From Cotton to Culture

The factory we got to know through artists like Sandro Porcu and Kaeseberg in 1994 was sprawling, venerable and showing its age. It was much quieter than it is today, but it was already filled with new life. We were charmed by the site’s unique atmosphere, and that of the studios and workshops that were being set up as the industrial activity wound down. The then administrator Regina Lenk (later Regina Bux), who had already worked at the cotton-spinning mill during the GDR period, was open to new ideas and appreciated the requirements of young, creative people needing exceptional spaces to rent at a reasonable price. In the year 2000, the last production line finally closed down and the factory’s Cologne-based owner, who had purchased it from the Treuhand (the trust responsible for the GDR’s formerly nationally-owned companies) in 1993, began looking for a buyer for the site – giving us the chance to buy it. We rose to the challenge – after all, we had developed and renovated the nearby Stelzenhaus a short time previously, so we had previous experience in the neighbourhood. And we could see the potential in the site. At this point there were three of us – Florian Busse from Munich, (Heintz & Co.), Tillmann Sauer-Morhard from Berlin and Bertram Schultze from Leipzig (both from MIB AG). In 2002, we gained an additional partner – Karsten Schmitz from Munich.

On the 26th of July 2001, we bought the property. This was a decision based largely on intuition – after all, the bottom had already dropped out of the overheated property market of the post-reunification period. Although we could not expect any added value in economic terms, we sensed that the Spinnerei had tremendous potential. Every bank we asked to finance the enterprise, however, turned us down as soon as we mentioned the words “huge old factory”, “artists” and “East Germany”. No-one wanted to put up the money for what they saw a pile of bricks.

We had a problem. Financing an industrial complex over a hundred years old, with 20 buildings on a site measuring approximately 10 hectares and with 90,000 m2 of usable space, only about 6,000 m2 of which presently had tenants, looked like a considerable risk. We could not, therefore, risk any rash, ill-considered development of the site, which was all to the good. Instead, we concentrated on the wonderful resources we already had: an authentic factory city, largely in the state it had been from 1884 to 1907, with workers’ homes along the Thüringer Strasse, a factory kindergarten and an allotment site between the Spinnereistrasse and the Karl-Heine canal. In 2001, there were sixty tenancies in total. Thirty of these were held by artists, and the others by craftspeople, engineers, the occupants of the original loft space, the Generator custom-built bicycle workshop and Kunstraum B/2. A ready-made critical mass of creative potential? At any rate, the site already had a milieu of its own. And all this was already in place, without any significant investment. We had made a good buy.

Additionally, the construction quality was outstanding. A hundred years ago, cotton-spinning mills were generally built solidly and to last. For one thing, they were built to last forever, and for another thing a constant temperature of 23°C had to be maintained during thread production in order for the thread to come out well. This explained the buildings with solid masonry over a metre thick, large cast-iron box windows and cork insulation and roofs overgrown with chives. It took comparatively little investment to enable new tenants to use the old buildings, and the running costs were also quite low. We were able to rent out parts of the buildings on favourable terms – an important factor in attracting young creative individuals – while preserving their authentic features.

In 2002, the artist Jim Whiting brought his project “Bimbotown”, a robotic art environment, to the Spinnerei. In the same year, we met up with the Federkiel Foundation, who wanted to help develop the site – for the resident artists and for others. Various events initiated by the Foundation – including the internationally-attended symposium “How Architecture Can Think Socially” – led to the idea of turning Hall 14, the largest of the Spinnerei buildings, into a non-profit centre for contemporary art, in the context of an overall commercial development plan.

One consequence of this idea was that we did not immediately have to repair Hall 14. Instead, we were able to concentrate on the various other halls. We provided more light, air and space by demolishing various extensions built during the GDR period, and also (after long discussion) the historic coal bunker and boiler buildings, along with Hall 8, which was built in 1925. We were following the “do something” principle of New York urban development. Our decisive action gave others confidence in our development plan, and in the year 2003 the specialist computer dealers “Zur 48” took out a lease on the whole of Hall 9, providing vital financial support for the Spinnerei’s future long-term development. A smaller development, but one that made a big difference to everyday life on the site, was the arrival of Café Mule in the same year. A year later, we repaired the outer shell of halls 3, 4, 5 and 6, along with the kindergarten facilities.

During our first few years of work, the reputation of the “New Leipzig School” continued to grow. Neo Rauch was one of the first artists to settle in the Spinnerei and various other high-profile Leipzig artists had studios here. The site became increasingly associated with art, giving it a fresh identity.

