Without Studios, No Art!
Artists Respond to the Studio Crisis
In the 1980s, both the East and West Berlin governments had reason to keep their young artists “well-fed” for both political and economic reasons (discussed in previous chapters). But in the 1990s, it was investors and corporate representatives—the people with the financial capital—that now attracted the city leaders’ attention and became the recipients of perks and privileges. As a result of artists’ demotion parallel to the decline in city financial support for art, action artists in Berlin became more vocal and visible in order to gain the support they needed from the government and to keep the local art scenes from becoming another casualty of neoliberal governance.
On June 19, 1990, 75 artists presented a statement to the East Berlin City Arts Council declaring: “Berlin must remain an arts and cultural capital. This will not be possible if the producers of art and culture are forgotten.” The letter referred to the skyrocketing rent prices for artists’ studio spaces. In early 1990, real estate speculators began buying up industrial properties at the former margins of the divided city for use as commercial space, driving up costs for artist studios in these buildings. In February 1990, the West Berlin Professional Association of Visual Artists (BBK) reported studio rents had risen as much as 300%, creating a “studio crisis situation” (Ateliernotstand).
Throughout 1991, artist groups began occupying museum spaces and staging actions and performances to draw attention to the studio crisis. In May 1991, a group of artists moved canvasses and sleeping bags into an Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the National Gallery, declaring they would use the museum as their new studio. Another group of artists staged an action on June 14, 1991 on the front steps of the Altes Museum in Berlin-Mitte, the district most hard hit by the real estate boom. Blocking the front entrance to the museum, the artists held a 30-meter-long banner that read: Sine Artis Laboratorio Nulla Ars, (No Studios, No Art). Their use of Latin was directed at the educated Bourgeoisie, who valued arts and culture, visited the art museum, and yet overlooked the needs of local artists. During the demonstration, police patrols appeared on the scene; while trying to pull down the banner, they instead sliced right through the word Laboratorio.
That September, the group returned to the Altes Museum for the opening of a Rembrandt exhibition. After innocently entering the museum, five male artists dropped their pants and stood naked in front of a wall of paintings, each with a single word written on their backs and chests forming the sentence: “Without Studios, No Art!” Unlike the June demonstration, they now confronted audiences within the museum space and issued their ultimatum in German for greater legibility. The group stood between the audiences and the paintings, disrupting the usual order and decorum of the art museum. Another artist, outfitted in a white jumpsuit and posing as a janitor, swept the floor in front of a painting with a sign pinned to their back bearing the same phrase. During another demonstration at the New Nationalgalerie at an Otto Dix exhibition in November 1991, three women emerged from coffins directly in front of the governing mayor Eberhard Diepgen, wearing only masks. On their nake bodies was written: "In 1925, Otto Dix had a studio in Berlin. In 1991 he wouldn't."
The artists’ actions caught the attention of Berlin’s new Cultural Senator, Ulrich Roloff-Momin, who began working closely with artist representatives to find a solution to the studio crisis. In 1992, the Department for Cultural Affairs set aside 2 million Deutschmarks (from the cultural budget over 900 million) for a new studio support program open to professional artists living in the city. The BBK had requested 20 million, but accepted the Department’s offer as a good start. Roloff-Momin also commissioned a new “studio advisor” to work with the BBK, local artists, Housing and Building officials, and the Department for Cultural Affairs to help identify other potential studio spaces. But the Senate interventions to control studio rent prices came too late to retain some visual artists who had already left the city. The shortage of affordable studios would remain a problem throughout the decade.