Liste but I heard many good things about the Preview. The KunstSalon is very experimental and evidently non-profit targeted. So obviously the market gets along with that. The people are curious and Berlin as capital of contemporary art presents in many places.

AfN: That's according to the general tendency, that there is a main fair - like in Miami- and exhibitions sprout everywhere …

Van der Ley: But eight, that's tall…

AfN: The Art Basel has also a Liste and a Volta. The Art Basel minds the Liste and it is pretended that a third of the galleries on the Liste occur on the main fair after some years…

Van der Ley: The Liste is even supposed to be financed by the Art Basel.

AfN: Doesn't such coherences exist also in Berlin? For example is the Berliner Liste on our intern ranking on position 19, higher than the Preview which isn't that good in presenting itself but whose quality is on a higher level… Do you care about who exhibits at first and do you take this into consideration?

Van der Ley: That did happen already. For example last year the founders of the Preview Kuttner & Siebert and Jette Rudolph took part on the fair. Jette is now here again. There is a great movement in the Berlin gallery scene and this is always critically observed. As the Berlin scene is that good it is hard to get to the fairs and it is probably the hardest to get to us.

AfN: Is this perhaps the reason for that the Art Forum was little badmouthed until its ninth edition and gets its breakthrough at the tenth? Today it is a really powerful fair and if we talk to gallery owners which take part for the fourth or seventh time this year, they declare: "It always has been a good fair and we always sold very well." Was that the reason that the Berliners hit back?

Van der Ley: not because of the…

AfN: …the enormous competition.

Van der Ley: It wasn't the reason that they were rejected because mainly the galleries with a good sale were criticizing our fair. They had the impression that the town and its institutions didn't take great care about them and were dissatisfied by that. It isn't justified to lump us together with these institutions because even the rejected galleries - every year some Big Players have no participation - make big deals during the fair. We attract people to Berlin and they go into the galleries as well to spend their money.

AfN: This is also changing. Some Cologne galleries move to Berlin. The Art Cologne moves away, concerning its date, into spring because of the Frieze. We don't intend to speak about other fairs but do you think it's favourably for the Art Cologne?

Van der Ley: Well, the calendar for the fairs is tight. Autumn is getting tighter with two strong additions. We were always a bit in advantage as we are the first fair. Everyone is fresh, willing to spend money… [laughs]. And we are just ten years existing and there are many curious people which like to visit us. The Cologne fair celebrates its fortieth jubilee. It's hard to reinvent it every year. Cologne was the stronghold of European art for many years. Maybe there is something like validity. One regarded Cologne for three decades or something and now it's over.

AfN: That's really true. I was at Christies in London two weeks ago and they talked about a fair which currently appeared: the Art Cologne. I didn't say anything but the perception is gone. It is the world's eldest fair. Evidently the market for contemporary art is booming but the press fears a displosion of the "bubble". Do you think the market is stable or weak like in the end of the eighties?

Van der Ley: I would say, much less sensitive like in the eighties. The crash at the beginning of the nineties started in the US out of a bad economic situation. It was a general Baisse. The breakdown of the Japanese market and the first war in Iraq had a massive influence. That isn't the current situation contrariwise there are areas of wealth and will ever be. And it seems that the money flow especially into present art.

AfN: That's true. Beside these sales fairs there are curated shows in the halls since a few years. Is this concept successful and will you expand it?

Van der Ley: We got a topical exhibition for the first time this year and the two preceding years it was something like a show of Berlin performance. We have shown a mixture of German and international artists who were coming to Berlin in the last ten years. This navel-gazing cannot be continued ad infinitum. So we decided to have special topical shows to present complex works and installations beside sales at fair booths.

AfN: Full-fledged sculptures or installations…

Van der Ley: Mature works. These topical shows do work very well and we got even the curator for next year. This will be announced on October the third.

AfN: That enforces also the position of the fair. We now come to the end of this interview. Just one question: Do you have a personal motto or slogan for your life?

Van der Ley: [laughs] Sorry? Something like: Life is a beach? [Everyone laugh]

AfN: Life is a beach! Not bad!

Van der Ley: A real motto, I don't think I have.

AfN: There isn't any? We could take instead...

Van der Ley: …laugh anyway!

AfN: Laugh anyway! A very positive statement.

Van der Ley: Keep the fun. With all this stress in this job, you don't get rich in this section. Artists and traders maybe get millionaires. But it is one of the most beautiful jobs where you can be engaged.

AfN: Something else: Internet got more and more importance in the past but it in the world of art many gallery owners do their old fashioned sales. But the older ones will leave and their will be youngsters. Does Internet have an influence on your work? And a further question: Internet makes everything transparent. We are Artfacts and this is our main work. Are you confronted with this development and do customers talk about something they noticed in Internet?

Van der Ley: Concerning the sales? Galleries with well functioning websites have private showrooms in Internet where works are presented and of course sales are also made. You get an idea of the physical existence of a work at first but there are many sales by jpegs, private view etc.

AfN: Surprising, no one ever thought so.

Van der Ley: Yes, it's known how a Richter looks like, what material is used and so on. So you can put it into the internet and…

AfN: Has this something to do with Art Investment and that the people buy without the personal affection? Is it just the date for selling potentially in ten years, buying ahead?

Van der Ley: For buying ahead, sure. I suppose that someone with a smaller budget who wants to buy because of personal passion won't make his decision only through e-mail. But someone who intent to resale buys a name he can trust on and what will make a profit after some time.

AfN: Does the choosing process consider mediums like Artfacts?

Van der Ley: It is definitely a medium which is to be considered and a helping medium for getting more information. But it isn't used as exclusive criteria for choice.

AfN: Yes, that would be crazy. Art is something haptic…

Van der Ley: Internet is meanwhile something essential, that's for sure.

AfN: Mrs. Van der Ley, thank you very much for this interview.

Van der Ley: Thank you for the questions.


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