Peggy Guggenheim Dossier








Women in the arts: Peggy Guggenheim

Art-collecting trailblazer

Women in the arts: Peggy Guggenheim

American art collector and socialite Peggy Guggenheim played a major role in promoting influential modernist art in the first half of the twentieth century

Born in 1898, Jewish American Marguerite ‘Peggy’ Guggenheim hailed from a wealthy New York mining family of Swiss origin on her father’s side, while her mother came from a prominent banking family. Tragically, her father, Benjamin, was one of the ill-fated passengers who died on the Titanic in 1912.

In her early twenties, Guggenheim began working at a book shop, the Sunwise Turn, where she was swiftly embraced by a wide circle of intellectual and artistic types. It was in these circles that she met her first husband, Laurence Vail, a writer and Dada sculpter whom she married in 1922 and had two children with. From 1921, Guggenheim lived in Paris, mixing with bohemians, avant-garde artists and American expats. Among these acquaintances were artists Constantin Brancusi and Marcel Duchamp and poet and journalist Djuna Barnes, who would become her lifelong friends.

Women in the arts: Peggy Guggenheim

Said to have a voracious sexual appetite (particularly for artists), Guggenheim left her husband Vail in 1928 for an English intellectual John Holms, who died tragically young in 1934 and is said to have been the love of her life. In January 1938, she opened an art gallery in London – Guggenheim Jeune – and began a career that would nurture some of the most prominent post-WWII artists of the time. Case in point: her first art show featured prolific French playwright, artist and director Jean Cocteau, while her second featured Russian painter Vasily Kandinsky.

In 1939, tiring of her gallery, she began purchasing contemporary masterpieces by artists like Francis Picabia, Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí and Piet Mondrian. Seemingly oblivious to the war around her, Guggenheim continued acquiring works until she was forced to flee Nazi-occupied France in 1941. After returning to New York with soon-to-be second husband Max Ernst (a German artist), Guggenheim began scouting for a site for her modern art museum, while continuing to collect Cubist, abstract and Surrealist art. By the time Art of This Century opened in 1942, Guggenheim’s collection and exhibition rooms were viewed as the most extraordinary and forward-thinking in New York.

Women in the arts: Peggy Guggenheim

Women in the arts: Peggy Guggenheim

Guggenheim went on to champion American Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. In 1947, Peggy returned to Europe and in 1948 her by-now impressive modern art collection was exhibited at the Venice Biennale. She soon bought and moved into Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal in Venice, the space that now houses the famous Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Opening her house during summer to the public from 1951, Guggenheim continued to exhibit her works in Europe and New York until her death, aged 81, in 1979. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is considered one of the most important museums in Italy for its collection of European and American art from the first half of the twentieth century.


The New York Times
March 1, 1987


When Peggy Guggenheim started her gallery, ”Art of This Century,” in the wartime year of 1942, no one was standing on line to buy avant-garde art. But that didn’t faze this flamboyant apostle of the new, who at the gallery’s opening wore one earring by Calder and one by Tanguy to demonstrate her equal regard for abstraction and Surrealism.

In the dramatically innovative arena on West 57th Street, created by the architect Frederic Kiesler, she counterpointed the work of such European stars as Arp, di Chirico, Giacometti and Picasso with that of then unknown American talents: Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. She was the first and prime patron of the burgeoning Abstract Expressionist movement, and her gallery thus played a key role in New York’s displacement of Paris as the capital of modern art. During its five-year run on 57th Street, ”Art of This Century” mounted more than 50 exhibitions. Among them was a show devoted to collage, for which Peggy invited Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and William Baziotes to submit work. Neither Pollock nor Motherwell had made collages before; Motherwell today credits the ”identity” he found in the collage medium to her initiative. Two exhibitions were devoted entirely to women artists (among them the ecdysiast Gypsy Rose Lee, who contributed a self-portrait); one show explored the relationship between insane and Surrealist art, and no less than four solo shows were devoted to the gallery’s rising star, Jackson Pollock. He had been working at the Guggenheim Museum as a carpenter, and came to Peggy’s attention through Howard Putzel, one of her close advisers, and the Chilean Surrealist Roberto Matta. In her autobiography, ”Out of This Century,” she wrote that Pollock ”immediately became the central point” of her gallery. And until she returned to Europe in 1947, settling in Venice, she devoted herself to promoting the work of the artist who, in her eyes, was ”to become, strangely enough, the greatest painter since Picasso.”

