a new yorker in berlin

a chat with team gallery’s josé freire

José Freire, the owner and director of New York’s TEAM gallery, is a scholar in subculture studies. However, many in his roster have become significant forces in the wider cultural circles. TEAM represents Cory Arcangel, Slater Bradley, Santiago Sierra, Banks Violette and Ryan McGinley—artists who define this era in contemporary art.
This year, he helped select the exhibitors’ list for Art Forum Berlin. Here, Freire previews his insights into Berlin, the various tiers of culture and the relationship between dealer and artist.

Ana Finel Honigman: What are you considering when selecting work for Art Forum Berlin?

José Freire: Usually, it’s simple: what will make the most dynamic booth at the time, considering what is going on with the gallery’s artists. For this edition of Art Forum there was a major complicating factor: the fact that Frieze will open a mere two days after Berlin meant that we had to ensure that our presentation in one city would provide a different perspective from that in the other.

AFH: In your experience, are there interests or concerns that distinguish Art Forum’s collectors from collectors at other fairs?

JF: My gallery participates at three fairs in addition to Berlin: Frieze, Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Basel. At these three fairs, along with international collectors, we also see Americans, while in Berlin they are largely absent. The majority of the collectors at Art Forum are from Germany and the Northern European countries. To be thorough, however, I’ve got to say that we don’t participate in art fairs solely for the benefit of collectors. Coming to Berlin is also about showing my face in a city that houses forty of the world’s most preeminent galleries. I want these dealers to look at my programme—I want the curators that visit from German museums to look at my programme, and I want the artists headquartered in Berlin to see how TEAM presents itself to the international art community.

AFH: Why are you showing in two fairs so near to each other geographically and only a few days apart?

JF: Well, technically, all European fairs are near each other and the fact that these are two days apart is definitely not my choice. This year Berlin, London and Paris each have their fairs in consecutive weeks. Not genius scheduling on anyone’s part. That said, I think that there is a seriousness to the Berlin fair that I respect; while Frieze has always provided brisk business—so for me, these two fairs are worth doing.

AFH: You’re showing Gardar Eide Einarsson and Jakob Kolding. Why those two? And why them together?

JF: There are a number of formal reasons for why the two would work well together. They both work in black and white, they both use strong works of graphic art as structuring agents, and they both make work that is direct. Additionally there are significant thematic and biographical overlaps: they are both Nordic artists who work outside of their birthplaces (Einarsson is a Norwegian who works in New York and in Tokyo; Kolding is a Dane who works in Berlin) — they both make work that is ostensibly political, frequently mining subcultural terrain for inspiration.

AFH: Have you ever considered opening an outpost in Berlin?

JF: I’ve never once considered opening in Berlin.

AFH: Is that a comment on Berlin or are you really just rooted in New York?

JF: I am, quite simply, madly in love with New York. Always have been. I never get tired of it. This spring, I’m actually opening a second space in SoHo, which will enable the gallery to mount more exhibitions in any given year. I would always prefer to work on my programme rather than on my real estate holdings.

AFH: Do you think participating in the Berlin art scene genuinely benefits American galleries?

JF: It’s not possible for an American artist to succeed internationally without some support from the German art industry. Coming to Berlin seems a necessity, not a luxury.

AFH: Right, but the collectors aren’t here? Do you think the fair should return to Köln, leaving Berlin to be represented by Gallery Weekend?

JF: You should tell Christian Boros that there are no collectors in Berlin! I don’t think the art world should lose the Berlin fair at the expense of Art Köln, or vice-versa. I think both fairs are viable and offer galleries different kinds of opportunities. As far as Gallery Weekend is concerned, it does a great deal to focus the global art market’s attention on the Berlin community once a year. Why should Berlin settle for only being the centre of the art world once a year, when it can be the centre twice?

AFH: Ryan McGinley, Dawn Mellor, Banks Violette, Slater Bradley, Cory Arcangel, Brice Dellsperger and Muntean/Rosenblum are all appropriation artists. What about this strategy interests you?

JF: Simply put, I’m a culture vulture. A great deal of the art that I gravitate towards is firmly rooted in references to other forms of cultural production, whether it’s music, cinema, or literature, for example. When Dawn Mellor makes a painting of Isabelle Huppert, Banks Violette makes an installation in collaboration with Sunn O))), Gardar Eide Einarsson appropriates the cover art for a Kafka novel, and the Tobias Brothers plunder a particular element of Romanian folklore; they are all engaged in an open-ended “swap” that interests me—they take from the world. They transform; they give something back.

AFH: You’re a scholar on subculture subjects. How is the notion of a subculture different in Berlin than New York or a similarly commercial city?

JF: The poses of “subculture” are homogenous and global. I can’t see a difference between Berlin and New York.

AFH: How has the New York art scene changed since the market bubble burst?

JF: I think people might take a moment here and there to think about the well-being of others. Before the bubble burst this kind of thinking was non-existent.

AFH: Is New York still the place where aspiring artists should gravitate towards?

JF: I think it’s a great art centre but hardly the only one: Berlin, London, Los Angeles are all perfectly suited for the launching of artists’ careers.

by Ana Finel Honigman

[Images: José Freire by Ryan McGinley, courtesy of TEAM gallery]