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Interview with Caprice Horn

Caprice Horn and Marek Claassen

This is an interview with Dr. Caprice Horn.

AfN: Hello Dr. Horn.

CH: Hello.

AfN: We do not have so much time because you're heading to China. Where to?

CH: Beijing and Shanghai.

AfN: Is it your first time in Asia?

CH: No, I was in Hong Kong early this year.

AfN: This September we see 5 fairs and 7 Biennales in Asia. Do you think that the autumn will be dedicated to Asia in future?

CH: I think the attempt has been made to dedicate a lot to Chinese and Asian art for the last few years. As regards all the fairs and the biennales we have seen in the last few years, there has been a large turbulence: an increase of fairs, an increase of biennales. It does not mean that they are all good - qualitatively good - and that all biennales are good. But it is nevertheless interesting because Asia is a very interesting market, not only in terms of the art that has been produced there, but for a lot of dealers and galleries who are working there, it is a new market which is emerging, it is coming, and this makes it very interesting. And one of the main interests why we are spending time there as well is that a lot is happening there. It has got a lot of potential.

AfN: In a recent study we have found that your gallery participated in 22 different fairs within the last 3 years. That is a world record. When and why did the wanderlust evoke?

CH: Oh, I think I have always suffered from wanderlust.
In terms of the gallery business, we started travelling to art fairs approximately three years ago. And as already indicated just now, there are a lot of fairs, there is a lot to choose from, a lot of markets to choose from - where you want to find artists, where you want to have collectors, work with collectors and institutions... The world is really your oyster at the moment in terms of the art market. It has gone very global.

Certainly, in terms of what we have seen in the last few years, Europe in some respects - and I am sure I will antagonise a few people - I think is rather satiated. And if you look at the emerging markets, I find there are a lot of exciting things happening. You have not added that I will be in the Arab Emirates later this year in November, and in India in December. These emerging markets are showing an avid interest in the arts, also in contemporary arts from Europe, and you want to be part of it. At least, I feel that way. I want to be part of it. It is the same thing with Asia or with Russia which is developing in a fantastic way.

AfN: To me, travelling feels like a huge burden because we started travelling a lot a few years ago, and I cannot even see a plane anymore.

CH: I hate to tell you this but I have the same problem. For the first time in my life, I was on a very bad flight to South America, and I have suddenly developed a flight phobia. - Since then, I hate flying. I get on the plane every day, and it is horrible.

Yes, it is hard work: Flying, all the time living out of the suitcase... but at the same time when you come back, with the experiences you come back with... It is not wasted, it is exciting. It generates energy and enthusiasm for the business. At the moment, I find it compensates itself very quickly.

AfN: When we look at the fair participation ranking, we see on the first three positions galleries from Berlin. Besides you as number 1, it's DNA (Johann Novak) and Michael Schultz as number 2. Why is it Berliners?

CH: Berlin has gone through a process of transformation. When I started the gallery which is not that long ago, Berlin was very quiet in terms of the art scene. The last two or three years, Berlin has become really the forerunner in terms of the art scene. There is a lot of exciting art here, a lot of exciting galleries. If somebody asked me where the most exciting art scene is at the moment, I would say "definitely Berlin!".

But Berlin is not necessarily the city with the most collectors or curators, and that is one of the main reasons why a lot of Berlin galleries also stretch out to other areas, to other countries. I think a lot of Berlin galleries will tell you that it is also a financial necessity. It is not the case now because Berlin really has changed, and we are getting a lot of collectors and curators who are coming to Berlin. It is no longer an absolute prerequisite to travel.

But this is not New York. I had a conversation with somebody the other day, and they said to me: "Do you think this is sustainable? All the hype of art Berlin? Or do you think that people two years down the line will say 'We were in Berlin. What happened? Why didn't it work out?'". So that is a possibilty. We do not know. To make Berlin sustainable in the long term, I think a lot more is needed - but at the moment, it certainly is the most exciting city there is.

AfN: And the galleries find their way by travelling throughout the world...

CH: I think it was always a necessity in the past. But for Berlin to be the centre or focus of the art world, it also needs to be international. And being international means travelling, having exchanges with other foreign galleries. If Bodhi Gallery is coming here now, and I know from other galleries intending to open here as well, it obviously works both ways. They are coming as a base, and a lot of Berlin galleries are also working with bases outside of Berlin like for example Volker Diehl in Moscow etc.