Now, 40 years after the closing of ”Art of This Century” in 1947, the Guggenheim Museum – founded by Peggy’s uncle Solomon – is paying tribute to her ”profound influence on the art world of her time.” On Friday it will open ”Peggy Guggenheim’s Other Legacy,” (through May 3) a show of some 60 works of painting and sculpture originally exhibited at ”Art of This Century,” or given by her to institutions across the country in an effort to spread the gospel of modernism. (The ”other legacy” in the show’s title refers to these works, as distinct from Peggy’s own collection of modern paintings ensconced in her Venetian palazzo and given to the Guggenheim Museum. at her death in 1979.) It’s not easy to realize today the impact of the gallery – and Peggy’s donations – on the public acceptance of modern art in this country. At a time when – despite the inroads made by the Museum of Modern Art – the avant garde was still considered suspect by most right-thinking people, even in Manhattan, ”Art of This Century” was a vigorous outpost for the new and controversial. Harboring a rich mix of refugee artists from Europe and ambitious local vanguardsmen, its ”erratic setting” – recalls Fred Licht, adjunct curator of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and co-organizer of the exhibition with Melvin P. Lader – provided ”a recklessly liberal point of encounter and discussion. One never knew which artist would be arguing loudly with what other artist or critic.” The idea was conveyed, he adds, ”that contemporary and indeed all art was not simply to be enjoyed, respected, admired and studied. It could and should give rise to further adventures, to polemics, to the expression of still more, still newer ideas.”

Not content with showing new work in New York, Peggy tried to extend the gallery’s sphere of influence from 57th Street to the rest of the country. Among other works, she gave away some 20 Pollocks, which she later regretted. One of her more difficult bestowals was that of a 1943 Pollock mural 23 feet long and 6 feet wide, painted for the entrance hall of her apartment. ”It consisted of a continuous band of abstract figures in a rhythmic dance painted in blue and white and yellow,” she writes, ”and over this black paint was splashed in drip fashion.” When she decided to donate it as a ”seed gift” to the University of Iowa in 1948, university officials jibbed at the shipping and insurance costs of $100, and wondered whether they could find a suitable place for it. Finally they concluded it would be ”useful for teaching purposes.” Yet a decade later, in 1961, they politely refused Peggy’s bid to exchange the mural for a Braque still life.

Other gifts went to such places as the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Phoenix Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Museum of Art of the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Seattle Art Museum. When the Seattle museum’s curator, Edward B. Thomas, visited Peggy at her palazzo in 1954, she took to him immediately. Turning away from a pompous visitor who was considering a work for purchase, Peggy said to Thomas in a stage whisper, ”Stick around, honey, and I’ll give you one.” When the visitor left, she offered the curator his pick of five Jackson Pollocks. Later Thomas noted that this gift and others from Peggy helped ”underline the need to expand the museum’s modern holdings,” and that their quality and the prestige of the giver provided ”an excellent inducement to other collectors to become involved in the museum.”

When she unveiled ”Art of This Century” here in 1942, Peggy was in effect a wartime refugee from Europe, where she had cavorted wildly for more than 20 years. As the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim, the copper-mining heir – he died in the Titanic disaster of 1912 – she had grown up in considerable luxury on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. But, rebelling against the longueurs of life amid New York’s Jewish upper crust she fled to Europe in 1921, a well-heeled Bohemian ripe for love and adventure. She fell in with such glamorous expatriates as Djuna Barnes and Man Ray – who took a famous photograph of her – and married a tempestuous young painter, Laurence Vail, by whom she had two children.

Several liaisons later, in the late 1930’s, Peggy was in London, free for the moment of husbands and lovers, and rather bored. Neither ”creative” nor terribly intellectual herself, but surrounded by people who were, she took up a friend’s suggestion that she open a gallery of modern art. She was undaunted by her minimal knowledge of the subject, since she had as a mentor no less than the artist Marcel Duchamp, whom she had met in Paris. Though the London gallery – called Guggenheim Jeune – only lasted for a brief time, it mounted some vivid shows, among them the first presentations in England of Kandinsky and the Surrealist Yves Tanguy. It put on sculpture and collage exhibitions that included the work of Pevsner, Moore, Picasso, Schwitters and Miro. And it also paid attention to young, unknown English artists such as the abstractionist John Tunnard.

