In the context of the recent opening of The Drawing Hub in Berlin, the first non-profit space dedicated to drawing in Germany, L’Agenda du dessin contemporain met its founder and director, Jan-Philipp Fruehsorge.
L’Agenda du dessin contemporain : Jan-Philipp Fruehsorge, you are an art historian based in Berlin. You ran a commercial gallery, fruehsorge contemporary drawings, from 2003 to 2015, and collaborated with international institutions and projects dedicated to drawing : C4RD and Drawing Room, London ; Drawing Center, Diepenheim, Netherlands ; FUKT – Magazine for Drawing, Germany ; the Big Draw, U.K. ; Anonyme Zeichner, Germany ; Sarah-Ann and Werner H. Kramarsky Collection, NYC ; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Can you tell us what is your « story » with drawing, when and how did it start?
Jan-Philipp Fruehsorge : I guess, it started early, already when I was at University in Berlin, studying art history, I had a wonderful professor and drawing expert, Werner Busch, who in fact opened my eyes and introduced me to the subtleties and beauties of drawing. I am convinced it was due to him that I was much more intrigued by that particular medium and fell in love with drawing, than to any other form of art, but at that time it would rather be works by Goltzius, Rembrandt, Goya Cozens, Ingres or C.D. Friedrich.
When I was living in New York for a while in the mid-nineties, I discovered the Drawing Center, and that was probably the second moment, when I realized that drawing is such a huge territory to discover. And also with a deeper understanding of drawing my general love for contemporary art was expanding as well. Looking at drawings sharpened the way I understood what the process in art is all about. As Richard Serra said, « drawing is a verb ».
A few years later, back in Berlin I had the chance to see the magnificent exhibition «Drawing is another kind of language» from the Kramarsky collection featuring minimalist and conceptual drawings from the 60s until today and this experience made me actually wish to open a gallery for contemporary drawings, which happened then 4 years later. Apart from the Kupferstichkabinett (the print and drawing collection), there was simply no exhibition space and no gallery whatsoever to present drawings in Berlin and I felt the urgent need to close that gap and give artists from the large and ever-growing community in Berlin a platform to show their works but also to work from the very beginning on internationally. My first show was with a danish artist, Jesper Christiansen, whose text-based paintings I had seen way back in New York and who happened to have a huge body of works on paper he has never been shown before.
When I had the pleasure to meet Wynn Kramarsky himself I told him, that his collection was the reason why I started to run a gallery and he was quite amused by that confession. So I was even more pleased and honored that in 2007 I was able to organize a show with works from his private collection «Tribute to Brice Marden», which coincided with the major retrospective of Marden’s work at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum.
ADC : As mentioned above, you ran a commercial gallery in Berlin for 12 years ; during Summer 2015 you founded and opened The Drawing Hub, the first non-profit organization dedicated to drawing practices, exhibitions, workshops, lectures, in Germany. You stated that you wish to keep in mind as examples historical institutions like The Drawing Center in NYC (founded in 1977) or The Drawing Room in London (founded in 2002). Why did you engage in a non-profit structure?
J.-P. F. : As everyone unquestionably will have noticed over the last couple of years the art market has changed quite dramatically, especially in the aftermath of the financial crisis since 2008. It has become increasingly difficult to survive as a small sized gallery . In particular if you work in the field of drawing where the prices remain (it is not fair but a fact) very modest in comparison to other media unless you work with very big names. The overhead of running a drawing gallery in a city like Berlin which has a great and vibrant art scene but a very small collector base is challenging, to say the least. We have been participating in more than 20 art fairs, a regular one was Drawing Now in Paris for 8 years, but in the end very often you almost hardly cover your expenses so I decided to stop being a gallerist to devote my time and expertise in a field which I feel much more comfortable with : research and curating, rather than being a dealer. It is sad to say, but for many collectors art has become a commodity, something to invest in, to speculate with, less and less it is an object of love and desire.
