“The white-cube gallery feels antiquated and restricted to me now.”
Collector and curator Stephanie Moeller divides her time between London, Berlin, and New York. The former director of Moeller Fine Art Berlin has just completed a Masters at the Courtauld and is currently setting up The Gallery of Everything for James Brett.
FAM: You took over the direction of Moeller Fine Art in Berlin in 2009 and decided to add young contemporary perspectives to the 19th and 20th century masters which are your gallery’s field of expertise.
Stephanie Moeller: During my five years as director of Moeller Fine Art Berlin, I had the responsibility to continue the gallery’s long-standing tradition of showcasing modern and post-war contemporary art. However, I really wanted to make some of these art historical ideas more relevant to my generation and attempted to do this by encouraging dialogues with more contemporary positions.
Which artist springs to mind?
An example of this is artist Jeongmoon Choi’s light and architectural installation “Puls”, comprised of white threads woven through the outer floor and walls of the gallery, which were illuminated under UV light. “Puls” ran parallel to an exhibition, “Mark Tobey: Between East and West”. Despite the difference in generation and medium, Choi and Tobey find commonality in their approach to drawing through space. Both delineate and restructure space and movement in their respective mediums.
In 2014 you decided to close Moeller Fine Art in Berlin and continue your work as an art dealer through a more flexible advisory model.
In the summer of 2014 I closed Moeller Fine Art Berlin after realizing that I spent most of the time researching, writing and curating, essentially thinking about art and ideas, rather than running a business, and decided to apply to the M.A. program at the Courtauld Institute of Art. At the same time, a few friends asked me for advice on buying art and building an art collection. From one day to the next, I became an art advisor, which was actually great fun.
What has been your experience since you altered your role? Is there perhaps a longing for alternative ways of acquiring art in the collector’s world?
Well, it allowed me to discover artists and cultivate an interesting dialogue on formal and thematic ideas with clients and friends. I encouraged them to follow their interests, buy out of passion (rather than for financial gain), and ideally concentrate on a specific subject, be it a medium or theme: kinetic art, works on paper, depictions of women or possibly a period in art history. It’s wonderful to be able to delve into a subject matter or an artist’s universe and art collecting allows for that. For example, I am particularly drawn to motifs of seemingly endless ladders. The idea started when I fell in love with Martin Puryear’s sculpture entitled Ladder for Booker T. Washington, 1996, at MoMA in 2007. Thereafter, I acquired this untitled collage by Björn Braun from 2009.
Not everybody who grows up around art chooses to enter into the art world. Did you always want to work in this field or is this something that naturally came along after growing up around your father’s Gallery Moeller Fine Art in New York?
Our family life, first in London and then in New York, revolved around my father’s gallery Achim Moeller Fine Art. However, I’m the only one of my siblings who is and has always been interested in art. A gallerist does not separate his work from his private life. Art historians, artists, curators, museum directors and dealers would shuffle in and out and of our home. I owe my humble art collection to their generosity.
We’d love to know which pieces?
Lux, one of Lyonel Feininger’s sons gave me, by way of my father, naturally, this exquisite “Ghostie” watercolor. My father’s great friend, whom we all deeply admired, was Piero Dorazio. Each time he came over to dinner he brought a present. Consequently, I have his works in each room of my home. None for sale! I bought two works from a good friend of mine, the photographer Kate Bellm, and the two large ones here are on loan. Actually, they’re for sale, if you’re interested. I’m quite a fan of Kate’s poppy, tropical, fauvist-technicolour landscapes that inspire romantic dreams of adventure and freedom.
You seem to be a big fan of Duchamp?
I have Marcel Duchamp ephemera all over the place. These are actually enlarged copies of Eliot Eliosofon’s photograph of Duchamp descending a staircase in 1952, satirising the artist's iconic painting Nude Descending a Staircase that caused a scandal in the art world when it was presented to the Armory Show in 1913.
You just finished your masters at the Courtauld Institute in London. What did you decide to specialize in?
I studied with Dr Robin Schuldenfrei in her special option entitled “Experiencing Modernism: Utopia, Functionalism and Times of Turmoil” that focused on the development and influence of modernism in Weimar Germany. We examined art, film, architecture, and design from 1919 to 1933. My dissertation, Performing Utopias: The Activation of Space and The Spatialisation of Man in Oskar Schlemmer’s Theatre focused on how Schlemmer animated space into a living, breathing character on the stage, and by so doing, produced his abstract, ideal man. You’re welcome to read it in the Courtauld library...!
Is it important to you to dive back into theory every once in a while as a contrast to your professional life in the art world or was this a specific measure to narrow down your field of expertise?
Absolutely! What a luxury it is to be able to spend one’s time reading and thinking. Unfortunately, I have not yet figured out a way to earn a living from doing this, but am working on it...
What themes in art excite you and could you see yourself moving towards?
The white-cube gallery structure feels antiquated and restricted to me now. I gravitate towards an interdisciplinary approach and interactive art experience. Sound and light art have always fascinated me. My dissertation focused on dance and costume and as a result, I have become much more interested in performance art.
Are there any interesting experiences or exhibitions you would like to share with us?
Berlin was truly fortunate to host Carl Andre’s fabulous retrospective at the Hamburger Bahnhof. I wrote a review on it for The Public Monuments and Sculpture Association’s magazine, 3rd Dimension. Am I allowed to plug my next project too? I am setting up The Gallery of Everything and helped curate the inaugural exhibition showcasing artists from Jarvis Cocker’s television series, ‘Journeys into the Outside’. Come visit this autumn at 4 Chiltern Street in London.
Interview by Juliane Spaete