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Berlin art diaries: Are collectors moving out?

The Flick collection and Julia Stoschek are moving, Me Collectors Room has closed down. Painter Anna Nezhnaya is worried, and when two potential buyers flake on her, she questions her life choices. But then the phone rings...

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After struggling through lockdown, painter Anna Nezhnaya (left) has a hard time holding on to hope. But her frustration leads her to an unexpected outcome. (Photo: Leone Lucke)

There are times when you are wondering if you ‘re gonna sell any artworks ever. Post- lockdown, for example. I’d been fighting through a lot, fulfilling so many applications and residency requests, preparing post-quarantine shows – all in th e hopes of showing my personal progress and surviving th is rough period .

“Anna, could you bend the legs a little more at the knees, in a way that the feet do not jut out the edge of the canvas? To…. uhm….rework the painting a little bit?”- Matilda and I are standing in my s tudio – aka my apartment – during a party I was throwing there. Matilda is a young, wealthy art-lover interested in my painting.

My home isn’t quite the same as a proper studio – but it works as a meeting point for long nights with artist friends. Now and then I invite potential collectors and curators to join our bohemian get-togethers, which allows me to show my new paintings in a parenthetical way between glasses of wine.

I raise my right eyebrow over Matilda’s outrageous suggestion. Invasive requests by potential art buyers are not new to me, still I am always surprised by people’s cheek . “Well, Klaus is saying that…” Matilda continues , ignoring my obvious eyebrow-move and the resentful glance I try to punish her with, “that this painting…well… has an unsettling energy, and it could have a bad effect on my state of mind.” Matilda is trying to balance herself in her Louboutins while gesticulating wildly. Klaus is Matilda’s ex-boyfriend, an artist she ‘s brought along to night. I look over to Klaus’ two nervous Pomeranian dogs who are running around barking between my canvases. I ‘m highly confused. Barely a week ago, Matilda and I discussed where to hang the painting in her apartment. She had fallen in love with it at first sight and taken a million selfies in front of the red-painted figure of a female demon before insist ing she absolutely had to have it.

I feel a growing sense of unease – the latest disappointing news about the epochal exodus of collectors from post-quarantine Berlin hasn’t exactly left me optimistic. I am trying to believe Julia Stoschek’s saying that she was moving her c ollection simply because the rent became too expensive. But after Me Collectors Room closed as well and the Flick Collection will be moving out of Hamburger Bahnhof, some people claim th at collectors are moving from once poor-but-sexy Berlin to richer lands.

“I am not customi s ing my paintings,” I snap at Matilda. One of the little dogs freezes, maybe because of the harsh tone of my voice. “Maybe Klaus can try to paint something similar but with a more positive energy for you,” I add and hurry back to my guests, secretly wondering if I’ve gone too far.

A couple of days later I am eating pizza on my balcony with a curator friend. Two new acquaintances are joining us – a married couple interested in buying a painting of mine. Before sitting down at the table, they take a capsule of star dust out of a pack of cigarettes. “Do you want some?” Claudia, the wife, asks. It’s a warm Tuesday evening, and the Linden trees are in bloom. I refuse the ‘dessert’ and try to present my new works – but unfortunately my guests seem to be riding another wave. After promising to return for one of the paintings, they soon disappear in the moonlight. Something is telling me they won’t be back .

I wonder if this is the sexiness of Berlin: to live all your life on promises made during such late-night conversations. To fight my depression I tak e out an older work of mine with two white gossiping kitties. In big letters, I write “Fuck coke talk! ” on it. A couple of days later, my curator calls: “Anna, the coke work is amazing!” She proposes to include it in an upcoming exhibition. And, guess what, while I’m still considering to drop my seach for a gallery and study psychology instead, Matilda calls: “Anna, don’t change anything in the painting! Klaus is wrong. I take it – both the leg and the energy suit me!”