focus on: Frankfurt am Main, Germany
The artist-run scene in Frankfurt am Main and 20 years of EULENGASSE
– Cordula Froehlich M.A.
It all started – as with so many project spaces – with an idea: Harald Etzemüller and Vládmir Combre de Sena decided in 2003 to establish an art association together with five other artists and people with an affinity for art. A suitable location on Eulengasse, a street in Frankfurt am Main, gave the association its name. The first to occupy the 17 square metre space was one of the founding members Stehn Raupach. As early as 2006, the exhibition ‘Beware of the Goose!’ with members Dirk Kalthoff, Martina Templin and others literally bursting the confines of the space. The success of the space meant that in 2011 larger facilities with studios were rented in the nearby Seckbacher Landstraße, though the already established name of the association EULENGASSE remained.
Over the years, it was not only the members, including artists, cultural workers and art lovers who made the association a well regarded off-space, but also the exhibitions, which were positioned through their diversity in relation to contemporary issues. The conceptual approach of the gallery allowed it to provide a forum for painting, sculpture, drawing, photography and installation in addition to social sculptures in Beuys’ sense. This is how a successful concept came into being – which was named in-house as ‘Kunstverortung’ (art localisation) – and has remained a particular art platform since 2008. Since then, there has been a commitment to specific annual themes, which are conceived collectively by the artistic members with regard to the geopolitical and cultural-political situation as well as the existential artistic position, and which involve a variety of spatial realisations. A process of development is evident looking back at the last few years: CRISIS (2008), SHIFT OF PERSPECTIVE (2011), POLYVERSUM ToArt (2013), ME-I-MYSELF (2015), something is about to change… (2016), Dialectics of Recognition (2019) – to name some examples. The last theme in particular shows the relevance of cultural contributions in initiating dialogue with respect to social diversity.
The invited artists are free to develop artistic concepts on these subjects and to create new works. Artistic reflection in the form of panel discussions and brainstorming accompany the respective projects and are complemented with art education programmes and publications.
The ceaseless dedication of the members led to connections with external curators and other organisations, such as Bund Offenbacher Künstler. In 2014, the founders, together with Heide Khatschaturian, Petra Maria Mühl, Brigitte Kottwitz, Carolyn Krüger and others, developed the ‘TAUSCH!’ project, a concept which was repeated in the following years due to the high levels of response. The ‘TAUSCH! Contemporary Art Fair’ is an interdisciplinary art festival that offers a presentation platform to artists, studio communities and local actors in the respective regions within and outside of cultural capitals. These events are produced with an intention to explore humane liberalism as a counterpoint to consumption-oriented society. An accompanying lecture given at TAUSCH! by Carla Orthen illustrated the significant role that self-managed project spaces play in this context. Last but not least, this also opens up new networking opportunities. Exciting discussions arose in 2019 at the four day festival (developed by Elke Bergerin and Sabine Imhof, and others in collaboration with Kristin Wicher and Roger Rigorth of ARTHaus Altheim), which explored the question of the actual potency of cultural practice outside of established cultural institutions.
This made it possible to generate and record various art funding programmes, for example our supporters include the Cultural Office of the City of Frankfurt am Main, the Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain and the State Ministry of Science and the Arts of Hesse. Projects such as the collaboration platform ‘INCORPORE’ (2016 and 2017) were realised with Cornelia F. Ch. Heier, Vera Bourgeois, Kerstin Lichtblau, and Michael Bloeck among others. In cooperation with the Heussenstamm gallery and foundation, Frankfurt studio communities and the basis project space, and simultaneously helped individual artists to obtain a regional recognition. Further collaborations with associations and makerspaces such as 68elf in Cologne and kunstbalkon in Kassel followed and resulted, for example, in the creation of supporting programmes for documenta XIV (2017) and XV (2022). The Frankfurt Art Summer 2017 already showed the attention and recognition being given to artist-run spaces, exhibition venues and off-spaces such as AtelierFrankfurt, basis, Kunstverein Familie Montez, saasfee, Orbit24 or Ausstellungshalle 1A, beyond a scene-specific subculture. Since then, EULENGASSE has been recognised as a self-organised project space. In September 2022, the director of AtelierFrankfurt Corinna Bimboese hosted the kick-off meeting of the ‘Artist-Run Frankfurt’ format developed by Florian Adolph, Andrea Blumör and Harald Etzemüller to establish a network of Frankfurt project spaces, introduced by a presentation of ‘Artist-Run Network Europe’ (ARNE) by Alice Máselníková.
