The spring art season in Berlin lacks an important component: Galerie Ben Kaufmann. The gallery represented international artists Matthias Dornfeld, Bernd Ribbeck and Florian Morlat, among others. Reached by e-mail, the 39-year-old Kaufmann told A.i.A. that keeping up with the gallery’s demands had become too daunting. “Nearly one year ago, I was in Mexico City for business reasons; after that I was installing a show in Paris and was due for an appointment in L.A. It was too much, I needed a change,” he said. “Our time at the gallery was great, but I always knew that I would need to get out of the art business one day.” The gallery closed at the end of December, following a presentation of the floor plans of its current and former locations.
Kaufmann started his gallery in Munich in early 2004, showing primarily local artists. He opened in Berlin some three years later, at Rosenthaler Platz, and in 2008 relocated to a desolate but majestic stretch of Strausberger Platz, off the Reich-era Karl-Marx-Allee. He closed the Munich gallery in 2007.
In Berlin, the dealer’s antics were as well known as his stable. When I first met Kaufmann in 2008, he invited me to a performance later that day, which he billed as “Andy Kaufman channeling Colin de Land.” He wouldn’t divulge who the artist was. The performer turned out to be none other than the gallerist himself. Wearing long sideburns, a fake belly and suspenders, à la Kaufman’s Tony Clifton character, he stood onstage and delivered a rambling, incoherent monologue, painfully foundering as his audience (mostly his own artists) stared back at him.
Kaufmann studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and, during this time, collaborated with fellow students Andy Hope 1930 and Hansjoerg Dobliar (who he would represent). Now he is working on getting accreditation as a pro football coach, and is moonlighting, he says, “as an old-school soccer photographer.” But his new career promises to be just as challenging as the last. “It’s very competitive,” he says, “you have to be part of the inner circle to make it and I’m not. Many of those applying to coach are former players and are at an advantage. So it’s like being back to square one.”
Sebastian Dacey, who has been with the gallery since its Munich days, says that what he will miss most is the tight-knit environment that Kaufmann created. “I kind of belonged to Ben Kaufmann,” he says. “Other shows I make work for and go to the opening but being at Kaufmann was about belonging to a circle of artists.”