Freifrau visits Johanna und Friedrich Gräfling
Friedrich and Johanna Gräfling are the couple behind Salon Kennedy in the pulsating metropolis Frankfurt and also run an arts association in the small Lower Franconian village of Wiesen, bringing together two places dedicated to exchanges about and around art. Salon Kennedy is a kind of art gallery which also functions as a location for gatherings and, not least, as a home for the couple in their early thirties, their daughter, and their dachshund Ypsilon. It’s an exciting residential concept that has, however, become quite normal for the young family, who don’t go around tidying up when visitors are due or an event is scheduled. We met with Johanna and Friedrich both at their Frankfurt space and in their house in Wiesen to talk about how they live – and to bring them some of our furniture, too.
Freifrau: You collect art jointly, as a couple. Were you both interested in art independently of each other before you met and married, or did one of you bring this interest into the relationship?
Johanna: We’ve both always been interest in art, and I think that our relationship simply strengthened that. Friedrich started collecting very early, however, whereas in my case, it was just intellectual curiosity at first: that’s why I studied art history and did all of my work experience placements in galleries and museums.
Friedrich, can you tell us about your professional paths to date as well?
Friedrich: My career path has been relatively straight: I studied architecture in London and already started working with artists at that point. We would contrast spaces with artworks, consult artists to design spaces, and this approach went on to become a part of what we are doing here in the Salon Kennedy and the Kunstverein Wiesen. Architecture, too, remains a part of my work: I teach it at TU Darmstadt and in London at the Architecture Assoziation.
We’ve visited you both at Salon Kennedy here in Frankfurt and at your house in Wiesen, which belongs to the arts association there. Would be right in saying that Salon Kennedy is a platform for artists, while Kunstverein Wiesen functions more as a classic arts association? While both places are certainly about exchange?
Friedrich: They certainly are. With Salon Kennedy, the word ‘salon’ is key: it is a place where people come together for an exchange about and around art. Kunstverein Wiesen, meanwhile, is a classic arts association which functions as a platform for contemporary art: that means that is essentially a space to exhibit – albeit one in which, of course, lots of conversation about art also take place. They take place, however, in a different format.
You frequently open up both your city apartment in Frankfurt and the house in Wiesn as places for people to come together to talk about art. What do you think is more important: the works of art themselves or the exchanges they foster?
Friedrich: Without the works themselves, there would be no exchange, so I definitely think that the artwork is the more important thing: without it, we would have no reason to come together for an exchange. There would, simply, be nothing to talk about. Having said that, exchange on all levels is important for us: exchange with the work, with the artist, and with other people.
You call this space a salon for a reason. What is, in your view, the difference between a salon and a gallery?
Johanna: I think the difference is that, at a salon, the focus isn’t – and shouldn’t be – on the buying and selling of art. That is the most important point for us. What is more, the word ‘salon’ gives both us and the artists a higher degree of freedom in how to exhibit because there is no commercial motivation behind it.
Friedrich, you started collecting at a very young age, starting with a graffito which you paid for in kind by working for the artist. What was it about the work that had you so fascinated?
Friedrich: The story is actually slightly different. Aged around 14, 15, I was in the graffiti scene: it was a moment which I wanted to record somehow, and so I asked the people I was out with to spray me something on a canvas. What is certainly true about the story, though, is that it was the first work of art I consciously acquired.
Now to the story of the picture I paid for in kind: that was later, in London. I was around 18 and wanted to buy the work in question from the artists, but I couldn’t quite afford it. So offered him a deal: I said I would work in his studio in exchange for the picture. This was also a moment when I saw that, if you are really serious about building up a collection and show it, there are ways and means: just because the price of a picture can quickly run into the thousands, this doesn’t always have to be a barrier.
In terms of genre, do either of you have any specific preferences?
Johanna: I don’t think there are particular areas for either of us. It’s not like one of us does paintings and the other one specialises in photography. What’s more important are the artists’ positions: we want to be grabbed, to be made curious. Beyond that, it doesn’t actually matter what their medium of expression is.
What kind of issues elicit your interest?
Friedrich: It’s hard to put into words. Retrospectively, there is probably a unifying thread through the collection, but it’s not one we have sat down and thought about. I would say that current affairs and societal issues certainly interest us, though; a few years ago, that was probably more youth culture and topics related to it like social media, globalisation; now, that is likely to change in line with the overall societal focus. We haven’t set an agenda, though.
So what do you want your collection to stand for?
Friedrich: Here, too, we haven’t set down a programme. What has become clear over time, though, and what we have the most fun with, is really getting into the depths of an issue. This has a bearing on the financial question, by the way, because some positions increase in value as they become more successful. Regardless, we would rather limit the number of areas we go into, but then get far deeper into them and keep focussing on them over years, decades even.
How do you strike the balance between private space in which you need to be able to feel comfortable at all times and exhibition space which you open as a presentation space?
Johanna: We don’t think about it in those terms; it’s just the way it works. We receive guests in the same way that we live here. We don’t go around tidying up or hiding things before people come round.
So what does ‘being at home’ mean in a very personal sense?
Friedrich: For me, ‘home’ is first and foremost about people: wherever it is, it’s a place you can be together with your family – with art and with lots of space. Art or, failing that, anything on the wall with content of any kind, is something that exudes warmth, and I feel most comfortable in a big space with lots of things. Our living room in Wiesen has a lot of space, and what I particularly like about are the high ceilings, which are almost 16 feet high; here, too, they’re almost 14 feet.
You’ve got a huge amount of furniture! Quite a lot of it, you’ve built yourselves, but you also have a lot of classic design pieces. How do you choose your furniture and where do you go to find it?
Fridrich: Finding furniture is, for us, like finding art: we don’t say ‘We need a lamp for this or that spot’. Mostly, we buy furniture straight from the designer or from a retailer who stocks the latest pieces. For some historical items like the Sottas lamp, (an original and one of the first), you just have to get lucky. The hanging lamp over our dinner table in Wiesen, for instance, is from the Palace of the Republic, the parliament building of the German Democratic Republic, demolished in the mid-2000s. We found that through an eBay Classified Ad.
Johanna: Whenever you go looking for something specific, you can’t find it. So whenever we find something, we buy it straight away – and have a few ideas about where we might be able to put it.
Thank you for talking to us!