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Round Anniversaries - Part 3

As fate would have it, many important galleries are celebrating anniversaries at ART COLOGNE this year, including Galerie EIGEN + ART. This gallery, originating from the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), has successfully transitioned onto the international stage.

Neo Rauch, Heimwärts, 2022, Five-colour chalk and ink lithograph on laid paper. Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin and David Zwirner. Photo: Uwe Walter, Berlin

Probably no other gallery celebrating a milestone birthday this year can boast of being established in a now-vanished state.

Yet, such is the unique history of EIGEN + ART, founded on April 10, 1983, at Körnerplatz 8 in Leipzig. On this day, Gerd Harry Lybke, known as Judy, organized his inaugural exhibition in his living room. Previously trained as a machine fitter, Lybke had declined an offer in the GDR to study nuclear power plant technology in the Soviet Union. Instead, he sustained himself as a nude model at the Leipzig Art Academy, where his connections inspired the idea of establishing a private gallery, free from state paternalism, with the mission “to party, meet pretty women, and make a difference.”

Opening of the gallery exhibition.

Exhibition opening of the gallery 1983 in the private rooms of Judy Lybke. Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin

Lybke would occasionally opened the door stark naked

In its early years, the gallery, which later moved to larger premises with an ad-joining workshop, attracted suspicion from the Stasi. It gained notoriety as an illegal meeting place, renowned for its happenings and performances featuring artists like Carsten Nicolai, Neo Rauch, and Olaf Nicolai - who have since become prominent figures and continue to be part of the gallery's program. Lybke, it's said, would occasionally opened the door stark naked to convince state guards that these were genuinely private events.

Initially, the gallery owner, driven by passion rather than financial need, experienced a significant shift with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Lybke adeptly adapted to the new dynamics, participating in ART COLOGNE in 1990 and establishing temporary galleries in Tokyo, Paris, New York, and London. The gallery's presence at DOCUMENTA X 1996 in Kassel, featuring five of its artists, marked a pivotal moment.

Subsequently, the gallery relocated its headquarters to Berlin-Mitte.

From the exhibition rooms in Auguststrasse, the "New Leipzig School," a strategic marketing label for figurative painting originating at the Leipzig Art Academy, began its triumphant journey. Neo Rauch emerged as its superstar. His works were celebrated in international exhibitions in London and New York starting in the 2000s onward and are now included in prestigious collections around the world. Besides Rauch, the gallery introduced artists like Tim Eitel, Ricarda Roggan, David Schnell, and Matthias Weischer to the international art market.

EIGEN + ART Lab for emerging art positions

Today, Judy Lybke is one of Germany's most successful gallery owners, and EIGEN + ART is the sole gallery from the former GDR operating on the international stage. Alongside its main location, it boasts a branch in Leipzig’s Baumwollspinnerei and the EIGEN + ART Lab for emerging art positions. In 2012, in collaboration with Neo Rauch and the city of Aschersleben, the gallery established the Graphics Foundation Neo Rauch, which is dedicated to preserving and maintaining the artist's graphic work, created continuously since 1988. Additionally, the gallery oversees the estate of concrete artist Karl-Heinz Adler (1927-2018) from Dresden, who received long-overdue recognition for his work at the age of nearly 90.

Work by Karl-Heinz Adler.

Karl-Heinz Adler, Transparent layering of red circular areas, 1982. Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin. Photo: Uwe Walter, Berlin

During the pandemic, the gallery innovatively established a digital space, the EIGEN + ART Plus platform. According to Judy Lybke, this initiative was “our response to the new digital landscape, even during the Covid period. But we didn't want to build 3D spaces or create an online gallery. Instead, we present videos, interviews, and making-offs. That suits us much better.”

Galerie EIGEN + ART is showcasing works by Karl-Heinz Adler, Birgit Brenner, Uwe Kowski, Neo Rauch, David Schnell, among others, at this year's ART COLOGNE (Hall 11.2, A100). The NEW POSITIONS series will feature the young South African artist Natalie Paneng.