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Interview with Jan-Philipp Frühsorge founder of the fruehsorge | Contemporary Drawings

Jan-Philipp Frühsorge

This is an Artfacts.Net interview with Jan-Philipp Frühsorge founder of the fruehsorge | Galerie für Zeichnung | Contemporary Drawings.

AfN: On your home page you highlight a quote from Plinio (23-79 d.C) "Nulla dies sine linea". What does this sentence mean for you?

JPF: Yes, “nulla dies sine linea”, which means basically “no day without a line”. I chose this motto for my gallery because for many people many the linea principle, the line, is the basic principle which makes the definition for drawing and as I, as a gallery specialised in drawings, have to deal with drawings everyday, meeting artists, going to studios… a line is something which is always on my mind, I have to deal with everyday; it’s just a quotation I like…

AfN: I read that this can also mean that this would be some kind of life line, like a structure you follow, a kind of determinism… did you think about these things as well?

JPF: I think the original meaning was that it was meant to be like practice, like you should practice drawing everyday to improve your drawing abilities. So everyday drawing makes you a better draftsman, and this is understandable. A lifeline… I had never thought about this and I don’t believe in determinism.

AfN: Why did you specialise your gallery to this subject?

JPF: It’s a long story actually. I studied Art History in Berlin at the Freie Universität with Werner Busch, who is a specialist in art from the 18th and 19th centuries. When I studied with him I was really interested in graphic arts, like prints and also drawings as well, but it was more classic like Rembrandt, Goya, Dürer… it was the classic Art History that I was interested in. Later, I worked as an assistant at Gallerie Refugium in Auguststraße, which doesn't exist anymore, and they had a program focused on artists from Dresden, from the DDR…

AfN: Maybe also Klaus?

JPF: Karl Friedrich Klaus, Hermann Glöckner were artists represented in this gallery, as well as Mark Lammert: the only artist from this gallery I'm still working with. So they had a little focus on drawing which I found very interesting, but then it was actually an exhibition in 1999 in the Akademie der Künste titled “Drawing is another kind of language”: It was a collection of contemporary American drawings from the private collection from New York from Werner Kramarsky, and this I think was the most impressive show I’ve ever seen, and it really had a big impact on me and a big influence in terms of what a drawing can be, how powerful a drawing can be, and maybe, as many people, I thought ”well, drawing is great, but you don’t see drawings so often: you see more paintings, sculptures, video installations, etc.” but at that time drawings were something you could not see so often in galleries. And when I later thought of opening my own gallery, I still had in mind this fantastic show and, actually, there is no other gallery for drawing, so why not step into this niche? And because I believe there is a strong audience, there are collectors... When I was in New York in the nineties working as an intern at the Guggenheim Museum one of my favourite places was the Drawing Center which was founded in 1977. So you could see that in the United States there’s a much higher appreciation for drawings, and the Drawing Center is a proof of that, I mean when there is an institution just focused on the medium of drawing for over 30 years, it is a very powerful proof of the appreciation and interest people have in drawings… So, with all this in mind, I opened the gallery in 2003 and very soon I realised that people liked the program and liked that someone is focusing on something, is specialising on something. Now we have a very big gallery scene, some people say there are 500 or 400 galleries, but still I'm the only gallery in Berlin and even in Germany focusing only in drawings. So it helps to focus on a subject.

AfN: You opened your gallery in 2003. Can you see a shift in perception of the medium drawing?

JPF: Yes definitely. It could be nice if I could say it's my work, but in general the perception shifted and improved. I think in relation to the United States, drawing in Germany and Europe had a lower degree of appreciation and over the last five years it just changed completely. For instance, the fact that there is a drawing art fair in Paris, the Salon du Dessin, is for me a very clear signal that the perception changed: they wouldn’t open a fair if there weren’t enough people interested in drawings and enough collectors. And over the last six years I could really feel that more and more…

AfN: What about the curators?

JPF: We have the Kupferstichkabinett, the Drawing and Print Collections in Germany, and I also think when I talk to them that the general audience is more and more interested in drawings. You could also see the number of drawing shows, of group shows within the last five years has increased: I don't have the numbers here, but year by year there are more group shows, publications, there is a big book by Phaidon Press: “Vitamin D” for Drawing or in German “Vitamin Z” and other publications. I think all this together just gives an indication that people thinks of drawing in different terms than they did maybe ten years ago.

