Art in Berlin: Aaron Moulton

Aaron Moulton and Mette Ravnkilde Nielsen (Photo: Trevor Good)
Aaron Moulton and Mette Ravnkilde Nielsen (Photo: Trevor Good)

Trevor Good met Aaron Moulton, the director of Galerie FEINKOST, to discuss their latest exhibition ‘During Office Hours’ (until January 22nd) curated with partner Mette Ravnkilde Nielsen, happening at the offices of VGF (Verband Geschlossene Fonds) in Georgenstraße. The exhibition is only viewable as the title states, during office hours when employees are present and work is happening. FEINKOST recently closed, so we also talked about the gallery business, the possibilities of curation in the commercialized artworld and where we can meet Aaron Moulton next.

Trevor Good: Tell me about how your current show came to be situated in an actual office environment.

Aaron Molton: Eric Romba runs the Verband Geschlossene Fonds e.V (VGF) where they’ve had an ongoing program for the last four or five years curated by Joelle Romba. Both are very good friends and long time supporters of the gallery. The exhibitions are typically solo shows, open to the public mainly during the vernissage. One evening at dinner we talked about doing a project together and proposed an exhibition that would be about the office and would incorporate works from our gallery stable.
A lot of the artists we represent deal with work and labor in their respective practices. In particular Ignacio Uriarte employs his own conceptual brand of aesthetics analyzing the workplace as a total medium. The Rombas were very keen from the beginning and it allowed us to expand the idea and invite 22 artists to take part. Uriarte’s work threads the show together in a nice way. At the time I didn’t think about it but I have to say it was somehow influenced by that Nauman group show at Hamburger Bahnhof, i.e. getting a tour of art history guided or weaved through Nauman’s work in dialogue with his contemporaries. In this case it is the office.
This was a perfect opportunity to bring art into an unconventional space. I’ve always been interested in exhibitions that analyze value systems. I started testing those interests through small group shows in the gallery that address everyday behavioral strategies or borderline syndromes, and now we are curating a show in a ‘real place’ — and one that is somehow the natural conclusion or location that you have been working toward.–This is a real victory for curatorial research as a possibility. While use of such spaces and repurposed venues is common, it often nonetheless occurs in the safety of an art context. Once you no longer have the security of the gallery, things literally either fly or fall flat in the face of such circumstances or conditions. They look cute, like wallpaper, forced or just out of place.
From a visitor’s point of view, the first moment you enter VGF you reform your preconceived relationships to the exhibition ( and now office) space: you have to talk in a low voice, tip-toe, knock and ask politely. In a traditional space, you can walk in on your cell phone, do a little left-right, ‘I’ll come back to properly see the video’ and then leave. In this show at VGF the audience is somehow trapped and will see the whole show whether they meant to or not.
Lately I respond to art situations where I feel out of place, my hair stands up or senses tune different. We’re all ‘emotional tuning forks’ and this is something that can be fucked with in a productive way. Using the functioning office onomatopoeically as site, subject, support, purpose, meaning and material tests the ability of art to have a more active role in and against the reality it often references.

When I entered the exhibition, I felt that way, like I was intruding on someone’s space, but perhaps they felt proud to have the art in there and people wanted to come and see it in their space. Or else they are they just annoyed by it? I just know I felt much easier if they left their office for several minutes.

Everyone at VGF is amazing. Can you imagine the routine they deal with in terms of a visitor coming at random times to nose around while they are working? I’m so happy that it manages to work as well as it does.
Making an exhibition within this private property, where the day-to-day work is directly involved with shifting economic values and is now placed in dialogue with artworks that are offering their own systems of value and interpretation, it’s amazing. Now step back and you’re right there too to play spectator and watch it all happen. What a trip. In some way we respond, it’s very special and unsettling. In this way the show becomes as much about the viewer as it is the setting, the reflections of the work on the environment and vice versa. Of course immediately when you declare such observations, and intentions and then someone reads this and goes to the show, then they will have some prepped reaction or experience awaiting them and might disagree with what I say. It’s better if you just go and hadn’t read this interview.

How do you come up with the titles of your shows? There always seems to be an obviousness to them, a literal description, that ends up being very meaningless in a way after seeing the shows. (ex titles: Videodrome, The Atrocity Exhibition, Communism Never Happened, Deleted Scenes, SCHENGEN, The Art World)

Take the most simple title, something that triggers an automatic meaning and then complicate it. The most appropriate title is the most obvious one: the one with an instant brand value. The term or phrases’ baggage, within whatever meanings we have for it, is a gift. I think it is fine to have some literal point of access where it hooks in to some preconception. Most often I am very conscious to avoid having that one artwork which is the archetypal embodiment of that particular notion — the “eureka” piece — because, well, people need to do some of their own homework and a composite sketch allows room for projection, fruitful connections and filling the gaps with whatever you as an individual bring to the setting. There is no absolute and that is the beauty of it. People walk into a show at our gallery thinking ‘it’s about this’ and hopefully leave with whatever they saw superimposed on their old meaning, in a hopefully permanent way.

Once you’ve seen it…

…you can’t un-see it, exactly. I’m not the most objective person talking about this but for me this is an awesome show in that it really hits many things at once square in the face and will be something that informs any subsequent experience one has in an office setting. Hopefully the result is a responsible and yet dramaturgical use of social space occurring through juxtaposing art works that now achieve some other, for me, applied value more akin to case studies. I believe it works. If you didn’t see it in person than you have no frame of reference whatsoever. You literally have to be there in order to have an opinion. What you take away from the office is that irreversible and irreplaceable feeling of ‘you’re sort of not supposed to be here but you have an excuse’. We didn’t have any soft relationships or filler in the show either; the art works are all necessary and establish urgent and much-needed relationships with the workplace, and especially this workplace.

