Barbara Weiss (1960–2016)

Barbara Weiss, 2014. Photo: Jens Ziehe.

I MET BARBARA WEISS AT A TIME when I still regarded galleries as false agents of a new financialization of the city. So at first I hesitated to show with her, but over several conversations with her I found that she was receptive to my concerns and even shared some of them. This is what moved me to exhibit with her. At that point, I didn’t yet know the meaning of sustained collaboration or what it was like to be able to count on someone across decades; it was to her credit that she showed me that.

Barbara Weiss advocated not only artistic positions that represented their creator’s subjectivity but also those that admitted politically motivated conflicts and allowed debates and contradictions to exist within the work. Her program ranged from works dedicated to specific sites, to institutional critique to conceptual projects to painting. She represented these different positions with her own seasoned distance from the hot spots and hype of the art industry, always saying that “one does not have to go along with everything.”

In her gallery, the exhibitor and the exhibited each offered the other a kind of free space, making it possible for both, from time to time, to forget the assigned roles in a gallery. I want to emphasize this point, because in the course of the last two decades the economic pressures on both sides of the relationship between gallery and artist have increased. Barbara Weiss met these pressures with her own ethic that was opposed to them, an unflustered continuity and an absolute loyalty to the positions she represented that was never influenced by conformity to the market.

Barbara always bore with me the institutional and market-related consequences of some of my works—and with a countenance that, in a certain way, protected me. Barbara trusted my work fundamentally even if she did not necessarily wholly share its politics. She was no propagandist: The works she exhibited were not her personal program. She was a staunch gallerist who believed firmly in the meaning and importance of an artistic praxis.

It is hard to describe a person who always explicitly withdrew from attributions. She expressly refrained from the hype around Berlin’s art world, and because her reputation reached far beyond that city’s scene, she was able to engage the international art world at large. She was very influential in a dialogue between German and US artists, for example, representing positions on both sides; she also steadily expanded her program to take on more and more Eastern European artists.

And she did so not out of vanity or fear but rather to prevent the claims of her own artists to be instrumentalized for this hype.

Her engagement and her idea of what a gallery is and can achieve will remain. Barbara herself I will miss.

Andreas Siekmann is an artist based in Berlin.