Sex is overrated
Arty Farty Gallery, Cologne’s new home for young urban art
Over the course of the last 20 years Cologne, the city of the art galleries, has been diligently doing its due to write the history of contemporary German art. However, the larger part of this input consists of the works of artists from the more traditional fields of art, like painting, photography, and sculpture. One looks in vain for young, urban art with authentic roots on the streets instead of an art academy pedigree. In order to inject a breath of fresh air and some zeitgeist into the slightly stuffy art scene of his hometown Cologne, about half a year ago Coskun Geuven set up shop with the Arty Farty gallery. The first exhibition was titled “The Prick Wall”, showed graffiti works by artists like William Head, Morcky, and The Boghe, and left a refreshingly different mark on the gallery scene of the cathedral city. But Geuven aims at more than creating a new home for what is generally called streetart. Under the title “More Human Than Human” he also exhibited a series of paintings charged with pop-cultural symbolism by Berlin artist ElBocho. As a secondary business Geuven established a label for T-shirts called Artyfartees. The shirts, featuring provoking graphics by artist like Bo130 and Wayne Horse, have already received quite a bit of notice. It is a two-pronged strategy by which Geuven attempts to propagate art through more than just the usual channels. To hear more about the Arty Farty vision we took a seat on the black leather couch at the gallery to interview the man and maker of Arty Farty over a pack of fags.
What’s characteristic for the artists exhibited your gallery?
Hard to say. It depends on the artwork. It has to speak for itself. The important bit for me personally is that the individual behind the artwork isn’t a pompous wannabe-artist. We have to be on the same wavelength mentally. That’s something characteristic for the urban, unorthodox, and, most of all, professionally unorganised street art scene. We all share the same spirit. Our structures are different. It seems to me that the established art scene has become encrusted. And as a personal principle I hate everything to do with screwed-up structures. The artists exhibited in my gallery are constantly developing. The beat and the rhythm are different. Currently, I’m working together with an international network that is continually re-forming and re-shaping itself. That’s also the reason why it’s so difficult to say exactly what an artist needs to score here.
How did you become part of this network?
That’s a result of my work for Carhartt. Over the last few years, I frequently got in touch with new, nice and talented people for all sorts of events. And once you meet someone, soon the next person follows. It works almost like a pyramid scheme. If you treat people in a fair way and don’t rip them off, they’ll remember. When you start it’s all about the people. You don’t think of making business. And when you hang out with your homies, it’s soon like this big crew, and you automatically get to meet new people. That’s the hippie community style, everything is in flow – but without the disgusting stuff…
But you’re only talking about the European scene now, aren’t you?
Well, due to budget reasons I’m only working the European scene right now. Next year I’m going to add a few Americans and I also want to go to Japan. The works of a number of really good and well-known people is going to be on display here. But who that is I’m not telling yet.
So, how do you cooperate? After all you want to sell their art for them. Do you work with contracts?
No, everything is done by handshake really. We are the exclusive representatives of Brendan Monroe and Evah Fan in Europe for example. We have our verbal agreements for that and that’s all we need. That’s sufficient enough as a basis of trust. We don’t do contracts. Maybe later if this is getting bigger and the structures require it. But the style here is still ghetto, on professional level though. If we lack the means for something, we just improvise. I mean, I’ll personally drive the van to take ElBocho’s paintings back to Berlin if I have to – the ghetto shit is a part of it.
Does that mean you need to live this in order to give it all your enthusiasm?
Of course! It’s all about the feeling. Many artists I work with live their art. It’s become part of their flesh and blood. I represent those people for the same reasons. For me, it’s about an attitude to life, about freedom. It’s not about what an artist does but about the details, the stuff around it. That’s my way of dealing with it. I once tried painting myself, I almost made it to art school – in the end it didn’t work out for a number of reasons. But because of my job for Carhartt I got back into art. Now I’m one step further and what I’ve built here gives me the same feeling painters have when they finish a painting. Because when I design an exhibition here and people like it, then a similar feeling of happiness ensues.
Well, but isn’t a running a gallery more expensive than, say, being a painter?
Out entire concept is set up so that none of us is absolutely depending on it financially. On occasion I sell something under price so that only the artist gets to see some money. I try to balance this out with freelance jobs that I do for companies and with our T-shirt label Artyfartees. I’m also going to be at the Art Fair in Cologne and at the Stroke fair in Munich to make a few contacts in the established art scene. The reason for this is that we also want to bring ourselves to the attention of collectors who are willing to spend some money. But it’s not going to be a full frontal attack. We want to get in on things, but on a correct level. Everything is supposed to grow and persist without pressure. The T-shirts on the other hand are actually more about sales figures, since we are planning to finance the art aspect with it. But they are also a medium of our attitude of life. The shirts make a statement. Wayne Horse has done the first one now. The edition is called “Genderpunks” and it’s about nuts – hairy balls. Everything happening here picks up the zeitgeist. And currently you need big balls in order to get on in life.
