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Mathias Rastorfer: Galerie Gmurzynska’s Director on Keeping Art Surprising

Mathias Rastorfer, the longtime director of the reputable Galerie Gmurzynska, shared with us his concerns on the dangers of over marketing art, and told us about his programming for Art Basel’s revels this year.

WHITEWALLER: What works will you be bringing to Art Basel this year?


MATHIAS RASTORFER: There will be two curated centerpieces in addition to some highly important individual modern masters and contemporary classic works. One entrance to the booth will show three highly important Joan Miró sculptures, juxtaposed with Miró paintings and collages. At the other entrance, there will be a Zaha Hadid’s recreated architecture exhibition based on Kurt Schwitters’s famous “Merzbau” for our Merz exhibition running parallel to Art Basel at our Zürich space. Highlights for the central section of the booth will be previously unseen works by Fernand Léger, Wifredo Lam, Yves Klein, and Robert Indiana, to name but a few.

WW: Can you tell us about the “Kurt Schwitters: Merz” exhibition and “Jani Leinonen: Art in the Park” that you’ll be showing at Galerie Gmurzynska this summer?

MR: Regarding Zaha Hadid’s transformation of our entire gallery space on Paradeplatz in Zürich (of which an excerpt is shown at Art Basel), we have been working with Zaha before her death on the details of this architectural homage of hers to the famous Kurt Schwitters. Not only did she design the entire exhibition architecture, she also selected with us the works by Kurt Schwitters to be hung in the space she created.

The exhibition of Jani Leinonen at the Baur au Lac gardens, “Art in the Park,” features sculptures created especially for this show by the successful young Finnish artist. The pieces play with appropriation of well-known advertising and street signs to convey critical messages on consumption. The signs, placed all over the park, look so familiar to us from advertising, that the true meaning only becomes apparent at second look.

WW: What makes a gallery stand out as relevant for you today? 

MR: In a truly global art market, the most important is to distinguish oneself as an expert in your field, and being able to present the unexpected. Meaning, avoiding the trap of over-marketing the art to the degree that it becomes predictable (like fashion brands such as Gucci or Prada) with the same objects in all its stores all over the world. Art is unique and the way to exhibit it should be just as unique.

WW: You’ve voiced criticism on marketing becoming a dominant force in establishing artists and affecting the art market. Why is that problematic?

MR: Our concern is to maintain art as something unique and magic versus art that becomes a merchandise to invest in. Art has always been “also” an investment, but it has first and foremost been something that was studied and researched by experts, critics, museum curators, and galleries, as well as collected by connoisseurs and collectors. Art has always taken time to be understood, evaluated, and should be seen as a long-term commitment. Today’s danger is that it is seen as a short-term investment with a quick high appreciation, with a value being established by numerical means only, such as auction results. The problem with this is twofold. First, such quickly established markets for individual artists often disappear just as quickly. Second, such an approach raises the wrong expectations on the part of the buyer to be solely an investor and not a collector. This creates almost two parallel art worlds: The collectors’ and connoisseurs’, and that of the buyers and investors.

WW: What would be your advice to a keen collector lacking in connoisseurship? 

MR: As the mega collector Peter Ludwig once said: “I only buy from galleries (not auction houses) that I know and trust. I can always go back to them if I have a problem.” Build a trusting relationship with a gallery that has shown a long-term continuation with a program for which they are the experts.
This article is published in Whitewaller Basel 2016.






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