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The phrase on the left translated to “Olafur Eliasson walks through the room,” and right, “That picture for me? No. It’s not for your (taste).” (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

I’m not sure whether “Der Adam Szymzyk wirft der Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev den Ball zu” is a sentence I would ever actually use — it means “Adam Szymzyk throws the ball to Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev” — but Stine Marie Jacobsen’s German for Artists (Broken Dimanche Press) is not so much a practical guide as a humorous take on an art scene that is often stereotyped or ridiculed. (One imagines black-clad, emotionally-detached Volk from Mitteleuropa, calmly sipping Riesling while techno music thumps in the background. As you might expect, the phrase “I would like a white wine spritzer” — “Ich möchte eine Weissweinschorle” — is included.)

The cover of the book

Sure, this pocketbook might prove helpful for art nerds looking for creative ways to brush up on modal verbs, such as “I have to/must” — my German is nonexistent, so it was pretty useless as a way to kickstart that process — but ultimately it’s more about the idea of the book than its practicality. Maybe you won’t actually say, “Ich arbeite nicht kostenlos, aber manchmal passiert es.” (I don’t work for free, but sometimes it happens.) But in this day and age, it’s not hard to see its relevance at an art fair or arts nonprofit party.

Perhaps I should’ve first picked up Jacobsen’s German for Newcomers, also from Broken Dimanche Press, as it offers more simplified lessons — but even when I did that, I wished I had taken a basic German language class before diving in.

Ultimately, the most useful phrase in German for Artists may be the one on page 124: “Könnnen wir bitte über die Kunst auf Englisch reden?” Can we please talk about the art in English?

What did Damien Hirst do this time?

I have a feeling Okwui Enwezor is really really busy.

We hear Cattelan’s on a golden toilet thinking about it.

Anton Vidokle and Ai Weiwei? I’m sure they make good running partners.

And perhaps in English?

We’re not so sure these are common phrases, but …

Stine Marie Jacobsen’s German for Artists and German for Newcomers (both Broken Dimanche Press) are available from Amazon and other online booksellers.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

3 replies on “Sprechen Sie Kunst? How to Speak German in the Art World”

  1. Not only does it reproduce the art world German spoken in Berlin, but also the South German (Stuttgart area) idiom of most people who populate Berlin’s cultural field…

  2. I’m puzzled by the need to send something to Enwezor in German. I’ve read, in relation to the fop’s recent re-appointment at Haus der Kunst (note to Okwui: that means ‘House of Art’), that in his 8 or so years there he hasn’t bothered to learn basic conversational German.

  3. My favorite German art phrase: Kunst ist schon, macht aber viel Arbeit. – Karl Valentin
    from a postcard bag at Hamburger Bahnhof, now tacked up on the wall of my studio.
    I think the translation is “Art is beautiful, but it is a lot of work”

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