Like most gallery owners, an interest in art was what drew Michael Janssen to first seek employment at a gallery in the late 1980s. Although he would dabble and enjoy some success as an organiser of a niche art fair, a passion to be more involved in art, especially at an international level, eventually led him to establish his very own gallery in Cologne in 1995. The move provided the very platform from which Michael could engage artists he admired from the UK, North America and his native Germany. This would be followed by a new gallery in Los Angeles in 2001 and more recently, a shop at Gillman Barracks. We chat with the gallery’s namesake, Michael Janssen, about things close to heart.
Ai Wei Wei
Yes, it’s great to be able to work with one of the most famous artists in Asia and the world. Our focus will be international but we will integrate Asian and Singapore artists.
The artist should be doing work that is of an international standard. I have to like and understand the art. And I also have to be able to get along with the artist. That’s basically it. I would show anything, as long as it’s good. I don’t really care about what the other galleries do.
The response we have received has been very positive. We’re selling, surprisingly. Because I usually don’t expect to sell much in the first year. There’s a lot of regional art here and our plan was always to bring in more international art. Because of this, we gave ourselves some time to prepare the market.
When they step in, they expect to see something interesting on an international standard.
Showing things with a strong message, staging projects that are not easily accessed. It’s not so much about liking a painting but about being confronted with something that is challenging you, challenging your mind, and about making a social statement. It’s definitely not about finding money-makers.
When you work with an artist who is an unknown, or not so well known, it’s a big question mark. Sometimes success can happen very fast, sometimes it can take twenty years
They usually start by buying one piece per year, and spend between $30,000 to 50,000. Over time, it adds up.
Starting a collection
You only become a collector when all the walls in your house are full of paintings, and you need to make a decision about which paintings to put into storage.
Buying and selling art
In Singapore, we definitely see more investment buying. You get more questions along the lines of “What will the value of this artwork be in five years?” When you buy from a good gallery, the value always increases. But we can’t say by how much. It can be 10 percent, it can be double, or it can treble.
Does this determine what art you bring in?
Not at all. We do not consider investment potential in deciding what art we exhibit.
Do you invest in art?
Looking at the art that I have bought personally, some have increased tremendously in value, and others not at all. But it doesn’t affect my appreciation of them. Now if you’re buying as part of a gallery’s inventory, then of course, this [investment aspect] is important. Because you want to sell at some point to finance other projects. But most of the things I buy, I buy because I like them.
I find Indonesia the most intriguing region with some amazing artists such as Tita Rubi, Agus Suwage, and Handiwirman Saputra.
Picasso, Balthus, Cy Twombly, Baldessari, and to some extent Gerhard Richter.
The art market comes and goes in waves, every five years or so. Painting always has a presence but it’s hard to find good painters these days. You’re seeing more installation art and conceptual sculpture.
Nicest part of the job
Meeting the artist and installing the exhibitions.
And the hardest
Longhaul travel sucks.