Danielle de Picciotto & Friends: Karin Pott

Karin Pott: “The art world is a market, it’s dominated by dealers and it’s unfair if you’re not hip”

Karin Pott (Photo courtesy of Karin Pott)

In the past years I have been very interested in how history is written. After having worked as an interdisciplinary musician for three decades now I have seen numerous artists come and go. Those who stay aren’t necessarily successful, but they have the perseverance to believe in their vision despite financial uncertainty and ever-increasing competition. But even those who are successful will not necessarily all end up in the history books. Actually only a handful and, with a few exceptions, they are still men.

Today, despite years of struggle for emancipation, the predominantly masculine museum directors, record label heads and publishing bosses still have the power to decide which art is meaningful and worthy. It is becoming more and more noticeable how one-sided our history is written. Since the 80s, I have known just as many women as men who have done outstanding work. Many of them have already been forgotten. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been writing this interview series about impressive women for Kaput – Magazine for eight years now.
Our art history could be richer and more inspiring if all ignored genders and cultures were included. Luckily, I’m not the only one dealing with this deficiency. There are wonderful people whose life’s work is to support others and make them visible, who have a good eye for art or music and are inclusive.

Karin Pott is one such curator. I met her in the mid-90s as the artistic director of HaL in Berlin. At that time she had such an unusual concept that not even the term “avant-garde” could have been used, her approach was so futuristic. The “Haus am Lützowplatz” has a large gallery in the front part of the building. There Karin introduced established artists such as Rebecca Horn; Emmett Williams, Elvira Bach, William N. Copley, Niki de Saint Phalle, Rosa von Praunheim, Stanley Kubrick, Dorothy Iannone, Christa Naher, Rainer Fetting, Cornelia Schmelze, Hannah Höch, Marina Abramovic. But there was also a small studio gallery in the back yard. There she presented young underground artists who positioned themselves in the areas of club art, pop art, underground art, or comics, such as Jim Avignon, Tabea Blumenschein, Betty Stürmer, Bernhard Föll and yours truly.

Such a comparable clash under one roof and management has not again existed in Berlin to this day. It meant that those interested in art were able to get to know both the academic and experimental approaches to modern art at the same time. This demonstrated an openness and cheekiness in the art world that is unfortunately rare in Germany. Apart from this courageous approach, Karin had an eye on the inequality in the art sector and tried to exhibit as many female artists as possible, which was unique at the time and was sometimes viewed reluctantly. She loved social gatherings, always in the context of art, and organized a regular, extraordinary evening “GASTGEBERINNEN IM HAUS AM LÜTZOWPLATZ” to which she invited various women from politics, business and art to speak with each other, including Hanna-Renate Laurien: President of the Berlin House of Representatives, CDU, Ella Barowsky, City Elder of Berlin, Prof. Dr. Jutta Limbach, President of the Federal Constitutional Court, SPD, Bärbel Bohley, painter and civil rights activist in the GDR, Freya Klier, writer and civil rights activist in the GDR, Claudia Skoda, fashion designer, Adrienne Goehler, President of the Udk Hamburg, Lotti Huber, show business, poet, Michaele Schreyer, MP from Berlin, The Green Party, Renate Künast, Federal Minister for Consumer Protection and Antoinette Becker, writer.

Karin Pott and her work are important elements of Berlins art history. She is part of the group that is responsible for the city being considered particularly creative and adventurous to this day, and I have been trying for some time to persuade her to write a biography because her knowledge of artists, politics and Berlin history is endless. Although she retired from the “Haus on Lützowplatz” a few years ago, she still continues to visit exhibitions and help young artists. You can find her surrounded by a crowd of enthusiastic people at every important exhibition and it is an honor to introduce her here today.
Thank you for everything Karin!

Danielle de Picciotto: Dear Karin, how did you come to become a curator? Did you study?

Karin Pott:  I was born in post-war Berlin in 1945. My father ran an “electrical shop” in Kreuzberg, the area where craftsmen still worked until the 1970s. When these small workshops no longer existed, artists moved into the large, empty workshops and made the area a popular place to live and work.

