Interview with Thomas Fischer, founder of the gallery Thomas Fischer in Berlin
Listening to the friendly and calm voice of Thomas Fischer, it is not hard to imagine him guiding art lovers through the half private, half public rooms of Erika Hoffmann’s apartment in Berlin and telling them about her refined collection. Before opening his eponymous gallery in April 2011, while he was studying art history and cultural studies, in fact, Thomas Fischer worked as an educator at the Hoffmann Collection. There he got to know the ten art professionals with whom he founded the non-profit exhibition space Souterrain.
How did it happen?
We were a varied group of curators, artists, and art historians working at the collection. We used to meet once in a week to talk about art, see a work of video art, have dinner together. So we got together and founded our project space in the same building of the Hoffmann Collection, where we organized events and exhibitions. It was a field for experimentation. Some of the artists I work with today are the ones I exhibited there for the first time.
When did you decide to found your own gallery?
I think founding a gallery is not something you plan from the beginning. It is something that happens. I had not worked in a gallery before, but I wanted to offer the artists I liked and worked with something more, like a long-term perspective and a closer collaboration. But I did not want to do it within an institution, I wanted to work independently.
What is the program of your gallery?
The main focus of my program is young contemporary art, but I do represent older artists as well. My youngest artist, Friedemann Heckel, is in his late twenties. My oldest artist is almost 90 as is Brian O’Doherty. Joachim Bandau is almost 80.
In the first two years I did not have a well-defined program and I was still doing a lot of research. Even now it is not easy to define, as I do not represent a precise school, or media. While I do not have painting—although that is not programmatic—I have a particular interest in artists working with photography and video. But I am not a classical photography gallery, I represent someone like Seiichi Furuya, who was one of the founders of Camera Austria and contributed to the recognition of photography as a an art form.
I would say that a red line in my program is that all artists are not fixed in a medium, they work in intersecting media.
Sebastian Stumpf’s work, for example, shifts between video and photography, and performance; Laetitia Gendre’s main medium is drawing but it also involves installation. Also the way in which a gallery works with a particular artist varies from gallery to gallery.
What do you mean?
When you relate to a young artist it is different than when you relate to an older artist. In the first case, you talk about how his/her work develops; in the second case, you talk about how to create new perspectives on his/her work, or how to exhibit it in a new context—for example that of a young gallery. Joachim Bandau, for instance, already works with different galleries and has many collectors, but it is interesting to show him to a new public. When I showed his sculpture from the 1970s, people who did not know his work believed they were new works.
Who is the most recent artist you have started working with?
Cyrill Lachauer. I will give him his first solo show in the gallery in September during ABC. In the past couple of years he has lived in Los Angeles and he has produced a series of photographs and video works about the “Ghost Dance,” a religious movement of the Native Americans which represents their last attempt of resistance. Lachauer is actually an anthropologist, and in his work he combines a scientific method with the research for places and phenomena not relying only on science.
What does it mean to be a young gallery in Berlin? Have you found it difficult to find your place in the Berlin art scene?
I have been in Berlin since the late 1990s, so it was clear to me that I would open my gallery here. I have just tried to do my program and follow my way.
Is there more collaboration or competitiveness among Berlin art galleries?
I think it is an advantage that Berlin has many galleries, and I have had a collaborative relationship with many of my colleagues. Especially at the beginning we were often in contact to exchange experiences about gallery management, working relationships with the artists and the fairs. Each gallery has it is own profile—even if on outside they all look the same—particularly in the relationship with the artists.
Which kind of relationship do you have with your artists?
I have quite close relationships. Of course the work of the artist is important, but sometimes also the relationship you have with an artist is a factor in deciding if you want to work with them or not, because our business is based on trust.
How did you choose your space?
I initially looked for a 60 m2 space. Then I found this space in the former Tagesspiegel premises. It was a bit extravagant for a young gallery to start in such a big space, but I fell in love with these rooms. And it made a difference. I had the courage to approach some artists only because I had this space to offer, for example with O’Doherty and Furuya.
What are the difficulties a young gallery must face?
It is difficult to find a good balance between the money you invest in a fair and the money you earn at the fair. After all, you have to make yourself a name at the international level.
Which art fairs do you participate in?
I did Artissima once, I do ABC in Berlin—but I skipped this year—and I do Art Brussels. I don’t want to take part in too many fairs without knowing them; a fair participation takes time and effort.
I have a close relationship to the city. Among others, one of my artists is Belgian, Dirk Braeckman. He is my “painter,” even though he works with photography. For his photographs of dark, gloomy interiors, he uses the technique of gelatin silver print, which confers a particular painterly texture to the work. He usually lets a long time pass between the shooting of the photograph and its printing, so that the photograph almost becomes independent and the bond between the artist and the photograph comes apart. Also any time and place indications are not revealed, while what shines through is an almost fetishistic interest in surfaces.
Why did you chose to name your gallery after you?
I am bad at inventing names and it is a convention. Ninety percent of the galleries are named after the gallery owner.
Do you think this could put the gallery-owner too much in the foreground?
No, because in all other cases he is always in the background.
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