Verena Gillmeier and Claudia Rech met in typical Berlin style on a fateful night out in 2012 in something akin to friendship at first sight. That summer they met often at Times, a bar in the Neukölln district run by Lindsay Lawson and artist duo Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel. “I wanted to curate Verena into a show,” says Rech, “At the time I was an independent curator. The show never happened but over a dish of pasta arrabbiata at my place and a lot of frustration with how complicated things are in the art world, we decided to start a commercial gallery so we could do things OUR way, back then we wanted to call the space "Fabulous."”
Having lived in Sweden for a while, Gillmeier missed Germany and had recently relocated to Berlin, though it was initially a reluctant choice for her. Born during a cold winter in Lower Bavaria into a family run butchery, Gillmeier studied fashion and graphic design, later completing her Master of Fine Arts in New Media Art in Gothenburg. “In my teens I remember I got “The Second Sex“ by Simone de Beauvoir suggested by Amazon,” Gillmeier reminisces, “so I ordered it almost blindly. I think this book was a pivotal moment for me, I started questioning the world around me more; understanding my gender and my place in society.”
Born and raised in Bern, Switzerland to an Italian father and a Croatian mother, Rech was 16-years-old when her family moved to Italy to her father's home town near Venice, in the Dolomites. The switch was a difficult adjustment from the big city to a small town but Rech says, “It’s where I formed my taste and persona, it’s where I started paying a real interest in art, from being part of political activist's groups to being in a punk hardcore band.” With a burning desire to be part of the art world, Rech eventually swapped idyllic Italy for Venice to study art history, training in renaissance art and doing an MA in Berlin where she gained a stronger focus in contemporary art practices.
During her studies In Gothenburg, Gillmeier had set up a project space called Martini Projects together with some friends. Wanting to build on the idea of providing a nurturing environment for artists instead of producing her own art and after noticing what she calls “glitches in the cultural landscape” of Berlin, the pair hatched a plan to open their own gallery and Gillmeier Rech was born.
What makes Gillmeier Rech different to other galleries?
CR: We invest in art practices that have maybe been under the radar in recent years, above all painting. We like to nourish older aesthetics and really don't care so much about "hype" or trend. We are actually quite traditional in our taste and program. We’re a gallery with an old soul.
What lessons have you learnt from launching the gallery?
CR: The art of patience. I was never a patient person but I am now definitely. I'd tell any other young gallery out there to trust their gut and never stop believing and as Rihanna sings "work, work, work."
What do you each individually bring to the gallery?
CR: I would never have been able to do the gallery by myself. Verena can do things I can't and vice versa. For example she is able to crack open the all important Prosecco bottles. I am horribly scared of the popping sound.
VG: Ask questions. It’s what keeps everything running. I would feel a bit silly asking myself questions, so I ask Claudia. I’m a car person and it’s more of an adventure when there is someone sitting with me in the front.
If you’re not connecting with the artist spiritually, forget it.
What’s your personal experience of being female identifying human beings working in the art world, specifically as gallerists?
CR: People discuss the role of the female artist but female gallerists are never really asked about our position in this field. Being a woman in the art world is very hard. You are either a total bitch or badass but if you wear heels or act girlish then you are totally disrespected or looked down upon and not taken seriously. I sometimes feel I have to act rougher than I sometimes want to, just so I can get a little bit more respect. It is of course not a big deal and these are not big issues, I am doing fine and carrying my own style of conducting a business but sometimes this creates a weird feeling of defeat. One should just be allowed to be the woman that one wants to be.
VG: The art world is a dick-centric place. Many women are afraid to call themselves feminists because the term is stigmatized. I don’t know, maybe I am a lipstick feminist, I don’t really care… All I want is to deliver good work and get recognized for it!
Aim high and never be afraid of failure.
How do you choose the artists you work with?
CR: I look for quality and something that will last. As an art historian I'd like to think that what we make will be part of some history someday.
VG: Today, many younger artists are very career driven and the art schools and the market encourage that. Instead of working on their biography, they keep editing their CV and can’t wait to get discovered. It might sound a little conservative when I still really believe in the artist’s spirit to energize the art piece. If you’re not connecting with the artist spiritually, forget it.
What do you want art to do to your senses?
CR: I want it to make you think about it. The works we show should leave you with something to reflect upon.
VG: Make me laugh. Then cry. Let it do both and let it be intense, or nothing at all.
Who are your personal favourite artists?
CR: In contemporary art I am very fond of Marcel Broodthaers' interventions and savvy reflections on the art world and its mechanisms. Then I love Lutz Bacher’s, Merlin Carpenters and Judith Hopf’s works, their works make you laugh about life's absurdities.
Just recently at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne I experienced for the first time the famous Stendhal Syndrome after seeing Isa Genzken' "Kinder Filmen 3." I almost fainted in front of the work. I had to sit down and recover outside, it was a great feeling.
VG: During my studies I discovered the video work “The Right Way“ by Peter Fischli and David Weiss at Centre Pompidou in Paris. The video features two men dressed as a bear and a rat wandering through a landscape, hiking through mountains, exploring a cave. I laughed. I sat down and kept watching. The movie ends with them making a bonfire, sitting on a cliff, drumming and singing. Throughout the movie they try to find reasons for the things they see and experience. I thought to myself: these guys are nuts and smart.
Do you get a rush from curating and putting a show together?
CR: I have done now so shows and every time there is something special that will spike a sensation of rush. Once the show is up, I like to just go outside the gallery and observe the opening from a corner and enjoy what just happened. Detach from all, and get some perspective because in the rush of making a show, you never see how much you and the artist / curator have achieved together. That is my little rush, to be a spectator at my own gallery.
VG: Much of what ‘makes the show’ is not visible to the visitor of the exhibition. There is so much work that just goes into coaching the artist, paperwork and talking, talking, talking. These things I enjoy, but when we finally talk art - especially when we get to a point of disagreement - after a couple of glasses of wine and decide to agree, that is when I get a rush.
What would the Gillmeier Rech manifesto be?
CR: Aim high and never be afraid of failure.