with Innovative Creator and Gallery Owner Thomas Erben
-As a child, what did you want to become (profession-wise)?
My first inclination was to become a cook. Then, in my early teens, I was very excited about becoming (potentially) an artist, and I actually went to the Kunstakademie in Stuttgart after the Abitur for one year. But this interest then, even already in my later teens, shifted towards the gallery world as I visited galleries, became a member of the Kunstverein, and compiled the art exhibitions calendar for the school magazine.
-In which town did you grow up?
I grew up in South Germany in a small, medieval town, Esslingen, which is very close to Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
-Do you think your background has influenced your current style in managing a gallery and choosing the artists you feature? If so, what specific element in your background most pervasively influences your work?
The area I grew up in has vineyards on the slopes of the river Neckar – vineyards which are held back by weathered, century-old sandstone walls. There is a certain tactile quality to this environment which has influenced the way I relate to other environments. Anecdotally, the floor of the gallery with its rough and greenish-glazed surface – a sheer happenstance while building out the current space, the floor was then so well received that we kept it – visually and haptically replicates the material sensibility I grew up surrounded by. Another fundamental link I see between who I am as a gallerist – I do not understand myself as a “dealer,” more as a “mediator,” and where I grew up is the more conservative, value-oriented minds of the mostly Protestant Swabians. Whereas the programming at the gallery is definitely not conservative, there is nevertheless always a [careful consideration] to the potential intrinsic value of whatever we exhibit. If I would have grown up in Cologne or Hamburg, my ideas as to what these values might be would have certainly been different.
- What inspires you in the job of being a gallery owner?
It’s really a day-to-day thing. [Each day that I enter the gallery, I] try to find and “move” – both intellectually and physically – things that are basically the manifestations
of specific sets of ideas. I tremendously enjoy these objects that we exhibit, and I draw motivation from this engagement…but I also have a deeply rooted impulse to communicate [the emotional and intellectual effect each exhibit has on an audience].
-In which way do you consider yourself an innovative creator?
[I am a] creator in the sense that I recognize, select, contextualize and show certain aesthetically visualized ideas, all in a very hands-off regard, in no way influencing the artists’ creations. [I am] innovative since I go into underexposed fields and simply look at and comprehend works from unusual perspectives.
-Do you have any dreams for the future for yourself and your gallery?
Yes, I do. The gallery celebrates its 15 years of existence this spring, and I hope to be able to operate it for another 15 years, at least: that’s one wish. The other is to further intensify and condense what we are presenting in terms of quality and potential importance, drawing on an ever-increasing network of contacts and resources. Personally, I hope to stay healthy and open- minded enough to do so. There are, obviously, many more wishes linked to myself, but that would be for another interview.
-Do you have one favorite artist?
I basically like the work of all really major artists, preferably 20th
Century, since they incorporate all the
facets one can hope for in more emerging artists: ability, independence and resourcefulness. My tastes there are rather eclectic, but it is the combination of emotional, intellectual, philosophical and aesthetic pitch which make me choose one work over another. I am more interested in a certain degree of quality rather than individual positions.
-Is there anything else you like to add to this interview?
There are many more things we could elaborate on but, since a certain degree of restriction is always in play, that’s fine.