AfN: The word drawing! Does not only mean works on paper. I think for example of steel sculptures by Julio Gonzáles or Thomas Raschke and even these sculptures like blown-up drawings from Stefan Sous, then the William Kentridge films or the Tacita Dean with Chalk on board, Marina Abramovic cuttings and Tatoos from Santiago Sierra or the tattooed pigs of Wim Delvoye. I really do not know where to stop. What makes nowadays a drawing a drawing?

JPF: Good question, and I don’t have a definite answer to that. What I like about drawing is the ability of the medium to permanently change, to reinvent itself. I think that is also a very interesting thing for young artists: if you talk to young artists from art academies, if you go to open studios or the degree shows, you see a lot of works on paper and drawings. I think what is interesting for them is that the medium is not something you could define easily: every artist can define what a drawing is, and sometimes it’s more convincing and sometimes it’s less convincing. You could say that a drawing is anything on paper: that is what the curators in the drawing departments will tell you: so watercolour, prints, and everything on paper is a drawing. But then you ask another curator who would tell you that it’s all about the line. As I mentioned in the beginning, everyday a line. So the linea principle would be drawing. Then also you could say Cy Twombly is a draftsman and not a painter, because everything is about scribbling and lines, even on canvas. But then you ask maybe another art historian, for instance Matthias Bleyl, who had done research on this and published recently a text in the ArtForum issue on drawing, and he doesn’t think the line is the basic principle: he thinks it’s contrast, it’s black and white which makes the drawing, and he goes back to Seurat, who never used a line so to say, it’s all about shades and shadows, so when he makes a drawing it's all about the quality of the paper, which has a certain grain and texture, and then using charcoal and chalk, and what you see is contrast and black and white, and that’s also a drawing. So it’s not the line. What I want to say is: you ask five people and you get five different answers, and it just shows that the drawing is maybe one of the few mediums which can be completely reinvented every five years or every ten years. It even has the ability to leave the paper and enter the space: it can be a thread, as you mentioned, it can be a cut-out, it can be a string from the ceiling… which is in the end maybe a problem because then everything can be a drawing, and there is no definition at all.

AfN: How do you differentiate? Do your artists classify themselves as drawers? Is there a group of artists that classify themselves as drawer?

JPF: There are people who consider themselves draftsmen or drawers, but I think the basic thing for me is when I see a work and I talk to the artist and he says to me “what I do is drawing”. Then I don’t question this: I accept the artist’s definition. But as an art piece, it has to function, it has to work, it has to be convincing. But this is the same perspective maybe an art dealer would have when he looks at a painting: if the painting is not convincing then it’s not interesting. So the piece itself has to be convincing, and then if the artist says it is a drawing, I accept it.

AfN: Even if it’s a sculpture?

JPF: Yes.

AfN: Do you have examples like this? Did you ever show works like this where you use your room as an installation, or do you show mostly works on paper?

JPF: It’s difficult to say maybe in percentages, but if you look around I would say maybe 80% of what you see is on paper. But still, we did shows with tape on the wall, so it's not the paper: it could be the wall, the ceiling, the floor, and it's the tape which is the line, what makes the shape of the work... and also with strings, what we just mentioned: we did this. I did also a paper cut-out, what doesn’t necessarily mean cut into paper, it could be cut into plastic. Also, the relationship to animation art or video art, like William Kentridge does, using drawing in connection to animation or video. I would say this is also an interesting point.

AfN: Do you consider comics as well?

JPF: Yes, yes. I mean, it depends on the purpose the artist has: if it's just to tell a narrative story it would be more a comic than graphic art, but I worked for instance with a Norwegian artist, Andreas Tellefsen, who is very much influenced by comics and cartoon, but still the result is something else: he uses the language of comics but then turns it into something different; he does very delicate drawings, which reminds me of 19th century illustration art.

AfN: Let's take look a your portfolio. Frank Badur's "Grid Drawings" seem conceptual and refer to music composition. Malte Spohr's horizontal line drawings and Mark Lammert's pseudo scientific artefact classifications are all presented in the spring edition of the famous German Kunstforum magazine titled "Zeichnen zur Zeit" . Why did they choose three of your artists?

