the art scribe

a conversation with texte zur kunst's sven beckstette

The blossoming of Berlin’s art scene is a story spun throughout the international mass media, but few publications represent Berlin’s real intellectual depth like Texte zur Kunst. Founded in Cologne in 1990 but relocated to Berlin ten years later, Texte zur Kunst is one of Germany’s most respected and intellectually challenging bilingual art publications. Criticism can be a creative art form in its own right, as the thoughtful essays in Texte zur Kunst demonstrate, but the magazine is also a platform for aspiring collectors to acquire work. In addition to essays, interviews and scholarly reviews of art, architecture, film, music, fashion, theory, cultural concerns and art history, Texte zur Kunst also offers a series of exclusive and affordable editions with prestigious artists including Mike Kelley, Andrea Fraser, Elmgreen and Dragset, Thomas Demand, Vito Acconci and Mariko Mori. Here, we discuss the magazine, criticism and the Berlin art scene with Texte zur Kunst's editor-in-chief, Sven Beckstette.

Ana Finel Honigman: Do you feel that reviews and critical engagement play a different role in Berlin’s art scene than they do in other major art cities like New York or London?

Sven Beckstette: As exhibitions in Berlin are reviewed in international magazines like Artforum and Berlin-based magazines like Texte zur Kunst will also be read in New York or London I would not say that there is a difference.

AFH: Artists and galleries are conscious of a small collector base here. How do you think that Berlin’s limited market impacts critics and artists’ response to criticism?

SB: There are different reactions to criticism. Some artists and gallerists may act hostile against any critical arguments, other think that even a bad review is good press. The local market may be limited, but the galleries are aiming for international buyers anyway. And art criticism is not about advising collectors what to buy (or not to buy). The real problems especially for freelance writers are the low fees you earn from writing these days.

AFH: Do you notice a distinct and definable Berlin aesthetic?

SB: As there are (especially young) artists from all over the world still moving to Berlin due to its cheap living costs, the scene is very international. Also, the local galleries exhibit artists from abroad and participate at fairs worldwide. Therefore I would not say that there is a typical Berlin aesthetic in the arts—unlike in fashion and electronic music. If there is any artistic aesthetic, however, that is associated with Berlin, it is a kind of low-level participation which fosters the illusionary sense of a residual bohemian life in Berlin.

AFH: How has the focus of the pitches you get from writers changed since Text zur Kunst started?

SB: The theoretical focus of Texte zur Kunst changed during its history several times as can be seen in our current issue “Wo stehst du, Kollege?.” In this issue, we collected the contributions of a symposium, which discussed three important categories for Texte zur Kunst: social art history, bio-politics, and aesthetic experience. In short, one could say that the schematic and reductionist approach of social art history turned out to be more complicated having to consider more profoundly the specifics of the artwork. In contrast to social history, we do not believe that works of art are resistive per se, but we now examine how they participate in relationships that are characterised by bio-political technologies, which these works support.

AFH: How do you decide which artists to work with on the artist editions?

SB: We try to offer a wide range of artistic positions in our edition programme featuring artists already in an acclaimed status, like Nam June Paik or Gerhard Richter, as well as younger artists that we find interesting.

AFH: Can you describe the typical collector for the artist editions?

SB: Of course there is no typical collector of our editions. On the one hand, there are people who have been collecting the editions since they came out. On the other, we have museums who try to collect the entire set at once. Some just collect certain artists, others are interested in the whole programme. As the prices are rather low, we hope that everyone interested in a piece of work can afford to buy it.

AFH: Why did Texte zur Kunst move from Cologne to Berlin eleven years ago? How has this affected your content?

SB: When Texte zur Kunst was founded in 1990, Cologne was the centre for contemporary art in Germany. In the mid-nineties this focus changed in favour of Berlin. For a magazine commenting critically on what is going on in the field of the arts today, a Berlin move was a logical step.

AFH: How would you describe the best and most realistic relationship between a critic and an artwork?

SB: Passionate and clinical at the same time.

AFH: What do you think is the significance of Berlin’s Gallery Weekend for the Berlin art scene and art community?

SB: Gallery Weekend Berlin was founded by several galleries a few years ago with the idea to bring major collectors from abroad to the city. For the market of contemporary art in Berlin it is therefore the most important event in spring with its international reputation.

by Ana Finel Honigman

[Images: Sven Beckstette, photographed at the Texte zur Kunst offices, by Maxime Ballesteros]