Rainer Ganahl
Please, Trade With Me !


Artist friends of mine whose work I really like know how much I love to trade. I keep asking to swap works until the trade is either completed or one party disengages. Disengagement can happen on both sides and is often a direct result of either a perceived or real asymmetrical development, obliviousness or simple laziness. Agreed trades can also fall through because of practical impossibilities. Distance in time or space can hinder or make trades nearly impossible. Size also matters and can contribute to agreed trades that never get picked up and disappear over time. 

The timing of trades is also very crucial. If one is perceived as doing well, trades run more smoothly than if one has only little or no visual presence. A current participation in a big group show or a fancy gallery makes trades easier than when time passes and one asks two years later. Apart from exposure, one also has to think of personal coincidences like showing, eating, working or traveling together, living or working in proximity, repeat run-ins at the bakery, love relationships and the like. I have swapped quite some works when I was in love or just spent a night partying with somebody. The trade for which this text is written, the trade with Fabian Marti occurred while I was staying a night in Zürich to catch a plane early in the morning back to New York.

I met Fabian years ago and we had a mutual appreciation. He introduced himself to me with a poster that he gave away at the Swiss Institute many years ago. That alone already distinguished him from all the other hundreds of people I have met over all these years and in all these places. Several short encounters here and there usually reinforce the art world feeling of being a “good friend.” Only after spending an entire day with Fabian, starting with a sauna at the Zurichsee, followed by visits to exhibitions, long discussions and an endless dinner with his partner Karolina, did we start talking about a trade. I saw one of his ceramic works on his wall and wanted it. I offered a MAO jewelry piece of mine, which he liked and our agreement followed with an action that is often not the case in such circumstances: His work come home with me on the plane and a few months later, he received my piece by mail.

Here is a selection of trading experiences I’ve had with mainly Swiss artists, trying to illustrate this type of mostly money-free exchanges or non-exchanges. With Gianni Motti I agreed in the mid 1990s about a trade that I initiated, donating my work first. I left a photograph for him to be picked up at a small Geneva gallery where I had a show. At that time I had a teaching engagement that brought me 6 times a year for a week to Geneva where I spent quite some time with Gianni, i.e. far before he became very known in Switzerland and beyond.  Gianni – given his relaxed life style – never picked up my work and the photograph got lost. A few years later, Gianni and I were together in a group show in northern Italy and Gianni physically handed me the print I wanted. Unfortunately, an Italian dealer was present and forced us to give this particular print, destined for me, to him, so I had to halt the car, get out and hand over the print. A second print never came, thought we still talk about it. We finally agreed that a picture of his Prague US Army intervention and one of his levitation would be the subject of our trade. None has arrived as of yet. This text will be forwarded to him and hopefully we can still complete our trade, for which I would love to give him again a work of mine.

Around that time in the mid 1990s, I met a very young woman who I saw briefly at one of my New York openings. She was stunningly beautiful and interesting. We didn’t talk much, only stared at each other and then exchanged emails. It turned out that this young woman studied literature and theory at Oxford University and a yearlong exchange of intense emails started until we met again for a week while I had a show at the Villa Arson in Nice. We kept seeing each other in Geneva and finally ran into each other in New York when she entered the Whitney Independent Program, which I had attended years earlier. The woman became quite a well-known Swiss artist and we agreed on a trade relatively early in her career. By now, Mai-Thu A Perret is doing very well and my few emails to her go unanswered. Needless to say, I have very little hope that a trade with her will ever become a reality, even though she is nice to me when I see her in person. What was a “sure, let’s trade” faded away and galleries, market prices and strategic distribution of her work stands in the way of a swap --- but I am always open to surprises. Here too, I hope she will read it and smile, send me an email or just send me to hell.

