How Berlin Gallerist Michael Janssen Is Committing to New Models of Collaboration

Art Market

Maxwell Rabb

Jan 31, 2024 6:46PM

Portrait of Michael Janssen. Photo by Estefania Landesmann. Courtesy of Galerie Michael Janssen.

Michael Janssen senses that a recalibration in the art market is underway, one that is characterized by spikes in overhead costs for galleries as well as the increasing importance of the digital art world. These factors, he thinks, have changed how a small gallery can function, and in response, he is working on building a more community-based approach to business. “I’m talking with a few colleagues all over the planet to figure out what can be done and how we can work closer together, join forces, and pool resources,” the German gallerist told Artsy. “We haven’t come up with the right model yet, but in the end, the only way we can deal with the [market] is to join forces and to work really closely together.”

At the Berlin-based Galerie Michael Janssen, Janssen is well positioned to observe these changes—and to prepare to take action. For nearly three decades, Janssen has consistently demonstrated a willingness to take risks. The gallery first opened its doors in 1995 in Cologne before moving to Berlin in 2007. Today, as the costs of running a gallery become more expensive, Janssen believes the survival of small galleries hinges on sharing artists and collaborative exhibitions. “[Small galleries] are working for the same thing,” Janssen noted.

Gianfranco Baruchello, installation view of “la formule” at Galerie Michael Janssen in Berlin, 2010. Courtesy of Galerie Michael Janssen.


Janssen’s risk-taking spirit is evident in his early support of artists like American sculptor Lynda Benglis in the late ’90s and his contribution to the rediscovery of Italian painter Gianfranco Baruchello. Commerciality has never been the gallery’s immediate priority; instead, he focuses on supporting the artists that he believes in at every stage in their careers. For instance, he first staged a show for Baruchello in 2009 at his gallery and then again at Art Basel in 2011, but in both cases, no sales were made. However, Janssen and Baruchello remained optimistic. “It was pretty frustrating, but then Barruchello kept his good mood, and he got some museum shows, the Venice Biennale, and other things,” Janssen added.

Now located in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district, the gallery has become celebrated for introducing a mix of both emerging and established artists. Talents like Stijn Ank, Emil Holmer, and Gulnur Mukazhanova were among the international names that the gallerist has helped introduce to the German art scene, bringing fresh perspectives and differing approaches. Simultaneously, the gallery continued to work with more well-known artists, such as Marina Abramović and Pino Pascal. “What I’m trying to do is introduce older generation artists to the younger [people] I’m showing,” Janssen said of his program.

Gianfranco Baruchello, La bonne soupe, 1988. Courtesy of Galerie Michael Janssen.

Following the gallery’s relocation to Berlin, Janssen expanded the scope of his curatorial endeavors. The additional 1,900-square-foot space in Berlin allowed the gallery to showcase artists specializing in installation-based mediums, with one of the early exhibitions featuring the works of Belgian video artist Lili Dujourie.

Meanwhile, he continued his commitment to platforming and rediscovering overlooked artists. Most recently, he has focused on bringing attention to artists who may not have received widespread recognition. This includes his efforts to showcase the work of the late German artist Klaus Liebig. At the Independent Art Fair in New York last year. he showed Liebig’s contributions to the art world, which Janssen views as significant yet underappreciated. Though his contemporaries, such as Barruchello, have achieved acclaim in recent years, Janssen sees Liebeg as a “forgotten painter” among his peers.

Janssen is also enthused by the different approaches that are being taken by the younger artists he works with. “I like the way the [younger] artists approach art right now because they don’t care much about what happened in the past,” he said “They just do their thing, and if it’s good enough, they’re going to succeed. With artists nowadays, I think there is a much more direct approach.”

Lynda Benglis, installation view of “Lynda Benglis” at Galerie Michael Janssen in Cologne, 1997. Courtesy of Galerie Michael Janssen.

According to the gallerist, this newfound “direct approach” gives artists more autonomy and is largely driven by social media and Instagram. In recent years, artists have had a much more direct connection with their audiences, and people have boundless access to artworks on their phones. For Janssen, this has parallels with how galleries can function in today’s art market. The gallery first embraced the digital space in 2020 while it was looking for a new space in Berlin. However, at the time, he admits the gallery “never did a full-time social media approach,” whereas today, his team at the gallery is experimenting with a new balance between in-person and online.

“We’re figuring out different strategies, how to do it, which way to play digital, but also to do it analog,” he said, “to have shows with artists in the future in the gallery and also while doing it on the digital level. I think it’s unavoidable.”

Lili Dujourie, installation view of “Jeux de dames” at Galerie Michael Janssen in Berlin, 2014. Courtesy of Galerie Michael Janssen.

But around them, Berlin is changing as well. Once seen as a haven for artists and galleries, Janssen noted that it’s no longer the epicenter of art buying it once was. “Berlin is—it was—super attractive, but has lost some of its attraction.…We have the great institutions and curators and all of that, but we don’t necessarily have the buyers in town,” Janssen observed. This shift has prompted him to adapt, looking beyond Berlin’s borders to connect with international collectors through gallery collaboration, specifically with Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art in Lisbon with whom they share one artist, Yonamine.

In light of these changes, Janssen’s commitment to community-forward models is more vital than ever. His strategies, embracing digital and traditional gallery experiences, reinforce the galleries as a stronghold in art communities. “Most of us are struggling due to the system, so you have to create new networking structures and ways of collaborating with other galleries,” he said.

Maxwell Rabb

Maxwell Rabb is Artsy’s Staff Writer.

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