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Culture

Accessible Art

The state of grass roots British art is forcing young artists to cross the water and express themselves in Germany with satisfying results.

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I haven't got a clue what it is so it must be art

If you walk the 10 minutes from Hackescher Markt to Oranienburger Tor in the heart of Berlin's hip Mitte district you’ll pass 15 art galleries. If you take a detour to pick up a pint of milk at the local supermarket, the number rises to twenty.

Most nights, in one or other of these small glass- fronted luminous exhibition spaces a mass of Berliners will have champagne glass in hand and will be perusing the latest efforts of another young artist.

Martha Parsey is one of them. Born in London, she came to Berlin in 1994 for three months to finish a film project and never left.

Berlin offers a supportive and vibrant haven for artists

She is one of many. Since reunification, Berlin has attracted many international young artists starting out in their careers. The arts scene in the German capital is widely regarded as one of the most accessible, supportive and vibrant in Europe.

"If I had made my film in London, I would have got around 100 quid (pounds)," says Parsey, who now lives in Cologne and uses paint as her main medium.

"Here I got all the equipment I needed, they found me a crew, people went through my script with me – It was in a completely different league. Opportunities opened up here for me; I couldn’t find a reason to go back to London."

Parsey’s tale is a typical one according to Dr. Elke Ritt – the Director of Arts at the British Council in Berlin. "Since the wall fell, the numbers of British artists coming to live and work in Berlin has increased massively – but it’s peaked in the last two years", Ritt told DW WORLD.

Funding in Germany attracts international artists

The reason is primarily economic. Berlin remains one of the most affordable (and emptiest) capitals in Europe. And, according to recent figures, funding levels for the arts are higher in Germany – where the per capita central arts subsidy is 11.6 euro – than in Britain (9.1 euro). Only France has a higher level of per head arts funding – a massive 14.8 euro. "Rents are lower here," Ritt says. "Artists are able much more readily to afford studio space than they can in London."

Another British artist who like Parsey jumped ship and has never looked back is Peter Farkas, 36. He agrees: "It’s cheaper here. But it’s not just that," Farkas says. "The Berlin art scene is more open. There is more willingness from gallery owners to consider your work."

Ritt – who oversees an annual scheme which funds hitherto unknown UK artists to hold their first art show in Germany - says the same. "Especially for young emerging artists, I would say the arts scene in Berlin is one of the most open and most welcoming. Especially in terms of the access artists have to each other."

Gradual development of talent nurtured in Germany

But it’s not just the young ones who have flown the nest. Established faces in the British art world have also jumped ship. Peter Jonas, who used to run the English National Opera, left Britain for a bigger artistic budget running the Bayrische Staatsoper in Munich. And British conductor, Sir Simon Rattle must see potential for gradual development at the Berlin Philharmonic, where he has just taken up the post of artistic director. He has signed a contract for 10 years.

It’s slow growth that Parsey is after in her career as well. She has had over 20 exhibitions both in Berlin, across Germany as well as in London since arriving in Germany and sees great problems with what she sees as the ever increasing celebrity obsessed nature of the London art world.

"Take Sam Taylor Wood (a leading British artist)," Parsey says. "The press and the art world put her up on the pedestal; they give her a show at the Tate. But no wonder it didn’t go well. How on earth do you expect an artist to produce a good retrospective at the age of 34?"

"I think an artist’s career develops over many years and I like the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to develop at a manageable rate – not be put under the kind of pressure that Taylor Wood has." Parsey says.

But she is at pains not to sound as if she has an axe to grind. "Look, I don’t want to sound bitter and negative about art in London. I’m not. The people there are working within extremely low budgets. But there is more space here and I’m lucky that I’ve found a habitat in which I can work, somewhere I’ve easily been able to adapt to – something I know some people couldn’t do. But listen, I still eat Walkers crisps. And God save the Queen."

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  • Date 16.12.2002
  • Author Ruth Elkins
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/2zQh
  • Date 16.12.2002
  • Author Ruth Elkins
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/2zQh