In 2001 the future of Art Forum Berlin looked bleak: the sponsor was bankrupt and many galleries taking part did not cover their costs. So the organisers made some decisive changes, cutting the number of galleries to improve quality, making the collectors’ programme more international, and focusing exclusively on contemporary art.
The result: a high-quality fair of more than 120 dealers from 25 countries, held from 29 September to 3 October. Many galleries reported strong sales, and a number of big-name collectors visited for the first time including Sabine DuMont Schütte and US financier Michael Danoff.
Booming demand for German art helped: Eigen+Art, which represents many Leipzig School artists, nearly cleared out on the first day and sold a Neo Rauch painting to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam for E250,000 ($300,000). Contemporary Fine Arts sold all their works by Jörg Immendorff and Jonathan Meese.
“It was Belgium in the early 1990s, London in 1995, now Germany is the place for great, young contemporary art,” said New York collector Michael Hort, whose purchases included a piece by Felix Schramm. The Frankfurt dealer Ulrich Voges added: “It was encouraging to see so many American collectors. The fair needed international buyers and they came this year.”
Many dealers did well by focusing on up-and-coming artists. Gallery Thaddaeus Ropac brought works by the young painter Paul P.—selling all of his drawings and watercolours, priced between E3,000 and E8,000. “We bring our larger, E500,000 pieces to Basel and Miami,” says director Arne Ehmann. “This is where we show our new artists.”
About 20% of the galleries attended the fair for the first time, and most were positive about the experience. Haunch of Venison sold a large Wim Wenders photograph and hoped to cement some more deals after the close of the fair. Thomas Zander sold over a dozen works on the opening day.
Although Art Forum Berlin is developing, it is unlikely to overtake Art Basel as the continent’s premier art fair anytime soon. Still, east German cities such as Berlin and Leipzig have become meccas for young artists—and that promises a steady flow of new works for Art Forum Berlin, for the foreseeable future at least.