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Berlin gallery rejected from Art Basel calls for trade support

Following the Eigen+Art's exclusion from the fair selection, owner Gerd Harry Lybke protests with a request that his artists are not made available at any other stand

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The unexpected exclusion of Berlin and Leipzig-based gallery Eigen+Art from this year’s Art Basel fair (15-19 June) has taken another twist as owner Gerd Harry Lybke has made it clear that if he can’t show, neither can the artists that he represents. This means that Neo Rauch (also represented by David Zwirner gallery), Martin Eder (also represented by Hauser & Wirth) and Carsten Nicolai (also at Pace Gallery) will not be shown at this year’s fair. Lybke—who is not making use of the art fair’s appeal board—said this is one of the consequences of not being chosen: “There will not be a single work by any of my artists in Basel, which will probably be [Art] Cologne’s gain [a contemporary fair, 13-17 April].” He said that there is an agreement between him, his artists and the relevant galleries not to be on show either at the fair or through any other galleries in Basel at the time.

Julia Joern, a director at David Zwirner in New York, backed Lybke’s stance. “We think the decision to exclude his gallery from Basel is truly unfortunate,” she said. “We therefore support Mr Lybke’s request not to show the work of Neo Rauch in our own booth at Basel.” Pace Gallery and Hauser & Wirth did not respond to requests to comment.

The decision not to include Eigen+Art, a Basel stalwart since 1991, has surprised much of the trade and generated public outrage from Lybke, who said it “came as a complete surprise”. He started the gallery in Leipzig in 1983 (then in the former East Germany under communist rule), established a gallery weekend there in 2001, and enjoys a high international reputation. “Admittedly we are in good company with Mehdi Chouakri and Giti Nourbakhsch [two other Berlin galleries] who were also refused entry this year but that does not make things easier,” he said. (Mehdi Chouakri has applied to the fair’s appeal board, but he said he doubts his failure to gain a place will be reversed.)

Three of the six members of Art Basel’s selection committee have galleries in Berlin (Tim Neuger, Claes Nordenhake and Jochen Meyer), so could there be a political motive to the exclusion? “Perhaps,” said Lybke. “They don’t like me [in Berlin]. But [Art] Basel is a highly professional event where you have to leave personal animosities behind.”

German art critic Eduard Beaucamp believes that selection procedures for the most important European art fair could be improved. “Basically it is absurd that the jury is dominated by competitors who decide on who takes part and who does not,” he told The Art Newspaper. “It should also include independent jurors such as museum curators.”

Marc Spiegler, co-director of Art Basel, defended the system, particularly in regard to Berlin: “The [committee] members are chosen very carefully, both in terms of reputation and of character, since the selection of the show requires a high degree of rigour. Out of more than 1,000 applicants, 300 galleries were selected. A large number, 36, come from Berlin, which makes the city very competitive.” In fact, Berlin is the second most represented city at this year’s Art Basel (New York provides the highest number of participants) and six of these are new to this year’s edition, including Isabella Bortolozzi and Galerie Kamm who are in the main galleries section for the first time. Guido Baudach, Tanya Leighton, Chert and PSM also join the event from Berlin.

Art Basel committee member Tim Neuger declined to comment. However, Brussels-based dealer Xavier Hufkens (also on the committee) emphasised the seriousness of the decision-making process: “We [the committee members] spend 30 days together, debating and discussing the galleries to select. We just want to make Art Basel the best fair in the world.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Dealer rejected from Art Basel calls for trade support'

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