When Lila Nettsträter says the word ‘art’, she gives it a most unusual emphasis. It’s immediately noticeable how softly and affectionately she speaks the word - for her this is a passion, not just a profession. The 31-year-old is mistress of both. As the founder of the online gallery Kunst100, she has made it her mission to bring art and people together. Whether in digital or analogue form, she opens the door to real art at fair prices – fair for buyers’ pockets and for the artists who create it. Kunst100 offers works affordable for Joe Public – and Josephine Public too, as Lila Nettsträter would add. Here, too, she takes a level-headed approach. She stocks one-off pieces and limited editions consisting of no more than 100 items. Hence the name of her gallery, or so we assumed. But we were eventually to be told otherwise …
The best stories start with a spark of passion that ignites what becomes a blaze. And the same is true for Lila Nettsträter’s story. Although she studied business management and worked in sales for a long time, Kunst100 was not born out of a business idea, but out of an eventful life full of inspiration.
It all started in 2015 with an artist and filmmaker called Annie May Demozay who was living in Tasmania and had herself created too much art for a film she was shooting – and so was about to get rid of it. "Those were wonderful pieces", recalls Nettsträter. "Some kind of protective instinct immediately took hold of me. I thought: I can’t believe you feel you have to throw this away!"
She was certain that there were thousands of people who would like to hang the pieces on their walls. But how to go about getting those people together with this art and this art together with those people? Nettsträter, who was working her way around the world at the time, plucked up her courage: "Look, Annie May, before you throw your pieces away, why not give them to me? I know appearances seem against it at present, but if I take them with me someday I’ll exhibit them - I promise you!"
When Lila Nettsträter does something, she does it properly. So, 14 months later, she offered not only Annie May the filmmaker but also 20 other artists her apartment (in Berlin} as a gallery. Anyone now thinking in terms of paintings hanging between the houseplants and the living room suite has got the wrong idea. Together with her husband, Nettsträter cleared the apartment completely. She moved out for a weekend, painted the walls, organised, planned and wore herself out – she even lost her voice for a week. "There was an awful lot of artworks to hang in a very small space," she concludes with a laugh.
The result was worth the effort. She sold over 40 artworks in a single weekend but also suffered a disappointing setback when a written warning landed in her letter box and stopped the second planned exhibition from happening. "Mind you, I learned a lot from each exhibition," confirms Lila Nettsträter without a trace of regret. "For example, that existing rules and regulations can make creative work and its appreciation hugely difficult," but that didn’t stop her.
Lila Nettsträter is a real tea fan! She begins each morning with a cup of black tea with a dash of oat milk and agave nectar. She immediately cast her professional eye over our Avoury One tea machine. "I love the minimalism and that the water tank is at the front. It makes it very bright, cheerful and simple. The Avoury One reminds me a bit of sort of 1970s space age style. I’m really into that at the moment!"Go to our Avoury One
What followed were pop-up exhibitions in Berlin’s Friedrichshain and a hall in its now fashionable ‘RAW-Gelände’ area - something big was in the offing. Was this where Kunst100 originated? Lila Nettsträter denies this. "When I planned these exhibitions, I hadn’t realised that it would change my whole life. We didn’t have any heating. I shivered every day alongside friends who volunteered to help sell the artworks. Everything happened so quickly and naturally that I always felt like I was just along for the ride instead of controlling things."
Lila Nettsträter has achieved so much, done so much and knows so much and yet still prefers to hide her light under a bushel. Perhaps that’s because she is the kind of person who wholeheartedly embraces the idea of giving others a platform, whose heart lifts when the art that she loves is seen and loved by others.
The go-ahead for Kunst100 came in 2018, when Lisa Kostenko came on board as a partner. Together, the women set up an online shop with the aim of recreating an analogue gallery in digital form. "But the deeper we delved into it, the clearer it became that it simply wouldn’t work. An offline gallery has much more to offer than an online space. It has movement. It has sound. The offline gallery has verbalisation, because people talk. It has connections, between people but also spatially. It’s not hard to understand this but digitalising it is a challenge."
The two started again, with a blank canvas. This time, they consciously focussed on video, sound and the atmosphere of the room they were creating. They integrated Instagram into their business, created space for moving images and showed artworks from different points of view together with people. "You have to touch artworks on camera so that viewers are made aware that what we are showing is actually real. Only then can they begin to understand the artworks themselves."
At the present, Nettsträter and Kostenko are concurrently exhibiting some 400 works. "We could exhibit more," explains Lila Nettsträter, "but we won’t. We’ve learned that 400 is a good cut-off point. People can’t handle more than that. Ultimately, it’s not about quantity, but about curation." Where did Lila Nettsträter learn this? Certainly not as a student of business management or during her time at fashion house Ansons. And probably not during her time as a skipper navigating the waters in between her time in the fashion and art worlds either. So where then? "I’ll try to explain," answers Lila Nettsträter, smiling, and taking us into the farer reaches of the world of art.
She first tells us how she decorates her own walls at home. "When you curate for yourself, as it were, you look at one or more images in comparison with each other. You soon find that one of them starts to ‘talk’ to you. It might be that the subject reminds you of something you like – a bit like having a tattoo to remind you of it. Or it’s the colours that resonate, because you have a connection with them. You then start looking at other images. If something resonates with you, you don’t ask yourself why. It just happens. By the end, you have a whole wall of your personal emotions."
When Lila Nettsträter curates not for herself but for other people, she takes a different approach. She chooses the first piece carefully, for example to reflect a particular theme or the technique that the artist has used in the creative process. Then she works strategically; what impressions of the world has the artist incorporated into the work? How does the visual language work? What is the effect of the colours? What materials or elements have been used? How have they been applied? Who or what ‘speaks’ in this picture – lines, motifs, colours? From the first image, Nettsträter builds a bridge to the next one. "The longer I’ve been doing this - and we’ve curated a lot of walls over the last few years - the more I’ve come to realise that there’s a system to it."
So if she works to a defined system, what distinguishes Lila Nettsträter from the other curators, gallery owners and art experts of this world? A few things – first of all, that she avoids the term ‘talent’ because it contradicts her view that anyone can create art. Next, that she refuses to evaluate art exclusively according to quantifiable criteria. "The art market is definitely something apart from art itself. It’s very important to understand this," she emphasises.
While the art market evaluates works on the basis of quantifiable factors such as endorsements, number of exhibitions in galleries and the fame of the artist, Nettsträter looks beyond this. She takes into account the emotion and history of each piece. "Take Annie May, the filmmaker. Her artworks had no endorsements by experts, hadn’t been exhibited in galleries yet and weren’t in any databases," she explains. "So, from the point of view of the art market, her works were valueless. But considered as art, their value is enormous! The imagery, the techniques, the background, the process by which her work went from the film set to the living room … that’s what we at Kunst100 particularly treasure. Being able to promote real artists. And giving them the opportunity to bring their art to the world, to other people. Whatever the budget."
As we pointed out above, we thought the name came about because Kunst100 offers one-off works and editions limited to a maximum of 100 items. Although that is indeed the case, there is another reason for the name. “I have a little secret,” Lila Nettsträter reveals at the very end.
"Back then, during the living room exhibition time, we called ourselves ‘Kunst<100’ because all the works we were offering were priced at under €100 each. But I quickly realised that if I impose a limit like this, I am also imposing a restriction on the artists. And I want my artists to feel free! They should be able to do everything they want to do." These words reflect everything that we believe Lila Nettsträter stands for: her fondness for the individual, her aspiration to open the door to the art world for everyone and her boundless determination to impose no limits on art or the people who make it.