JPF: It's actually four: you forgot Thomas Müller, an artist from Stuttgart who, for instance, is a very interesting example because he quit painting 25 years ago, and then just focused on drawing. Of all the people you mentioned, he is the only who is exclusively doing drawings. Frank Badur and Mark Lammert are also painters, Malte Spohr is maybe also just a draftsman. Why did they choose them? With Spohr and Müller it would be because they don’t do anything else, they are really pure draftsmen, and there are not so many of them, even internationally there’s maybe Raymond Pettibon, Mark Brandenburg or Julie Mehretu… there are some: if you start making lists there are more and more. Speaking about the four artists just mentioned, maybe they also try to find different people from different generations: Frank Badur is 65, Lammert is about 50. Lammert has a scientific interest, while Badur is someone making reference to American post-war artistry, people like Agnes Martin for instance, and the grid is a very principal thing in American post-war artistry. So I think is the variety of approaches that interested them, and it is some kind of policy, that I try to find different approaches to drawing, so someone who maybe is interested in Science: I worked with a British artist, Claude Heath, he works with photography and stereo photography which he learnt to use to make drawings; he makes blindfold drawings of objects. He is interested in the spatial relationship to drawings and sculpture.

AfN: I also remember an artist who measured the tides. Who was this again?

JPF: Jill Baroff, an American artist: She takes data from the internet about the water levels in the world (Tokyo Bay, New York Harbour, etc.), and turns this information into diagram drawings: Scientific and beautiful. Or a young, very successful drawing artist, Jorinde Voigt: she does only drawings that look like very crazy diagrams and you really can’t decipher what it is… but it’s all about linea streams: it could be air, but it could also be information from music. She mixes all this information on one piece of paper: it is also very beautiful.

AfN: You have also submitted a complete bibliography from 1975 to 2008 about the medium drawing to the Kunstforum. Did you read all these books?

JPF: Of course not! I would love to say yes, but of course not. I was very pleased and honoured that they asked me to do this because they think I’m an expert, which I hope I am, but of course I couldn’t read all these. But piling up a bibliography is very interesting because it's like a snowball system: you start with one book and you find another reference, and yet another reference... and putting all this together gave me so much interesting hints about things I want to read. So it was a lot of work, because 30 years of books on drawing means quite many books, and it was very insightful for me.

AfN: Do you have these books, or did you borrow them?

JPF: I try to get hold of every book I can get on eBay or wherever. Sometimes it’s not possible because they are out of print or out of stock, but at least for group shows I try to get every book.

AfN: In March you've been at the SALON DU DESSIN CONTEMPORAIN in Paris. Can you tell us about this fair?

JPF: The fair is very interesting. It is a small and quite young art fair: next year it will be the third year and small means about 60 galleries. They try to be more and more international, it’s now around 70% French galleries and 30% international galleries. I realise that there is a big interest in drawing in France: they have collectors which may be a bit old fashioned in their view of drawing, a bit like the old connaisseurs, but they are very knowledgeable, they know a lot about the subject, so I had very interesting conversations with people there in France. There are also very interesting collectors, for instance the Galan family, which has built up a drawing collection which is really fabulous and they have a drawing prize they give every year for the best drawings, and also the Centre Pompidou has a fantastic drawing collection and has very good curators who do an excellent job, and very interesting drawing exhibitions. There's also the FRACs, Fonds régionaux d'art contemporain: there are a few specialised just in drawing... so they have a network in France with different institutions, curators and collectors who are all interested in drawings, so I think in a way France in Europe is one of the countries which has the biggest interest in drawing, so it makes all sense that this fair is held in Paris, the capital.

AfN: If someone would like to start collecting contemporary drawings. Where should this person start? How would you start?

JPF: I wouldn’t go for famous names. I would tell the people: go to art school openings, go to studios, talk to the artists and buy as soon as possible. Follow your own opinion and don’t buy with your ears, don’t buy when it's too late: it doesn't make any sense to buy a Georg Baselitz drawing even if it's very beautiful thing, but you are wasting your money. Just go and read, talk to people and then make a decision: you can get beautiful pieces for 500 €. And don’t try to see it as an investment: maybe it turns out to be an investment: I saw drawings years ago for 500 € which are now like 5.000 €, it is possible, but this shouldn’t be your first concern, of course.


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