In March GoArt! visited the beautiful island of Mallorca and talked to Patricia Asbaek – founder and owner of the CCA Andratx about her art institution.
Miriam Bers (MB): Do you live in Mallorca? How does your day start?
Patricia Asbaek (PA): I live here half the time, approximately 5 months a year. I commute between Mallorca and Copenhagen and will be back again during Easter. Then I will stay for July, August and September. My husband Jacob is here all year. My day starts as you saw by making order everywhere.
MB: You and your husband have been owners of a gallery in Copenhagen for over 40 years. It is now run by one of your sons. You decided to found this wonderful center of contemporary art CCA Andratx in Mallorca almost 20 years ago – can you tell me more about the idea and the process behind it?
PA: We had a gallery for 45 years. It is not the same as our son’s gallery, which is called Martin Asbaek Gallery. He founded his own independent gallery and did not take over from us, but he kept three of our artists in the gallery portfolio. Martin is our middle son. My older son Thomas is an art consultant, who recently (2018) opened his own gallery together with his wife Tania – the space is called ‘Collaborations’ and is located in Copenhagen.
Martin Asbæk has the best photography in Scandinavia and Thomas’ ‘Collaborations’ is working together with Johann König, Esther Schipper, etc. He has curated shows with Alicja Kwade to name only one.
Alicja and Gregor Hildebrandt have been here in Mallorca as well. Gregor is a true film enthusiast and already saw my youngest son Pilou, who is an actor, in the Danish TV series Borgen. He was one of the first ones who – from outside of Denmark – who knew Pilou before he became world famous (today he plays in Game of Thrones, etc.)
Alicja and Gregor are some of the nicest people we have had staying with us. Recently I went to Berlin and visited Alicja’s studio. It is even bigger than CCA, and she has more staff than we ever had during all these years.
About CCA: In 1988 we bought a piece of land in Mallorca, which was supposed to be only for ourselves (an old Finca that Jacob renovated to become our summer house). But it was too beautiful to keep it for ourselves, so we wanted to share it with artists, art lovers and collectors. We wished to create a hybrid that had never been done before, which is why it is so difficult to define. CCA is both: a residency, a Kunsthalle and a gallery.
The land was termed ‘zona rustica’ but when the island heard about our plans they changed it to ‘zona social’ which roughly means that you are only allowed to build a hospital there or that the place is reserved for military or cultural sites. It still took us 5 years to get the permit to build CCA. All the locals thought it was a place to launder money. But as my accountant said: If it is supposed to launder money, it must be a very deep hole, since the money never shows up again!
We created CCA because we felt it was a necessity and it was something that had never been done before. CCA is made with a passion for art. After 35 years in Denmark, we wanted to create an international platform for artists, where different cultures and nationalities could meet, get inspired from each other and work together, instead of against each other.
MB: What was the purpose of this place before you transformed it? Who designed this beautiful building complex? There is so much space to sit, to enjoy and to pass the time watching, walking and talking – in other words: it is much more than just an exhibition space.
PA: We bought a finca and the land CCA was built on came with it. Jacob Asbæk (my husband) is the architect of CCA and he made the drawings of the construction together with a local technician. The guy who built the stonewalls is kind of an artist. He is the best on the island, but also the most expensive. In the beginning we had a lot of money, but as we started building there was no money left.
We opened CCA in 2001 thanks to a lot of good friends who supported us. From the art world Karola Grässlin and Christian Nagel helped out. Today Jochen Hempel is still supporting us.
The funny thing is that it is all the foreign galleries that have already helped us. Now, 18 years later, the local galleries finally also want to collaborate – back then they did not even come to our dinners.
I built this place because I felt the passion is disappearing, you know, art is becoming more and more commercial.
When I was sitting in the Art Forum board competition was incredibly high. That was the end of the fair. I still remember trying to go to dinners and mingle, but it did not help.
So we wanted to build CCA to show that people can be together in a friendly way and work for a common purpose – also trying to transcend the borders between galleries and institutions. Galleries are the ones taking the chances with younger artists and for that they deserve respect.
MB: You are collaborating with international artists such as Shiharu Shiota and Claus Rottenbacher as well as talents from Mallorca. You also established an ‘artist in residence program’ at CCA Andratx where you have four studios at your disposition. What are your selection criteria?
PA: CCA is made a little like a cloister – the heart of the place is the artists’ studios. We receive more than 600 applications a year and we can only accept 48. Quite often 50% of the selected artists are from Berlin. As my good friend Christian Nagel used to say: Berlin is the only city in the world where you have 8000 artists, 800 galleries and 80 collectors.
Since we have a lot of applications it is not difficult to take away the first majority (500 out of 600). We only accept professional artists; but from the 100 leftovers in the end it is extremely difficult to decide. The trouble starts when people want to come back: and we love them so we want them to come back!
When I select the artists I get help from Jackie (daily leader and art manager at CCA) and Malou (curator and artist liaison at CCA). Sometimes when I have a handful of artists that I need to choose from I consult with my good friend Barry Schwabsky.
