Philipp von Rosen, Cologne

With a long tradition of art collecting, Cologne is one of the most important art cities in Germany. Philipp von Rosen talks about his reasons for running his gallery here and not in the "somewhat over-hyped Berlin," and how it all started years ago with a girl in high school he wanted to impress.

Philipp von Rosen, Cologne

Tell us about the history of your gallery. What led you to open your own gallery?

My gallery is the continuation of Figge von Rosen Galerie that I founded with my former partner Philipp Figge 2006. We were both working for another gallery in Cologne and had the feeling that we could do better. Better in the sense of being closer to the artists we wanted to work with, closer to those we wanted to connect with, closer to our generation – all providing a more intense work experience than just being a part of a team led by somebody else, and more interesting from a business perspective.

What brought you into contemporary art in the first place? What is your background?

My interest in contemporary art goes back to my time in high school. Honestly, I to impress a classmate I had a crush on. She was friends with the Oehlen and Büttner Circle in Hamburg and I tried to learn as much and as fast as I could to catch up with her.

Then, as a student, I could not decide whether to fully dedicate my education to art and its history. So I did both: the supposedly more bourgeois -and safe -studies of law and the studies of art history.

Can you describe the art scene around you in Cologne?

When we decided to start our gallery in Cologne the main reasons were that Berlin was so crowded and possibly over-hyped. We did not want to add one more gallery to the hundreds that were already there – despite the lack at that time – of a well functioning market. Because Cologne is surrounded by a plethora of cities with museums, “Kunstvereinen”, art centers (“Kunsthallen”), etc.

In this mostly catholic region of North Rhine-Westphalia, art has always played a big role – in the sense the foundation and sustainable running of institutions as well as in the the development of private collections. Art was neither considered a waste and figurative paintings were not considered heretic acts – there is a great love of art there.

Because Cologne is also very close to Belgium and the Netherlands. It is not far from France and the UK and several well off regions in Germany (like Hessen and Baden-Württemberg).

Because a large group of collectors (or should I say: art-acquiring people) live either here or around Cologne. Many of them are running small to mid-or large sized businesses – the region can be compared to Germany’s Southwest or Northern Italy and their economic power – and they were brought up in the tradition of appreciating art and taking it as a serious interest.

And because we had a rather intense relation to the city and its neighboring regions, its institutions, its collectors, and its logistics.

Has the artistic climate changed over time? Have there been shifts that you’ve observed during that time?

It is obvious that there has been more post-internet art in the last five years than in the five years before. Also, there was a fashion of sculpture that needed to be placed casually on the ground, leaning against a wall. And there was, as we all know, another fashion that has been labeled by some critics as Crapstraction or Zombie-formalism.

I tend to not pay much attention to these kinds of fashion, even though we were the first gallery showing David Ostrowski, because I am rather interested in what the works have to tell us: is it interesting, and widening my understanding of art and / or the world to put time into a specific piece.

Does it tell me something – for instance, not only on a rather conceptual level but also – with a kind of a content that deals with our society and our politics? And, last but not least, do the artworks have an extra quality – whatever that may be) – that pushes them beyond mere discussions of politics? Is there a visual value to be felt?

How would you characterize the artists you work with? How are the artists you represent connected?

Well, obviously, I think that all the artists I work giving us something to chew on, have their specific relevance, and are also, in one way or another visually, aesthetically pleasing. That does not mean that their work is just pleasant or just beautiful. It is rather the contrary: I often hear how dry and tough the art I am showing is.

Just that it is art that is interesting ignites a fire and can keep it burning beyond the mere moment of “liking” something. My artists have in common either an interest in a self-referential analysis of their media or an interest to questions that have an importance for our society. And for sure there can be artists that do both.

How do you decide to add a new artist?

In the beginning of our gallery the process of deciding on a specific artist was much faster than it is now. I certainly do not have the urge (or necessity) to enlarge the roster just in order to ensure that I can come up with a new show. There is plenty of choice at every moment. However, a gallery needs some new entries once in a while to make life for all parties more exciting. And also, there are very good artists that are not yet shown in Germany, and thus it makes sense to add an artist to the stable once in a while.

A few qualities, though, do not and never matter: However, there are a few qualities we never take into consideration such as which technique is a specific artist employing? Is she or he female or male? Where do they come from?

What has been the biggest challenge in opening and running your own gallery?

When my former partner Philipp Figge left, I was forced to rethink quite a few things and to adapt our approach. That took a lot of energy, time, and money.

Is there someone who influenced you in a particular way?

Many of the now famous galleries, wherever they are located, began – this is at least what I presume – with the idea that the originators were planning to start a lifelong relationship with each of the artists they were working with. Success comes from sustainability, trust, honesty, friendship, and belief – qualities that are considered in my hometown of Hamburg also as good mercantile tradition. I think that my concept of running a gallery and having a relationship with my artists is founded on this old ideal even though I know that life does not always vie for longevity and endurance.

Cody Choi, Instant Satisfaction, 2017, Installation view, Photo Simon Vogel, Courtesy the artist and Philipp von Rosen Galerie

How do you see the role of a gallery today?

Many galleries, especially when they are not amongst the few high rollers, are confronted with a whole group of difficulties: to create a large enough group of real followers and friends that turn their interest in the work of the gallery and in specific artists into decisions that result in real support: for instance buying either private collectors, companies and institutions or showing in the institutions. Reaching out to new groups of people that might become real followers. Investing in promotion including advertising, fairs, production to arrive at what we need to do.

However, without galleries, artists have a hard time getting out of the limbo of the academy. They hardly have somebody supporting them to find places to show. Potential buyers do not get to know them, because they tend to follow one or the other gallery in order to avoid the tough job of a first hand selection etc.

So, I see the role of the gallery today as not being too different from the role of a gallery twenty years ago. The difference is the means: nowadays, obviously, digital techniques as well as art fairs play a far larger role.

How does digitalization affect your work as a gallerist?

I am currently working quite intensely on improving my digital marketing strategies. That affects my work as a gallerist in the sense of energy and brainpower.

Rebecca Ann Tess, Alpha++, 2016, Installation view, Photo Simon Vogel, Courtesy the artist and Philipp von Rosen Galerie

What exhibitions or projects do you have planned in the months to come?

My show during DüsseldorfCologne Open, the opening of galleries in Dusseldorf and Cologne in September 2017, will be the next step of Ignacio Uriarte the Berlin-based Spaniard who deconstructs office materials. Then, Yelena Popova will open in late autumn. And 2018 will begin with a show of Arcangelo Sassolino.

The next few months though, will be a frenzy of fairs –Art-O-Rama in Marseille in late August; Art Berlin in mid-September; viennacontemporary in late September – that are quite a challenge for a gallery of my size. Lucky enough all the cities are fun to go to.

And finally, how do you see your gallery in a decade?

More influential!