“My toys as a child were paper and pencils, paints and wood. Sometimes I longed to have a Game Boy.”
Former CEO of Artusiast and editions and multiples lover Timo Niemeyer has been surrounded by artists from a young age. He tells us about his experiences of Art Basel and the future of the art market.
FAM: You founded your first gallery at the age of 22 and have continued to work as a dealer and art advisor between Zurich and London. Having also spent time living in Berlin, what are the qualities of these three cities from an art expert point of view?
Timo Niemeyer: If the world were to have an art capital, London would be it. It’s an incredibly inspiring place, though you pay an extremely high price for a relatively low quality of life there. You need nerves of steel to avoid the city eating you up and spitting you out. Zurich is a static city with few changes over the years, providing a business-friendly infrastructure—especially for the art market. In Berlin on the other hand, you can party the night away with a pocketful of change, eat well, and not worry about paying the rent. With countless artist studios and over 300 active galleries in the city, you ask yourself how they all are making their living? I have no idea...
You grew up in a highly artistic environment, what was the first inspiring encounter with art that you can remember?
My parents always took me with them to international art fairs which I found very inspiring. My mother is a publisher and my father a graphic designer. Their activities were focused on the production of art, be it painting or publishing prints and multiples. My toys as a child were the tools and materials of my parents: paper and pencils, paints and wood. Sometimes I longed to have a Game Boy. I remember being at Art Basel when I was 4 years old while my mother was exhibiting her editions. I spent most of the time on the floor of the exhibition booth drawing and selling my scribbles for a few pennies to amused fair visitors.
Where does your passion for editions come from and where do you find them?
As a child I watched my parents produce multiples and editions in the studio which were then sold at fairs or galleries. Sometimes I was allowed to take a sample print or a copy with some minor flaws which I resold for a symbolic amount far below the market price on the first online platforms. The 1990s weren’t great for art publishers. Editions were not really popular and many publishers emptied their storage spaces and sold their edition stocks to art dealers like edition-f for peanuts. Among them were the Pace Gallery in New York and Galerie Denise René in Paris. You could buy thousands of great serigraphs by Victor Vasarely, Robert Indiana or lithographs by Günther Uecker for about 40 or 50 German marks. Being a student with a small budget, I swapped proof prints, damaged or loose editions of my parent’s editions with these.
As the former CEO of Artusiast in Berlin could you tell us a little bit about the idea behind this platform?
As the first digital post-auction sales platform it aimed to bring together a selection of the most important Central European auction houses. Our 18 partners were all established art market actors with international customer networks in the luxury goods sector. We wanted to reach people who loved art and who appreciated the transparency the platform could offer. Our customers included art dealers who are well acquainted with the art market’s mechanisms, but also newcomers who visited Artusiast to purchase their first pieces of art.
What, in your opinion, are the advantages of online art platforms in comparison to the traditional forms of selling art?
The art market is like a dinosaur in the worldwide economy—it is one of the few markets that is non-transparent and inefficient. It often requires considerable effort to determine an artwork’s authenticity. In many cases records concerning the production and provenance of individual works have been lost. Prices waver and elaborate research is necessary in order to be able to compare prices. Art still has an exclusive, even elitist character that is established and furthered by various art market institutions, targeting only certain groups. What I find fascinating about these new art platforms is their democratizing of information. Platforms like these might be pioneering game changers with their open information, both about the merchandise and the prices. Content is linked to encyclopedia or price databases, you can share it with friends and business partners, like it and tweet it.
I am intrigued by this work on your sideboard, what is it?
This is a small sound sculpture by physicist and visual artist Peter Vogel. It has an optical sensor installed, which reacts to light and shadow with various electronic sounds. The sound reproduction is subject to chance and the reproduced sounds are therefore unique and unrepeatable. It is just fascinating.
Can you tell me more about this work featuring Dürer’s Feldhase?
This is an artwork that has been with me since childhood and once hung in the studio of my parents. It’s a tribute from my father to Andreas von Weizsäcker and Klaus Staeck: a reproduction of the Dürer’s Feldhase (1502) which sits in a wooden frame with straw and the German Bild newspaper.
You have a lot of what look like posters too, could you tell me about them?
They’re not only posters for important exhibitions, but are in fact published as lithographs and listed in numerous catalogs with exact publication details like edition number etc. During my time at university, historical exhibition posters from printing studios like Mourlot caught my attention—back then you could pick them up at French flea markets for a few euros. The poster shown here is for an exhibition of the Carelian Constructivist Ivan Puni, who changed his name to Jean Pougny in Paris.
The works of your father Jo Niemeyer clearly play a central part in your home.
You can find some of Jo’s pieces in our apartment and also some works by my grandfather and his constructivist colleagues. What unites them all is their sociopolitical approach to their art. My grandparents were artistically active in the avant-garde circles of the 1930s and 1940s. The movements around De Stijl, Bauhaus, and later in the School of Ulm wanted to make art more accessible to a broader public. My father belongs to the second generation of the Concrete Art movement. His constructions are less political and try to simplify aesthetic experiences through form, color, and ratio—it’s about aesthetic accessibility.
The ink drawings around the house perfectly match the abstract geometrical layout of your apartment and almost give it a romantic touch. What is the idea behind them and who is the artist?
Those are made by my partner Daniela Tisevski. She collected bird feathers on our journeys and used them to apply black ink on paper. Each feather—that of a crow, a pigeon, a hawk, or a seagull—delivers a different ink structure. The works are an abstract, irrational counterpart to the very strict, mathematic aesthetics of the Concrete Art in our home.
With two pairs of visually trained eyes in here, how do you split up the interior design between the two of you?
Both the furniture and the art are not really bought with a specific concept in mind. They appeared in our life by chance: at auctions, at flea markets or even as trash on the street. Daniela’s passion for Scandinavian furniture started with our visits of the Nordic countries including my homeland Finland. When we lived in London she saw that the British furniture and design market lacked these pieces (which wasn’t the case in the rest of the world) and managed to establish some excellent sources for Danish, Swedish, and Finnish furniture from the 1950s and 1960s. There is a strong art historical link between Concrete Art, industrial design, and architecture. But I must admit I am a bit scared of furniture and large art pieces, I prefer prints and multiples which are easy to move about with! An art collection that fits into a couple of suitcases would be ideal.
Interview by Juliane Spaete