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Interview with Ewald Karl Schrade, Curator of ArtKarlsruhe

Ewald Karl Schrade

AfN: Hello Mr Schrade.
You are the curator of the 4th ArtKarlsruhe, for the 4th time.
You completed an apprenticeship in modelbuilding, you then had a bad accident, became an insurance salesman and directed a bank branch. In 1971, you opened your first gallery. Now you have organised ArtKarlsruhe for the 4th time. What an unusual art career! How did you get there?

Schrade: Well, it is very easy when you enjoy art, and when there is room. Back then, I was branch manager of a bank, and there were huge secondary rooms available. Up to this point in time, I was very actively participating in art associations and initiatives, and then all of a sudden, I had these wonderful rooms, and so I began to organise exhibitions myself - for my pleasure and delight. The pleasure remains, but now it is connected with business, because I once decided to withdraw from the financial business - where bills are the only concern - and to make money with art works.

AfN: You are called the "founding father" of ArtKarlsruhe. Up to now, you were the only one in charge; but for this fair, you decided to not select the applicants all by yourself, but with a German comittee of five members. Have there been noticeable consequences concerning the selection of galleries?

Schrade: This time, I asked colleagues who are active in every art direction - from classical modern to contemporary art - who thus have a great overview. I knew all the galleries which were participating to date, but there were more and more applicants coming, and under these circumstances, everybody needs the support of colleagues, for everybody knows a certain number of galleries and their programmes... and then we sat together and discussed very serioulsy in quite an amicable atmosphere the content of the galleries. It was about 30 to 35 galleries that had to be accepted for the first time. I surely do not want to exclude the galleries who were with us from the beginning on. It is not about that, but the new entrants are supposed to be made even more competent by the support of this top-class advisory board.

AfN: In comparison with other fairs operating in the German-speaking area, what is the position of ArtKarlsruhe in terms of internationality? You want to strengthen France's involvement because Paris is closer than Berlin, but you also want to make inroads into the East-European region, whereas Viennafair already seems to be well established in this region. How will ArtKarlsruhe develop in the future?

Schrade: I mentioned that our middle-class price level is absolutely effective within a radius of 500 to 600 km. Cologne is trying for a long time to catch up with Basel via americanisation. But I think that there are other factors and reasons concerning financial transaction why Switzerland has a relative lead over other fairs, and why great dealers of German classical modern art have lost ground in Basel because of americanisation. This is a whole new situation.

AfN: And what about ArtKarlsruhe?

Schrade: I think that ArtKarslruhe is slowly but surely approaching the eye level of other fairs. I do not presume to assert that we are already at eye level, but we are approaching. When I walk through the hall and see the level, this fair in its 4th edition seems to me - although I organised and managed it myself - like a miracle; that it was possible to reach this significance in such a short time.

AfN: ArtKarlsruhe calls itself "International Fair of Classical Modern and Contemporary Art". ArtKarlsruhe cannot grow further because of spatial constraints...

Schrade: It could grow if there was enough space, but I think that growing further would adversely affect the turnover of the participating galleries. When I talk about a catchment area, there is a limit implied. The straightforwardness and quality-conscious selection of newly-joined galleries are already much better. Cologne now has to reduce the number of galleries from 300 down to 180. It is very difficult, and I do not intend to inflate something, and then it deflates by itself.

AfN: Does this mean that the number of German galleries will necessarily be reduced so that the fair can become more international?

Schrade: If 80% return, 20% don't. These 20% can be replaced, and I will make an effort to revitalise France's contribution; and then the question we will be dealing with will be: "Who makes the cut to be one of the 20 or 30 galleries that will be accepted?" We are certainly not going to refuse a first-class gallery from Paris in order to accept a bad gallery from Germany; and we are not going to refuse a good German gallery in order to accept a bad French gallery. There is a selection; and organising a fair in real life also means that those who want to come, are not always those you want to have. And when I want important galleries, I have to get my activities started, to continue talks in order to finally win the galleries over.

AfN: Karlsruhe is not a metropolis. Most of the fairs offer - along with good international art - attractive secondary events or they already are attractive cities for art collectors. What kinds of actions are implemented in Karlsruhe in order to increase its attractiveness for international art collectors?

Schrade: We are an award-winning university-city. We can offer the ZKM ("Center for Art and Media" of Karlsruhe), restaurants with a marvellous ambiance, great museums and important art institutions. Here, in the Upper-Rhine region, culture has played a very central role for centuries, and it still does. If you define a metropolis by population figures, then Karlsruhe with its almost 300 000 inhabitants can probably not be considered as one; but anyway, why would art be bound to metropolises? There are important initiatives that took place beyond the city limit, in the periphery. The South of France has never been a metropolis, but has been an El Dorado for artists. Thanks to the active idea of ArtKarlsruhe, the city is becoming a metropolis of art, but not thanks to population figures. It is the quality of art that counts.

AfN: This is a good transition to my last question: especially for the Formula 1, racetracks are built in the desert. Soon, there will be a GulfArtFair in Dubai. What do you think of this development?

Schrade: I am happy about every activity in support of art. I am very happy when there are bases. It is helpful for everybody dealing with art: for you, the media, everybody else... Everything that serves the art, and everybody who serves the art, is my best friend.

AfN: Mr Schrade, thank you very much for the interview.

Interview: Theodore Luke de Jonge Cohen

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