A gallerist with an eye for raw talent, Alex Duve hosts one of Berlin Art Week’s most anticipated exhibitions.
If the week is to be seen as a reflection of the state of art in Berlin or even globally, one must not overlook Chris Succo’s painting expo at DUVE Berlin. Duve first appeared on the Berlin art landscape in 2007, and his gallery quickly gained a reputation as the number-one spot to see emerging artists just a split second before their meteoric rise to the top.
You started your gallery in 2007 as Duvekleeman with Birte Kleeman. Then after five months, she left the project to move to New York City (where she now heads Michael Werner Gallery). Was it clear that you would continue?
At that time Birte left, I was like, what am I going to do? Go on myself? I realised then that I could decide about aesthetics and concept all by myself, do what I wanted to do. But then I realised I had no contacts, none. Nobody had a fucking clue who I was! When you think about it economically, I should have stopped. Birte knew everybody when we did the gallery together, and when she left, I was really standing there, saying: should I do it? But everything had just started. We had put so much effort into the project.
Has your programme become more commercial?
Yeah, I am more commercial now, doing painting shows more than performance things, but I have to survive. When we started, we had lots of conceptual, risky shows, Like Jen Denike doing nude, dancing performances in the gallery. Over time, I realised “Fuck, I need to make money.” I didn’t want to close the gallery. If I could, I would also do other shows. Cool shows, amazing shows, every second show like a freak-out crazy mega non-commercial show… but I can’t sell them. There are galleries like Chert that are so hardcore conceptual, but you wonder: how do they pay their bills?
What’s your collecting aesthetic?
My parents collected abstract art for like 40 years. I like abstract painting. I know that it’s commercially good to sell at the moment, but I also like it. More than other things. So I am selling what I like and I can only sell what I like. My programme was always very Americanised, I was always looking for interesting American artists. I just continued with what I always did, and that suddenly got really in. I showed Sebastian Black, Paul Cowen, Ed Fornieles, and Markus Amm (okay, he’s German, but he also has an American market) – all these guys who are now exploding.
And what’s it like to work with artists and build a gallery programme these days?
Working with an artist is like being in a relationship – you marry somebody because you want to be with a person for the rest of your life, but these days it mostly doesn’t work out. It’s the same with the new art market. Galleries used to start working with an artist at a young age and would continue with them for all their lives. Now, artists emerge and jump around from one gallery to another, which I don’t necessarily understand.
Exactly the artists who you put so much effort into and build up – the ones who really could pay your bills – suddenly leave the gallery. It’s disappointing. Show some dignity and respect to the people who brought you up. All the effort the young gallery puts into the artist’s work, being loyal to its artists, in a way making their career possible. Pushing the Bruce High Quality Foundation was lots of work, I showed them at Artissima – people were laughing at me, “what kind of bullshit is this?”. Then, just when they blew up, they left the gallery to work with Vito Schnabel.
How did you start working with the Bruce High Quality Foundation?
I discovered them with Birte Kleemann. We saw them in early 2007, in their studio in Brooklyn, and we thought “Perfect. These guys rock.” A big reason they left the gallery was because it’s five guys, selling artworks that were not really expensive. Just imagine, selling an artwork for €10,000 is €5000 for the gallerist and €5000 for them, divided by five, so everybody gets €1000… how do you want to live from that? Now the funny thing is that they are big. They no longer show with young, cool galleries. They show with Bruno Bischofberger, at Ammann Gallery – the massive, very big Swiss galleries, with really cool things at Art Basel. The collectors come back to me and say, “Ugh, why didn’t I listen to you?”, but then I say, there are still some new chances, you can buy Chris Succo…
Succo is becoming quite big right now. Where’d you find him?
I found him at his MFA Diploma Show at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. I was like “Hey man, you wanna have a solo show?” “YES!” I just liked his work, and then I showed him at every art fair – that I did – I really worked my ass off for him. When he was at the Royal College in London, we would meet up and go together to Frieze. People started to know us together, which was also good. There are galleries coming who are really interested in Chris, like now it’s the question: will Chris be so clever and start working with them, but also stay with his young gallery?
What would you do if he left?
If Chris left, then I would really have to second-guess… I don’t think I would close the gallery, but I would have to build up somebody again, and again and again… With all the stress, you get a heart attack. But it’s a passion, and I like it too much.
Chris Succo Sep 12-Oct 31 | DUVE Berlin, Gitschiner Str. 94, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Hallesches Tor, Tue-Fri 11- 18, Sat 12-16
Originally published in issue #130, September 2014.