Gallery owner Christian Lethert on art, modernity and digitality
BY LARA VIRIOT
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2018)
Los Angeles, New York, Dubai – you will encounter abstract and contemporary art exhibited by gallery owner Christian Lethert at all the world’s major art shows. Back home in Cologne, Christian Lethert curates exciting solo and group exhibitions on the beautiful and clear premise of his gallery every six to eight weeks. An interesting programme supports the exhibitions and varies between informative lectures and panel talks. Up to 400 guests attend these regular vernissages that include readings and discussions with the artists. The works exhibited by Christian Lethert show clear structures and colours, forms both known and unseen as well as fascinating layers that encourage viewers to take a second and even a third look.
Mr. Lethert, how did you come up with the idea to own a gallery?
Everything started at the age of 15, when I did an internship in Erhard Klein’s gallery in Bonn that quickly turned into a regular part-time job, which I kept into my studies. The work in the gallery was my top priority right from the beginning, it came even before school. During the practical term, I had the opportunity to work in a gallery in Los Angeles, where my mentor at the time, said Erhard Klein, came to see me as well. Finally, I opened my own gallery in Cologne in 2006. I share my passion for art with Mr. Klein to this day.
How can one imagine the work of a gallery owner? What are the biggest challenges and to what extent are the artists involved in the planning and conception of an exhibition?
The gallery owner himself is what you call an all-rounder. The owners of a gallery are the first point of contact for artists and they offer the first platform for them to present their art. They are the link to the public and the connection to art associations, art institutions and museums. They also design and print catalogues, take part in various national and international trade shows and thematically arrange their own premises. I maintain very close relations with all my artists. It is very important to significantly involve the artist in the conception of the exhibition and for them to be present at the opening. The artists have their very own ideas about how their work should be presented and I try to establish this in a dialogue. Yet, I always have to keep the market in mind.
Which moments in your professional life touch and motivate you the most?
I am most touched by encounters with young artists and art lovers. I am always very happy when I make contact with a young artist who is not yet very experienced or successful and then exhibit their work. Once these works sell, these are always very special moments. Also conversations with young art collectors always give me a lot, especially if I can then act as a broker for works that mean something to them.
In your opinion, what distinguishes modern artistic creation from that of past centuries?
Today’s art world is much more open, but there is also more competition; there are many more artists on the market than there were decades ago. As a result, there are many more gallery owners of course, so the art market as a whole has grown very strongly. At the same time, art today is much more fickle or short-lived, which certainly has its downsides. Unfortunately, production is often done only in time for the next art fair and that shows in the works. Art has become much more of a commodity.
In your opinion, to what extent do global networking and social media influence the perception and dissemination of artistic movements?
Thanks to the rapid dissemination of information via the internet and social media in particular, art trends become visible and transparent much quicker for everyone across the globe. As a result, trend waves roll over the planet much faster and higher, ending up in a glass of champagne held in the hands of a circle of collectors. This certainly contributes to said fast-moving art market to an extent.
What are the current trends in the art world and what distinguishes them?
The biggest development at the moment is the shift from photography back to painting. While up until two to three years ago the focus was very much on photography, painting has gathered momentum again.
You are just as much at home on the US market as you are on the European one. What differences do you see between the art world in America and Europe?
I can observe that professionalism and decisiveness are very high in the American market. In Germany, people interested in art like to inform themselves thoroughly before they decide, while American art collectors often react much more spontaneously and intuitively when it comes to new works of art in my experience.
How would you describe the style your gallery represents?
Galleries always represent the gallery owner’s taste. My own taste is very abstract and reduced, strongly influenced by Kandinsky and Malevich, representatives of Suprematism. It is a modernist style with references to Futurism and Constructivism which originated in Russia. You will not find figurative paintings at mine, but rather forms of abstraction. For example, my programme includes an artist who uses woodblock prints to change the appearance of the motifs depicted.
Who are your favourite artists?
That is hard to say. But I definitely count the artists who I represent among my favourite ones. Take for example our newcomer Natascha Schmitten, the youngest artist in my programme, butalso the works of my oldest artist, Imi Knoebel, who I both favour.
Speaking of Natascha Schmitten. Please tell us more about her.
She is a young painter who graduated from the Düsseldorf Art Academy in 2014. Her painterly position fits very well into the direction of my gallery, and so we first did an exhibition together with a Belgian artist. The show was very successful and Natascha has since been a fixed part in the programme. We just had a solo show with her.
Do you place greater emphasis on solo or group exhibitions in your programme?
We definitely have more solo shows. But both me and my gallery team, we love group exhibitions. That is why we try to curate one group show annually. A good mix of solo and group exhibitions also means that each of the twelve to 14 artists we have in our programme can be presented at least once a year.
You are a gallery owner with a degree in business administration. Have you ever thought of becoming an artist yourself?
Not in the way in which I do exhibitions, but I have infact just supervised my own construction project in the Eifel.Architectural art really appeals to me. We have built a private showroom for works of art, and to design and shape it interests me, that is determining how the light falls or what the corridors inside the building are to look like or how the gardens are to be laid out.
The Gallery Christian Lethert was founded by the owner of the same name in Cologne in August 2006 and focuses on a clear concept of minimalist and abstract positions in Contemporary Art. Since opening, Christian Lethert and his gallery have been presenting their artists at various art shows in Germany and abroad.
Picture credit © Natascha Schmitten