When people say art is a matter of taste I do not agree. It is simply not the case. If you talk with art professionals they will always choose one artist or work over the other. Of course not in the same order but 10 out of 100 professional people will always have the same opinion – it is therefore not about taste. We have preferences of course: I like minimalism, some are more into expressionism and some are more into conceptual art, but I can still see what is good in those genres. I do not think there is any category that is better than the other.
Another criterion for the selection process is to avoid epigones; this makes it easy to dismiss the first 500 applications, because they are ‘copies’. To be selected the artists need to have their own signature, and my knowledge of what is original and what is an epigone has become empirically inherent to me from seeing so much art during the past years.
Over all you can say that my quality criteria are a mix of intuition and study. I can feel a sensation in my neck. It is this feeling that makes me wonder: Why are the artists doing this, it is different. You can feel it, but how can you explain that to people who do not feel it?
Talking about this inherent knowledge of having seen a lot of art, Patricia mentions the Danish publisher Jarl Borgen, who was a friend of her family: ‘When I was 24 and studying he invited me to go to Prague with him. He forced me to look at everything: art, architecture, design, etc. That is how I started using my eyesand learned how to look methodically and with great thoroughness.’
MB: I very much like Arrels. Art Ceramic in Mallorca, still on view until June 2019. You exhibit concept art, painting and ceramic arts at the same time. Is this a personal statement or rather the idea to open the center to a larger audience?
PA: The artists want to go into the essence of artmaking when they are here, so they dive into drawing and ceramics. I have never met any good artist who is not really good at drawing. And even though ceramics was considered passé 10 years ago, the artists love it still today, perhaps even more than ever.
As I said before there is no bad genre of art. We have always exhibited photography, painting, sculpture, ceramics, video, installations, etc.
For many people we are a little too conceptual, but our aim is to exhibit cutting-edge contemporary art.
One of the most beautiful exhibitions I have ever seen is Oxalis. It is like a drawing in the room. The artists Shane Bradford, Benedikt Hipp, Mary McDonnell and Sissel Marie Tonn are young but they are really talented. During the creation of Oxalis they lived in the space, they inhabited the gallery and therefore got the feeling of all the possibilities it has to offer in terms of lights and shadows e.g. Probably that is why they managed to see all the different points of views and were able to use the room rather than the walls. If you want to learn how to look, it is a wonderful exhibition. There is all this harmony; there is not one line, not one shadow that is not thought through! In Oxalis you can also sense diversity, it is almost like a theatre inspired by arte povera.
Some people walk into a space, look around and say: ‘I do not like it.’ I see it as our responsibility to give people guidance when it comes to looking at art.
MB: How did the Majorcan react to this prestigious art hall? Is there collaboration with political players or the city of Palma? Do you receive funds and help from the island?
PA: We started in 2001. In the beginning, only the local Ajuntament Andratx supported and believed in us.
Last year we received the Golden Medal of Culture from the president, which has never happened to foreigners before, so we are extremely proud and thankful for that!
Moreover Pilou, who plays the role of the bad guy Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones has turned out to be a very good guy for us: Last year he was appointed the new cultural ambassador of Mallorca by the president superseding Michael Douglas. Following all this, in 2019, we received a beautiful invitation to exhibit in the Pelaires Gallery in Palma as the start of our new membership of the Art Palma Association.
The exhibition is called A Landscape of the Nature within and shows works by the German painter Carsten Fock (now living in Berlin), and the two Danes Absalon Kirkeby and Karl Troels Sandegaard. All three have stayed in the CCA studios within the past few years. The exhibition opened on Saturday March 23th and will last for 3 months.
Talking about all the good things that have happened to CCA within the last two years, Patricia says: ‘It is like a pelican: you look at it and think it cannot fly, because it is way too heavy, but then all of a sudden it flies just fine! Everyone has talked about us not making it, but we are still here!
Summing up from past to future prospects:
Now we have many more people coming than two years ago and we are selling more works as well. So it is definitely going in the right direction.
Our sons are very helpful and supportive, but they are busy with their own careers. We have to find partners before I turn 80. We are looking for someone who understands what we have built over the past years. We have never regressed in terms of quality of the exhibitions. I am thinking maybe it should be someone from Germany. Germans are better educated than Danish people when it comes to art, because of all the Kunstvereine and the Kunsthallen.
MB: Could you tell me about your upcoming projects?
PA: Our current artists in residence Kristian Kragelund, Karl Monies, Elisabeth Molin and Nathan Peter will open their exhibition on March 29. Additionally, we will have a more official opening during Easter when more people are on the island. On April 18thwe show Le hasard et la nécessicité which refers to the Nobel prize winning philosopher Jacques Monod, but is essentially about the works of the four artists all somehow dealing with the tension between change and necessity that life is all about. Indeed, we have a double opening: On the same day our exhibition ALL INCLUSIVE starts featuring our current artists in residence Ditte Ejlerskov and Johan Furåker.
In May we are looking forward to welcoming some of my favourite artists in the studios, who have all been here before many years ago. Matthias Bitzer, Sebastian Hammwöhner and Gabriel Vormstein. Our fourth artist will be Michael Sailstorfer, whom I also like a lot – for him it will be the first time in Andratx. I am very much looking forward to this group!