Duchamp, as Peggy noted, not only taught her the difference between Surrealism, Cubism and abstract art, but introduced her to artists and more or less took charge of the show’s arrangements and installations. And willy-nilly, Guggenheim Jeune spurred her into collecting. ”Gradually I bought one work of art from every show I gave, so as not to disappoint the artists if I were unsuccessful in selling anything,” she wrote. ”In those days, as I had no idea how to sell and had never bought pictures, this seemed to be the best solution and the least I could do to please the artists.”

Concerned over the gallery’s money losses, Peggy opted out, after a year and a half, to involve herself in a far more ambitious project – a museum of modern art. She asked Herbert Read (later Sir Herbert), then editor of what Peggy saw as the ”stuffy” but highly respected Burlington Magazine and the leading authority in England on modern art, to become its director. ”He treated me the way Disraeli treated Queen Victoria,” Peggy reported. Together, the two drew up an ideal list of artists whose works they would try to borrow for an opening show. The project came to a halt with England’s entry into World War II. But Peggy kept Sir Herbert’s list (later revised by herself, Duchamp and Nellie van Doesburg, widow of the Dutch abstractionist Theo). With the money she’d set aside to establish the museum, she embarked on an art-shopping spree in Paris. ”My motto was, ‘Buy a picture a day,’ and I lived up to it,” she wrote.

The splendid collection that Peggy thus acquired, despite the onset of the war (”The day Hitler walked into Norway, I walked into Leger’s studio and bought a wonderful 1919 painting from him for $1,000,” she has noted) is today on view, under the auspices of the Guggenheim Museum, at Peggy’s Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, in Venice. But back in 1940, as the Nazis marched toward France, Peggy realized that her acquisitions would be regarded as ”degenerate” art. She shipped them off to a friend’s barn near Vichy; then three days before the occupation of Paris, she left with her children and some friends for a house near Annecy. The pictures were forwarded to her, and stored for a year in the museum at Grenoble by its reluctant director. Finally, in the spring of 1941, packed as ”household goods,” they were shipped to New York. Their owner arrived shortly after, on a Pan American clipper with an entourage of 10 fellow refugees, including the painter Max Ernst, with whom she was shortly to share a brief and tumultuous marriage.

With Ernst, his son Jimmy, and her daughter Pegeen, she traveled all over the country trying to find a proper place for the Peggy Guggenheim museum. Disappointed, the party came back to New York, where in 1942 she commissioned Kiesler to design ”Art of This Century,” a combination ”museum” and commercial gallery which would display her collection as well as temporary shows of European and American art. The results were suitably spectacular. A gallery for Surrealism had flashy lighting and concave walls with wooden arms projecting from them on which to hang pictures. In the Cubist gallery, there was cooler illumination and a system of ropes and wedges to support the pictures and sculptures. Displayed in this manner, the works from Peggy’s own collection served as a background for the new American art she sought out and promoted. ”The only trouble,” Peggy complained, ”was that the decor rivaled the pictures. Kiesler told me I would not be known for my collection in the future, but for his installation.”

She saw the gallery, she wrote in its first press release, as ”a center where artists will be welcome and where they can feel that they are cooperating in establishing a research laboratory for new ideas.” And as New York became the temporary home for such creative refugees as Breton, Tanguy, Mondrian, Duchamp, Lipchitz, Ernst, Chagall, Matta, Archipenko, Masson and others, ”Art of This Century” became a magnet for the avant garde. The presence of the European elders, Peggy noted, greatly stimulated the young American talents who came to the gallery. Some of the first works by ”unknowns” were represented at the collage show in 1943, and Motherwell and William Baziotes had their first sales, to the Baltimore collector Sadie May.

At the first of three annual spring salons, judged by among others, Duchamp, Mondrian and Peggy, Pollock scored with the jury, and became the first and only artist to whom Peggy offered a contract. The penniless young artist got $150 a month, plus a settlement at the year’s end determined by the sale of his paintings. His monthly stipend was later raised to $300, and soon Peggy had so many Pollocks she didn’t know what to do with them. Not forseeing the enormous sums his work would eventually bring, she gave many of them away. ”Now it all makes me laugh,” she wrote in her autobiography. ”I had no idea what Pollock paintings would be worth. I never sold one for more than $1,000. When I left America in 1947, not one gallery would take over my contract. And so now Lee (Pollock’s widow) is a millionaire, and I think what a fool I was.” In the 1960’s, she sued Mrs. Pollock for $122,000, on the grounds that the artist had defaulted on his promise to give her all works produced during the contract period. But the suit was finally dropped.

