Interview with Alexander Duve, founder of the gallery Duve in Berlin
When Marguerite Humeau had her solo show at Duve in May 2015, Alexander Duve allowed her to turn his gallery from a white cube to an hypnotic yellow room, which was entirely painted with color mixed with two grams of the deadly poisonous venom of the black mamba snake. For the entire duration of the show, two graceful white sculptures dispensed potions and antidotes, bodily fluids with powers of life and death.
It must have not been easy to produce such a show…
I do not feel like an art dealer. I am a gallery owner. I do my job not only for the money, but for passion. It was extremely complex to realize this show, but it was worth it. The exhibition was a great success and it sold out. Of course it is not always possible to do such shows. We are just two people in the team and two interns. But now and then it is important to do something like that.
Our commitment was rewarded. In June 2016 Marguerite Humeau will have a solo show at Palais de Tokyo in Paris and in December the exhibition that we staged will travel to the ICA in Singapore thanks to a collaboration with Palais de Tokyo. The two collectors who bought the works will lend them.
When did you open your gallery and what compelled you to do it?
I opened the gallery in October 2007 together with Birte Kleemann. It was called DuveKleemann. Birte had worked for six years with Judy Lübke at Eigen+Art. I come from a family of art collectors – my parents started to collect German Postwar art in the 1970s. We knew each other from the fairs and we became friends and realized that we have a similar understanding of art. So we decided to open a gallery. In 2008 Birte moved to the US for love and went to work at Michael Werner. I continued the gallery on my own and changed the name to Duve. It was risky because I did not have any contacts. I did not know anyone in the press, and no curators. I knew some gallery-owners. It might have made more sense to work a couple of years in a big gallery before having my own gallery. But the gallery was already there, so I went on. It took time before collectors trusted me, but I made it.
What is the program of your gallery?
We started showing American artists. For example Bruce High Quality Foundation, the collective now working with Vito Schnabel; Evan Gruzis, who is also quite established in the US; and Sara Oppenheimer, who now works with von Bartha from Basel. With the passing of time, the program has evolved. It developed in two directions: one is abstract-minimalist painting, or “Post-Painting”, with artists who refer to classical painting but use different media than oil and brushes. For example Roman Liška, Maximilian Arnold, and Jens Einhorn. The other one is conceptual artists working with installation, such as Marguerite Humeau, with her almost archeological approach, Iris Touliatou, who is influenced by the history of theatre and architecture, and Debora Delmar Corp., who explores the intersections between celebrity culture, luxury and art.
As far as painting is concerned, we have kept an “American aesthetic,” which is lighter and more ironic than the German one, which is more political, but I have noticed that more and more German artists work in this direction as well. After having shown many artists from the US, and while the market is now looking at young American artists, I am looking in another direction, at the European and German artists.
Tell me about the gallery location. How have you chosen this space?
We opened the gallery in Invalidenstrasse where there was the Halle am Wasser next to the Hamburger Bahnhof. Later, in July 2012, I decided that I had to look for a new location. There were already many galleries in the area of Potsdamer strasse, but I did not want to do the same as the others—even if it would have been convenient in terms of visitors, but I like to move on my own. So I started to think of Kreuzberg. This area is not far from other gallery hubs such as Lindenstraße and Kochstraße. Then I learned that Johann König, who is a friend, was buying the St. Agnes church, so I chose this area. Then I found this loft: i love its rough character, and the overground subway in front of the door. It has a Brooklyn vibe. Also the Berlinische Galerie is not far away.
You just mentioned Johann König and your friendship with him. Is there in Berlin more cooperation or competiveness among galleries?
It is true that many Berlin gallery-owners are solo players. Many consider themselves to be competitors: the cake is not so big, if someone else comes he is going to take away a slice. But I believe that everybody has his own profile and every collector has their own preferences. Besides, the market grows more and more. There are new collectors, even some new Russian customers. I like to play in a team. And it is better for the art scene. After New York, Berlin is probably the city with the most high quality galleries. The fact that there are many galleries pushes you to give your best and to do things better than the others.
So it is true that in Berlin there are not so many collectors…
Of course it is not like in London or New York, and also in Düsseldorf and Cologne there are more collectors. But here rents are still cheaper. Besides, the market is now global. It is very important for young galleries to take part in art fairs, so that the collectors get to know you and your artists. Once the collectors have seen the artwork in person and its surface—which is very important especially for my artists—they can also buy online, just by seeing the JPG. Of course it would be good if there were more collectors, but there are more and more young people who are interested in art, and they are our future.
Duve is your surname, but if one does not know it, it is not immediately clear what it means. Some gallery owners do not call their gallery after themselves because they do not want to put themselves in the foreground. How have you chosen the name of your gallery?
To call the gallery after the gallery owner is classic, I have never had negative thoughts about it. But, as you said, I think this ambiguity of my surname is funny. It sounds like an abstract entity. Actually it is just Low-German for “dove.” In Hamburg, where I lived for some years, everybody immediately got it; in the Ruhr area, where I come from, nobody.