UNITED WE STAND The duo be­hind the Sprüth Magers gallery join forces to cel­e­brate the 20th an­niver­sary of their ex­hi­bi­tion space

Two decades since the launch of their first gallery, Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers con­tinue to show­case the finest women artists of our age

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Contents - BY FRANCES HEDGES

Women can­not paint – or so Ge­org Baselitz would have us be­lieve. As re­cently as 2013, the Ger­man artist told Der Spiegel news­pa­per that fe­male painters ‘sim­ply don’t pass the test’, sub­se­quently claim­ing that their fail­ure to com­mand high prices has ‘noth­ing to do with ed­u­ca­tion, or chances, or male gallery own­ers’.

Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers would beg to dif­fer (as, for­tu­nately, would many oth­ers, judg­ing by the en­su­ing pub­lic out­cry). The duo have been fly­ing the flag for greater fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the art world ever since they joined forces to launch their Cologne-based gallery, Sprüth Magers, in 1998, fol­lowed by a Mu­nich space in 2000. Two decades on, much has pro­gressed – ‘No mu­seum would now dare not to show women at all,’ says Sprüth – but as long as they re­main the mi­nor­ity in both ex­hi­bi­tions and the sec­ondary mar­ket, the strug­gle is far from over. Magers is blunt in her con­dem­na­tion of the Baselitzes of this world: ‘It’s pretty dis­gust­ing.’

The abil­ity to present a united front in the face of

prej­u­dice gives Sprüth and Magers greater clout in an oth­er­wise male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try. They ini­tially worked in­de­pen­dently, with Sprüth launch­ing her epony­mous gallery in Cologne in 1983 and Magers fol­low­ing suit in 1992, but de­cided to merge their in­sti­tu­tions when it be­came clear that they were deal­ing with, in Magers’ words, ‘a group of artists who were in­tel­lec­tu­ally very in­ter­con­nected’. Their cur­rent port­fo­lio reads like a Who’s Who of the con­tem­po­rary-art scene, from Ed Ruscha and An­dreas Gursky to Bar­bara Kruger, Cindy Sher­man, Jenny Holzer and Rose­marie Trockel. Sprüth de­scribes the lat­ter quar­tet as role mod­els who dealt with fem­i­nism ‘not of­fen­sively but in a sub­tle way that makes men un­con­sciously un­com­fort­able’. Though their work has now gained iconic sta­tus, they were by no means an overnight suc­cess. ‘They didn’t get started as quickly as the male artists of their age, and they had a slow ca­reer go­ing up,’ says Sprüth. ‘It wasn’t easy for them but they had a big in­flu­ence.’

Slow and steady wins the race: in many ways, this phi­los­o­phy lies at the heart of Sprüth and Magers’ busi­ness model. They have no in­ter­est in rapid growth, ei­ther for them­selves or for their artists, whom they men­tor with care. ‘De­vel­op­ing a ca­reer doesn’t mean you have to make the most money you can at the be­gin­ning,’ ar­gues Sprüth. ‘I’ve seen many young artists hyped too early on, so they pro­duce more than they should and don’t de­velop fur­ther.’ Magers at­tributes this fail­ure to the fren­zied mood of the mod­ern art mar­ket, where the vogue for one cre­ative ap­proach (or ‘-ism’, as she puts it) so swiftly gives way to an­other that ‘the pub­lic at­ten­tion span for any artist is ter­ri­bly short’. For those start­ing out in the in­dus­try, there­fore, ‘it takes a lot of stamina to keep do­ing what you’re do­ing’.

They too have shown plenty of stamina, manag­ing an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness that now en­com­passes gal­leries in Ber­lin, Los An­ge­les and Lon­don’s Grafton Street, as well as of­fices in Cologne and Hong Kong. They are cau­tious about over­reach­ing them­selves be­cause, ad­mits Magers, ‘it is re­ally in­tense work to keep a sys­tem like that run­ning’. ‘We don’t want to be­come too much of an “art­de­part­ment store”,’ adds Sprüth ve­he­mently. ‘We see art not in terms of the mar­ket but in terms of con­tent and the close re­la­tion­ships we have with our artists. We want to fo­cus on what re­ally mat­ters.’

That in­cludes work­ing with their artists to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo. Last year, Kruger, Sher­man, Holzer and Trockel were among more than 1,800 sig­na­to­ries of a pow­er­ful open let­ter call­ing for an end to sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the art world. The ‘Not Sur­prised’ move­ment was trig­gered by rev­e­la­tions about Knight Lan­des­man, the long-serv­ing co-pub­lisher of Art­fo­rum mag­a­zine, who had been ac­cused of nu­mer­ous counts of sex­ual mis­con­duct. His res­ig­na­tion, the let­ter em­pha­sised, was not suf­fi­cient to ‘solve the larger, more in­sid­i­ous prob­lem’ of en­demic in­equal­ity in the sec­tor. ‘There are all these male-dom­i­nated struc­tures where women are get­ting mis­treated and there seems to be some kind of gentle­men’s agree­ment that noth­ing will hap­pen,’ says Magers sadly. She is, how­ever, hope­ful that in the wake of the Me Too and Time’s Up move­ments, we will fi­nally see ev­i­dence of change. ‘To­day, men will def­i­nitely think about the con­se­quences of their ac­tions. As time ad­vances we are most likely go­ing to be in a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion, but it’s still a fight.’ A bat­tle lies ahead, then, but there can be no one in a stronger po­si­tion to take up the cause than this pair of quiet, en­light­ened cru­saders. www.sprueth­magers.com

Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers in their LA gallery

Left: ‘Pa­pa­gallo’ (2014) by Rose­marie Trockel. Be­low: an in­stal­la­tion from Jenny Holzer’s 2017 show ‘Softer’ at Blen­heim Palace

Left: ‘Un­ti­tled Film Still #58’ (1980) by Cindy Sher­man. Be­low left: ‘My Sis­ter and Me By Sir Thomas Lawrence’ (1996) by Karen Kil­imnik

33Works by artists in­clud­ing Bar­bara Kruger, Jenny Holzer and Cindy Sher­man at the Sprüth Magersgallery in Ber­lin

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