The intellectual exchange of humanitarian relevant topics was foregrounded more and more by the members of the art association. In addition, a new focus was added to the digital options. The project ‘Positionen 2018: Digitale Stadt’ (Darmstadt-Frankfurt-Wiesbaden), co-initiated by Dr. Paul Hirsch, in which EULENGASSE was involved as a project venue, extended its integration into the Rhine-Main cultural region. It was a groundbreaking futuristic event which showed the advantages and disadvantages of the digital world in its diversity.
An interdisciplinary artwork was created in 2019 at the invitation of Jasmin Glaab (kunsthallekleinbasel) for ‘SUMME’, the Basel Project Spaces Festival. Entitled ‘salonfähig’, a project concerned with space-time-body language was realised through a mulit-faceted collaboration of art historian Dr Ana Karaminova in the FABRIKculture in Hégenheim/FR, directed by Clément Stehlin. During 23 hours the visitors could experience the interface between haptic and transcendental perception by means of exhibition objects, performance and dialogue in the trinational region near Basel, Switzerland.
The time leap of social change includes not only artists using digital media to produce their works, but also the initiation of projects on online platforms, so that even in the Corona crisis (2020/21), which was difficult for all cultural workers, digital opportunities could be explored in the form of podcasts, virtual meetings and exhibitions. For instance, a virtual dialogue concept was realised for PLATFORMS PROJECT Independent Art Fair in Athens, which developed from a project initiated by Adam Szymczyk for documenta 14.
Another aspect in the context of social responsibility stirred the art emotions in 2020. Four artists worked with young offenders in a project entitled ‘Sentenced to canvas, pencils, wood and words’. This cooperation project developed with Daniel Scheffel and Sabine Imhof and the JKWF Jugend-Kultur-Werkstatt Falkenheim Gallus in Frankfurt am Main sensitised people on many levels to other people’s experiences and realities. The exhibition opened up a view of the creative process and the transcendental complexity in the arts in terms of psychological, pedagogical, didactic, social and aesthetic aspects that also play a major role in curating – in addition to their historical, content-related and spatial relevance.
Finally, after a cooperation in 2016/17 with Konstepidemin in Gothenburg, Sweden, another transnational project was successfully realised in 2022 with the curators Guillaume Krick and Romain Rambaud from B.A.R. Le Bureau d’Art et de Recherche at the Q.S.P. Gallery in Roubaix, France. Further collaborations in Gjilan,Kosovo, London, Great Britain and Québec, Canada are in the pipeline.
Since 2015, there has been a connection with Supermarket – Stockholm Independent Art Fair. Swedish artists such as Tomas Ferm, Magnus Fliesberg and the Czech artist based in Sweden Alice Máselníková have already been guests at the EULENGASSE exhibition space with their own shows. EULENGASSE’s annual presence at this fair is due in particular to the involvement of the artist Andrea Blumör. It started with ‘TERRITORIUM’, followed by ‘ST. CREDIBILITY’ and a questioning of the credibility of art, politics, science and religion. In this way, visitors have been encouraged to engage in dialogue about world-changing issues. According to an anonymous statement collected at Supermarket, it was already clear in 2016 that art was in danger of becoming an unspectacular niche existence favouring a narrative media world. This was to be challenged and became part of further concepts with a focus on dialogue. In 2021, online conversations on the topics of the ‘ROUND ROBIN’ took place before and during the fair. EULENGASSE will be present again at Supermarket 2023 – the year of EULENGASSE’s 20th anniversary.
