Kunst Without Borders
Europe's Art World from a Glocal PerspectiveBy David Gordon Smith and Alison Kilian
Berlin, a city filled with art galleries and plenty of space to create new ones, is home to thousands of foreign artists, who are also attracted by the capital's famously cheap rents. But can foreign creatives really know the local art scene, or take part in discussions about politics or culture, if they don't speak German?
"A lot of people working here can't participate in certain debates because they don't have access to the language," says art historian Jennifer Allen.
She hopes to change that. Allen is editor-in-chief of Frieze d/e, a new bilingual magazine that focuses on the contemporary art scene in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. "It will be an important tool that lets international artists engage in insider German-language debates," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
The first issue of the quarterly Frieze d/e, whose articles are both in English and German, came out earlier in May. The magazine is an offshoot of the highly respected London-based magazine Frieze, which has long had a presence in Berlin -- co-editor Jörg Heiser has lived and worked in the German capital since the late 1990s.
With the magazine's close contacts to the German-speaking art scene, launching the new magazine seemed like a "natural extension," Allen says. "This scene became so big that it merits its very own magazine." The new publication will have a "glocal" perspective, she says, combining the global with the local.
Art All Around
Allen, a native of Quebec who has lived in Berlin for 16 years, says that even though the magazine may be based in the German capital, it will not be focused on the city. "A lot of artists live in Berlin but work elsewhere," she says, emphasizing that interesting art is being made all across Germany and its neighboring countries.
Unlike, say, in France, where everything is concentrated in Paris, in the German-speaking countries local exhibition spaces and art associations, known as Kunstvereine and Kunsthallen, flourish all over as a result of generous state and private funding.
"People get together in the community and provide money to promote culture," Allen says, adding that many international artists have helped launch their careers with shows in such art associations. "It's almost like the Swedish welfare state meets the American patronage model." As a result, even medium-sized cities such as Aachen, Dresden or Mönchengladbach have what Allen describes as "fantastic" art scenes.
Julia Wittwer from the Frankfurter Kunstverein says that although Berlin is still highly attractive to international artists, other regions and cities are becoming "increasingly popular." Support from local art associations and regional funding programs are crucial in luring artists to places outside the capital, she explains, and a location's international reputation and its exhibition spaces are also key factors.
It's all part of the decentralization happening in the global art scene. Allen explains that in the 1970s or 1980s, the art world was dominated by a handful of major cities such as New York, Paris and Cologne. "Today, through globalization, you have this incredible spread," she says. "In the 1970s, you didn't have email or cheap air fares. Nowadays, nobody stays put for very long."
Slipping Through the Cracks
Wittwer, too, sees a growing internationalization of the scene. "More and more international artists are choosing to study at art schools here in Frankfurt," she says, explaining that over half the students at Frankfurt's prestigious Städelschule art school are foreign. Many of those students go on to settle in the city for the long term, she explains, where they are represented by local galleries but maintain contacts with the international art scene. "And English is normally used as the lingua franca."
Wittwer says that a bilingual art magazine is "very welcome," explaining that it will make it easier for international artists, critics and curators who are living in Germany, Switzerland or Austria to have access to debates in the German-speaking countries. "It will expand the conversation and open up interesting new perspectives on the very different regional art scenes," she says.
The magazine's bilingual focus will also shed light on aspects of globalization in the art world which have so far slipped through the cracks of traditional media, with their focus on national issues.
"It will raise questions about our relationship to place," Allen says, an issue that she feels has been long overlooked in the art world. "For example, can a country still have a landscape painting tradition if nobody stays in the same place long enough to paint a landscape? Or what about the fact that a lot of Italian art is being made in Germany, because so many Italian artists are living in Berlin? What does it mean for a country if its art history is being written somewhere else?"
A glance through the first issue shows the breadth of issues under the Frieze d/e spotlight, including a look at the Swiss system of art funding, power struggles at Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts and an interview with the artistic director of the legendary Kassel-based exhibition Documenta.
And it's not only foreign artists who will now have better access to cultural debates. As Allen explains, German-speaking members of the art world will also benefit. "One prominent art critic told me: 'Now I can finally read Frieze without my dictionary.'"