Berlin’s reputation as an indisputable Mecca for contemporary artists in the 21st century has been mostly deserved due to the reputation it gained as a Bohemian capital during the Cold War, as well as the vibrant neighbourhoods it still boasts of, its welcoming attitude, and its contagious open-mindedness and diversity. However, the city is beginning to show signs of wear and tear as a cutting-edge cultural capital.
The city has fallen into the dangerous territory of earning a reputation for being ‘oversaturated’ with art galleries and even “no longer hospitable to contemporary art dealers”.
Most recently, the EXILE gallery closed its doors in Berlin and relocated to Vienna, while the Gillmeier Rech closed its doors for good. The former lasted ten years and the latter lasted just five years. Both were located in the Schöneberg district, an area well-known for its numerous galleries. However, Gillmeier Rech’s founders claimed that maintaining their gallery in the city was simply an ‘unsustainable’ pursuit.
While Berlin obviously has a population that is exceptionally appreciative of art in comparison to the average Western capital – and it is still a haven where artists can find a welcoming home and a sustainable career in their chosen artistic field – the closure and relocation of galleries in the city potentially gives fodder to the argument that all cities have their limits in terms of the number of contemporary art galleries that they can effectively support.
The above two galleries are not the only ones to have put an end to their Berlin presence over the past half-decade. Numerous small and medium-sized galleries have closed up shop and moved elsewhere. Micky Schubert, a popular and well-respected gallerist throughout Berlin, closed her operation in 2017 and opted to move to Brooklyn, where she founded an incubator devoted to providing solutions to those art dealers struggling to maintain their businesses.
Now, Berlin’s steadily growing queue of gallery closures may not be a reflection on the city’s art scene as much as it is a reflection on the expendable wealth of the city’s art appreciators. Berlin has changed dramatically over the last ten years as wealthy professionals have arrived and rents have gone up across the city – but it is still a relatively poor city when weighed against other major cities in Germany and Europe.
It is entirely possible that Berliners just do not have the kind of money it takes to sustain an even larger number of art galleries, regardless of how much the city loves its art.