You recently closed your gallery, FEINKOST, do you feel you possibly sabotaged the commercial viability of some of your shows by being perhaps too focused on curatorial projects? It always seems commercial galleries, or gallerists don’t curate, or don’t present much of a concept, whereas I always thought your shows were very provocative.

There is nothing wrong with a commercial gallery having a curatorial program, some are just not meant to. These outcomes of opening/closing are just the cycle of life but some galleries are like Dorian Gray and look to maintain a young hip appearance even though they can’t keep the beat. In my opinion, and I think this is an absolute truth, a gallery should aim to be the front guard in the art world, a position with a reason for being and not be a fashion boutique in a souk. We should consider or hope that each arm of the art world’s infrastructure has a certain responsibility, reason for being, and, hopefully, a code of ethics. Our problem today is the terms and the tools and even the higher-ups are a bit dated. An Art Magazine? What is that? It takes them 2 to 5 months to cover a topic if they catch it. It takes a museum 1 to 3 years, at which point it’s old hat and obvious that a museum would be covering it almost nostalgically at that point. Of course we could bring up research, academics, blah and blah, being why we appreciate those arms reacting with the slowness that they do, but I say bubkes and the experts are slow and maybe we should have a more rotating and flexible situation.
With a gallery, you can get an idea today and, if you believe in it, have it up like a headline tomorrow. A gallery is a very risky but definitive way to put your money where your mouth is. It’s a great opportunity, but not the easiest thing to sustain and, if you do it in Berlin, get ready for some hilarious political structures. I am a bit too honest though, another reason I was a bad art dealer.

How do you feel after running your own gallery? Jaded, or did you find it mostly positive?

Well we closed because it was a good moment: things were awesome, because this thing was not going to get any better and we both wanted to also do other things. Also I’m not good at selling art. I don’t kiss rings well and people should be adult enough to make their own decisions without depending on their ears as to whether something is worth their attention or if they want to live with whatever merch we are selling based on their understanding of its intrinsic value and not for the fact it will help their friend count on facebook. Our system is very, very delicate like a baroque house of cards full of social and professional blackmail and black markets of all shades. Unfortunately we don’t have a level of journalism that addresses such things. It shifts between anonymous gossip and creative writing and even though everyone knows the same terrible story, no one reports on it. Does it really matter if you aren’t invited to the next dinner? The typical response you get when one makes a lament is “it is what it is” or “that’s how it goes”. That’s pretty helpless and maybe even complicit in all its complacency. Ours is a system that does not benefit from speaking clearly or anything that remotely resembles transparency around decision-making. We closed the gallery because we wanted to, not because we had to.
There is a quite humorous moment happening now in this city where the ‘open call’ is in vogue and giving some nostrum idea of transparency with this Berlin Kunsthalle and also the next Berlin Biennale. While I think the latter will be a tired and silly self-conscious free-for-all approach, we should be sure to scrutinize the committee of the former with regards to their comfort zones and whatever predictabilities emerge. Everyone can feel invited but sometimes that is a well-choreographed placebo with predetermined effect. I can say without a doubt that our program at FEINKOST at least spoke clearly about these value systems and wasn’t some more institutionalized critique.

On a positive note, the level of experience and chance to develop that it gave Mette and me was unparallel. It was important for us to operate our program in a circular way and have this thing run with a life cycle. In the course of three years there is a very clear thread starting with “what is the art world?” And then zoom in, to making exhibitions about analyzing alternative value systems, the criteria or science of each exhibition trying to deal with the issues that are at the core of what everyone is talking about. We did a show called ‘More love hours than can ever be repaid’ which proposed various understandings of value tangible through process, time, love, motherhood, obsession, etc: these are currencies that everyone has a conversion for. In the end our industry offers all these weird ideas of value based on momentary consensus but it’s like talking about the golden calf once you get it on paper. For us ending with a show about social entropy, with the exhibition ‘Breaking Windows’ was great to have as a last show. It’s about shit falling apart.The End.

Plans for the future? Are you going to pursue curating or directing another space?

Well we both kind of got jobs right away. We’re busy. I am working on some publications now. They are all fun, but one in particular is AGMA, an exhibition’s quarterly looking at shows exclusively through images and no text whatsoever. It’s pretty beautiful I have to say and super zen in how it cuts the crap and allows you to read things uninhibited by rhetoric. I think it is a magazine that will bloom as we watch most print media wither. The next issue will be the one I have worked on most, but get the recent one as you have amazing unseen images of Jorge Peris’ Indiana Jones-like crypt/studio or Richard Serra’s very first exhibition from when he was on a Fulbright in Florence and he used live animals. It’s mad stuff. And yet it’s helpful and it gives you a sincere hope that there is some good shit out there beyond all the casual flimflam. In an industry of ADD aesthetics, it is nice to feel apart of something that could have a certain timelessness to it, will be collected, reread and whenever thumbed it still is able to offer an unobtrusive and polished lens.
As for curating I will have a few things coming up like a curatorial battle with Carson Chan in mid-March at the Grimmuseum and a painting show at Autocenter in the beginning of April. Curating images or exhibitions or what have you still feels like the most ideal and efficient method to deal with a problem in a progressive way. Running a gallery was amazing and irreplaceable but in the end it was just a phase in my career.

text & photography: Trevor Good

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  1. Mercedes Engines Manchester on

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    Mette Ravnkilde Nielsen is a total darling! A tad off topic perhaps, but worth noting nonetheless.

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