The ivy-clad, grey cement building that houses the Frise artist collective doesn’t look like much from the outside. But inside a group of artists are carrying on a tradition of independent art that dates back to the early 1900s, when artists in Berlin founded the Association of German Artists or Deutscher Künstlerbund. It was a forum for the avant-garde, started by artists like Max Liebermann and Harry Graf Kessler.
“They were looking for a way out of the arts market,” explains Michael Kress, the director of Frise. That was a time when the King of Prussia determined what was and what wasn’t considered art, says Kress. The movement evolved and in the 1970s German artists decided what was really needed was a way for art makers to own the spaces where their art could be exhibited. Lots of shops began to be used as gallery spaces. The movement took off in cities like Hamburg.
That’s the tradition where Frise has its roots. It’s a collective, where everything is decided democratically. “There is no king” is how Kress puts it. 29 artists have studio spaces in the building. Another 20 filmmakers are also part of the collective, which includes photographers, painters, sculptors, conceptual artists and filmmakers.
The building, which is now actually owned by the members of Frise, used to be a hair institute, hence the name Frise, from the German word for haircut, Frisur. Frise houses a three-room art gallery where artists who are part of the collective can hold exhibitions. Some members simply have studio space. Others actually live and work there. Artists like Thomas Rieck, one of the founding members of Frise says, “For me, it’s the only way to work and live.” He’s got a large studio space as well as a small kitchenette and bedroom.
As a group of independent artists, the collective is always looking for new ways to push the boundaries and push their own work, says Kress. That was part of what was behind the development of an artist-in-residence program that began two years ago. The program is supported by the city of Hamburg and benefits from the city’s sister cities partnerships. “This is a good example of the public supporting art,” says Kress. The city of Hamburg funds the program and also helps Frise make contact with artists in Hamburg’s sister cities who might be interested in spending time living and making art in Hamburg.
Artists from Turkey, Japan, China, Palestine, India, Italy and the Netherlands have taken part in the program. They spend two months living at Frise. Most recently, the collective hosted two artists from Chicago, one of Hamburg’s sister cities. Rebecca Beachy and Tim Nickodemus came to Hamburg in December of 2013. Beachy’s work, in particular, was very much inspired by the city of Hamburg.
“I got lost at first and one of the points that helped me know where I was was the River Elbe,” says Beachy. She thought a lot about water and the river and how that connected back to Chicago and this influenced her pieces. She also used materials she found by the river.
Beachy says her work also benefitted from working in a supportive community that felt almost like family, something that would be harder to find in Chicago.
Kress says hosting international artists has been beneficial to the whole collective. “After two years running this program, we decided that artists should stay even longer so they can get a real daily life feeling of Hamburg. “ He says he couldn’t really think of any negatives of the experience.
The other real benefit, Kress says, is the chance to get input from artists who have studied in other places and don’t all come out of Hamburg’s art school. It gets almost “incestuous,’ he says, so the exchange programs allows for an opening which might not exist otherwise
Frise is currently holding an exhibition on art and music called Sound Dept Ltd. It features artists from Italy, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Hamburg. They are in the process of putting together their next show, ‘Floating Volumes #4 – Layering DiverCity’, with artists from Finnland and Turkey and, of course, making sure that independent art has a place in Hamburg, says Kress.
Learn more: Read the interview with Michael Kress by German journalist Alina Halbe: ”An artists’ dialogue with the Elbe River“