March 25, 2020: Effects of Corona on Fine Art

Pauline Hinkel interviews Thomas Kellner on Effects of Corona on Fine Art

PH: How are you doing right now?

TK: Personally, I am fine so far, apart from a burnout situation since I had to leave the city studio and my mother fell ill. In addition, there was unfortunately a small disc collapse on the second day of Christmas, which I still carry around with me. Everything that would help my back, like back school and swimming, is closed at the moment. Unfortunately, I have to do without dancing with my wife, which we did at least three times a week in the evening in order to move and relaxe.
The latter, to relaxe and switch off, is of course becoming increasingly difficult. The pressure due to the current situation is increasing and the worries of livelihood cannot simply be put aside, because not only because of the current situation one source of income after the other is drying up and access to the domestic economy has become more difficult since this year. I'm going for more walks now.


PH: Which exhibitions are still running? Have exhibitions been canceled?

TK: A solo exhibition is currently running in Mainz. The exhibition in Nümbrecht was closed prematurely on March 18, 2020, like almost all exhibitions in Germany, without any compensation. The exhibition in Mainz, on the other hand, runs until March 31. A few isolated group exhibitions are currently still active in Mainz, Lippstadt and Cologne. One of my group exhibitions in France and another solo exhibition in Offenbach have been postponed until later. My big solo exhibition in South Africa is still pending. However, I was very lucky with two nice reports in the Russian-language magazine Kontakt about my work in the genius loci series - two Siegen citizens in the land of the tzars, and in  PhotoKlassik magazine with 8 pages about my exhibition Tango Metropolis.


PH: How does Corona affect your everyday life?

First of all not because artists are used to working alone in their studio. The artists probably belong to the least vulnerable group in Germany. But of course it still hit us and the entire cultural sector very badly. In the cultural sector, more people work together than in the entire automotive industry with their suppliers. In this respect, it was certainly right to close this branch, which also has a high leisure value, as the first. But of course you have to remember that the actors and workers in this area earn only a fraction of what workers in the automotive industry receive. On average, the artists insured in the artists' social fund earn ten thousand euros a year and have so far not been entitled to a short-time allowance, even though they are actually dependent and pay into the German pension fund and are also allowed to have a Riester plan.
It is still difficult for myself, because I can no longer fly to my motifs and exhibitions and will probably not be able to take photos on site soon if the total curfew is still coming. This boomerang therefore has long consequences. What I am not doing now, I can not exhibit next year. What I can't do with current sales this year, I won't be able to compensate for next year with even less sales. It is like a vicious cycle. The only thing that helps in such a situation is to cut costs and sell as much as possible. I was in a similar situation in 2008/9 when I had to get rid of eighty percent of my costs straight away. And now it can get bitter again. The past twelve years have been very tiring. An analysis of Art Basel and UBS by Dr. Clare McAndrew says the art market shrank five percent in 2019 for the second time in a row. The segment in which most artists move in numbers has now shrunk again by ten percent. The art market had just started to catch itself in the middle and lower segments and not shrink any further. Now there will be another descent.

Otherwise I have to say that I had a plan for this year and that's why I have a lot of work right now. I am in close contact with the exhibition venues in Spain, South Africa and Havana, plan for the coming year and prepare three publications. There is obviously no shortage of work.


PH: So now you have time to drink a glass of red wine in the evening and can stay in bed longer?

The opposite is the case. I currently get up at half past five in the morning and usually start the day with a walk or a trip to the supermarket before sitting at my desk at eight. The mountain of work is gigantic and if more bureaucracy is added now, I no longer know how to handle it all. In addition, I currently find little time for painting. At the moment there is a picture to stick for the series flucticulus in my studio and of course there has to be a corona wave on the subject of the pandemic.


PH: What do you advise other artists and maybe exhibition halls based on the current situation?