Another amazing Swiss trading partner is Thomas Hirschhorn. We met in1999 in Venice when we both showed at the Biennial. I already knew his work, which I liked a lot, and a good relationship started. Thomas belongs to the kind of people who have a really good sense for family and friends and I felt accepted from the very beginning. He cared for me and actually proposed my work to a great Parisian institution, Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers that ended up producing a 45 min feature film and two theater pieces of mine. Before and during my Laboratoires time, Thomas traded with me several times. These were trades that were mostly done by mail in a very professional manner. Unlike Thomas Bayrle, who sent me his work badly packed and nearly broken, he did a perfect job each time and to this day I am very happy about it. My admiration and appetite for his work never stopped and I have kept asking and proposing future trades, which have now come to an end. Apart from the fact that Thomas is doing so well selling his work, I might have been too much of an idio-artist who just couldn’t let go of his own work when Thomas was embodying pure generosity. Not only did he lend us his great, great Paris apartment for our film shootings without any hesitation and demands, he also sent me fabulous works. I on the other hand was so in love with my own porcelain pieces that I didn’t send him a big piece but a small one. He never complained but I felt miserable all the way and tried to correct it by sending him again more stuff explaining that I didn’t feel my end of the trade was fair. If Thomas gets to read this – and I hope so – he should read this as a sincere apology, even though he has never ever complained.

I made a similar mistake with Franz West and really screwed myself badly. Instead of giving Franz my biggest piece, I gave him a smaller piece, which for me represented a lot – but I was simply stupid. Franz only asked me – Is that the piece? Took it and that was it. I never got my end of the trade but a bad conscious and a deep regret that cannot be corrected anymore. With Franz – and he is not Swiss – I had a long relationship but I missed my chance to properly make a trade. I ended up trading Franz’ work with other people, which had its own intricacies, something I will return a bit later. 

Trading artworks with people other then the artist in question is something I have done often. One such remarkable case was of a beautiful Zürich hotel drawing by Martin Kippenberger that was done with Nicola von Senger, who took a set of my Seminar/Lectures pictures and a few hundred dollars from me. Needless to say, I was and am still very happy. When Nicolas visited me in 2001 in New York and saw his drawing again, he was shocked. He stared at it and couldn’t believe how I had managed to have it restored professionally. Indeed the A4 paper came badly wrapped and rather dirty but I went to a New York professional who usually works for the Guggenheim and had it cleaned and properly taken care of, including ideal framing. When he saw it, he regretted the exchange and told me why he had given it away for so little – an explanation that was rather personal and very beautiful, but which I do not dare to repeat here. The Martin Kippenberger hangs in my kitchen next to another work by Kippenberger that I traded with a former almost-semi-love object of his. Both departed with relative ease from their Kippenbergers in the 1990s and both – thought completely unrelated – had some highly personal story behind it, which in each case touched upon sensitive feelings that were somehow stressed through Kippenberger’s way of being Kippenberger. By now, both regret their trade and the regret might be the result of an exchange that with time proved asymmetrical. Needless to say the question of symmetry is endless and permanently in a state of flux. What looks like a good and even swap at one point can turn into the opposite years later and could yet be corrected decades down the road. This sentence could serve as a little consolation to those two great persons, of whom I only mentioned only one by name, since the other is too personal to be featured here.

The most absurd trade with a Swiss person, whom I also really like a lot, is with Olaf Breuning. Since I met him over 10 years ago and before he started to work with Metro Pictures, I was fascinated by his works and with him as a person. We have both made certain personal choices that are similar without going into details. I explain this fascination with Olaf through our difference and yet our striking similarity. Very early on we agreed to make a trade but almost like in a bad dream I never managed to visit him in his studio, in spite of his invitations. This pathetic ritual – an invitation to visit without a follow up – has been talking place over a period of over 15 years since he has moved to New York. Here too, I hope that Olaf might get to read this text, smile and that our mutual invitation might turn into reality.

