Gerd Rohling

3 x 3
25.04.2018 – 24.08.2018

It must be round,
have sharp edges
and definitely some corners.
It should be filled
with music, and look at you
in a way
that makes you blush

Gerd Rohling, 1987

Our Art World

by Hermann Pitz

Success is a term of the twentieth century, when the issue is the status in the professional field and general recognition in society. Today, success is an established expression of the modern economy, but not always linked to money. In the 19th century, Grimm’s Wörterbuch defined the term in a very brief entry: “Success m. eventus, and often secundus, consequence: the things does not have any success, a good, happy, favorable, uncertain success; in success (in consequence/succession) of this setting.” In addition of this example by Lessing, Schiller is quoted: I could not bear to wait in idle calm for the success. And Grillparzer: “between murder und his dagger, between action and success, a wide gulf opens up.” Success was, at the beginning, more the consequence of an action rather than its effect.

Only by the end of the nineteenth century was success recognized as a part of the existence of an artist. A professor at an art academy in southern Germany claimed that three things are necessary for success, namely talent, diligence, and money. At least two of these were required, he argued, and only one of them was never sufficient to gain good results. This rule of success so startlingly simple that it is still valid today. Even though art worlds today create recognition (which they also regularly undo) through a great variety of interlaced activities. Success in art is either the recognition of art worlds or of artists. It is about the reputation of works, artists, schools, genres, and media. From the mass of more or less similar works made by more or less interchangeable people, the art worlds highlight a few art works of special value, and a few creators with an outstanding reputation.

This special value is rewarded with respect and frequently, though not always, also rewarded financially. Art worlds deploy recognition that was built up for further activities by treating things and people with this outstanding reputation differently than other things and other people. Everybody experiences his or her success differently. One maxim used by Ad Reinhardt is helpful to internalize the stoic basic attitude that leads to success: “Artist—one whose career always begins tomorrow - a man who won‘t prostitute his art, except for money.”

Artists who enjoy recognition like to say that they just had been lucky or had been at the right place at the right time. But coincidence doesn’t seem to be the only thing when it comes to success, because talent assembles at the art the art world’s important searching grounds and places of discovery, so that many artists nest at the right time at the right breeding areas of success. Berlin’s Wedding today is such a zone, but the density of artists was low when Gerd Rohling settled there in the 1970s. He shows us: success comes to those who don’t move.

In his study Art Worlds (Los Angeles 1982), which remains instructive to this day, the sociologist Howard S. Becker examined how many artists function in the art business. His study is devoted not just to the fine arts, but also to the operational state in music and theater. After all, everybody working in these arts is an artist. Becker defines four types of artists.

First of all there are the folk artists without a discourse and without any special formal conventions. Then there are the naives, who partially use formally similar artistic means as the professionals, but they make do without the professionals’ aesthetic discourse. Often they are amateurs. If naïve artists accept any conventions at all, Becker maintains, then they are those characterized by the rules and traditions of craftsmanship. An aesthetic discourse does not exist in this milieu, yet formally speaking, the same can be produced here that is produced in the professional milieu. These first two types represent the majority of artists. Their world is largely free from conventions. As hobby do-it-yourselfers, however, they represent an enormous economic factor, which is reflected in countless DIY stores.

The much smaller (but decisive) part of artistic production takes place in the professional sector Here, Becker sees two types of artists: On the one hand, there is the integrated, professional artist. Becker characterizes the integrated professionals thus: they “operate within a shared tradition of problems and solutions. They define the problems of their art similarly and agree on the criteria for an acceptable solution. They know the history of previous attempts, or some of it, and the new problems those attempts generated. They know the history of works like theirs, so that they, their support personnel, and their audiences can understand what they have attempted and how and to what degree it works. Integrated professionals have the technical abilities, social skills, and conceptual apparatus necessary to make it easy to make art.”
The relevant conventions developed over centuries. “If they are painters, they use available materials to produce works which, in size, form, design, color, and content, fit into the available spaces and into people’s ability to respond appropriately. They stay within the bounds of what potential audiences and the state consider respectable. By using and conforming to the conventions governing materials, form, contents, modes of presentation, sizes, shapes, and durations, […] integrated professionals make it possible for art worlds to occur efficiently and easily. Large numbers of people can coordinate their activities with a minimum investment of time and energy, simply by identifying the conventions everyone should follow.”

According to Becker, the other type of artist is the maverick—the professional outsider who has academic training and knows the official discourse of the art milieu, but whose work doesn’t quite fit in, because he thinks outside the box, laterally, as it were, and in his artistic practice does not stick to recognized conventions. Becker: “Every organized art world produced mavericks, artists who have been part of the conventional art world of their time, place, and medium but found it unacceptably constraining. They propose innovations the art world refuses to accept as within the limits of what it ordinarily produces. Other participants in the world—audiences, support personnel, sources of support, or distributors—refuse to cooperate in the production of those innovations.
“Instead of giving up and returning to more acceptable materials and styles, mavericks continue to pursue the innovation without the support of other art world personnel. Whereas integrated professionals accept almost completely the conventions of their world, mavericks retain some loose connection with it but no longer participate in its activities directly.” Artists (and also art students) like to identify with the maverick, who is always good for a surprise. Thus they are less inclined to like the integrated professional, whose work is frequently predictable and remains boringly within conventions—even though the latter has better chances of economic success.

The professionals observe the maverick very closely. Sometimes they even imitate his paintings, even though he is a maverick. In this way, unsuccessful artists are involved in innovations in art—perhaps innovations are not even possible without mavericks. As is generally known, innovation in art is rarely revolutionary. Usually an innovation appears at the margins of the art world, and in an evolutionary and unnoticed way. If we regard an artistic tradition as a series of connected solutions for a jointly defined problem, we can see that both the solutions and the problem change gradually. Every solution arrived at after careful thinking changes the problem a little—and if only in the form of increasing the number of further solutions of this kind. After a certain period of transformation, however, both have changed significantly: the problem and the solution. The people integrated in this process of innovation view this change as a logical development within the tradition. Practice and the artistic result have changed, but nobody noticed that something special happened here.


Gerd, first of all, thank you very much that you are taking the time for a short interview, even though you are very busy with the extensive preparations for the exhibition, which have started already. You participated twice in the Venice Biennale, you’ve presented your work in countless other Biennales and large international exhibitions.

You had solo shows at Berlin’s Nationalgalerie, the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, museums in Rio de Janeiro, Naples, Bombay, and so on. Actually, it can’t get much better that that!
And yet, suddenly the curve is going up again rapidly. How does it feel to get such incredible attention in your own neighborhood, here in Wedding?

I can’t really describe it, I’m at a loss for words; you think you’ve achieved everything and things can’t get any better. And then you get an invitation like that, from that address, and it came personally from the company’s founder Gregorios GrzEGOrzki.

I’ve known this building on Prinzenallee for forty years, and for about 20 years I’ve associated it with a certain idea for an exhibition, which I can now finally realize. The leadership and the team of Grzegorzki Shows immediately agreed that only this specific work should be shown in this extraordinary space.

Unfortunately I don’t have any time right now to talk in more detail about the project, and at any rate our contract specifies that no details whatsoever should be published before the opening on April 24 at 6 pm.
Unfortunately I have to end this interview now, because the technical preparations for this event require my undivided attention!

I would be very happy to welcome all of you at the opening and celebrate with you the absolute pinnacle of my career as an artist.

Gerd Rohling

On the same evening, at the same place, at the same time: the official world premiere of the film "COOL" takes place. Book – Direction – Main Actor – Copyright: GERD ROHLING