Preferring life in Europe, where she had lived for two decades before the war, Peggy closed the gallery in 1947 and settled in Venice. To house herself and her collection, she bought the unfinished Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, built by the Veniers, a patrician Venetian family whose lineage included two doges and who, legend had it, kept lions in the garden. Eventually, she soured on the art scene, its frequenters and its products, writing shortly before her death in 1979, ”I do not like art today. I think it has gone to hell, as a result of the financial attitude. People blame me for what is painted today because I had encouraged and helped the new movement to be born. I am not responsible. In the early 1940’s there was a pure pioneering spirit in America. A new art had to be born – Abstract Expressionism. I fostered it. I do not regret it. It produced Pollock, or rather, Pollock produced it. This alone justifies my efforts.”

Although she was a pioneer, her efforts did not go unheralded at the time. Reviewing Peggy’s closing show in 1947, the burgeoning critic Clement Greenberg wrote: ”In the three or four years of her career as a New York gallery director, she gave first showings to more serious new artists than anyone else in the country. I am convinced that Peggy Guggenheim’s place in the history of American art will grow larger as time passes and as the artists she encouraged mature.” He was not wrong.




The priceless Peggy Guggenheim

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

In just eight years, Peggy Guggenheim changed the face of 20th-century art – and her life, both public and intimate, was as radical as her collection. John Walsh salutes a true original

It was said that she had a thousand lovers in her life, and that she received her most thorough grounding in modern art when she spent a night and a day in bed with Samuel Beckett, interrupted only by her demands that he go out and find some champagne. People murmured that Peggy Guggenheim went to bed with so many men (and occasionally women) because it boosted her self-esteem and made her less conscious of her huge, potato-shaped nose. She loved art and sex in about equal measure, but she was also turned on by fame. Asked why she loved Max Ernst, the great Surrealist painter whom she married in 1941, she replied: “Because he’s so beautiful and because he’s so famous.”

In the high-rolling, modern-Medici world of 20th-century art patronage and art collecting, Peggy Guggenheim was unique. She collected art like nobody else, picking up items that didn’t sell, and works for which there was, as yet, no market, just because she loved them. She bought art, not as an investment, but because she saw something that her own eyes told her was great. She discovered Jackson Pollock when he was a humble carpenter in Solomon Guggenheim’s museum, and gave him his first exhibition in 1950 at the Museo Correr in Venice. But her years spent in actual acquisition were, in fact, few: about 1938 to 1940 in England and France; and 1941-46 in America.

“Eight years collecting in a lifetime of 80 years,” wrote her biographer, Anton Gill, “is not much, especially when one looks at the career of Edward James, or Walter Arensberg or the Cone sisters or Katherine Dreier … Had her private life been less colourful, would what she did for art seem less interesting?” Seldom has a figure in the art world appeared so schizoid about her commitment to the actual work. When her autobiography Memoirs of an Art Lover was published, critics noted with disapproval that, in its 200 pages, art doesn’t get a mention until page 110.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Solomon R Guggenheim’s fabled New York art gallery, and this autumn marks the 80th anniversary of the very first museum to bear the Guggenheim name. Solomon, Peggy’s philanthropist uncle, rented a large automobile showroom on New York’s Park Avenue and called it the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. Within a few years, he was looking for a more permanent venue for his collection of modern art, and signed up Frank Lloyd Wright to design a “temple of spirit”. The result, a fantastic, spiral-curved building now called the Samuel R Guggenheim Museum, New York, opened to gawping tourists on 21 October 1959, the first permanent museum to be built (rather than converted from a private house) in the United States. Since then, sister museums have been built in Bilbao, Berlin and Las Vegas. But it’s the smallest of them, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, that continues to capture the imagination of art lovers. And 40 years after the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni was opened to the public, on the death of its owner, as the Venice Guggenheim, she remains both an enigmatic and a melancholy figure.

