the imported insider

a conversation with haunch of venison's anna erickson

Did Anna Erickson's arrival on the Berlin art scene produce a sea change in the city’s art culture? With her MA in arts administration, background selling blockbuster art for Gagosian Gallery in New York and Vogue-worthy wardrobe, Erickson is an exotic creature in Berlin’s poor-but-sexy community. The sound of her Margiela stilettos clicking through Berlin’s artist-run spaces could have been the zeitgeist morphing from grunge into gloss. But instead, Berlin and Erickson seem to have met each other halfway.

Erickson became the associate director of Haunch of Venison Berlin, which hosted the Damien Hirst exhibition that created a new, high-end profile for Berlin’s art scene. She also, however, contributes to Berlin’s home-grown art world. In 2009, she curated a striking show of high-drama, photo-realist paintings at Tape Modern titled Garden of Earthly Delights, after its loose relationship to Hieronymus Bosch. During the latest Gallery Weekend, she returned to the quintessential Berlin exhibition space to join with brilliant critic/curator Emilie Trice in curating an exhibition, In Fifteen Minutes Everybody Will Be Famous, inspired by Warhol’s dictum. This month she has played an integral role in the development of an artist whose fame is measured in decades, not minutes: Yoko Ono. Here, we discuss Berlin and the place Erickson has made for herself in it.

AFH: How did your close involvement with the Yoko exhibition evolve?

AE: I saw Yoko’s work in Venice last year, in particular some of her instruction drawings and I was amazed that I had never really seen or been connected to her work before that moment, yet I knew she was such an integral member of the fluxus group and basically invented conceptual art. So I thought that it would be amazing to give her the opportunity to have a huge show in Berlin, and I knew that she felt a special connection to the city anyway, so it did not take much convincing on my part for her agreeing to do the show.

AFH: Why do you think her work is particularly relevant here and now?

AE: Her work is relevant to any artist that is inspired by conceptual art, and that includes so many artists today. Yoko had an amazing life as an artist before she met John Lennon and we need to acknowledge that she is a very important artist in her own right. Also, her work is relevant, especially in the exhibition now, to Berlin because it addresses violence and trauma and encourages healing, smiling, and peace, which Berlin has its own history with.

AFH: Why did you decide to move to Berlin?

AE: I wanted to move to Berlin to have a better quality of life and higher living standards, and mostly to live and foster in an environment that was open and ready to grow culturally and socially. Additionally I was hired by Haunch of Venison Berlin, as associate director and our first big project together was organizing the Damien Hirst and Michael Joo exhibition, which took place in April to August of this past year.

AFH: Has selling art in Berlin been as difficult as commonly understood?

AE: Yes! I came from a very commercially successful gallery in New York where new clients walk in daily and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in only a few minutes. In Berlin it takes more time to generate sales and there are many serious collectors here, but it is difficult to sell certain artists at certain price points. The art has to be appropriate for the city’s (and Germany’s) collector base. That’s not to say serious collectors from all around the world do not visit Berlin’s galleries. I have seen some of the most important American clients in Berlin this past summer, people are coming here to see art and they will be buying if it’s the right price.

AFH: How does the future for Haunch of Venison’s Berlin space reflect Berlin’s position as a viable art market?

AE: Haunch of Venison has had some excellent exhibitions in the past two years since its opening, like Mat Collishaw, Damien Hirst and Michael Joo, and Yoko Ono. These exhibitions are like gifts to the city, in my opinion. It was the first time for Berlin to see such a group of works by Damien and Yoko as well, the reaction of the public has been unprecedented.

Berlin is a viable place within the art market, certainly there are many successful galleries here like CFA, Max Hetzler, Guido Baudach, neugerriemschneider and Sprüth Magers among others. Haunch of Venison’s intent was to show special projects in this community and I believe we achieved that in a short period of time.

AFH: Are there artists here who you think exemplify a unique Berlin aesthetic or sensibility?

AE: I think the German painters living in Berlin exemplify the aesthetic (like Jonas Burgert) but I also think that Anselm Reyle, Olafur Eliason and Thomas Demand are also uniquely Berlin in their own ways.

AFH: Why did you decide to curate a show themed around Warhol’s legacy during the last gallery weekend?

AE: I have always been a huge fan of Andy Warhol and I feel very connected to and inspired by his work and his message on art and the art market. In the past year I started seeing many connections in work of friends and other artists and I wanted to bring them all together to celebrate how important Warhol was to us all.

AFH: Have you considered opening your own gallery here?

AE: Yes I have considered it and I still am considering it, I even have my eye on several artists that I would be honored to take on.

AFH: You also collect a few Berlin-based artists’ work. Who is in your collection and why?

AE: I have many Berlin-based street artists like ALIAS, EMESS, XOOOX, Anton Unai, and Nomad as well as other artists from here who are also friends like, Zhivago Duncan, Antonio Santin and Maxime Ballesteros. Others in my collection are Christopher Wool, Mark Leckey, Fischli and Weiss, Damien Hirst, Richard Serra, Shinique Smith, Nick and Sheila Pye. The bigger names I bought for an investment and the younger artists I bought because I love their work, and many things in my collection were gifts from artists themselves. I also collect ‘art detritus’ from exhibitions and projects on which I have worked. I recently saved a little drawing of centipedes from Yoko Ono as well as a list of works on a hand written note from Damien Hirst—these things capture special memories for me. I was drawn to the Berlin street artists at first as a memory of my time spent in Berlin, at that time I was still living in New York. It was something fresh and anti-pretentious, something you would not see in a typical white cube space in New York.

AFH: Do you foresee more high-profile and highly funded international galleries moving to Berlin? Or do you think the trend for Berlin sister-spaces has dropped?

AE: I think the trend has leveled off for now. Several spaces were opened in the peak of the market between 2006 and 2008 and they were forced to downsize and close. Berlin was appealing, not for immediate financial interests, but to provide spaces for finding new artists and for allowing shows of artists that some galleries would be unable to show in their home based cities like London and New York. Now that dealers are selling less and prices are down, some sacrifices must be made. I think for now, we may not see many additional highly funded international galleries moving to Berlin. I think those galleries will be looking toward a new city.

AFH: Why are you a supporter of Soho House having opened a Berlin branch?

AE: Soho House is an amazing place for networking if you are in a culturally related field, especially here in Berlin. It’s a great place to have a glass of champagne on the roof while the sun is setting and to admire the city views. There are many interesting events each month and they have a great art collection on the walls of the lounge.

AFH: Do you plan to live here for long?

AE: I plan to live in Berlin as long as Berlin wants me here!

by Ana Finel Honigman

[Images: Anna Erickson, photographed at Haunch of Venison, by Paul Green for sugarhigh]