Art galleries take over part of Berlin's old Jewish quarter
By Clive Freeman May 15, 2007, 11:08 GMT
Berlin - The centre of Berlin's old pre-war Jewish quarter has been taken over by contemporary art galleries and a colony of artists and sculptors working in spacious, high-ceilinged studios.
Increasing numbers of art buyers and foreign tourists from Asia, the United States and Europe are pouring into the capital's 'Gallery Mile' along the fashionable Auguststrasse.
The street in the Mitte district of what used to be East Berlin is typical of the transformation that the capital is undergoing 18 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Wedged between a cluster of galleries is Clarechen's Ballhaus, an old dance-hall originally commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm's butler in 1913. Today, it still draws young and old alike, eager to swing a leg and dance cheek-to-cheek.
On the lower part of a huge soulful-looking red-bricked building random religious messages plead for people to love one another. 'Jesus Loves You' cries a slogan.
A green square squeezed between gallery buildings offers a chance to rest weary feet, and catch a glimpse of the nearby television tower that soars above the rooftops.
Dr. Peter Dittmar, an art historian, who operates the Galerie Dittmar, says: 'A lot has changed ... Auguststrasse has become a centre of art gallery interest and l wanted to be part of it.'
'I show a mix of artists,' he says. 'This year it's been mostly the work of photographic artists, some of it black and white. Last year it was Italian artists.'
Occasionally, elderly Jewish visitors from the US who were born in Berlin before the Nazis seized power, drop in at his gallery, curious to learn about the revival of cultural life in the area.
Close by, in the Oranienburgerstrasse, the restored Jewish Synagogue dome gleams in the sunshine. Unlike hundreds of synagogues and Jewish buildings attacked and set ablaze by Nazi mobs during the Kristallnacht or Night of Borken Glass in November 1938, it mercifully escaped serious damage.
Three years ago Tanja Gerken opened the Galerie Gerken at the eastern end of Auguststrasse, after a seven-year spell abroad, working and studying in Paris and London.
There, Renata Toumarova, a St.Petersburg-born artist studying at Berlin's Arts University exhibits her latest work titled On The Way.
'Renata is a natural talent, who has wonderful movement in her work,' claims Tanja Gerken. 'It's her second show at my gallery, and she's only 20. Her style is bold, very much her own, and indicates her talent, independence and power of expression.'
Asked about the Berlin art scene, Tanja Gerken says: 'I think many people underestimate the strength of Berlin. It's a city that responds to artists and to new ideas. In ten years' time it will be the art city in Germany.'
At the Deschler Gallery further down Auguststrasse, American artist Jay Mark Johnson's Tai Chi Motion Studies are admired by visitors. With a modified camera, Johnson has action shots illustrating the progressive patterns and movements of actors, dancers and martial arts performers.
The Deschler Gallery is the brainchild of Markus Deschler, 44, from Ulm in southern Germany. 'He opened the gallery in 1995, when Berlin was in flux after reunification and many artists were arriving to rent studios,' says Simone Weicher, who runs the gallery in Deschler's absence.
'We specialise in new trends in art, with some of our artists also being sculptors, like Rainer Fetting, who is famous internationally,' she says.
One of Fetting's works, a sculpture of the late chancellor Willy Brandt, now stands on permanent display at the headquarters of his Social Democratic Party in Berlin.
'There are 400 art galleries in Berlin,' notes Frau Weicher. 'They attract the attention of buyers and collectors from home and abroad, and of course we profit from that.'
Few contemporary art dealers these days receive as much attention as their artists. But one who does in Berlin is 47-year-old Gerd Harry Lybke, who runs two art galleries - one in the capital and the other in Leipzig where he sparked the explosion of young German painting in the late 1980s and '90s.
Lybke has come a long way since the days when he posed as a model at the Leipzig Academy in the early 1980s after spurning a seven-year stint studying atomic science in Russia. Now a wealthy man, he relishes his art-world power.
His stable of artists include spainters David Schnell, Tim Eitel and Mathias Weischer, as well as Dresden-trained Martin Eder and Neo Rauch, 47, whose romantically-tinged paintings of people in heroic, social-realist poses are internationally prized and fetch up to 240,000 dollars apiece.
The Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim in New York, and noted German collector Friedrich Christian Flick have all acquired works by Rauch in recent years. In Miami, the wealthy Rubell family owns three Schnells, four Weischers and five of Tim Eitel's works of desolate landscapes and galleries populated with alienated figures.
Lybke likes artists whose careers he can nurture from early on, even providing some with studio space. In return he expects total loyalty, with no other dealers involved unless he has absolute control.
On both sides of the Atlantic, Lybke is highly successful, with works by his team of artists snapped up at art fair booths in New York, Miami, Basel, Tokio and London.
Few people talked of an avenue of galleries in Berlin Mitte in the early 1990s. But Lybke, an expansive, energetic dealer was confident an offshoot in Auguststrasse would pay off. And it did. 'For me Berlin is the only place for young art' he says. 'The work evolves because the artists evolve.'© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur