ARTMUC Director Raiko Schwalbe in an Exclusive Interview

June 2, 2016

The ARTMUC art fair has begun, and on the occasion of this unique art fair, we are bringing you an exclusive Raiko Schwalbe interview. Mr. Schwalbe is the co-founder of ARTMUC, and together with his brother Marco, he launched this proactive and artist-oriented fair. In the world where money and sales mean everything, Raiko Schwalbe has dared to turn his focus on the art itself, and provide the artists with space where they can promote their work autonomously, without the financial pressure, or the need to schmooze the gallery owners and curators. The artists, curators, gallery owners, and art aficionados can network in a friendly environment and help each other strive and make their businesses grow and prosper. In ARTMUC, the emphasis is on the exchange of ideas among the artists, as well as on learning new skills, especially in the field of marketing and self-promotion. The ARTMUC artists do not have to be dependent on the big galleries that often overlook the rising talents and struggling new artists, and they can be masters of their own trades while remaining true to themselves and their free-spirited approach to art.

If you want to know more about the co-founder of such an interesting art fair, go ahead and scroll down and see what Raiko Schwalbe thinks about the current situation in the art world, how the ARTMUC started, and what it really means for artists and art galleries.

Founding an Art Fair

Widewalls: As the founder of the ARTMUC fair can you tell us the story behind the project and how it all began? What was the inspiration behind the idea to create something alternative in the society that somehow always aims towards the mainstream?

Raiko Schwalbe: What I realized is that most of the artists are living in the shadows of the big art market with its few participants and players. The idea is to give every talented artist the chance to present him or herself and to have the possibility to network with other artists and show their art pieces to a wider audience - even without having a gallery. From the beginning, that’s what I focused on. In 2011 I started a “crowd project” called YMC (Young Munich Creatives). The idea was to concentrate all resources of the interested people together in one project and to share resources to realize projects. In 2013 I was organizing “OBACHT” - an exhibition with different artists all together which led to the first ARTMUC in 2014 with about 5.000 visitors. This has set the hare running.

WW: ARTMUC allows the artists to promote their works directly and autonomously. Do you think that this is the general problem in the art world of today and how does ARTMUC help the artist reach their desired audience in a time when galleries cannot guarantee to represent the artists permanently?

Schwalbe: ARTMUC is about building a bridge between the art market and art promotion. We try to offer a spotlight and a stage. The former situation when artists were in need of a gallery representing them as their only way of their works being showed to an interested audience has changed. With the WWW artists have the opportunity to be viewed by others but in addition, they are just one in a million. It gets more and more important for them to do the work of the galleries on their own and network for themselves. The ARTMUC opens up opportunities to connect, present and promote themselves - something they wouldn’t have without ARTMUC.

WW: You are not inexperienced when it comes to art fairs as you and your brother Marco have successfully launched the STROKE ART FAIR. How are these two projects similar and what are the differences between them?

Schwalbe: The art fair STROKE is focusing on small galleries presenting urban or digital art and design. In contrast, the ARTMUC is the fair for the “producers” themselves. So the focus is only on the artists no matter which art movement they follow. From professionals in Painting, Illustration, Photography, Sculpture or Installation and video art, they all get a chance to exhibit to a wider public and potential buyers.

Alternative in the World of Mainstream

WW: ARTMUC is not a typical art fair. You encourage the communication among artists, the exchange of ideas and promote learning of new skills and tricks of the trade and networking with curators, art dealers, and gallery owners. Do you think that these aspects are often overlooked at traditional art fairs that focus more on the selling of artworks and less on the artists themselves?

Schwalbe: Traditional art fairs focus on bringing sellers (e.g. galleries) and buyers (e.g. private persons, companies) together to buy art. Both parts of this selling process (sellers and buyers) are professionals in marketing and negotiating. But the real producers of the art (the artists) are totally out of this process. This is how it worked for a long time. But the market conditions are changing now. More and more artists are joining and floating the market – mostly without any skills or experiences in networking or marketing. This is the point when we intervene with ARTMUC. Of course, we have a broad buyer audience from galleries, agencies, platforms etc., but we really want the artists to understand that the market they are related to is a very large. This is why it is really important to work together, run alliances and get in touch personally with curators or art dealers. They have to understand that it is not easy as an artist to get shown by a gallery, a platform, or a museum. It is really hard to build up a customer base – that is something they normally not learn in their artistic lives, in the studio, or in their academic education.

WW: Having started as a small gallery owner, can you tell us how hard it is to actually participate in the art fairs and how accessible these fairs are for small galleries and regular people with not-so-deep pockets?

Well, in the art scene everybody knows about the high prices of participating at the big art fairs or even the middle sized ones. Single artists or even rising galleries cannot afford it – some of them just went bankrupt because of taking part in the big art markets of the world. It really depends, but when looking at the big picture, it’s almost impossible. The participation fees for the ARTMUC, in comparison to other art fairs, is very low. Other fairs at a similar level, most of the time, cost tenfold or higher as ARTMUC does. Of course, for us, that implies a strict calculation as operators. There are even some “services” you can get at the big art fairs we cannot offer based on our low prices. But it’s the same with the visitors. Since I got involved with the art scene I’ve focused on a hedonistic way of handling art. It’s not about academic education or if well-known art people recommend some artists – it’s about: do you like it or not. For me art is an essential part of life – it can communicate feelings and passion. It can help you escape the daily routine. It should be a part of every life, of every moment, and not be focused on the rich side of society. That’s why the prices for art works at the ARTMUC are cheaper compared to other art fairs. We even have art works and installations you cannot buy. They are there just to be seen and to be experienced.

Less is More at ARTMUC

WW: ARTMUC is known for the somewhat small number of participating artists if 102 is a small number. How do you choose from such a great number of creative people and what are the criteria that they have to fulfill in order to be featured at your art fair?

Schwalbe: If we have a look at 500 applications, I think the number of 102 is as minimal as possible. We really take the time to look at all of them. To the question which criteria we use for selection I want to mention Dörthe Bäumer. She is an artist herself and part of our Jury and as such always interested in the appropriate ways of crosslinking. She would say that one of the most important criteria - besides the high quality of the presented art pieces - is the online presentation of the artists themselves and their vita – focusing on what other shows, exhibitions or galleries the artists already take part in. This gives an in-depth information on how seriously they should be taken. It doesn’t matter how they learned their skills, but how they have already been awarded or where they have already presented their works. In addition, our jury takes a look at five art pieces they send us. These pictures are all anonymously evaluated, self-sufficient on their own. In the last stage, the jury meets and discusses the controversial cases. The jury is formed by five Munich art experts which all are employed in different art sectors, such as publishing directors, gallery owners, or initiators of Art Sponsoring Associations. Every year, three of them are replaced by different people.

WW: The location you chose for this year’s ARTMUC is quite unique, as Praterinsel is actually the former liquor factory. Can we expect a similar venue for the future ARTMUC? What made you choose this particular place?

Schwalbe: The ARTMUC has always taken place on the Praterinsel because it is a beautiful place and the island is located in the heart of Munich. The island its own forms a relaxed atmosphere for the visitors and the artists and is not at all as “sterile” as most of the halls where art fairs normally are located. The different levels and room sizes of the houses, the open courtyard, the Isar on both sides are unique and guarantee an exploring character I think.

WW: In the end, can you tell our readers what are Raiko Schwalbe’s plans for the future? Can we look forward to more exciting projects and what can we expect in the years to come?

Schwalbe: Right now we are planning the process of expanding ARTMUC in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. But the planning is not yet in an in-depth stage. But maybe I can tell you more in about three months.