Christian Nagel: Without going back too far, it was when studying art history that I first became more deeply engrossed in art. At the time, so-called modern or contemporary art was the big thing although I didn’t really know what it was all about. By getting to know what were, in retrospect, mediocre art students in Munich—through contact with artists—a discussion was generated which lead to an “aIternative” exhibition, and finally to managing Galerie Durr, at the time with Matthias Buck. We got the gallery1 thanks to family contacts. Discussions with Matthias [Buck] and the artists whose work we exhibited reinforced my appreciation of modern art.2 At a certain point, it became clear—not least because of my increased knowledge—that I was capable of carrying out this new job. There had been exhibitions with Fareed Armaly, Michael Krebber and others whose artistic positions just had to be followed.
Because of the discussions that took place in the course of disbanding Galerie Dürr, that is to say when Buck and I parted company in 1989, I was forced to think about my next strategic move. The reactions of those around us to the break-up also gave me somewhat more insight into the rules of the business. Nevertheless, I gave myself time, Fareed [Armaly] has always said “Give yourself time,” until the opening of Galerie Nagel in Cologne on the 26 April 1990. In the intervening time, during which I was more or less working as a gallery owner, but without having exhibitions on my own premises, it became clear what I would and would not support.
CN: There are no discoverers. In the whole art world, there has never been anyone who has discovered anyone else. The system has always been an open and accessible one. Even in the 1960s, Mr. Werner was not alone in knowing that Mr. Baselitz was painting pictures in Berlin. And although I was the first to exhibit Andrea Fraser and Mark Dion in Europe, it was Fareed who had known them in New York since 1984 and told me about them. In New York Clegg & Guttmann were our agents. Matthias had established contact with Guttmann via the Prozess and Konstruktion exhibition to which Guttmann also added a work by Kosuth. So we had our first exhibition with Clegg & Guttmann and from then on, of course, a link was established with the young scene in New York.
Isabelle Graw: How did you manage, on the one hand, to think of a work by Fareed Armaly as interesting and absolutely worthy of support, and on the other hand to take a work by Michael Krebber and perceive exactly the same?
CN: The fact is that when they first got to know each other,3 Armaly and Krebber were after the same thing. At the time, Krebber wanted to work in an ‘antipainterly’ fashion, sought the famous exit through the back door, while Fareed Armaly was looking for ‘postconceptual possibilities.’
CN: And that wasn’t just by chance. There’s the story that Armaly and Krebber were on the same train from Munich to Cologne, just before the Krebber exhibition. On the journey, Armaly interested Krebber in American conceptual art, particularly in Dan Graham. It was this discussion which led Krebber to his exhibition. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the two things were directly and causally dependent. These were approaches to problems which were simply in keeping with the time—two artists had a similar instinct which ended very fruitfully.
IG: There could be no question then at the time of a polarization within the gallery?
CN: No, not at that time. I must confess, though, that I never knew exactly what Krebber or Armaly wanted. I had only ever had a partial understanding of what it was all about, through contact with the artists and through what was being exhibited. But as far as the conception and the superstructure were concerned—what they could lead to and where they partly came from—I wasn’t as well prepared as I am today. Now the dispute about principles, “Painting vs. Photography” or “this form of art vs. that form of art” has, of course, been fought.
IG: Questions of medium are no longer in the forefront but rather, those concerning methods of approach and what to stress. It becomes an important difference whether you still insist on ‘criticality,’ as does Fareed Armaly, or whether, like Michael Krebber, you strive for ‘normality’ as opposed to the bourgeois wanting to be ‘different.’ Those are artistic approaches with political implications which need to conflict with each other in order to be able to exist. For example, I believe that Fareed needs, as it were, the antithesis of Krebber and vice versa.
Note: The artists Fareed Armaly and Christian Philipp Muller built a replica of the Galerie Nagel facade in the garden of Schloss Haimhausen during the exhibition in Kunstraum Daxer, with Cosima von Bonin and Michael Krebber, May–June 1991.
- Christian Nagel and Matthias Buck managed Galerie Durr in Munich from September 1986 until October 1988. Their programme included Clegg & Guttmann, Franz West, Heimo Zobernig, Fareed Armaly, David Robbins, Harald F. Muller, Gunther Fdrg, Georg Herald, Michael Krebber and Martin Kippenberger. ↩
- The group exhibition in Galerie Durr, Der Reine Alltag, took place in 1987 with Clegg & Guttmann, Gunther Forg, Simon Linke, Ken Lum, Hans-Jorg Mayer, Peter Nagy and Richard Prince. After that, there was another group exhibition with Fareed Armaly, Alan Belcher, Larry Johnson and David Robbins. ↩
- Michael Krebber and Fareed Armaly got to know each other in 1987 in Munich. ↩
- Fareed Armaly exhibited in Galerie Dürr from 26 April 1988 until 28 May 1988. ↩
- Michael Krebber exhibited at Isabella Kacprzaks in Stuttgart in 1989. ↩