What was it like for you when you sold your first piece?
When I sold the first work of art the feeling was good. It gives you the certainty that you’ve done everything right so far. It’s nice to find out that it’s possible without having to make compromises. I can put as many cocks on display here as I like. If we wanted to, we could paint gaping cunts on the walls. If people don’t like that, they don’t have to come down the stairs to see us. That’s not an elitist thought. It’s more that we are open for everything!
Was the decision to do this in Cologne a deliberate one?
Cologne simply offers itself. It’s a cool city with little going on. It’s a place where it’s still possible to shake things up. Berlin and Hamburg already have their established galleries for contemporary urban art. Cologne doesn’t really. On top of that, we’re right in the middle of Europe here, which is an advantage for staying in touch with my network.
What is your next exhibition going to be about?
The next exhibition is going to be with Steff Plaetz and Will Barras from London and Swanski from Warsaw. The title will be “Inside the Magic Puff” and it’s going to be colourful, because everything will be psychedelic, naked women, drugs, and motorcycles. We’ll chuck a fog machine and a strobe light in here, so it’s going to be really flashy. The artists will come over for a week to paint everything here just the way they like it. It’s bound to be dirty. After that, we’ll have something a little bit cleaner: “La Guillotine” with Sozy One and Dave Decat. That one’s going to be a classic old newspaper, format A2, full of invented visual stories and illustrations, produced in a limited edition.
Is part of your concept to completely hand the gallery space over to the artists so that they can spontaneously create something in this space?
The artists can do anything they like in here. The people who come here all have the right quality to realise whatever comes to their mind spontaneously. Creating art in here is important to me, because the exhibition gains in authenticity. You react to the location in a similar ways the artists do in when they work in a public space, an off the cuff interaction with the surroundings. When I read things like: “Arty Farty is a streetart gallery,” that gets me down. We’re a gallery for young urban contemporary art. And that includes more than just graffiti. For me, art is something that touches you irrevocably. It has to overwhelm you, offer you a new perspective on reality. To me it’s a constant source of new life energy. It’s exactly this kind of energy that I want to spread here in the first place. Of course there’s also an economic side to it, but we are happy with little things and don’t want to play games. Warhol started out with just a factory floor where people could hang out, smoke weed, paint, and make music.
Do you get any support from the city of Cologne?
No, what I present here is more like daubing in the eyes of the city. In the bureaucratic minds of the department of cultural affairs the stereotypical image of the sprayer as a vandal intent on defacing our tidy city still exists. They don’t support us. I have come up with a concept for Cologne that I would like to do next year, a project that is meant to alter this image a little bit. The working title is “Rooftops” and it’s an event that’s going to involve many international artists who are going to paint their pieces in unusual spots. I will then make a little plan of the city so that the people can walk through Cologne, have a look at the paintings, and get the opportunity to perceive the city from a new and different perspective. For me, individual concepts like this are important, concepts that go beyond the gallery. The art that I present here hails from the street and is always a reaction to the space in which it is created.
So, avoid stagnation at all costs?
Nothing is more boring than repetition. But you shouldn’t be afraid either. I’m 32 now and I don’t care much about the structures of how life should be like that society dictates for us. This doesn’t mean that I’m against structures in general. The circle of people around me provides structures too. But everything remains open and no one has a problem with someone else going against the grain.
And what’s the vision that guides you in your actions?
We want to bring about the end of the world. When it happens I’m going to be in the front row, ready for everything, with my AK 47 in my hands, at least virtually, practised and ready. But if something like this happens I’m already dead and I don’t have anything to loose anymore anyway. And I’ll be very brutal, you can be sure of that. But let’s be serious: we want to be able to finance ourselves and stay alive. And that with honest values. No rip-offs – that’s my vision. The underlying illness of capitalism is that it turns you into an anti-social being as soon as you have a bit of success. Then you start elbowing everything out of your way and only care about the profits. We aren’t like that. We have a more idealistic approach. Even if people tell me that everybody else said so before. I think that it’s still important to be so naive and to believe that this idealism works out. Sure, most of the time it fails because of the people. You can find that in both capitalism and communism alike. Both systems stand and fall with the greed of the people. We certainly have difficult situations too where exactly this becomes evident. But we try to avoid that. It’s better to always believe in good things. Recently someone said to me: “I’m not so sure if monogamy works out a whole life long”. Of course you can’t be sure, how could you if you’re 20 and you still have your whole life ahead of you. But you can resolve to do something, because we aren’t like a tribe of monkeys who just have to fuck around. You have to try to keep in a straight line with your ideals. And that’s the aim.
Last question. Off the record many art patrons admit they are only in it for the pussies. Are you the same?
No, not at all. Honestly: shagging is absolutely overrated. It’s only right and fair to correct the public opinion about this. But in order to be able to say so, you need to have done enough shagging already. If you don’t, then you better shut up.
Interview by Michael Leuffen
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