Cordula Froehlich M.A. studied German language and literature and art history at the J.W. v. Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main and worked as a freelance art historian in Frankfurt for over 25 years. Her main focus is on guided tours as well as texts and curations on contemporary art. In 2022 she moved to Uelzen, and is now turning her attention to the Hamburg art scene and its regional surroundings. www.art-words.de
A brief history of Frankfurt’s independent scene
– Harald Etzemüller & Vládmir Combre de Sena
The current art scene in Frankfurt am Main is quite different in structure compared to other German cities such as Berlin, Leipzig, Munich or Cologne. Although the city has a long and distinguished history of visual arts, the arts field today is still dominated by commercial galleries and public museums. The lack of publicly funded independent spaces for art and the absence of a network organisation of and for these independent project and exhibition spaces is also striking.
Venues for artistic experimentation and the development of new presentation and mediation formats in studio communities, as well as producer galleries, already existed in Frankfurt in the 1970s. In 1973, the Kommunale Galerie was opened as a part of the City’s Cultural Office – a first in Germany, and a prototype for the 35 municipal galleries that now exist in Berlin. The French-born artist Nicole Guiraud summarises this retrospectively: ”The situation of artists at that time, as everywhere in the Western countries, was divided into two areas that had little contact with each other: the academic circles (in Frankfurt centred on the Städelschule, Academy of Fine Arts), which were directly linked to the art institutions and therefore ‘elitist’, and the various ones who did not belong to this milieu and were looking for something ‘more liberal’, experimental, independent, more in the realm of subculture.” This split continues in Frankfurt even today; local institutions and foundations mainly subsidise exhibitions by graduates from the Academy of Fine Arts of Frankfurt and the University of Art and Design in the adjacent city of Offenbach am Main, making it difficult to exhibit for artists outside of this context.
At the beginning of the 1990s, a creative spirit of optimism swept through the country – in West and East; as the fall of the Wall and the subsequent reunification of the two parts of Germany opened up tremendous potential. Many young people left Frankfurt for Berlin at that time, but those who stayed were able to participate in the formation of an independent scene. And that’s how we still know it today. There was the 707 e.V., which with its performances, readings, lectures and concerts was certainly the most important project of alternative cultural mediation in the early 1990s. Founded in 1985 by Andreas Kallfelz and others, 707 e.V. was active until 1995. And then there was GARTNER’S, which from 1993 to 1995 shaped and influenced a scene with weekly changing exhibitions, large cross-space environments, lectures, etc. It was initiated and run by Annette Gloser, who understands herself as a site-specific curator able to transform wasteland into a temporary cultural oasis. She subsequently dedicated herself to Galerie Fruchtig, a 600 square metre industrial hall, that ran until 1999. In 1997, the artists’ group Phantombuero was formed with Daniel Milohnic and Dirk Paschke, who until 2000 operated exhibition and event spaces at two locations in order to develop artistic projects as a resistance to the urban Frankfurt phenomenon of contradictions and conflicts – of a world turned upside down.
Then, towards the end of the 1990s, for the first time a more coordinated self-organisation of the independent scene was developed: Through the ’walks’ event independent exhibition spaces and projects from the city duo Frankfurt/Offenbach entered into an intensive dialogue with the public and creative partners. Organised by Florian Haas of gruppe finger (Frankfurt) and Oliver Raszewski and Thomas Hühsam of Fahrradhalle (Offenbach), this kind of festival took place over five consecutive years starting in 1997. It ran in parallel to the commercial art fair ART Frankfurt and was supported by the City’s Cultural Office. Lively cultural actors of this time and represented in these events were – to mention only a few by name – Stefan Beck with multi.trudi, an art space, offspace and art project based on exchange, conversation and participation (1997–2003). Konstantin Adamopoulos and Natalie de Ligt who are two of the few examples to have succeeded in making a seamless transition from artist-run to the institutional world. Adamopoulos, a freelance curator and exhibition organiser in Frankfurt between 1993 and 2002, inventing the term ‘free art initiatives’ while simultaneously working in the context of commercial galleries. De Ligt became director of the Nuremberg Kunstverein after running the exhibition space at 34a Oppenheimer Street between 1999 and 2002, a location which has existed as an art space from 1992 up to the present with changing tenants.
From Off to On: When professionalisation succeeds, the flair and multidimensional social function of the project space is quickly lost, as happened with Jürgen Wolfstädter, who previously offered a space dedicated for performance with his OFKunstraum and subsequently Galerie Wildwechsel but since 2012 has operated a traditional commercial gallery. gutleut 15 (1997–2009) had to close due to a change of ownership of the building, and the former director Michael Wagener now focuses on his small fine art book publishing house. Or the finger exhibition space at 4-6 Alte Mainzer Gasse, which was ‘borrowed’ by two artists in 1992–2012 from the property owner Städelschule, and today has become fffriedrich, a project space run by students of the MA Curatorial Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt together with students of Fine Arts at Städelschule.
A characteristic of non-institutional project spaces even today is their often precarious situation, both physically and financially. Many of the inspiring initiatives and places whose existence consists in not being funded are therefore often ephemeral in nature. For many initiatives that disappeared only a few years ago, there is hardly anything left on the Internet about their existence, even in this digital age. The exhibition space Fahrradhalle, which was an important venue in Offenbach started in 1995 but closed 2007 due to lack of both funding and public interest – since closing the building has been demolished and the area is redeveloped. Standort studio/exhibition space run by Joachim Raab and seven other artists 1996–2006 has also been demolished, the auswärts art space 1999–2002 – no one knows what became of the people running it. MATO, studios and exhibition space, which started in 2000 in an industrial ruin in Offenbach, had to leave the site in 2013 because of its redevelopment (but the non-profit art association still exists and is working on project co-funding). This was followed by a municipal studio building increasing rents and becoming linked to the local university of art and design. The project space Balken’s last activity was in 2021, driven for about ten years by the artist Deniz Alt, this former industrial site will also soon be re-clustered with residential development. The Bahnhof Mainkur, an art space from 2005 to 2015, is back to being a pub. At least the programme of the art space Schwalbe 54 led by Jana Jander, which ran for eight years, is still available on Facebook, last entry 2020. The living room gallery and weekend salong ML44 run by Carola Reichel and many others no longer exists.. A special mention for Grxxgs (1991–2006), the most unspectacular exhibition space in town: invitations, announcements, openings – all absent. The only thing in this cool and discrete small shop window located in the north-end of Frankfurt is its monthly changing installations – no trace of the artist or the operator. But, we know him personally: his name is Heinrich Göbel (he is now doing bicycle tours…).
This is the occasion to thank Stefan Beck for his blog-archive ‘Thing Frankfurt’ (still online!) on arts, critique and new media, which has existed since 1992, he describes it as a network for the transformation of Frankfurt arts. His records from the independent scene are a highly valuable historical document, where you can find an extensive characterisation of many off-spaces and self-organised spaces – up until when Stefan moved to Hamburg around 2012 which ended the notes project. There is no current directory of Frankfurt project spaces – not yet.
The following four art venues occupy a special position. Established in 2004 on the initiative of architect Jörg Siedel in the former police headquarters, AtelierFrankfurt was Frankfurt’s first studio house offering forty studios along with event spaces. Since moving to Frankfurt’s Ostend in 2014 where it covers 11,000 square metres, has 140 studios as well as several project and exhibition spaces, it has been managed by Corinna Bimboese. All four art venues are run by non-profit associations, but the production and exhibition platform basis is another studio house that operates semi-institutionally through the organisation of a municipal artist-in-residency programme. It positions itself by conveying artistic content and questioning the role of art in society. Klosterpresse, an interdisciplinary artist and print workshop founded in 1967, formerly located in the Carmelite monastery, is institutionally supported, as is Ausstellungshalle 1A, in a former laundry and directed by Dr. Robert Bock.
Among the project spaces that have been around for a long time and are still running today are Galerie Zement, founded by Richard Köhler in 1996 and Freitagsküche by Thomas Friemel and Michael Riedel – which since 2004 has been the best place for a dinner among artists, stylish and trendy people., In addition there are, Kunstverein Familie Montez founded by the artists Mirek Macke and Anja Czioska in 2007, the saasfee exhibition pavilion of the artists’ collective around Alex Oppermann and Moni Friebe started in 2008, and husslehof run by Felix Große-Lohmann since 2013.
In this contextualised field of art, five artists in 2003 launched our art association EULENGASSE in a small exhibition space in the Bornheim district of Frankfurt – currently there are 56 members. Some of them have their studios in AtelierFrankfurt or other studio buildings. Many artists from the aforementioned studio houses have already participated in exhibitions in EULENGASSE. There are many personal bonds between the members and most of the art venues mentioned here. EULENGASSE has realised cooperative projects in the past with basis project space, AtelierFrankfurt, Klosterpresse, MATO, Zement, Familie Montez and others, developing a growing, self-perpetuating network. Newer foundations on the independent scene are Kressmann-Halle in Offenbach, run by YRD.works since 2016 , and from 2017 Atelier Wäscherei operates in Offenbach centred around the artists Carolin Liebl and Nikolas Schmid-Pfähler a.o. In 2018 Orbit24 was started by Eva Weingärtner and DeDe Hando as well as newnow artspace by Gabriel & Andra Stoian., In 2019 Mañana Bold was founded in Offenbach as a nomadically oriented art association to stimulate artistic impulses in Offenbach, the Rhine-Main region and beyond by working together with already existing initiatives and spaces. Launched in 2019 Synnika space run by Naomi Rado and others is interested in establishing connections with protagonists from different contexts and hosting visual installations, workshops, discussions and other formats of gathering that relate to the common environment – whose urban realities on the one hand increasingly stand for isolation and singularity, and on the other hand are becoming more and more comparable on a global scale.
And these are certainly only a few examples, surely now after the pandemic there are some new developments and certainly many spaces remain hidden from us even now. This is where the initiative ‘Artist Run Frankfurt’, initiated by EULENGASSE members, comes in: to facilitate networking of existing project spaces with the aims of improving the visibility of non-institutional art venues, providing mutual support in the realisation of projects, as well as structural strengthening in order to – side by side with the Frankfurt coalition of the independent scene – give a loud voice to cultural-political demands for a fair allocation of funding and exhibition fees.
In summary, Frankfurt has had a growing independent art scene over the last three decades, taking a position parallel to the predominance of commercial galleries, the art market and the museums landscape. In contrast to Berlin, whose vibrant and diverse art scene is particularly characterised by independent artists’ initiatives, artist-run production spaces, makerspaces and studio communities that receive special support from the city government, independent art initiatives in Frankfurt am Main still face many challenges. There is a great gap between the institutional funding of established cultural institutions for visual arts and the comparatively insignificant funding of contemporary artists’ initiatives. There is still a lack of awareness among city councillors and other decision-makers concerning adequate public funding for the independent scene in order to develop a diverse and dynamic cultural landscape. Finally, it is about – as Stefan Beck already articulated in the early 1990s – developing and supporting a new understanding of art, based on participation and collaborative practices, to offer an alternative space for projects and fields of action apart from galleries and institutions. The aim is to improve the voice and visibility of artists in Frankfurt and not to abandon the definition of art to critics, curators or cultural politicians. The Berlin network of project spaces, which has existed since 2009, an alliance of independent, non-institutional exhibition spaces, is an integral part of the art scene there and is integrated into the allocation of funding by the state of Berlin for the independent scene, does not yet have an equivalent in Frankfurt. Hopefully, the kick-off meeting of ‘Artist Run Frankfurt’ which took place in September 2022 will be another step towards a sustainable development of Frankfurt’s artist-run scene.
Vládmir Combre de Sena M.A. born in Recife, Brazil, studied art education with a focus on performing arts in his hometown and in Germany where he completed postgraduate studies in cultural management.
Harald Etzemüller studied architecture in Frankfurt am Main and Lyon, France. In 2003, the two established their office for architecture and communication design in Frankfurt. Both are founding members of the EULENGASSE art association. Vládmir Combre de Sena also works as a cultural manager, curator and freelance artist, Harald Etzemüller is active in the field of architectural photography and in managing the association.