TK: I think it is crucial that the exhibitions stay up-to-date, set up and documented so that people can be brought closer to art in other ways. The artists deserve it, even behind closed doors. Postponing exhibitions helps in my opinion only to a very limited extent. My own exhibition schedule, for example, is now three years in advance. The art that is now to be exhibited has already been selected and planned and has its legitimation now. Next year we will live under new conditions and with a changed zeitgeist. In case of doubt, it is not possible to say whether the respective exhibition will fit so well.
Some get it right, for example the Zephyr and the Biennale in Darmstadt. Virtual tours with explanations are produced and presented on websites and social media to a much larger audience than the normally physically present ones.
It cannot be that exhibitors follow the instructions for closure and then steal from their responsibility for art as stipulated in the statutes. Be creative! Your audience is here! Some also go so far that judging has taken place, but you don't want to continue the result now because the landscape has changed. Hi there! This is fraud and has nothing to do with promoting art. On the contrary, the art summer in Siegen could have shown what is affected. So now it's just kept a secret.

In general, I currently advise:
1. This is a life-threatening situation for every company and it can mean the end for the artist. It is no longer about maintaining the status quo, but rather about securing a livelihood.
2. It is not an effect of two weeks. The current issue has ramifications for the next few months, or even years, until sales return to where they were two weeks ago.
3. You should now hold the money together and agree new payment terms for invoices.
4. New loans should now be applied for, as the higher profits in recent years now serve as evidence. Once you are in need and have no more money in your account, you won't get any credit.
5. All costs now have to be put to the test, including leasing, personnel or rent. The costs should be reduced to an absolute minimum.
6. Creativity is required. If there is work, no matter what, it should be done as soon as possible and the money held together.
7. Now is the time to develop plans and marketing strategies for the future and prepare something new that can surprise the customer.
8. Always stay positive, because only with the right attitude can you overcome an existential crisis.
9. Don't waste time! If I now know what I have to do, then I should do it immediately and not evaluate it or even schedule for the next week. Now is the right time to act.
10. A follow-up note for the employees: only the companies that manage to survive then recruit employees. Separations are part of it, so that it can then go on together again.


PH: What specific help do you want for yourself and your work?

TK: 1. Buy art! Support your favorite artists and galleries right now!
2. Public art collections, cities, county, state, museums, should now spend budgets for art purchases.
3. Similar to Sweden or Finland, artists could be provided with grants or a basic salary as in Holland.
4. Artists, like employees, are entitled to short-time benefits. They are also employed and therefore pay into the pension fund. This could be easily determined using the KSK, without any paperwork. National administration can ask the KSK about this, allocate money and the artists receive the money without any application forms.
5. Distributed through the KFW uncomplicated loans that are to be repaid slowly as a percentage of the profit above the social assistance rate and expire on death and do not bother the descendants.
6. In addition, contractual penalties should be paid for each canceled exhibition day and
7. Exhibition fees will be introduced.
8. I would also like to contact the banks, because artists are not always preferred customers. But right now we need all the support. Basel should be overridden for artists, the dispos tripled and the culture provided with interest-free overdrafts.
9. The non-commercial exhibition venues, such as city galleries, museums and art associations, also urgently need budgets with which they can pay the artists for travel, assembly and dismantling, speeches, press work and copyrights, etc.
10. Finally, VG Bild-Kunst provides income like GEMA. It cannot be that in this age of a new visuality visual artists earn only marginally. For the digital delivery, simply set the gigabytes and link this to the internet contracts.


PH: How will you continue in the future?

TK: I have just completed a large order and still have some air. Next week I will deliver a larger purchase for an excellent collection that will shortly go on an exhibition tour and take care of my two future exhibition projects. The second half of the year is now going into concrete implementation for me and challenges me and my team every day.
It is important to set goals and develop visions now to know where you want to be at the end of the year.

Everyone is currently looking at the here and now, which is certainly very important right now, so that we don't cause a total bankruptcy of the restaurants, retailers and all businesses and provoke a devastation of our cultural landscape in Germany. It is extremely important to understand what our culture means to us and to stand up for it. But it is just as important to think ahead and to recognize that after this crisis, in which billions are made available, less money will be there, more people will fall into the social safety net and the voluntary services of cities and municipalities for them Culture to be shut down even further. That's why now is the right time to think about where society stands, what Rubens, Goethe, Beethoven, Schiller, the Bechers, Beuys or Richter mean at the top, and how much art and culture we encounter every day, both nationally and regionally and are accompanied by it. The museums and exhibitions were unfortunately closed first and it would be good to be the first to reopen them and now to develop focused structures for a healthy cultural landscape that should be able to withstand such times in the future on its own.

By: Pauline Hinkel