Andreas Kuefer is an art curator/dealer who lives in Basel, Switzerland. I met him at Art Basel Miami Beach. I was struck by his easy manner and dry sense of humor … not at all uptight like some art dealers. He’s also an art consultant as you can see by checking out his website http://www.andreaskuefer.com/. Anyway, after finding out that he’s from cool art city Basel, I decided that I had to chat with him.
MICHAEL: Hey Andreas. Thanks for chatting with me. First off, you're an art dealer who lives in Switzerland. Being an American, that sounds like a very glamorous life to me. Am I wrong?
ANDREAS: It sounds glamorous to me as well until I find myself struggling on a concrete floor with an odd-shaped artwork, bubble-wrap and tape. Switzerland and especially my hometown of Basel have a long lasting history and (thanks to over 40 years of Art Basel) a strong position in the global art market. The business over here however is a lot less glamorous, or shall we say low profile, than in Miami or New York, where sometimes it feels like the after party and the guest list are more important than the art itself. And yes ... you might have seen me at one or two of those parties.
MICHAEL: Wow, your answer brings several more questions to mind. First, is Basel an art city where residents love art or is it more like a venue for the annual fair? Does art really factor into the lives of everyday people there?
ANDREAS: I wouldn't know if it factors into the lives of everyday people, but it definitely plays a big role in the cultural life and the social agenda of Basel all year round. The local art museums have great collections and reputations. Some of the world’s biggest collectors live here. Among them, Ernst and Hildy Beyeler (both now deceased), whose opening of Fondation Beyeler in 1982, was a major contribution to the Basel art scene. Over a period of fifty years, in parallel to their successful activity as gallery owners, Hildy and Ernst Beyeler built up an exceptional collection of works by modern masters. I would consider Fondation Beyeler among the top ten art museums worldwide. Let's say it this way … Counting just about 200,000 inhabitants, Basel offers the art program of a global city.
MICHAEL: Obviously, living in such a cultural city influenced your decision to become an art dealer. Still, you must have had other career options. Why did you choose to become an art dealer as opposed to a doctor, teacher or anything else? Could it be that you're also a frustrated artist?
ANDREAS: Aren't we all? My career path took me from interior design to advertising to being a creative director for a new media agency to becoming an "art dealer.” So you're probably right in the assumption that my trained eye, my fascination with the visual and my limited artistic skills were a big factor in me becoming first an art collector and now a dealer. One other major factor of motivation... growing up close to the "art industry" and being an entrepreneur for the last 10 years ... was to explore new ways of selling art and mix up the classic art business a bit and yes ... have some fun while doing that.
MICHAEL: You have a cool website. What do you hope to achieve with it?
ANDREAS: Thanks. http://www.andreaskuefer.com/ is my personal site, a reflection of myself and my finds. It started as a scrapbook. Based on the feedback I received from visitors, I continued and extended the site. People appear to like some of the posts ... that's more than I originally hoped to achieve with it.
MICHAEL: When I last saw you, the world economy was very bad. I remember asking you at Art Chicago (I think) whether you felt things were getting better and you replied, "Well, we're selling people things they don't NEED." Do you now feel the economy is getting better and do you really think people don't NEED art?
ANDREAS: It depends which economy we're talking about. I do not want to make any predictions. If you read the secondary (art) market results you tend to believe that the market is stronger than ever. However, I do not believe that this is the case. I think the primary and especially the emerging art market is struggling. Regarding the NEED for art … Of course people need art ... it might even qualify as a basic need. But do people need to OWN fine art (what my earlier statement was referring to)? Now there's some serious doubt. Through the media, the growing number of public collections, art in public spaces and the increasing amount of art institutions... fine art has become very available. Maybe it's time for the emerging art market to reinvent itself...
MICHAEL: I totally agree. I think art should have the same impact on the public as professional sports. In some places it does and it's very organized. However, I find that for the most part, most people in the art world operate in their own creative bubbles and don't do much to organize which would help emerging artists and the overall market. What do you think?
ANDREAS: It's a thin line. Pro sports is probably best comparable to the blockbuster museum exhibitions that have become so popular as of late. This sure is helpful for the general awareness or as you called it, "impact on the public" of fine arts ... but with very few exceptions it hardly ever contributes the emerging art scene. Of course the "pro level" is impressive! It's a perfect business machine. The best have been picked by the best to perform for you. But I believe there's much more to discover in the art world than those who have already gone through the "filtering" process and made it to the top. If the same team always wins, it gets kind of boring. I'm interested in creating new formats to show, promote and support the undiscovered.
MICHAEL: Finally, what are your hopes for art in the future?
ANDREAS: There are many things I hope for art or can picture for its future. In particular, I hope that the collector focus will get bored with and steer away from the secondary market ... in order to once again embrace the emerging art world. They need and deserve the support. If I can contribute to that in one way or another... goal achieved!
MICHAEL: Definitely. Well, it was great talking with you.
ANDREAS: Thanks Michael! Looking forward to seeing you again soon!
For more about Andreas Kuefer, check out his website at http://www.andreaskuefer.com/.