Peggy Guggenheim was the original poor little rich girl, born in 1898 to fabulous wealth in New York City. Her father Benjamin was one of seven brothers of Swiss-German provenance who, along with their father Meyer Guggenheim, made a fortune from smelting metals, especially silver, copper and lead. Peggy’s mother Florette Seligman, came from wealthy banking stock.

Peggy’s education in modern art began in New York in 1920. She was 22, and had inherited from her dead father (who went down with the Titanic in 1912) enough money to supply her, via a trust fund, with an income of $22,500 a year. Anxious to find a job that took her outside her immediate circle of rich friends, she found a job at an avant-garde bookshop, The Sunwise Turn on 44th Street. She swung the job via a family connection, a cousin called Harold Loeb, a fair-to-good painter, writer, man of action and womaniser who was in Paris with the “lost generation” of American émigrés about whom Hemingway wrote in The Sun Also Rises. Through Loeb, Peggy met several members of the generation, including Scott Fitzgerald – and was introduced to Alfred Steiglitz, the photographic pioneer and impresario of the avant-garde.

His gallery on Fifth Avenue was where she encountered the work of Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse: it was their first exposure to the American public. There Peggy also had her first sighting of the work of Steiglitz’s future wife, Georgia O’Keeffe – and met Laurence Vail, a writer who was part of the new boho swing of Greenwich Village.

In the 1920s, Peggy went travelling in Europe, discovered Paris and stayed there, on and off, for 22 years. From the start, her predominant interests were art and sex. “I soon knew where every painting in Europe could be found,” she wrote in her autobiography, “and I managed to get there, even if I had to spend hours going to a little country town to see only one.” She also took to acquiring lovers at a ferocious rate. In her autobiography she explains that, when she was young, her many boyfriends were too respectable to have sex with her; but she had discovered (at 23) photographs of frescoes from Pompeii: “They depicted people making love in various positions, and of course I was very curious and wanted to try them all out myself.” Laurence Vail was startled by her forwardness. He visited her at home in Paris, when her mother was out, made a sexual pass and was taken aback by how readily she said “Yes”. He backtracked, saying that, since her mother might come home at any moment, it might be better if Peggy came to his hotel sometime. She fetched her hat and said: “How about right now?” They married two years later and had two children, Sindbad and Pegeen.

In Paris they immersed themselves in arty circles, befriending Djuna Barnes, the lesbian author of Nightwood, published by TS Eliot at Faber & Faber, Constantin Brancusi, the sculptor whose work she collected, and Marcel Duchamp, the great Surrealist. But the marriage broke up in 1928 when she met an English intellectual called John Holms, a one-time war hero turned writer, who suffered from severe creative blockage and published only one story in his career. Theirs was a tempestuous and short-lived marriage: their home in Bloomsbury was often riven with furious rows, drunken harangues and accusation of infidelity, during which, Peggy writes in her autobiography, “he made me stand for ages naked in front of the open window (in December) and threw whiskey into my eyes”. (She was remarkably unlucky with her lovers. Laurence Vail was similarly theatrical. “When our fights worked up to a grand finale,” she reported, “he would rub jam into my hair.”)

Peggy Guggenheim’s annus mirabilis was 1938. Inspired by the groundbreaking, indeed earthshaking, surrealism exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in 1936 – derided by the British press but unexpectedly popular with the general public – and the encouragement of her friend Peggy Waldheim (“I wish you would do some serious work – the art gallery, book agency – anything that would be engrossing yet impersonal – if you were doing something for good painters or writers … I think you’d be so much better off … ”) she hit upon the idea of starting a gallery dealing in modern artists. She’d met many artists through her first husband. Her uncle Solomon had put together a priceless collection of Old Masters, but she could collect new work for a much more modest outlay. And she genuinely loved the company of artists and writers. She began to look for a suitable space, helped by Humphrey Jennings, the documentary-maker who filmed Auden’s “Night Mail” for the GPO Film Unit, and Marcel Duchamp. As they fixed on No 30 Cork Street, Duchamp gave her some basic lessons in modern art. “Peggy had to be shown the difference between what was Abstract and what was Surrealist,” writes her biographer Anton Gill, “and between the ‘dream’ Surrealism of, for example, Dali or Di Chirico and the ‘abstract’ Surrealism of, say, André Masson. She was an eager and quick learner, showing a natural affinity and sympathy for what she saw.”

