The Berlin Experts: Johann von Haehling – Circle Culture

For the second part of our series The Berlin Experts we talked with gallery owner and curator Johann Haehling von Lanzenauer who co-founded the Circle Culture Gallery with Dirk Staudiger in 2001. Circle Culture is one of the leading galleries for contemporary art specialized in artists who draw their influences from street art, avant-garde design, pop-art, graffiti and other genres that go beyond traditional forms of art. For over 10 years Johann has maintained the urban attitude of the street in his gallery at Gipsstraße in Mitte, bringing his exceptional exhibitions also into a second location in Hamburg, several international art fairs worldwide and to recurring pop-up exhibitions in unusual spaces. Enjoy our interview with one of the most interesting personalities of our city about the art scene of Berlin after the jump.

Ephemeral Exhibition, curated by Johann von Haehling

Your gallery is dedicated to works that break the rules of classical perceptions of art. Do you think that pushing boundaries is necessarily for an art movement in Berlin?

Every art movement which is writing history, is pushing the boundaries of more classical perception. It’ s the nature of new culture and the evolution of human cultural expression. It does not necessarily have to do with Berlin.

left: Jaybo, right: Jonathan Yeo

Your focus is mainly on subcultural art, including graffiti, street and pop art, but not only. How do you select the artists for your exhibitions?

Indeed Circle Culture has a history in urban and pop art, but first of all we are a contemporary art gallery. Important in our selection is the sustainable aspect of the artist careers. The question is how professional, passionate and strategic do the artists plan to develop their art statement during their life time. Also we observe the quality and versatility of the artist’ s intellectual and craft skills. But first of all we have to be passionate about the art and the artist personality before we start working with someone. “Rule N°1: Never work with §$%$%holes”.

Marco Grassi solo show, Circle Culture Gallery, Berlin Mitte

Do you think Berlin-based artists can compete internationally?

I think in a globalised world the location of an artist is not that crucial to his career. If you produce in the Black Forest like Stefan Strumbel for example, you still can be an international star and be on the cover of the New York Times magazine, like he does. It’ s more about your communication and network skills. You need to travel and to see people and to be in constant touch with personalities who are electrified by your art and who are able to help you pushing things forward.

Jonathan Yeo solo show, Circle Culture Berlin, photo: Graeme Vaughan via artberlin

What’s the best part of being a curator?

It’ s for sure the quality time with the artists. To discover and to understand their work. To be inspired by their philosophy, ideas and free thinking. To travel and to be able to uncover relevant aspects of new human culture for a large public.

You have recently teamed up with Pret a Diner. How did you come up with this project? Do you think there are parallels between art and food?

Pret A Diner Co-Founder Olivia Steele is a conceptual artist working with neon which is represented by Circle Culture. So it was pretty obvious to collaborate for the second time in Berlin. I think high end kitchen is like producing art. No doubt.

artwork by Olivia Steele

If you had the opportunity to change something in the art scene of Berlin, what would that be? Why?

I think the Berlin Art Scene is very powerful, but doesn’t use its potentials. Our aim at Circle Culture is to open up the definition of contemporary art to a broader level. We believe in alternative and integrative thinking and we don’t trust the structures and the arrogance of a certain intellectual art elite. Interesting enough this exclusive vibe is very specific to Berlin/ Germany. In London and New York I hear influential people joke about that stiff Berlin attitude. Also we need a powerful Museum like Centre Pompidou, MoMa or Tate! That’ s crucial for the development of the city and for the local scene. Where else than in Berlin do you need an art power house like that??

The Urban Artist, exhibition at Soho House Berlin, photo: Oliver Rath

Why should people visit your gallery? What makes it different from other art spaces in Berlin?

We live our passion. I am sure other programme galleries do as well.

What is coming next at Circle Culture Gallery?

We are moving to a 600 sqm exhibition space in Tiergarten. We leave Berlin Mitte after 10 years. Also a strong programming can be expected in our Hamburg gallery and on international art fairs.

artwork by Stefan Strumbel

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