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Painted Into a Corner: Berlin’s Floundering Art Market

CNBC Business Magazine, Nov. 1, 2011

Ute Litzkow is pretty pleased. She has sold three art works so far at Berlin’s annual Kunst Herbst (‘Art Autumn’). The 38-year-old is standing next to one of her pieces, a vibrant multicoloured version of a traditional Japanese print, in one of the countless large booths that are lined up in rows in a cavernous hangar of the former Tempelhof Airport.

The crowd is heaving on the opening night of Preview Berlin, a satellite show dedicated to emerging art that usually occurs alongside the city’s traditional art fair, the Art Forum. However, this year the main event is not taking place and Litzkow says she has heard that several international collectors have not been spotted this year. “Berlin without an art fair,” she says. “It’s crazy.”

The cancellation of the floundering Art Forum, which had been going for 15 years, wasn’t a huge surprise, but it occurred against the background of a sluggish market, closing galleries and a spat between artists and the city government in what has been a turbulent year for Berlin art.

“After years of promises, and of feeling that Berlin is going to be the next big city, it feels now that it’s not going to be any bigger,” says Thomas Eller, an artist who also served as managing director of the Temporäre Kunsthalle, a temporary exhibition space set up on the old site of the Berlin palace in 2008. “That is why there is a certain air of disappointment here.” The way Eller sees it, there is a feeling that the city may be peaking as an art market.

While Berlin has long enjoyed a reputation as a vibrant creative centre attracting artists, both struggling and successful, it has not really been able to translate that into a thriving commercial hub. And there is frustration at the government’s lack of understanding of the needs of the city’s artistic community and at its failure to fund a really strong public infrastructure. Continue reading

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