Interview with Barak Bar-Am, co-founder of the gallery Neumeister Bar-Am in Berlin
Can Berlin’s bourgeois Charlottenburg district become a place for young and innovative art galleries? Yes, according to Barak Bar-Am, who opened his gallery there in September 2013 with Jean-Pierre Neumeister. The gallery Neumeister Bar-Am is located on the second floor of the old post office on Goethestrasse, a red-brick and grey-sandstone building from the end of the 19th century shared with established Berlin gallery Max Hetzler. Other neighbors are Lars Friedrich, Mathew, and Silberkuppe.
How did you choose this location?
I had been living in the building since 2010 and I had my studio here. Jean-Pierre and I used to meet at Giro, a café around the corner. We shared an interest in new forms of photography, and we started talking about a gallery. The timing was right, so we decided to turn my studio into a gallery.
What is your background?
I’m an artist and an architect. I come from a family of artists: my father, Micha Bar-Am, is a Magnum photographer and was a photographic correspondent in Israel for the New York Times. When he was abroad, I used to cover for him. Also my mother is an artist. Jean-Pierre is an industrial designer but he also comes from a family of artists.
Was it difficult for you to abandon your career as an artist?
It took time. I came to Berlin from Israel 17 years ago to work as an artist, but my career was not booming, so I had to decide what else to do. When I was young, both my parents were curators at the department of photography of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. I helped hanging exhibitions and was involved in the department from an early age. It was not a new thing for me. The decision process that brought me to give up my artistic practice and represent other artists took time, but then it was the most important decision in my life. I also had to admit to myself that I am more a social person than a solitary artist.
What is the program of your gallery?
We are interested in photography, but not in a classical sense. We are interested in the way we look at images now, and in how internet has changed the way we think of images. Another focus of the gallery is the object and architecture.
How are your roles and tasks divided between you and Jean-Pierre?
We could say that I am the “Foreign Minister,” and Jean-Pierre is the “Secretary of State.” We have also an associate director, Ché, who is very important for the gallery, and an assistant, Marie-Louise, who was initially temporary and then stayed with us.
How do you find your artists?
Being an artist myself, I know many artists. Henrik Strömberg, for example, is an old friend of mine who perfectly fits with our way of considering photography in a new and different manner—a sort of “reincarnation of photography”. But every case is different. In the case of Kate Cooper, I saw her show at KW Institute for Contemporary Art and thought “I want her!” She came to Berlin and we got along. As for Rachel de Joode, a friend showed us her work and we liked her humor. She, then, introduced us to Kate Steciw. The two of them collaborate in an on-going project called Open for Business. As much as you prepare your program in advance, things happen. You evolve and you understand better what you really want.
What are the pros and cons of being a young gallery in Berlin?
Berlin has plenty of galleries so opening a new gallery is not an easy thing. But we were not new to the scene. We know many people; Ché is well connected to the English and American scene and has worked a lot with the artists of the so-called “Post-internet Generation.” We had to make our program visible and clear, and through intense work we managed to make a name for ourselves in a short time.
Is there more collaboration or competitiveness among Berlin art galleries?
The scene is very competitive. Young galleries should collaborate and not compete. We have many friends and we do cooperate with other galleries, not only young ones. For example, for our opening show we borrowed photographs by Hans Bellmer from Galerie Berinson. And of course we schedule our openings to coincide with our neighbor Max Hetzler’s.
How important is it for a gallery to be hip?
We are not a hip gallery. We like being in a bourgeois neighborhood like Charlottenburg. What is important for us is to raise topics that are relevant to us and to our time. For example, a few months ago, the MAK museum from Vienna bought a piece from us, a screensaver by Dutch artist Harm van den Dorpel using bitcoins. This is pioneering! From an edition of 100, they bought 25. But on the other hand , we also represent architect Zvi Hecker, who is over 80 years old. We consider him magical. His talent and sensitivity go beyond fashion.
You have also a space called “Der Würfel,” the cube. What is it?
It is a kind of project space where we do more experimental exhibitions alongside to those in the main gallery space. The next exhibitions in September will be two collaborations: In the main gallery we will have Aaron Graham & Bryan Morello, who we could define as “Post-internet 2.0”, since they do not regard the internet only in its digital and commercial side, but try to have a social aspect in their work and engage with the community.
In the cube we will show Cécile B. Evans and Yuri Pattinson.
What do you think of the definition “Post-internet Generation”?
I know that it is much discussed, but I think we can say that there is a generation of artists working with the internet and its effects on our lives and on art. Many of our artists work with these ideas, like Harm van den Dorpel, who has built his own social network, but we also work with artists who do not work with the internet at all, like Daragh Reeves.
Is it true that Berlin has no collectors?
For us, yes. We sell to US collectors and Western European collectors. The business is often done through the internet, especially if the collector already knows the artist and his/her work.
What are the difficulties a young gallery faces?
You have to work at least two years to show people what you do. You can only be judged by what you have done and if you still have to do it, it is difficult. At the beginning you have to invest in doing the best exhibitions, and gathering your artists, who must be the highest quality. You are selling dreams, concepts, potentials, but in the end you are selling objects. Even if they represent so much more, they are objects. Highly complex objects.
Why did you chose to name your gallery after yourself?
Partially because it is a convention, but also because it is about our program and the statement we want to make in the art world.
Tuesday to Saturday: 12am – 6pm