“In the end, the product on offer has to be authentic and of the highest possible quality. And that will never change.”
A dynamic presence in the Berlin art scene, Alfons Klosterfelde has been the Director of Helga Maria Klosterfelde Edition for the past five years. Professional and enormously energetic, he shows us around his home and gallery, revealing the commitment required to make it as a gallerist and the solace he finds in doing housework.
FAM: Hi Alfons, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Your gallery is famous for its long working relationship with notable artists, is that a side you enjoy?
Alfons Klosterfelde: Yes, absolutely. Long term relationships are something I greatly value. I grew up with a lot of the artists we represent. I remember in the 90s John Bock was a regular guest at my mother’s gallery openings in Hamburg. He was still a student at the Kunstakademie, totally unknown. Only a few months later, they started working together and he produced his first series of multiples, made from pizza boxes. I remember he turned to me once, after he’d first had the idea, and said, “now get ready to eat lots of frozen pizza!”
Does this also apply for Rosemarie Trockel, the artist behind your current exhibition. How long have you been working with her?
We have worked with her since 1993 on numerous editions, and I have always admired her carpet project with Equator Productions from the late 1980s. I’m quite proud to show them in the gallery actually. Also because I love the criticism that is incorporated in them. Trockel questions the meanings of symbols and labels in Western society, like this one, which says “Made in Western Germany.”
You took over as Director from your mother about 5 years ago, how much is Helga Maria Klosterfelde still involved?
From the operative and logistic side she steps back, but her opinion and her eye are immensely important to the direction of the gallery.
What happens when you disagree?
Someone gives in, and you learn to choose your battles.
What made you want to open the gallery here on Potsdamer Strasse?
My brother Martin was running a gallery for many years and moved to Potsdamer Strasse in 2009. I, at that time, ran the editions gallery in a small space in Linienstrasse in Mitte and also thought about moving. Then this beautiful space with the high ceilings and large storefront became available. In a city like Berlin you have to move around at a certain point, because locations, neighborhoods change all the time.
It’s an important cultural area, as well as being the former stomping ground of Iggy Pop and the late David Bowie, was that important to you?
Very much so, many outstanding art dealers of the 18th and 19th century had their galleries along the Landwehrkanal, like Alfred Flechtheim or Ferdinand Möller. So it has been a hotspot for culture for a long time. Potsdamer Platz is down the road which is of course the center of Berlin. And we have the Neue Nationalgalerie, the fantastic Mies van der Rohe building, the Gemäldegalerie which is a remarkable hidden treasure, the Berlin Philharmonic—everything is here.
You now use your old storage room to showcase previous works from your program. Can you tell us more about this Jorinde Voigt work please.
This artwork deals with the spectrum of human emotions. It’s based on a scientific list of a hundred human emotions we are capable of feeling in any given moment.
What would you say are the most important attributes of being a gallery director?
Being well-organized and planning ahead. Finding the right artists to work with and make good art. Above all be patient as for all these factors to harmonize takes time.
How would you say the art market has changed for a limited editions and multiples gallery?
There is a lot of art on offer now—not only galleries, but auction houses, then there are numerous online platforms that offer editions and multiples. So there are different ways of access. And that to me is a positive characteristic of editions, that they’re accessible and available to many people with different budgets. Specifically, with editions the art market is more open and democratic.
Do you think collectors or enthusiasts are altering the way they collect art?
Contemporary art and the events around it have become a lifestyle. With any kind of information easily accessible, collectors are better informed and independent. We can adapt the way we work to that. In the end, the product on offer has to be authentic and of the highest quality possible. And that will never change.
I see you often at openings, dinners and parties, you really enjoy that side of things?
Socializing is an important part of my work. You need to see a lot and constantly meet new people to update your network. I enjoy it most of the time.
Do you think it’s possible to make it as a successful gallerist without living that lifestyle?
You have to be out there. There is no question about that but the work in the gallery, behind the scenes, is equally important.
Which other multiple galleries or producers really stand out for you?
Sidney Felsen and Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles. Because of the group of influental contemporary artists they’ve worked and printed with since the 1960s until today: John Baldessari, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha and Richard Serra, but also more recently Julie Mehretu and Tacita Dean. Also, the remarkable building they reside and print in—which was extended by Frank Gehry in the 1970s.
I know you studied law, what made you want to give that up and work in art?
My mother Helga Maria founded the gallery in 1990 to raise funds for the foundation of the Hamburg Deichtorhallen. Growing up I was surrounded by artworks and artists signing prints, and at age 10 I helped install the Art Basel booth. Studying law gave me a great base in structural thinking and analyzing situations. But I always worked at the Gallery, so it was a natural step to fully engage in the business.
What draws you to art so much?
Art to me is a platform where all issues of a contemporary society can be questioned and discussed without any rules or restrictions. Everything is possible. In that way, art is an important tool to evolution. Being able to promote that is really what I value most.
Turning your attention to your personal art collection, I see that there are a great deal of works from artists you work with such as Jorinde Voigt, Cécile B. Evans and Jonas Lipps.
Being able to sourround myself with things I truly believe in is a rewarding thing. The artworks at my house speak to me in a sense, depending on my own thoughts or moods there is always a dialogue.
Your collection is highly personal, and beautifully laid out, I especially like how you hang private images of your family and yourself with found objects and artworks. Your life and art must be utterly entwined.
Yes it is. For example my godmother Almut Heise is an artist and long time professor at the Hamburg Armgartstrasse arts academy. I remember visiting her at the studio all my life, the smell of paint and coffee in the air. I now have a number of her drawings at my house, one of me as a baby and then later as a groom, dancing with my wife.
How do you relax and escape your professional commitments?
By playing the piano or doing household chores, that relaxes me as a form of meditation. I also like to pickle vegetables.
Interview by Duncan Ballantyne-Way