Over 15 years ago, Bob Gramsma spent a period of time at PS1 and since then I receive nearly monthly invitations to his many exhibitions. We spent a little bit of time together and a trade took place. I think we did it by mail and a drawing arrived. I was impressed by his monumental installations, which were quite the opposite of my stuff. I met him together with Christoph Draeger, who also had a residency at PS1. A trade with him took about 10 years before parts of what was agreed upon actually happened. But I am still waiting to play puzzle with some crash pictures. With Christoph Draeger I spent additional time in Korea at the Biennial of Harald Szeemann. This very amazing curator gave me a present before I found out that he suffered from a terminal illness. When he last visited me in New York, he was clearly informed of his irreversible fate but did not let me know it. A bit hurried and with a great sense of urgency he handed me some quasi-artwork of his, which seemed to have had a big meaning for him. I only started to guess the significance of this enigmatic present and act after his death. I was part of his La Belgique visionnaireshow at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, his very last show as during its duration he passed away.  I will definitely forward this text to Christoph Draegger who became part of what I call family. This last sentence reminds me of another familiar Christoph, Christoph Keller, who is German and with whom I also have agreed on a trade that hasn’t taken place for 15 years in spite of many possibilities.

Trades that are agreed on and still don’t take place are always the norm and take on a special quality over the years. I sometimes try to lubricate the agreed or not so agreed upon exchange with additional money offers – art and money – or I get asked to do so. Money is the most common medium of exchange but not very conducive for trades. Money can help sometimes but it is always very tricky. Just recently, a young artist with whom we agreed to trade artworks suddenly asked me for money, which made me sad. It is even more sensitive if these requests for money come from artists of my rather familiar circle. We have now left Swiss territory and I want to just point to three recent cases of very known artists where a trade was agreed but success undid that possibility and hard cash was demanded. These are very successful artists – who all demanded secrecy – and offered me their work with a discount of about 20 % off their gallery prices with exceptionally good paying conditions. I took the offers and do not blame them – I am happy that they let me have their work nonetheless. I do understand economic realities when they are real and not only imagined. They will also get a copy of this text with a big thank you.

Back to Switzerland: I sometimes offer money to very young artists whom I meet within a teaching context and with whom I usually don’t trade. I do that for really modest sums, especially when real economic need is obvious or when I do not know what will happen to them. Manuel Scheiwiller is such a case. We met at an art academy where I teach from time to time. I got a beautiful piece made of leather with some metal, which allowed me to improve his life economically for a couple of weeks. I also met Pedro Wirz, a friend of his who impressed me as much as Manuel. I wanted his work immediately as I understood that he is an excellent artist who will go far. I gave him my part of the trade – in this case an artwork – but have not yet received his part. We have been speaking about it on a bi-monthly basis for several years already but his exhibition rhythm has become so intense that his part of the exchange has not yet materialized. He has a longer stay planned in New York where he wants to do the trade this coming winter but I understood that he is becoming art world currency, which complicates trades.  My worst experience of that kind was a trade with Elizabeth Peyton that I did not pick up on time. Soon after her first show, a never-ending stream of sales started that made the painting disappear. To this day, it hasn’t resurfaced. Needless to say, I still regret big time that I didn’t go over soon enough to pick it up – I was only late by a couple of months after our arrangement, it was text on her very beautiful exhibition in a toilet space on West Broadway in exchange for a painting. Elisabeth and I now joke about it but her smile is more authentic than mine, which always nearly turns into tears. (I still have one painting of hers but that work she handed over to me upon completion since I was sitting for her). I still have no doubt that Pedro Wirz will follow through. I am on top of him and now even more so with this text.

Money was also strangely involved with another beautiful Swiss case that turned less beautiful over time but finally found a nice and acceptable ending. It is not too difficult to fall in love with a young beautiful Swiss conceptual artist in her early-mid twenties and so I did. We spent long hours discussing her work and the art world in endless New York nights while she stayed at one of these Swiss residencies. Pamela’s mind was very focused and determined, which inspired me to become the opposite: flamboyant and silly. Hence, I came up with very funny works for our various trades. At that time I was also seeing a Japanese student of literature – definitely not an art student – who took drawing classes on the side.  Often, lovemaking ended with her drawing me. Those were exactly the drawings that I took from my bedside, signed as mine and swapped in exchange for some works on paper by Pamela Rosenkranz. It was a perfect conceptual love circle, which did not go over without suspicion. Her New York spring months went by easily and her term came to an end though she did not want to leave the city. One morning Pamela called and begged me to give her my apartment while I was in Europe for the summer. I was already in rent negotiations for some good New York dollars and she wanted it without having that kind of money. So I offered it to her for one of her Rorschach test paintings, which she developed in New York. She agreed to do so and moved in. Love, one of the strongest forces in young adult life, interfered in her plans and she fell for a Swiss man, with whom she is still very happy today. They just had a child with a fabulous name.