I got the best teacher I could have wished for: Ella König, she had to flee Germany for political reasons in 1933, came back to Berlin from exile in France in 1949, and at the beginning of 1950 she became a teacher again in Kreuzberg. She became my patron; she was the one who supported me. My father once said that if I hadn’t had Ella, I would have become a normal housewife. Ella König encouraged me in my ambition to study and learn. I wanted to become a painter, applied to study at the Berlin University of the Arts in 1969 and was admitted
After studying, I lived as a freelance artist.

The gallery owner Jes Petersen, with whom I was able to exhibit my first works, drawings, was a legendary figure in the German art scene. He created “Zauber und Zuber”, where Fluxus and happening artists met. They came to Berlin and stayed, such as the American flux pioneer Emmett Williams and Dorothy Iannone.
Then I met a man who was an important union boss in Berlin and who had been a volunteer on the board of the Haus am Lützowplatz, Fördererkreis Kulturzentrum Berlin e.V. association since 1963. Of course I knew this art association, the Haus am Lützowplatz. The long-time director, Jule Hammer, had died and now the art association needed, in Horst Wagner’s courageous opinion, “fresh blood”: I wrote an exhibition concept for a new beginning, mainly considering all the things I as an artist felt was missing.

What is interesting about being a curator for you? What were you looking for?

At the beginning of 1991 the time was right for a new beginning. Managing this “empire” became a truly Herculean task for me. What’s interesting about a non-profit art association is the idea of imparting knowledge of the unusual and practicing tolerance. Offering artists the opportunity to do things in an exhibition which is not possible for them in the normal art world. This was an important motive for the founding of art associations in Germany over 150 years ago.

What is special to you about das Haus am Lützowplatz?

The Kunstverein Haus am Lützowplatz was one of the oldest institutions in West Berlin. What was special and unique – at least at the time it was founded in 1963 – was that in 1959/60, personalities from politics, church, trade unions and culture came together and founded a non-profit support association, the independence of which would also be secured by rental income. The association bought the house with the consent of the former Jewish owners, who were expropriated and expelled from Germany by the National Socialists in 1938. Remembering this crime is part of the houses DNA, as well as defending freedom, standing up for democracy, and promoting the idea of community and the individual. It was thanks to the then Governing Mayor of Berlin, Willy Brandt, that the Haus am Lützowplatz institution was founded and secured in 1963.

Ausst. Prof. Rebecca Horn and students, 2001; Performance des Peruaners Antonio Paukar.

Which art movement were you particularly interested in?

For many years after the war, one could not imagine that beautiful paintings were necessary and useful. Society (we) had lost its orientation and had to be rebuilt. A lot of things had to be rethought and tried out. The “one feeling” of that time was the Fluxus movement, especially Joseph Beuys: “If you don’t want to think, you’re thrown out.”
My interest in artists and their works was broad. Finding out what artists want and do always been my motivation. The contemporary paintings of painters such as Maria Lassnig, Elvira Bach, Leiko Ikemura, Christa Naher, Natalie Thomkins, the drawings of Louise Bourgeios and Dorothy Iannone have broadened my horizons and taught me the joy of diverse fantasies. I admire the paintings of Francis Bacon, Leon Kossoff, and Lucian Freud, David Hockney, the drawings of Palermo and Beuys, they are my many iconic saints!

You were one of the first curators in Berlin to focus on women, exhibiting their work and organized a regular Womens salon. Could you tell us how this came about?