AfN: I heard that artists also pressed their galleries from outside - because they want to have a show here - to open a branch.

CH: Absolutely. The artists, a lot of artists obviously have come to settle in Berlin in the last few years. They consider Berlin to be the most exciting, and they want the gallery in Berlin. It is the sexiest thing that you can do for an artist to say that you are going to have an exhibition in Berlin. At least, artists think so.

AfN: You do not go to so many fairs in Berlin or not even very much in Germany. Why?

CH: That is a difficult question to answer. I do not want to step on anybody's toes but I think the art fair scene for us in Germany is not necessarily of such great interest. At the moment, as I said, I am focussing mainly on virgin markets and the States that I find extremely interesting. In terms of Berlin fairs, we have Art Forum which is oviously an interesting fair as well but we shall see...

Work by Mitra Tabrizian

AfN: Your actual show is called "Beyond the limits" from Iranian-British photographer and film director Mitra Tabrizian. In the information you state that: "The theory of progress in history focuses essentially on three aspects: history as progression, as decline or as a repetitive cycle". What aspect counts in terms of gallery work and the fair system?

CH: I would say a combination of all three. It is never easy to find one sole common factor to explain history. It is one step forward and five steps back, and then there are always the sideways steps as well - which make up history. And I think the same thing applies in the art world. With the rise of the fair system, it obviously has changed the art market considerably, and I think it also contributed to the art market being as global and as exciting as it is at the moment. If you look at the volume, the pure financial volume that has turned over through the art world these days, that has a lot to do with the globalisation of the art market. So yes, it is progressive in some ways.

I personally think that there are too many fairs, and I think that some other fairs in the foreseeable future will fall. There is a lot of bandwagoning happening. A lot of people getting on to the bandwagon, saying "Well, this is so exciting. There is so much money that is floating around in the art world. Let's just start a fair! Let's start a biennale!" But quality needs to be maintained at all times. It is the same way, some artists do extremely well in the market, I think the longevity of something is only ensured by quality and innovation, and that's when we talk about doing something new, showing something new that maybe is not in the mainstream, maybe against the mainstream but at least has a qualitative aspiration for yourself. That this is something special. And I think that will ensure longevity.

AfN: I just read a recent study about the art fair system and the galleries; and these were stating: "This [the art fair system] is an instrument of standardising an unstardardised market because on fairs, we cannot really show crazy artworks, we cannot show crazy installations like on biennales. We have to focus on things that are sellable, transportable etc."
Do you think that the fairs are a tool to standardise the market? And if yes, is it good?

CH: What is clearly evident with the fairs, especially if you look at some of the top fairs, there is a self-selected process. There is - it seems at times - not necessarily the willingness to take risks with younger galleries, to take the risks with work that is maybe a bit controversial, and sure, there is the desire to provide something that is a bit more mainstream and easily transportable.

I think that is actually to the detriment of the fairs because these days, it makes no difference anymore if you go to Frieze, to Hong Kong or to Honolulu, you see the same thing everywhere. You have a lot of secondary market stuff, you always see the same artists, the same galleries being presented... I think in the same way that gallerists are getting tired of continuous fair hopping, so collectors and curators are also getting equally tired. And at the beginning, they ask themselves the question "Why do I need to fly to Hong Kong? Why do I need to fly to New York if what I see at Basel, is exactly the same thing I see at Frieze or New York or Honolulu." I think that is a huge pity.

I would like to see that the countries and fairs developed their own character, that they are willing to take risks to present new work, to make it exciting again so that we can say "Wow, I need to go there! I must go there! If I missed out on that, I really missed out!" And that is no longer the case. There is a standardisation, there is a levelling-off which makes it rather boring; it is not a standardisation for the sake of being positive, it actually becomes rather boring. And that, I think, is a pity. But then again, we also have to say that a lot of fairs have become very expensive in terms of galleries participating, and so I think to some extent, there is also the desire to play it safe. As simple as that.

AfN: With young artists, there is also the difficulty that you do not know who will survive in this system, and so I think that a lot of people also bet on names.

You have a very mixed group of artists in your portfolio.
Your youngest artists Hannah van Ginkel (1982) is just 26 and the average age of your artists is 38. Why do you choose young artists?