But what happened to my promised Rorschach test painting of Pamela Rosenkranz? Upon her hastened return to Switzerland her gallery debut started and the Rorschach tests – mine was finished and framed but she asked me to show it first with my consent – started to sell and sell and sell. No need to say what turn that trade took. I never saw it again except for similar ones in art fairs. A couple of years and many emails and bitter whining later, she compensated me with a sum equal to what I had lost for the rent at that time in New York City. All annoying obligations are now settled but my heart is still struck with that colorful Rorschach test that actually looked as if some pink gorilla ejaculated. A beautiful work. Pamela, please, sell me one without gallery commission and I don’t mind if you copy yourself for that trade! I am still in love with that work and think of you. I want it in order to preserve only the best memory of your time in New York City. I’ll pay you cash.

One of the few trades I made in Switzerland itself was with a Swiss artist whose work I loved before I even understood what art was and what it all could be. I still attended high school in Feldkirch, Austria and spent all my spare time with reading, writing and language studies, when a friend took me to an event at a tiny airfield near my school. I had no clue about art and knew it only from the affordable Dumont books that treated art as intellectual objects to read and think about. This brainy art book consumption might have given me the right taste for Roman Signer’s explosion works that I experienced in the late 1970s for the first time as a teenager at that tiny airport. They stuck in my mind like the artworks I saw at Varese near the Swiss boarder around the same time when Giovanni, the son of Count Panza di Biumo, took me there, and where we hung out and had fun as quasi-hippies – at least I was one. Roman Signer’s work, like the works of Sol Lewitt, James Turrell, Bruce Nauman and Nam June Paik, left a deep impression on me though I had no way to properly store them in my memory. Only later, many years later, when I studied fine art and when I began to see these works in professional contexts and not only in family settings as a teenager with no formal understanding, was I able to reconstruct them. About 10 years ago, just when Roman Signer’s deserved recognition took on full steam, was I able to trade several works with this formidable and very influential Swiss artist who cannot be praised enough. He sent his works by mail. 

I realize that my text becomes very long and I have to wrap it up. But I keep remembering Swiss artists with whom I have traded or are in (endless) trade talks: There are the Basel sisters, Claudia and Julia Müller who still owe me their work on paper – we had tons of fun and anecdotes to remember. I saw Julia two weeks ago and she acknowledged her missing part of the trade but this is still no guarantee that one day I’ll get one of the promised drawings by mail or otherwise. In this case too, this text might help to speed it up. There is also a very amazing Swiss artist whom I admire and who does it all very well in his way; Felix Stephan Huber is now back in Zürich. Our trade talk started in New York but was finally completed in Berlin – or am I dreaming? I am not completely sure anymore whether we did it or not, which brings me to a trade that I am 100 % certain of. It is a photo swap with Giasco Bertoli who lives with a Swiss passport in Paris as if Switzerland doesn’t exist – at least that is my impression. He gave me one of his wonderful photo works; made at the same site Antonioni shot his famous British film about the reality and imagination of a murder that took place (or not). 

