Interview with Christian Andersen, founder of the gallery Christian Andersen in Copenhagen
6 years ago Christian Andersen opened his own gallery after working in another gallery, and before that he was been a photography curator. Today with his program he is thinking about new models for running a gallery. But above all in his engagement with the young art scene Christian Andersen carves out a niche for the artists he works with to place them in an international context.
What brought you to contemporary art in the first place?
My father who is an ophthalmologist was a keen amateur photographer since his early teens. That had quite the effect on me so I eventually went on to study and practice photography. Contemporary art was always a serious interest of mine that went hand in hand with my involvement in photography.
Tell us about the origins of your gallery. What inspired you to open a gallery?
It was a really pragmatic decision to be honest. I was working for another gallery in town and wanted to move on ideally abroad but there weren’t many jobs around at the time of the financial crisis. However I had a small amount of money that I spent on a three-month deposit for a small space in the meat packing area here. It was kind of a question of doing it now or not to do it at all. Then in 2010 I simply started to show some of the younger artists that I had gotten to know and whose work I was interested in.
Your gallery is located in a former auto repair shop. Why did you choose this building and this neighborhood?
My landlord is one of the very best collectors in town and he has been involved in this area for a number of years. He took me for lunch here on a rainy day in November two years ago and I took an immediate liking to the area. It’s a place that has had a bad reputation but I like its gritty charm and the fact that it’s less designed that rest of Copenhagen. Soon we will be four galleries and four artist run spaces all within walking distance of each other.
Can you describe the art scene in Copenhagen?
It’s really quite lively here. The Art Council supports the start up of independent spaces, which means that we have a great number of experimental non-commercial spaces run by artists. They really push things and that’s very inspiring. Then we also have a good number of institutions and museums that often put on high quality shows. There are also the commercial galleries where you will often find shows on an international level. Copenhagen is of course a pleasant place somewhat off the grid, which means it’s not difficult to attract some of the best international artists.
How would you characterize the artists you work with? What connects the artists you represent?
Being a young gallery I always wanted the gallery to work with young artists. In that sense it’s the traditional gallery model where we grow together. When the gallery opened there was quite a specific interest in language and new materiality. Then the programme grew and started to take on a life of its own. Of course there might be a certain aesthetic influencing the choices here but it’s also carried by the people who contribute and their personalities and the network that is born out of that. There are certain ideas and common interests that tie some of the artists together and in my mind there’s also a toughness and an uncompromising quality connecting things.
How do you decide to add a new artist?
I guess that’s one of the hardest aspects of running a gallery and I really take my time. It starts with research and an ongoing engagement with what goes on and from here relationships are built and collaborations start. I now work with twelve artists so it’s a question of how a new position can contribute to the programme. In the end it’s all about that gut feeling.
What is one gallery exhibition or project that you are especially proud of?
I take most pride in the projects where the gallery does the first show for an artist who hardly anyone has heard of. Choosing one particular project is not easy but I guess I would have to say the first show in the gallery with Rolf Nowotny, Mouthbreather in 2010. It was a challenging show for a brand new gallery and since then Rolf’s project has matured significantly and he has been able to carve out a niche for himself with a project that has its very own voice. The National Gallery of Denmark here recently acquired a large installation by him and I think there are good things to come for him.
How do you see the role of a gallery today?
These are challenging times and I wish there was a new model for running a gallery. I try to be creative with it and to think outside of exisiting structures. That said I still run the gallery in a very traditional way and the close relationship with the artists is one of the things I value the most. I enjoy working closely on projects and it’s very rewarding when our collaborations turn into something successful. But who knows – maybe there’s a different format to be found that can still accommodate this.
What has been the biggest challenge in opening and running your own gallery?
There are two really big challenges as I see it: Time and money. We try to do things to a certain standard and this takes time. With six gallery shows and up to six art fairs in a year I find that I am often short of time for enough studio visits with artists as well as visits with international collectors in their hometowns.
Then the financial side of things also adds pressure especially when you don’t want to compromise and still make room for the ideas that the artists bring to the table. In some way opening the gallery was the easy part and then as time goes by it’s the scale of projects and commitments that is the biggest challenge.
Is there someone who influenced you in a particular way?
My girlfriend, who now also runs her own gallery (Bianca D’Alessandro), has followed the progress of the gallery from the day the idea of the gallery was born. We have continuously shared ideas in an ongoing dialogue about the content of the gallery and what a gallery can and should be.
Other than that I would say the artists that I work with. It’s extremely important with the input you get from the people closest to you. My artists are always good at seeing things in a new perspective and challenge my views.
If you could choose to exhibit any artist, even from the past, who would you pick?
And finally, how do you see your gallery in a decade?
That’s hard to say. I hope we can continue the work we are doing now and expand on it. Even if the artists I work with now grow and have bigger careers I would still want to be engaged with the young scene. Having lived in London in the past for almost five years I don’t feel that I am necessarily tied to a specific geography and I would be open to move and take on new challenges somewhere else in the world. Perhaps even with an entirely different gallery format.
Christian Andersen takes part in Liste–Art Fair Basel from June 13th to 18th, 2017. The gallery will present a selection of works by Sven Loven and Rolf Nowotny.
2400 Copenhagen NV
Wednesday to Friday: 12pm–6pm