In 2004, the Federkiel Foundation organized a trip to New York. During our visits to the Armory Show, the Whitney Biennial, the P.S.1 and especially the Dia:Beacon and the MASS MoCA in Massachusetts, we saw further evidence of the undeniable charisma of art seen in a former industrial setting. This experience led to us organizing the Spinnerei’s firstWERKSCHAU, a collective exhibition of work by all the Spinnerei artists, in the summer of 2004. This took place on our 120th anniversary, and the Spinnereifest that was also held to mark this was a first step in creating better communication between the Spinnerei’s various users.

In the same year, we reached an agreement with Judy Lybke. The new site of his gallery, EIGEN + ART, would be the Spinnerei’s steam engine hall. Jochen Hempel’s gallery Dogenhaus and the newly-founded ASPN took up residence, as did Galerie Kleindienst and maerzgalerie. Kunstraum B/2, which had been operating since 1998, became an artist-run gallery with Hall 20 as its new base. It was important to us to attract galleries to the Spinnerei that already had experience behind them, and would know how to operate even if the present success of the Leipzig art scene proved to be short-lived. The exhibition rooms’ exceptional quality and atmosphere and the affordable rent helped to make the site attractive to galleries. At around this time, we got in contact with Wolfgang Boesner, and within a few weeks we had agreed a contract with his art supplies business. The Bau + Farben Kontor (construction and painting business) took out a lease for Hall 23, once the Spinnerei’s loading depot.

On the 1st of May 2005, the galleries officially opened their new spaces, with a spectacular open weekend that received well over 10,000 visitors. Overnight, we put Leipzig on the global art tourism map. We have continued to maintain and build on this ever since, walking a fine line between being a living and working space and being a visitor attraction. No other “art factory” known to us has achieved this balancing act – most are either private studio complexes closed to the public or dedicated visitor attractions, focused solely on staging exhibitions. The Spinnerei is both. It is a workspace, and it is also a venue with a great deal to offer to the public. Visitors can spend all day looking at outstanding exhibitions in a fascinating setting without having to pay a single cent of entrance money.

Brooklyn’s Pierogi gallery and London’s Fred gallery came to the Spinnerei thanks to its growing international reputation and their personal connections with the two resident galleries Dogenhaus and EIGEN + ART. On the 1st of February 2007, the Spinnerei was flatteringly described by The Guardian as “The hottest place on Earth”. However, the objectives of our collaboration policy are also demonstrated by exhibitions such as “Imperium” by the Galeria Hilario Galguera, which included both Mexican and international art, and “TERRA NULLIUS”, which brought Australian contemporary art toHALLE 14. Non-artistic enterprises also have premises on the Spinnerei site. These include the Klavierhaus Fiech (piano dealers Fiech) with Steinway & Sons, a wine business, the Epak intelligent antenna system firm and other interesting businesses.

The English artist Darren Almond’s temporary association with Hall 12, the former needle-setting workshop, led to the building’s shell and its skylighted roof being repaired, turning it into a particularly spectacular venue for future exhibitions. Since Hall 18 was repaired in 2007/2008 and parts of it were rented out to printing firms, an art storage provider, a call centre a youth theatre and artists, we have revitalised and acquired tenants for approximately 50,000 m2 of the Spinnerei. The 50 m high chimney – an iconic feature which can be seen at a great distance – was saved thanks to public funds for the preservation of monuments. Hall 14 is reserved for public use for the next 15 years. It is presently run by the association HALLE 14 e. V., who also arrange the events held there. The Columbus Art Foundation and the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst (Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig) are vital partners in this undertaking.

There are still major vacancies today, particularly in Hall 7. This hall, which has not yet been repaired, and the workers’ housing on Thüringer Strasse, which have only just been reincorporated into the site, will be the focus of our work for the next few years. The tried-and-tested healthy mixture of artistic and non-artistic uses will be extended to these buildings. Once more, we will be looking for potential users who will help us to carry the site’s development forward into the future.

The adventure that began with our purchase of the site in 2001 was due to a fair degree of euphoria and enthusiasm as well as experience and intuition.

Even so, the progress made over the past few years would never have been possible without our tenants and patrons, who never lost faith in us. We would like to take this opportunity to thank them sincerely, and to extend particular thanks to the public funding bodies of the City of Leipzig, the Free State of Saxony and the Federal Republic. We look forward to future collaborations within the Spinnerei, in the certainty that its halls, which were built to last, will remain lively and stimulating for many years to come.

In this report, we are pleased to show you what we, together with the Spinnerei’s tenants and users and our public funding bodies, have achieved over the past few years. We invite you to take a look behind the scenes, at the artists’ studios, the workshops and the many different workrooms and exhibition rooms. Please, enjoy reading!

Dr. Florian Busse, Tillmann Sauer-Morhard,

Karsten Schmitz, Bertram Schultze