There is a new BC and AC now


Do we learn from crisis?

The opinion of German gallerist Volker Diehl

Although the peak of the COVID-19 crisis is perhaps still to come for most of us, it is clear that the pandemic will end someday and that humanity will survive, yet it is equally clear that the world will have changed inexorably. What it might look like, how will our value systems have changed as well as our attitude towards things, other people, and art – are questions that has posed over these last days to many people intrinsically involved in the art world. In the following express-interview, German gallerist Volker Diehl shares his opinions.

How do you feel in this new reality which is neither a book nor a sci-fi film, and is happening to all of us in the here and now?

It’s very difficult to describe.

I try to understand what is happening.

What’s happening to the world, and what does it mean to me and in my personal life.

It’s still very early, but I know the economical changes will be enormous, I’m afraid.

And they will last much longer then we would like.

There is a new BC and AC now, after 2020 years.

A lot of downs already and in the near future. A lot of people will be suffering, loosing their jobs, facing huge financial problems, etc.

It’s much too early to get a clear picture. But we should use the time proofing and questioning the past and certain developments in the art world.

Do we really need more than 800 art fairs and more than 500 biennales per year, worldwide? Maybe fewer numbers will bring more quality.

For me, personally, I’ve learnt in life and through at least two heavy crises in the past that if one door is closing, another door will open. I basically keep my optimism, try to tighten my belt, and collect as much information from my friends in the international art world as possible. Make decisions week by week, day by day.

Do we really need more than 800 art fairs and more than 500 biennales per year, worldwide?

COVID-19 has achieved in a matter of months what the climate change movement and frequent formal meetings between heads of state have failed to. Everybody talked about the need to ‘get out of the bubble’, but nothing ever really changed. The emergence of the coronavirus has served as a kind of ‘higher power’, showing humans their true place in the planet's ecosystem.
The question is, are people even capable of comprehending this ‘shutting off’ of the world that we are in right now? Can we learn from it, and is it possible to permanently retain what we learn? So far, modern society has responded to the situation by pushing the economic shutdown button (taking into consideration that the virus is not quite as wholly destructive as the plague). Yet the question is much more fundamental than that. Once it is all over, will people realize that we need to change? Will we come out of this better than when we entered? Or perhaps in the future, when we look back on this, it will turn out to only have been ‘a gentle warning’…?

People will always be people. And they will not be more responsible towards Mother Earth or even become better people in the future.

If people will have the ability, they will continue as before.

So the more important question is – will we even be able to continue like before?

Or will we face such harsh damage to our economy that we will be forced to rethink, question, and work on better solutions?

Since the start of the industrial revolution, the world has largely followed a path of aggressive capitalism. Priorities have been production and technological advancements, work, income, prosperity, and an incessant race for competitive advantage – all of which constitute a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Will this shock to the system be strong enough to cause a paradigm shift in human values? 

I believe not one that is black and white. Life is more about shades of grey.

When it comes to human values, we should always rethink in a respectful and responsible way what we do and what we decide.

We may understand that humility becomes a new value. We should remember that humility is among the seven virtues.

No big moral claims are necessary.

I learnt from my parents not to be too loud, leaving a place the same way I found it, and not to always try to be faster, higher, go further, etc., etc.

Art is a mirror of life; it is not a sport.

How long do you think a person can continue to be productive while self-isolating? On the other hand, prolonged exposure to internal stress, panic, and fear can also lead to health problems, even quite serious ones, that pose no less of a long-term risk to human health than the coronavirus does.

I think our politicians, with the advice of experts, should consider that self-isolation shouldn’t last too long.

Here in Berlin it’s quite liberal. We can go jogging, cycling in parks, meet family members, etc.

Everybody keeps a strict social distance, and here it is working quite well. At the end of April we might face a loosening of the current regulations, step by step.

What I like is this enormous creativity of people all around the world. Every day I receive photos, statements, little films, people singing or acting, which are very surprising to me. That creates an overall wonderful message out there.

We may understand that humility becomes a new value.

If society is able to move in a positive direction, how do you see this future balance between good and evil?

Balance is the key word.

One side cannot exist without the other.

So let’s balance the good with the bad in this world, which is always an exciting challenge anyway.

What is your vision of the forthcoming post-pandemic art scene? Quite likely it will have fundamentally changed; in fact, it already has.

Less travelling and fewer art fairs and events for a while. But I see it as a chance and a challenge for more imagination and quality.

Fewer art events and art amusement parks would be no problem. I never liked them anyway.

Actually, it would help bring a focus to the original values of the arts, like content, imagination, honesty and authenticity.

Don´t misunderstand me: I like to do business in the art world, but sometimes we overstretched in the last years and we forgot that we have more of a responsibility than just making more and more money.

I want to finish with a wonderful quote from the 17th century by Blaise Pascal: ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’

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