INTERVIEW WITH CLAUDIA HERSTATT
Dr. Anke Manigold talks to the journalist Claudia Herstatt about her new book Women Gallerists in the 20th and 21st Centuries.
Mrs Herstatt, you have discovered some extraordinary female gallery owners. Was it difficult for you to choose which ones to include in your book?
Thirty portraits of gallery owners from three generations is, of course, a very small number indeed. But I never envisaged writing a book that would offer a comprehensive overview, rather a series of examples; so it came down to showing how these gallery owners lived and worked, and uncovering how each of them developed and presented the program for their galleries.
And what kind of women get involved in the adventure of opening a gallery?
Ilona Anhava, who runs a very successful gallery in Helsinki, was a lawyer. Suzy Shammah, before she opened a gallery in Milan four years ago, worked in cancer research, and Monika Sprüth was an urban planner. People find very different routes into the profession, but in each case it's because art has become overwhelmingly important for them.
What do you need to do this job? Training? Money? Passion?
There's no training for becoming a gallery owner; anyone can call themselves one. Money helps, but most people didn't have any when they started out. Many of them have suffered years of sleepless nights. Gallery owners are fascinated by living among art. They are interested in talking about art, in discovering and supporting artists, and in watching how art is made.
Are there any differences between today's female gallery owners and the pioneers of the past?
The business has got a great deal harder and faster. Antonina Gmurzynska worked twelve hours a day and travelled widely. In that respect things haven't changed much. What have changed are the structures; in the past, many people ran a gallery without knowing the first thing about accounting or marketing. You can't do that any more.
Which qualities do female gallery owners need to bring to their work in order to hold their own in a world that, even today, is still run by men?
Really the same qualities as men.
And they are?
A good eye, an ability to get things done, an ability to get on well with artists, good business sense. The latter is not to be disparaged: why should it be acceptable to make money in every other profession, but not in art?
What gave you particular pleasure in writing this book?
The conversations and meetings with the gallery owners, but also with the artists who talked about their love and respect for the work of the people who represent them. For example, Santiago Sierra told me about how the owner of his gallery, Helga de Alvear, hid a hundred illegal migrants in cars, and how later she had to pay for all their papers. For him it was a kind of test to find out whether he wanted to continue working with her, to see what kind of risks she was willing to take.
Maybe we could conclude by considering the future. Will the number of women gallery owners increase?
Very possibly. Women have become more visible everywhere. Though I don't think that women today have more guts than Denise René, who opened her gallery in Paris in 1944 and remained true to her program all her life, irrespective of the changing fashions in art.