But the economic side is just one aspect. More important is that I see great potential in an institution that the Drawing Hub could emerge to. The nonprofit structure enables us to cooperate in a much easier way with likewise institutions. I remember that when we did a project with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, it was always an issue that my gallery was a commercial one. As a nonprofit it would have been no problem whatsoever. In the end, the museum was convinced that we did absolutely serious work with an academic backround and they agreed to do a publication together with us.
ADC : Can you tell us more about The Drawing Hub missions and ongoing projects?
J.-P. F. : The Drawing Hub is the attempt to pool resources, to bring together the knowledge and expertise of various individuals and institutions in the field of drawing. As you probably know best, there are quite many interesting and committed activities and initiatives internationally. I wouldn’t dare to say I know them all, but quite many of them I made over the course of the last years, contact to curators, spaces, magazines, galleries, biennials, etc. In a way ADC does something similar and I truly admire your work, I think we share a similar passion to collect information and provide them to an audience of drawing lovers and scholars likewise. I see the Hub in the literal sense of the word, as a nodal point to gather and connect widespread information but also as a physical space where exhibitions, conferences, workshops, lectures can happen. One project is the Drawing Hub Library. We had an open call to everyone who is willing to contribute with suggestions for books to be aquired but also to actually send us books for the library and amazingly many artists responded very generously and sent their catalogues. By doing this via the social network we created a discussion on publications on drawing, which was very inspiring. Some years ago I worked on a bibliography on drawing and was researching intensely what is available on the market. In a way, I am still continuing this research and it slowly becomes a quite substantial collection of books, which I would like to offer to the public.
The Drawing Hub could be a space among other spaces (like NY, London ; Oslo) and initiate collaborative projects. There have been some in the past, but in my opinion there is much more potential. Still my impression is that the english speaking academic research and the french research is only partly shared. Also, that european and US research could be intensified plus the question of Asia or Africa.
The idea would be a network of drawing spaces and a truly international research database as an online resource. There are many more ideas, but at the moment the key issue is to secure the funding for the HUB on a longterm base. We started with an exhibition curated by dutch and norwegian artists to give an overview of some parts of the Berlin based international drawing scene. The show « Silverlinings » was a great success, but now we need to find the money to follow up with the next projects, which turned out to be very difficult unfortunately.
Beside, Tesuki washi (japanese for : handmade paper) Berlin was founded as a side project to the Drawing Hub. The mission behind this enterprise is to support and promote the craft of the finest traditional papermaking of Japan. Since 2014 handmade papermaking has been inscribed on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. As a matter of fact over the last decades the number of master papermakers is decreasing and the local Japanese market is very limited. Therefore TWB wants to serve as a cultural ambassador in order to raise awareness in Germany and Europe for this outstanding and unique craftsmanship and inspire people to pay attention to this beautiful material.
ADC : Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Drawing Now Paris Art Fair (France) is organizing a symposia dedicated to contemporary drawing in March 2016. You have been invited to take part as lecturer. Can you tell us more about the subjects you will talk about?
J.-P. F. : I will host a round table discussion with Elsy Lahner, curator from the Albertina Vienna, Michael Semff, former director of the drawing collection Pinakothek der Moderne Munich and Tobias Burg, curator of the Folkwang Museum drawing collection. The topic will be « venues of drawing », so we are going to discuss the different attitudes toward the politics of collecting and exhibiting in those institutions. As the Drawing Hub has just started, I would probably rather sketch out what we are intending to do in the future and hope, of course, to get as many people as possible interested in our upcoming activities.
ADC : how does ADC readers can support The Drawing Hub?
J.-P. F. : As the Drawing Hub is a nonprofit organization we are dependent on donations, especially in the beginning of the founding process, but support can also come in various other forms, be it discourse, suggestions for projects, or simply by spreading the news, let other people know about us, help us to make the Hub visible and interact with us to engage in intellectual exchange about drawing.
Interview conducted by Anne-Cécile Guitard.
THE DRAWING HUB