Beyond the pond – Ruttkowski;68

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As we all know since Darwin (or latest Hawkins), the key of surviving successfully in a highly competitive environment is the ability to adapt to change – especially in the boiling Melting Pot of New York. It means coping with the cities enduring fast pace, with a lot of players in the same field and many unforeseen situations on quite a daily basis. The story of Ruttkowski;68s transatlantic journey contains all of this - and even more.

Ruttkwoski;68 was already an aspiring player in the German gallery scene, when opening a dependance in Paris in 2018. However, the French location was only the first step for gallerist Nils Müller towards internationalization: even though the big leap overseas was a daring project, it was inevitable for the Jack-of-all-trades, who started his business more than a decade ago. So when Nils met Benno (todays director of the NY branch), the idea of expanding to the US had already existed for a while. But with his new companion, Nils found another art enthusiast not sticking to conservative rules but following a more self-taught approach as Benno pursued various art projects in his spare time alongside his job for a real estate company with business in the US and Germany. The two fellows first got in touch during Art Basel, liked each other right away and soon met for lunch in Cologne.

What started as a conversation about how Cologne used to be the epicenter of arts and culture between the 70s and 90s, lead to a discussion about the city that is undoubtedly still on top of that list: New York. With Benno being up for new adventures and Nils looking for someone he could trust to run a new branch outside of Europe, the criteria for a NYC space were swiftly written down a napkin at an Italian restaurant – quite a classic start for a good story.

Coming from the world of acres and equity, Benno contributed a more cautious and analytic attitude, while Nils pushed forward with a hands-on mentality that he was already well known for in his hometown Cologne: less talk, more action. So only a few weeks after their lunch in Cologne the new Ruttkowski;68 team rolled up their sleeves and boarded their flight to New York City to get things going. Benno decided to put everything on one card, quit his job and moved to the US with his now pregnant girlfriend, but planning to go back to Germany for giving birth. Long story short (and here we are with unforeseen situations): things turned out differently, because little Pablo (the not yet born son of Benno) decided to become a US citizen just on the way to the airport to go home to Cologne. Hence, Benno and his family stayed in New York and the young father proceeded pushing the gallery project on site in the Big Apple.

Some months and a lot of sweat and logistics later, Ruttkowski;68 finally opened its doors on Cortland Alley in Downton Manhattan with its much-noticed inaugural group show “Mixed Pickles 12”. In Germany (and Paris) the format “Mixed Pickles” was already an institution as a group show: an annual format presenting works of various dazzling artists mostly part of the permanent program but also featuring well known guest artists like Ania Hobson, Barry McGee and Jonathan Meese that usually guarantee a lot of people to show up. Still, the success of the inaugural NYC show was a surprise even for Nils: „New York welcomed us so warmly and open-minded, the interest in the gallery was huge. Over a thousand guests came to see “Mixed Pickles 12” and celebrated with us, so it was truly an amazing experience for the whole team.”

Today the gallery welcomes many interested visitors from all over the world, but also a lot of curious residents sometimes uncertainly waiting in front of the glass door checking, if the compelling location is really open for everyone – which of course it is.

Entering the light gallery from the shady side street, one gets the impression of stepping inside a space shuttle detached from time and place - a circumstance that makes it easy to float through the exhibition with total focus on the artworks and no distraction from the noisy town outside. The program planned for the next couple of months is promising and will include such familiar names as Philip Emde, Stefan Marx and Fabian Treiber, but also “new faces” like Spanish painter Guim Tio, artist Susan Te Kahurangi King and Iranian painter Maryam Eivazi. Well, New York for sure has a new Must See for art lovers now and if you are happy enough to visit the Melting Pot sooner (or later), don’t forget to stop by and say hi to Benno, who will be happy to chat with you about the artworks and give you some interesting background information. A warm welcome is guaranteed!

CH Hey Nils & Benno, nice to meet you two in this great location. First of all congrats to your newest opening. We heard it was quite a good night for you and the gallery team, you are happy with the outcome I suppose?

N&B B: We are still overwhelmed by the amazing turnout. Over a 1.000 people showed up and we felt very warmly welcomed by the community. You could feel the energy in the room, which is really what we came to New York for.

CH I am sure it was a lot of work to take this step and open a gallery in NYC, Nils. Why is this city the first location to open outside of Europe? Do you feel the New York scene is still ahead of its time?

N&B N: It has always been a dream of mine to open a gallery here. The city presents great challenges. It’s expensive, very fast paced and ultra-competitive, but there are also endless opportunities for those who are in for the ride and willing to adopt. 

CH The NYC opening was your first project together, how did you share the work and what was it like to directly start with an ambitious project like this?

N&B N: I think we complement each other well in terms of strengths and weaknesses, which helped us a lot in this project. Also, our different backgrounds made this a good fit. Benno being familiar with the US real estate market and me having the experience of running the galleries in Europe. B: We also relate in the way that we are both self-taught and have a very hands-on mentality, when it comes to tackling problems. That helped a lot with a big project like this and all the challenges that came along with it. 

CH Nils, how often are you able to be in NYC? And Benno, are you planning to stay here? What are your goals for the next year?

N&B B: I am now permanently based in New York, managing the space, while Nils will be back and forth between Europe and the US. 

CH Tell us some more about the gallery scene in NYC: competition or cooperation? Do galleries support each other or is it a mutual critical manner that determines the scene?

N&B N: As said before, New York City is ultra-competitive, but we have made great friends already and are very confident in our program and what we have to offer to the city. I think that if you have a clear vision, that will attract the right people in the long run.

CH Do you have a certain focus for the program at this location that differs from the European program?

N&B B: We look at it more like the missing piece to a puzzle. Of course, we are excited to introduce our European program but it is also a great opportunity for us to be closer to the US artists that we are connected to. 

CH Going way back in time now a bit. Nils, when you opened Ruttkowski;68 in 2010 did you ever plan on expanding like this or did it really start as a local project because of your personal interest in arts?

N&B N: I never really started with the intention of running a gallery program. It grew very organically and I believe that good things are shaped naturally and take time to build. 

CH Talking about your roots: what and who influenced you the most? What made you, Nils, become a gallerist and what did drive you when changing your career path towards being a gallery director, Benno?

N&B N: It was never planned, rather a coincidence and when things started to play out the way they did, I just stuck to it and kept working hard. I think being curious, enjoying to meet new people, the will to travel a lot was always an important part of my life. B: Things were going well for me in real estate, but I knew that I had that inner desire to step out of my comfort zone to pursue a career in a field that I really loved but had no prior experience in. Those thoughts really manifested themselves during Covid, so when Nils came around the corner, the opportunity presented itself - I just said: “now or never!”. 

CH Your main goal for Ruttkowski,68 in one phrase…

N&B Shaping todays art world, building great artists careers and keep rocking in a free world!

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