18.10.2022, Art Interview

As part of the Berlin Art Week 2022, multidisciplinary artist Max Siedentopf allied with Soho House Berlin, presenting 16 hyper-realistic “Thumbs-Up” that protrude from the rooftop pool of the member’s club and hotel in the heart of the German capital.

Max Siedentopf gave us some insights into the background of this contrary work.

Berlin Art Week 2022: what are your feelings about it?
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to experience so much in person, as I was traveling. However, I saw amazing things on social media and it was great to see  the diversity of themes and approaches that came together.

What is your impression when you look at Berlin and the art scene? Why do you think Berlin is a good frame for art?
I’m still fairly new to Berlin’s Art scene after moving here just over a year ago from London but one of the exciting things about Berlin for me is that even if it’s a big city, it feels more like a little village where it’s very easy to bump into other creatives and opportunities. The whole city is going through a big transformation right now which offers a lot of play room to experiment that might be more difficult in other more established art centers around the world.

So you consider Berlin also generally very inclusive?
Yes. Generally I think what ever energy you put in you also get back.

You’ve done a lot of photography, but also a lot of installations and sculpture stories. How did you get into art?
More by accident than anything else. I grew up in Namibia, the second least dense populated country in the world with the oldest desert. Apart from the most amazing nature and landscapes there was not much to do growing up, so from a young age I had to create my own things to entertain myself. This passion to come up with ideas then slowly shifted into making sculptures, films, books and so on.

You are multi-disciplinary. You find different things that are fun. And you find many ways to translate what you want to communicate, whether it’s photographically or through art itself. Would you also say of yourself that you are an artist?
I don’t spend much time thinking if i’m an artist or not. People always want to put everything into boxes with a specific label but I think the beauty of our time is that the borders between different disciplines are rapidly disappearing and changing and it’s incredibly easy to cross over from making film to art to architecture to creating worlds in the metaverse. Of course, explaining the work is also complicated. I couldn’t explain to my grandma what I really do. Most creatives I work with these days can’t answer that question in one sentence either. New titles might have to be invented in the future.

Language is also extremely limited, of course. Which brings us to your artwork, which we were allowed to view in Soho House, with 16 hyperrealistic thumbs-up hands sticking out of the rooftop pool. You show a strong symbol, which is very well known from the social media. The thumbs down has been abolished, but the thumbs up is still there. What is your general opinion of this prevailing rating system?
There are positive and negative sides to this. On the one hand, I’m very interested in it because it’s pretty crazy to see that social media has changed the entire system, our entire society in the last decade – the silly thumbs up! On the one hand, there are many benefits. Showcasing artworks was finally democratised and the people could decide or “rate” what they liked using the thumbs up. This finally gave opportunities to many artists that usually didn’t have the necessary resources. On the other hand, of course, it has all the negative sides. How the thumbs up / like button has evolved, triggers a lot of stress and anxiety. Young people are becoming more and more depressed because they are chasing after the illusive “thumbs-up to the point that maybe change their behaviour to a specific way just to perform better and get more thumbs ups. However because the constantly changing algorithms it’s less about quality and more about data nowadays so I think we’re at a point that we can retire the like / thumbs up. Overall however I’m fascinated how such a simple gesture as the thumbs up can carry so many different meanings.

You also address the pressure that we suffer as a result. These are all things that give you the feeling of sinking in a certain way, but you also present this opposite side, to remain positive in a slightly ironic or a humorous way, that is of course always a good way to reach many people. What do you do yourself in this time to stay positive?
I look at photos of Chihuahua riding miniature cars. 

Was there anything in particular where you said, that was now also so the trigger to represent these two contrasts? Was there a particular event where you said that you went so high on it, that somehow ultimately led to this?
I like to do very site-specific work, so for one, of course, Soho House and the view of Berlin’s skyline with the TV tower was very crucial for that. Then the idea just came pretty quickly. It seems every morning when we wake up we’re immediately confronted with different catastrophic news headlines from around the world- from wars, climate disasters, pandemics and other tragedies . It’s a lot to digest but at the same time there’s very little we can do apart from carry on with our day and pretend with a thumbs up that everything will be ok and positive. I wanted to capture this feeling. 

And the Soho House was then virtually decisive, simply because of the skyline, because of this central role that it also has somewhere in Berlin.
Yes, but I also found it very fitting, of course to the Art Week. There is so much chaos happening in the world, but here we’re all enjoying pretty paintings. 

We’ve just said that there’s always a certain humor or irony in what you do. Why do you think humor is so important also in art?
I would say 90-95% of all art is usually very serious, especially when it comes to such criticial topics. Often, this makes it not very approachable for a larger public and I find it much more interesting to make art that can appeal to everyone and not just a specific elite buried in overly illusive art speak. If you do it right, using humour can twist very complicated subjects and give a refreshing perspective.

Art is of course a mouthpiece for a great deal and then also begins where language ends and one can perhaps no longer explain things so simply. And that’s why so many feelings can find their home in art.
I’m mostly interested to have the viewer read into a piece what ever they want. Most artworks are accompanied with a very long, complicated, curatorial text that seeks to interpret a lot of meaning into an artwork. Whether that’s really what the viewer sees is always a bit doubtful, i think it’s better not to force the viewer into a specific direction and rather have him guided by their own gut feeling.

One could interpret many things. So you still leave the art to the viewer. And leave it open as a matter of interpretation?
Yes, exactly. I think that’s important, too. In the end, I don’t want to force anyone to see it that way. Everyone should see it as one feels it and in the end, everyone sees their own thing.

In your artworks you also in a certain way touch on a more unpleasant reality, like for example ‘Your Best is never enough’. No matter what you do, no matter how good you are, it’s still going to happen. What are your feelings like when you do these things, does it always have some specific trigger? Or are these things that you really stumbled upon with your nose and think: it’s just so obvious?
It’s usually an itch, a feeling that follows me during my day-to-day until it miraculously shapes into an artwork.

What do you want to give as an artist, especially also with this work, what you have made?
Live, love, laugh, die.

Credit: PR


Kim Gordon is the blueprint of what it means to be an Avant Garde artist.


Kim Gordon is the blueprint of what it means to be an Avant Garde artist.