Interview with Daniel Marzona, founder of the gallery Daniel Marzona in Berlin
“Don’t expect anything.” The title of Paolo Chiasera’s exhibition at Daniel Marzona’s gallery could be a leitmotif for Marzona himself. The son of the internationally known art collector Egidio Marzona, after having worked for seven years at Konrad Fischer’s Berlin branch, Daniel Marzona now goes his own way with his Berlin gallery, opened in 2014 at the southern end of Friedrichstrasse. The youngest of his artists was born in the 1980s, the eldest is over 80, and all of them are connected by the conceptual approach of their art.
Why the move to your own gallery after so many years with Konrad Fischer?
I enjoyed working there for a long time. They introduced me to the art market. My father is a collector, and I had worked as a museum curator before. As far as I was concerned, there was no other possible gallery apart from Konrad Fischer. The first time Dorothee Fischer had asked me to work for the gallery, I rejected because it meant going to Dusseldorf. But then, they offered me the chance to become the director of the new Berlin branch, so I accepted. I learned pretty quickly. After five years, we started to discuss the possibility that I would become a partner. We negotiated for some time, but in the end I didn’t want to be a minority partner. So it felt that I better leave the gallery. In June 2014 I left, and then everything happened fairly quickly. A space I liked very much became available, and in September 2014 I opened the gallery.
Did you take artists with you to the new gallery?
The agreement was that I wouldn’t ask any artists, but some artists came to me. It was those with whom I had worked for some time, or had brought into the gallery. I could take this group of artists with me. They are five artists: Nina Canell, Sofia Hultén, Magnus Plessen, Johannes Wald and Matthew Buckingham, plus the estate of Stephen Antonakos.
What was your first exhibition?
I always knew that I would open my own gallery with an exhibition of Bernd Lohaus. He was very important to me when I was a young man – he was one of Beuys’ first students. Later he went to Antwerp and opened the Wide White Space Gallery with his wife Anny de Decker there. He was not only a great sculptor but also a very well read man, and we spoke not only about art, but also about literature. He was very opinionated, but he could also support his opinions very well. Also the first exhibition that I ever curated in 1996 was devoted to him and to Lawrence Weiner.
How did the other artists join your program, and how do they fit together?
Zvi Goldstein, Olaf Holzapfel and Vajiko Chachkhiani joined the gallery pretty soon after I opened. It was important for me that there was a recognizable line connecting them, and that is my preference for reflected, conceptual, minimalist works, rather than those that are easy to sell. My artists come from Germany, Israel, Paris, Belgium, Sweden, New York; four or five of them live in Berlin, but I do not focus especially on Berlin.
Do you specialize in a particular medium?
For me sculpture is in the foreground, but I’m not fixated on it. For example, Matthew Buckingham works with film and photography while Magnus Plessen is one of the most interesting painters of his generation. But two thirds of the artists work with sculpture and installation, sometimes site specific.
How did you find your space?
By chance, I had already looked at it for Konrad Fischer. I thought the building was beautiful, and I liked the high ceilings. It is neither too big or too small, and also the basement has been useful as a second exhibition space with a completely different atmosphere.
And did you decide on this area deliberately?
The area was not so important for me, the space in itself was more important. And I also have a good surrounding. For example, we are close to Meyer Riegger.
What is your relationship with the other galleries?
That hasn’t changed with the move from Konrad Fischer to my own gallery. I have always shied away from being part of a group. There are many colleagues that I respect and value, but I have no interest in getting involved with the system, neither I want to build a strategic position for myself within the gallery scene in Berlin by getting involved with the organization of the Gallery Weekend, for instance. Still, there is collaboration with other galleries, for example with Barbara Wien, as we both represent Nina Canell, and it is good because sometimes you can achieve more. But I am also very happy to collaborate with other galleries in Berlin or elsewhere on interesting projects.
Is it true that there are no collectors in Berlin?
There are more and more collectors in Berlin. Above all the younger generation in their 30s and 40s is well represented here. But our target group is more international. Many of our collectors come from the Rhineland, where there are families who have been collectors for generations. There is a different culture and tradition of collecting. Compared to other cities, Berlin is less important for the market and rather for the art production. There are many off spaces that contribute to this.
How do you position yourself in the Berlin scene?
We are a young gallery, even if I am no longer young. But it makes me very happy to work together with the young galleries. I have been involved with the art world for twenty years, and my program reflects that. We are not a ‘hip’ gallery – I show what interests me and artists of all generations, from artist estates to the youngest artists, that are just thirty years old.
Is it a blessing or a curse to be the son of a well known collector such as Egidio Marzona?
Basically both. Before I studied art history and philosophy, I studied sociology, but when I was 24, my own predisposition was strong enough to make me decide to go into the art world in spite of my father’s celebrity. And I have no regrets. I have really enjoyed growing up with artists, and learning how to interact with them. That was a great gift from my father.
Nevertheless, you decided to be a gallerist rather than a collector…
I collect also, but on a smaller scale. Collecting was for me not a full time option. As a gallerist you can work with artists over a longer period of time, and you have the chance to develop something together. This is the reason why I decided to go for the gallery format, besides the fact that I enjoy putting on exhibitions. Perhaps that is an old-fashioned concept.
In what way?
The competition is increasing, and the auction market has now become a primary market. You find works there that have been produced in the same year. Furthermore, the major galleries are always getting bigger. The pull is tremendous. You have to decide whether to adapt or reinvent yourself. For me, the space remains important, even though some colleagues work without space or in temporary spaces.
Will everything become virtual?
I really don’t believe in it. For that reason my website publishes only black and white images. You cannot buy from it, you can get an idea, but you have to come to the gallery to see the exhibition for yourself. It is not true that you can get the point from the Internet. Perhaps it works a little with certain types of art, for example with Post-Internet Art, but it doesn’t work at all when the third dimension comes into play.
What are your plans for the future?
We want to remain in Berlin, there is no reason to leave. If I would consider another city, then it would be in Belgium, because I have a lot of contacts there and like their attitude towards art and culture very much. We also want to stay in this space, and not expand. But we would like to expand our list of artists somewhat, to a maximum of 16 names. Next year there will be two or three new artists coming in.
Daniel Marzona takes part in the 3rd edition of Granpalazzo from May 27th to 28th, 2017 with a selection of works by Sofia Hultén.
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