Interview with Berthold Pott, co-founder of the gallery Berthold Pott in Cologne
A gallery deeply rooted in the Cologne art scene, striving to continue the fruitful artistic exchange that took place between the Rhine city and New York in the 1960s and 1970s. In this interview Berthold Pott told us about his program, about the state of painting today, and about his strategy to success as a mid-size gallery in the global art world.
Who is the founder of the gallery, and what is your background?
My wife and I founded the gallery in 2011. We were both previously active on a professional level in the communications business – parallel to this, we were, however, also deeply involved with art for many years. We then decided to take a year off to prepare the founding of the gallery.
Your gallery also represents young artists working with painting. Please tell us more about your program. What are the tendencies among young painters today? How is it different from yesterday?
Although our program includes several painters, such as Max Frintrop and Colin Penno, most of these are also active in various other media. Colin has created installations and also produces objects and sculptures and works occasionally with photography. Evan Roberts is also a good example, since, in addition to panel painting, he is equally adept at creating installations, objects, and sculptures.
Our program does not have a rigidly formalized focus. We wish to remain open for new positions and aspects in contemporary art. Artists are constantly developing themselves further – and the gallery should do the same; we thus strive to remain flexible and open with regard to the future. And to be honest, I’m not really interested in the question as to which media the artist works with, but rather in the artistic concept that lies behind his or her work. Johanna von Monkiewitsch, for example, with whom we’ve been working for several years, is preoccupied with the theme of light and shadow and the moments, images, and medial transformations that are born out of this, which lead to fascinating time-space constellations. Her works revolving around these issues can take the form of, among others, videos, photographs, textile pictures, or concrete sculptures.
But I can in fact also say something about the state of painting today. Recent tendencies in the field of contemporary painting are often differentiated according to the generalized headings of ‘representational’ and ‘abstract’, whereby the focus alternates in waves – at a certain point, you see more abstract work, and then more figurative painting. Each generation of painters strives to differentiate itself from the previous generation – which is a good thing – and each generation finds its role models and influences in various historical movements, decades, or artist groups. After we experienced the climax of new abstraction about three years ago, many young painters born around 1987 and before are now, since one or two years, working in a more figurative mode. Although this generation has, for the most part, grown up in the world of digital imagery, it is astonishing that so many of these young painters are once again working in a more classical manner. The compositions are often influenced by classical pictorial structures and make use of traditional materials, such as oil paint, canvas, rectangular stretchers etc.
I find it fascinating how the artists born between 1980 and 1985 have picked up on the phenomenon of digitization in their paintings. Manor Grunewald, from our gallery program, is a prime example in this regard. An important precursor and instigator of this movement is by all means Wade Guyton (b. 1975), who has overcome the boundaries between painting and the graphic arts, as well as between the digital and the analogue image.
There is a lot of talk about speculation with regard to emerging artists working in the field of painting. What is your experience here?
I think that the hype around young, emerging painters is over. On the one hand, the percentage of panel paintings within the total sales of contemporary art, and thus their economic importance, will certainly remain at a high level – on the other hand, however, at fairs for young art and in galleries representing young positions, relatively little painting is being exhibited. And in the past few years, the word ‘emerging’ has also had an unpleasantly short lifespan for many artists. It is so much more important to build up an artist’s career over the course of many years, and to support this in a substantial way. It’s not about chasing after ‘hot artists’, since you then run the danger of getting ‘burned’ – both the buyers and the artist. This is something that affects us all – collectors, galleries, and art fairs – we need to stop constantly searching for new, hot names and instead get back to focusing on sustainability, consistency, and stability with regard to quality in the works of younger artists.
What kind of space have you chosen for your gallery?
Three years ago, we moved to a former transformer station, where three other galleries are also located. For many years, energy for the city of Cologne was transformed here. This is a very good metaphor for what we do now, and we strive to make the energy emanating from this site today in its new form visible and palpable.
The spaces are quite generous in scale and yet unpretentious – and the industrial charm of the building lends the space its own unique character.
There is a lot of talk about the crisis of small and mid-sized galleries. What is your opinion? And your strategies?
Yes, one can indeed see a development in this direction; but this is something one has to deal with, and each gallery has to develop its own strategy. I believe that, to be successful, you don’t necessarily have to strive for a global gallery network and employ dozens of people. Success has much more to do with fostering artistic positions that have a certain relevance with regard to contemporary artistic discussions, and that your artists – and the gallery in general – contribute to this discourse. This results in both content-based and economic success. Due to the transparency of the market and the extreme reach that results from social networks, this is all much easier than it was only twenty years ago. Smaller galleries should see their advantages in their greater flexibility and speed of action and use these to their own benefit.
How is the art scene in Cologne developing?
Cologne is great – I love the city and its art scene! Perhaps more than any other city, Cologne has a very healthy mixture of art market stake holders. There are cities that boast many artists, and others that have many collectors. But Cologne has both: Many internationally acclaimed, mid-career, and also young artists live here; and there are collector families here that span 3-4 generations. With the Art Cologne, the city has the most important art fair in Germany, as well as an outstanding museum landscape and a highly influential and progressive Kölnischer Kunstverein.
This healthy mixture and the quality of the scene is even more distinctive when you don’t limit it to Cologne itself, but rather see it in the context of the metropolitan area of Düsseldorf-Cologne-Bonn.
Is there someone who influenced you in a particular way?
I have a great deal of respect and admiration for several galleries in Cologne and Düsseldorf, which had established a profound connection between the Rhineland and New York in the 1960s and 70s and initiated a highly fruitful exchange between the art scenes here and there. I appreciate this ‘flow’ and strive to continue this tradition. Parallel with the Art Cologne this year, for example, we presented a solo show in our gallery with new works by the New York-based artist Evan Roberts. And next year, also parallel with the Art Cologne, we plan to present Loup Sarion, a young artist also living in New York.
What exhibitions or projects do you have planned in the months to come?
We just came back from the Sunday Art Fair in London, where we presented works by Philip Seibel and Loup Sarion. In early November, we presented Colin Penno at the DAMA in Turin, which takes place in the Palazzo Saluzzo Paesana – with its frescoes and Baroque architecture, it offers an alternative concept to the classical ‘white cube’ art fair structure. Our next solo show in the gallery takes place in November and features works by Johanna von Monkiewitsch. In this context, Petra Schäfer from the German Study Centre in Venice conducts an artist talk with Johanna and also presents the publication that was produced in conjunction with her exhibition in the Museo Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice. We also used this opportunity to present a new catalogue on the works of Manor Grunewald.
An der Schanz 1a
D-50735 Cologne, Germany
Tuesday and Wednesday: by appointment
Thursday and Friday 1 pm – 6 pm
Saturday noon – 4 pm