I wanted to bring smart, politically educated women, pioneers from a wide variety of backgrounds to the Haus am Lützowplatz:
On handmade paper and in a lined envelope, we invited people to come to the evening.
The first host was Hanna Renate Laurien, President of the Berlin House of Representatives, followed by Ella Barowsky, city elder of Berlin, Jutta Limbach, President of the Federal Constitutional Court, Claudia Skoda, fashion designer, Freya Klier, writer, Bärbel Bohley, artist and GDR civil rights activist, Lotti Huber , Adrienne Goehler, Michaele Schreyer, and many others, who invited their guests, friends, men, and women, to our house. The salon provided the framework for very individually designed evenings.
The fact that female artists, were also included in my exhibition planning
resulted in one of the guys on the board commenting: “Karin, they say we are a women’s gallery.”
So I asked back: “Have we been a men’s gallery up to now?”.

I noticed that when we discussed exhibition programs, good male artists immediately came to mind. On the other hand, I had to think specifically about female artists. I decided to consciously pay attention to female artists. It was a real intention and helped to create a reasonably balanced program. The artists Ulrike Bock and Brigitta Skier were the first two feminists I met. They oriented their lives and work in a radically feminist way. In their exhibition in our gallery they condensed drawings, materials, performances, and songs into a lament for life. In 1983 I met the “primary taboo breaker”, Helga Sophia Goetze, on the street at a peace demonstration. She was shouting: “Fucking is peace, for mind and body!” Another radical taboo that needed to be broken.

Karin Pott & Marina Abramovic

You have exhibited Marina Abramovic, Leiko Ikemura, Elvira Bach and many more. Which exhibition touched you the most?

I don’t think I can really answer this question. There were too many.
Of course, the time with Marina Abramovic and her students was wonderful: Marina had exhibited a metal frame that was the size of a bed, reminiscent of an old spring core. The frame lay flat on the floor and visitors could lie on it and be strapped in. Corresponding devices were located at the head and foot ends. The visitors were soundproofed by headphones. There was a gentleman who often came to be tied up by the guards. A true Marina Abramovic installation, probably unfeasible today.

You have been able to observe the art development in Berlin since the 70s. What has changed?

Everything! I must note that I am writing from the perspective of someone who was socialized in West Berlin. Artists from the GDR, from East Berlin, have a different narrative. Nevertheless, we artists also wanted no industry, no commerce, no galleries, no great works of art, nothing at all. We distrusted everything and everyone; the student revolution had infected everyone.

It took three decades, 30 years after the end of the war, before an art market was established again. First, artists and galleries established themselves in the wealthy Rhineland, in Cologne, then a breath of fresh air and momentum came with the “young, wild” painters from West Berlin. Although the painters Baselitz, Lüpertz, Richter, Klapheck (to name just a few older artists) painted good pictures, exhibited them in museums and sold them, it was the young Berlin painters Fetting, Salome and Bach who set the tone in painting. Painting was once again highly sought after and paid for dearly. The collectors fought over the pictures that were reminiscent of the expressionism of the 1920s. Joseph Beuys came into the chamber with the Fluxus enthusiasm, a fleeting format.

While the post-war depression still prevailed in the early 1970s, the economic upswing marked the beginning of a phase of intellectual freedom and enormous artistic productivity. The working materials for painters, photographers, performance artists and video artists became diverse, the reproduction techniques became seductive. New standards for good art were needed.

Is there age discrimination in the art world?

Of course, this also exists in the art world. What is striking is how incredibly pretty curators are (should be?).
However, things are different with Marina Abramovic, in a performance in which she abuses her hair and scalp with two brushes, one in each hand, and shouts: “artists must be beautiful”.
The art world is a market, it’s dominated by dealers and it’s unfair if you’re not hip.

Which exhibition has excited you in the last few months? Is there a young artist you find particularly interesting?
Yes, in the summer of 2023 I really liked Isa Genzken’s exhibition in the Neue Nationalgalerie: a huge rose installed on the forecourt greeted visitors from afar. The objects inside the objectively designed National Gallery, on the other hand, were ugly, repulsive, and at first glance seemed to have been picked from the trash. Isa Genzken mercilessly shows reality as it is, nothing sugarcoats it.
A good exhibition visit!

Karin Pott in der Neuen Nationalgalerie bei der Ausstellung von Isa Genzken

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