Was Art Dealer Giti Nourbakhsch Wacked by the Berlin Art Mafia?

Was Art Dealer Giti Nourbakhsch Wacked by the Berlin Art Mafia?
Spartacus Chetwynd's wonderfully symbolic half-closed curtains at Giti Nourbakhsch's last exhibition
(Courtesy Giti Nourbakhsch)

It’s no secret — though mentions often come in whispers — that Berlin’s commercial gallery scene has something of its very own Cosa Nostra, with an elaborate initiation system. This is how it works: You will have an opening on Gallery Weekend. You will buy a booth at Art Berlin Contemporary. You will spend a few years in “Art Statements” purgatory. Then, maybe, just maybe, you’ll get offered a proper booth at Art Basel. Fail to follow these rules, or break the code of omerta about their very existence, and you're out of the family. Or this could all just be a funny fairy tale.

Fairy tale or not, it seems that dealer Giti Nourbakhsch has had enough, announcing via YouTube just before the opening of Spartacus Chetwynd’s new show on January 21 that it would be the gallery’s last. In the video, simply titled “Thank You,” Nourbakhsch is seen dancing wildly to the strains of Udo Lindenberg blasting from her Volvo, as if Miranda July had choreographed the whole affair as a performance piece.

While to suggest that the gallery’s shuttering is entirely due to pressures felt since Nourbakhsch left the Gallery Weekend organizing committee in 2010, it’s also hard to imagine that her decision’s perceived fallout — whether directly caused by Nourbakhsch’s leaving of the committee or from her actions thereafter — didn’t play a major role. Shortly after she left the committee, the gallery’s name failed to appear on the Art Basel roster for 2011, along with Eigen + Art and Mehdi Chouakri. Also, in what hardly seems coincidental, the announcement came just after the mega-fair’s 2012 exhibitor list was release, seeing both of Nourbakhsch’s fellow 2011 exiles welcomed back into the fold.

Looking at the record from last winter, the result isn't incongruous. While Eigen + Art’s Gerd Harry “Judy” Lybke gave several spirited interviews on the subject (including one with BLOUIN ARTINFO France’s Nicolai Harvig), the international art community rallied around him in a unanimous show of support that his exclusion was at least unfounded and at worst suspicious. Mehdi Chouakri remained largely silent and has since been invited to participate in the Galleries section of the fair for the first time. On the other hand, Nourbakhsch’s now-infamous open letter, directly linking her previous choices to those of the committee sparked by far the most debate and unfavorable press from the German newspapers.

Whatever the reason, however, it’s time to bury the hatchet and remember the gallery’s incredibly important contributions to Berlin’s art community and the art world at large. Founding her gallery in 1999, Giti Nourbakhsh quickly became known for her ability to source out the next up-and-coming talent. Long before Gagosian or CFA, Nourbakhsch was showing Anselm Reyle. Katja Strunz also got her start there before departing to Almine Rech and CFA. Yet these departures never seemed to phase Nourbakhsch, who quickly replaced them with artists like Matias Faldbakken and Simone Gilges.

It’s hard and likely too early to say what’s next from Nourbakhsch or her artists. Perhaps she’ll go the way of recently closed September Gallery — also known for its prowess at picking out new talent — and open a project space. Or, maybe she’s decided that it’s time to leave the art world all together. And, if it’s the latter, at the very least one could say the decision would be understandable.