Art making and thinking about art is really a big part of my life. Artworks – no matter by whom – embody intelligence, love, struggle, conflict, and stories. They are barometers of understandings and misunderstandings, of positioning and social formations. Artworks are more than just an accumulation of non-sense, useless objects that over-crowd my apartment and my storage spaces. They are more than just silly wealth indicators that artificially keep me below the generally accepted poverty line and in a permanent liquidity shortage. For art I indebt myself to levels that are reckless by any measure, which is really stressful.  But art gives me the feeling I hold onto the flux of time, that I get a hand on the minds and the intelligence of other people’s non-linear thinking and visual reasoning. They are material anecdotes that stay somehow somewhere in my world of objects. I am generally an objectless person, hence art becomes even more important for me because the status of an art object is between nothing and everything, between shit and value, between having and being, between legacy and passing.

The art of friends is even a stronger emitter of intelligence, love and struggle and when I engage with somebody I enter into an unspoken obligation to watch their brainchild, to watch their work for eternity. In 1990, upon my arrival in New York City, when I had to move from place to place and from couch to couch nearly every month, I came to realize that nothing matters except the few art pieces I had already started to collect. I realized that I cared more for other people’s art than I cared for my own stuff. I could always do my own work again (so the wrong thinking went) or fix it. But I mostly watched over my friends’ artworks, which I stuffed in shopping carts and pushed between Noho and Soho, Soho and the East Village, etc. Trading art is the best an artist can do. It is also a real indicator of value for people like me, whose market value is basically non-existent, since no gallery really knows how to handle me. Being able to trade for Franz Wests, Alighiero Boettis, Kippenbergers, John Millers, Jonathan Monks, Michel Majeruses, Jenny Holzers (incredibly generous), Lawrence Weiners (incredibly generous, plus he has his very own special way to exchange works without monetary equivalent), Martha Roslers and so on is really a sign for me that I might not do everything completely wrong, even though all galleries that have supported me either go out of business or kick me out once they have moved up the food chain.

Trading also enforces the relationship between artists. That brings me back to Fabian Marti, whose work swap made me part of his exhibition, his book and his private collection. It actually generated this text, which I would not have written if not for this occasion. Furthermore, he expressed interest in some future collaborations for other ventures of his. All this makes me happy, glad and finally productive. Exchange of any sort is what makes life worth living. I hope that this text is understood as a love declaration to all the people that I have traded with and hopefully my frankness doesn’t alienate anybody. In particular I want to underscore that I really like Pamela and her work and that our fight and mutually bitter feelings are over. I am also not bitter with anybody who did not yet follow through with his or her part of the trade --- a list that goes on and on. I am patient, blue eyed – indeed – and hope for happy endings. But I will definitely forward this text to people with whom I entered a deal or talks of that nature. Finally, I have to say that I have also met many more people from Switzerland with whom I have discussed trades or even traded but couldn’t name here since I am already by far over the limit. The generosity of Fabian allows me to go from one to nine pages.

Last but not least, trading is also such a wonderful way of send works into the world – I’m so, so happy that my pieces make it into the lives of others. Yes, I annoy people sometimes with my endless begging for trades but it is my way of saying “I love you and what you do.” I want these works to be milestones that lead through my life into nothingness. One day I’ll be gone – but the artworks will keep pointing and marching on one by one.  They will bring new joy and new headaches, since all material stuff is precisely that (immaterial stuff as well). I keep writing all this in the bed of my father who passed away a few months ago and I have to go through his material and immaterial leftovers which are intermingled with my stuff, my past and that of my family here. It is all a nightmare but it is worth living for, even if we just leave all our shit (sorry, I mean it in a positive way) behind one day to be picked up again and sorted out by those younger. My kids, Edgar and Isadora, are here and have no clue what is going on. “Lets bring a flash light to Grandpa’s grave and dig down to Granny and tell her to come up again and speak to us ” – yesterday, at the cemetery, Edgar slowly understood that his request wasn’t really possible. There’s no art in my father’s house except what I gave him to store. But I found the poster of a Paul Klee painting that was hanging on one of our walls during my first 10 years, and which greatly influenced me. Art creates art, art inspires art, and trades are forms of non-monetary exchanges that any artist can do. I consider trading between artists the highest stage of exchange. Please, trade with me.


written on the run in Berlin/Bludenz/New York 2013