CH: You have done your homework. I can see... [laughs] I do not only choose young artists but I find young artists very exciting - discovering what I think is good talent and pushing and promoting it. If you look at our records as well, a lot of our artists are really well received at museum level, at biennale level, and everywhere else, and that is exciting for me. I mean, we all, like the majority of galleries, have also the possibility of looking at older artists who had been around some time, who are well-established. It is sometimes a necessity but it does not excite me that much.
I get a tingling feeling taking in young artists, pushing them, promoting them. For me, it has always a "Hooray"-effect when somebody gets placed in a museum.

AfN: Your artists come from all over the world, from Australia, USA, UK to South Africa. But most of them are Germans - I think six of them, and there are also four Spanish and four Koreans. Why Koreans and Spanish?

CH: I do not choose artists according to their nationality. I like to think that I choose artists according to what I like. I obviously have my subjective view of what I consider to be interesting artwork. I try to look for what I consider to be original. It so happens because I have travelled a lot in these countries, and I have discovered a certain amount of Korean artists that I find extremely exciting. I actually think that the Korean art scene in many respects is very interesting.

I mean, for years, we had been talking about the Chinese art scene... Personally, I feel that yes, there has been some very good art that has come out of China but I also think that there is some that has been totally overrated, and I do not think that that will sustain itself. If you look at some of the prices of Chinese artists at the moment, they are absolutely crazy as far as I am concerned, for some of the works are totally mediocre. So I think there are a lot of other countries which are very very interesting - Japan for example. I mean, unfortunately I have not found a Japanese artist so far, I will be flying to Japan shortly. There is some interesting work that I have seen.

AfN: The new season is starting. What have you planned so far? Any highlights?

CH: We are going to be in Abu Dhabi in November. At the end of October, there is obviously the Art Forum where the galleries will be showing the best of their best. We will be showing Democracia; we were in a curator show with Hans-Ulbricht Obrist; and Daniel Canogar is working in the Reina Sofía Museum. So we are looking forward to presenting these artists in solo shows here in Berlin as well.
Those are the highlights.

AfN: The newspapers are full of news about a world wide crisis in the financial sector. Are your afraid of what is coming?

CH: What crisis? [laughs] There are always millions of crisis, and you know, you can add a lot to a crisis by talking about a crisis. You can talk yourself into a crisis. I think the art market has been over-buoyant for the last few years. What I think we are going to see, is a levelling-out, maybe a greater focus on what is qualitatively good and not just a hype around it because it boomed very quickly, the art market world. Within a short period of time, astronomical prices were achieved, artists were catapulted into the sky, and I think what we are going to see now is going to be more a critical appreciation of what is actually good, what is really worth its money, and so, yes, there will be some levelling art.

Certainly, I have heard rumours about recessions, and even the museums approach you, saying: "Have you heard about the recession?" Because they are also dependent, certainly in terms of people on the board, giving money... There must be something that is going on in terms of a recession. We have not noticed it, again maybe it is also because we travel so extensively, and we are also in certain emerging markets where, if anything, people are hungry. They are excited. It is a totally different world.

If you look at Basel this year, there certainly were very few American collectors. Part and parcel is probably the low, weak Dollar. Certainly, I know from American collectors, the weak Dollar is hurting. Under those circumstances, I think, as gallerist as well, you need to take that into consideration.

AfN: But this may also be good because emerging artists are not on the highest price level so maybe a few collectors switch to younger artists to fill up their collection.

CH: I tend to get the impression from collectors that there certainly is an interest to speculate in younger artists, to discover younger artists. Collectors are probably as excited about younger artists as galleries. They are saying "Let's discover somebody! Let's discover them jointly!" And collectors have become very influential in the art market, and thank Heavens, they have. They want to actually follow the progress with you to discover what is going to happen. If we say "Look, I have got to take a risk here. Buy this work - I think it is just beautiful; I think it is a really good artist", and that six years down the line, you discover that this artist is doing very well. It is a sense of huge pleasure for a collector. Instead of coming at a higher end and saying "Well, if everybody else (like the lemmings!) has taken that, we'll do the same thing." It is not the same thing as discovering something for yourself. And collectors are wanting to discover as well. And that is exciting.

AfN: Dear Dr. Horn, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you.

CH: My greatest pleasure.

Galerie | Caprice Horn

Interview: Marek Claassen


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