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Conversation  |  ARNDT at the Melbourne Art Fair 2012

Matthias Arndt

In Conversation
7 August 2012

Arndt & Partner was established in 1994 as one of the first contemporary art galleries with an international profile in former East-Berlin. In the gallery's 18 years of operation, it has presented more than 270 exhibitions, produced 60 publications and participated in approximately 90 international art fairs. Within this period the gallery also operated spaces and offices in Zurich and New York City. In 2001 Matthias Arndt was awarded the 'Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres' and thus made a member of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture. We caught up with Matthias to get his impressions of the Melbourne Art Fair 2012.

The works you have brought to MAF seem to be an eclectic group at first viewing and then an underlying aesthetic emerges. Would you agree?

Yes and no: formally we did one solo show of 30 years of work by Sophie Calle to have a focused and strong presentation aiming both at an institutional and private collector base. As Sophie Calle, (although being one of the most major European conceptual artists, and collected in Australia), never had a representative presentation of her work. But in the back of the booth we show a wider range of both our international programme and guests: Eko Nugroho from Indonesia, Gilbert and George, Chiharu Shiota from Japan/Berlin, Jitish Kallat - a leading artist from India, Robert Mapplethorpe... Works from 500 to 100.000 Australian dollars, to offer a wider range of work. But if you see a general style or handwriting in our choice I am happy.

If so what might those aesthetic qualities be? Is there a point of view?

The connection may be less a general aesthetic or formally but more a question of content. I believe in art that takes a position towards life, that rather asks questions than confirming us in our prejudices. Sophie Calle, Gilbert and George but also Jitish Kallat or the new artists from Indonesia address fundamental issues and human questions in their work. That does not prevent a work from being beautiful, but makes is credible and that is what you may see as a connection or motive of my choice.

You have brought together artists from Japan, India, UK, France and Indonesia - are you a gallery with a distinctly internationalist approach?

Yes, purely. When I started in Berlin in 1994 I was the first Westerman to open a gallery with an international profile in former East Berlin. Since then we did 300 shows and over 90 international art fairs. My artists live in the US, Japan, China, Indonesia, Brazil, France, Philippines and some also in Germany.

Much of the work has a socio - political approach/content - is this of particular interest to your gallery programme?

As I said before I believe in the power of art when it addresses fundamental issues. Beauty and aesthetics of course are not excluded, but pure decorational aspects are not of interest to me. Great art can change the world, because if it changes our perspective, with that it affects our attitude and action. But I do not think there is such "political art" or "social art" that the artist has to solve all questions with artistic means. But I do believe in engaged art.

Are Australian audiences receptive to the more personal and lyrical / intimate aspects in the work of say Sophie Calle?

Oh yes: Sophie Calle is extremely popular in Australia. We also placed her work in several collections over the years. Now we hope there will be an institutional show soon, as this could be a big success in the public. Also her work should be in public collections. Even though there is almost no museum in the world she has not shown in yet, her work is still very affordable. Our price range goes from A $10,000 to $110,000. A major work of hers is not available for A$30,000 already. That is much less than an Australian artist with less institutional pedigree would be.

Gilbert & George recently had a major exhibition in Hong Kong, we see that you are exhibiting a recent work by them. Has there been any serious interest from Australian collectors?

From our show in Berlin and our first Pop Up in Sydney we sold two works from these _London Pictures _the two works here at the fair (each A$113,000 incl. GST) generated a lot of interest but did not sell yet. I guess people were just too surprised to see these works available in Australia at the same time while the international tour of the new work started. I am in fact proud we can make these pieces available in Australia.

You have an exhibition titled Migration opening in Melbourne at the end of October, can tell us anything about the exhibition or artists involved or should we wait and see?

We will open the Melbourne Edition of our Pop-Up-Show For Australia on October 30th in a Victorian Building on St. Kilda Road. There will be major works of about 40 international artists, amongst Georg Baselitz, Joseph Beuys, Sophie Calle, Thomas Hirschhorn, Anselm Reyle and others. While the Sydney Show was focused more on the US and Asian Art, the Melbourne edition will feature mostly German and European Art.

Sydney Contemporary is coming early next year - do you think Australia can accommodate 2 major art fairs?

That is a difficult one, first of all as I am on the committee of Sydney Contemporary. But then also because Melbourne Art Fair in its current edition does not fulfill the category of a 'major art fair'. There are huge structural and conceptual deficits, not to mention the almost complete absence of international galleries. Not that this makes a fair great, but it is hard to tell whether the market is yet big enough to generate business for a critical number of galleries.

With our pop-up-show in Sydney for instance, we received great support from Australian collections for our international programme. But there is still a long way to go until I could justify a major infrastrucural presence in Australia. The wider audience needs to understand that if they do want to play a role in the international art scene (and Australia has all the potential for it) that also means a major engagement and support of these few daring dealers bringing international work to the country. If in Sydney we manage to unite all efforts and means, this may work - but we need a completely new concept of an artfair for that. Existing models do not seem to be applicable on the Australian case from my point of view. —- [O]

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