Also helpful was Samuel Beckett, who was then living in Paris as secretary/amanuensis to James Joyce. He and Peggy met on Boxing Day 1939 at Bosquet’s restaurant, at a dinner thrown by Joyce. Beckett escorted Peggy home to her apartment in St Germain-des-Pres, came in, lay on the sofa and asked her to join him. It’s one of the few recorded instances of the Beckett seduction technique. They were thrown together for 12 days, in which he persuaded her to stop worrying about Old Masters and concentrate on collecting modern artists.

So the marriage of money and art came together. Duchamp’s friendship supplied a heady throng of top-class artists for Peggy to meet: he introduced her to Jean Cocteau, who wrote the introduction to his exhibition. Beckett translated it and introduced her to Geer Van Velde, the Dutch artist. Meanwhile, Beckett revealed an unexpected |love for driving fast in her whizzy sports cars. And the society heiress was gradually |transformed into the boho queen of the European art world.

The gallery, christened Guggenheim Jeune, opened on 24 January 1938, with 30 drawings by Jean Cocteau. Two large linen sheets, sent over from Paris, displayed a group of figures with their genitals and pubic hair on display: they were confiscated and detained, of all unlikely places, in Croydon airport until Peggy and Duchamp could hurry to south London to have them released.

As the year rolled by, Peggy’s gallery grew in stature. She gave Wassily Kandinsky his first-ever London show, then an exhibition of contemporary sculpture featuring works of Henry Moore, Hans Arp, Brancusi, Alexander Calder and Anton Pevsner.

Despite the speed of her gallery’s success, Peggy grew tired of temporarily showcasing the work of certain artists. Inside a year, she became excited by “the idea of opening a modern museum in London”, and organising it on historic |principles. She would decide in advance which artists and schools would feature in it, and then go out and acquire them. As her guiding influence, she turned to Herbert Read, the art critic, and asked him to draw up a wish-list of all the artists he thought should be represented. As the whole of Europe trembled on the brink of war, Peggy Guggenheim set out on her tremendous cultural crusade. She boldly resolved to “buy a picture a day”. She bought Surrealist works by Dali, Cubist works by Braque and Picasso, geometric designs by Mondrian and Fernand Léger (whose Men in the City she bought on the day Hitler invaded Norway. The painter said he was “astonished by her sang froid”.) In the winter of 1939 and spring of 1940 she bought work by Miro, Picasso and Max Ernst in dizzying succession. She patrolled the ateliers of Paris, snapping up minor masterpieces for a song. She bought Brancusi’s soaring sculpture Bird in Space in Paris, even as the German army advanced on the capital.

The invasion effectively closed down her operations. With the über-Surrealist Max Ernst (whom she later married and divorced in two years), she finally fled occupied France in July 1941 and headed for her beloved New York. She lost no time in finding a new home for her purchases.

In October 1942, her museum-gallery, Art of This Century, opened in Manhattan, exhibiting all her Cubist, Abstract and Surrealist acquisitions. For the opening night, she wore, according to Anton Gill, “one earring made for her by Calder and |another by Yves Tanguy, to express her equal commitment to the schools of art she supported”. The work of leading European artists flowed through her gallery, along with unknown young Americans: Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Janet Sobel, Clyfford Still – and the gallery’s star attraction Jackson Pollock. In Ed Harris’s 2000 film Pollock, in which Guggenheim was played by Amy Madigan, it was suggested that artist and patron had an affair; in fact he’s a rare sighting of an artist who slipped through Peggy’s fishnets; she didn’t fancy him because he drank too much. But she supported him with monthly handouts and sold his work: she commissioned his largest painting, Mural, and gave it away to the University of Iowa. Without Peggy’s generous patronage, it’s doubtful whether the American abstract Expressionist movement would have survived as it did.

Then, after the war, she discovered Venice. In 1948 her collection was exhibited at the Venice Biennale – the first time that Pollock, Rothko and Arshile Gorky had been seen in Europe. The fact that she’d brought them together with all the European masterpieces bought in the early years of the war made her complete collection a paradigm of Western modern art.

A year later, she bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal, and held an exhibition of her sculptures in the gardens. The |reputation of her collection grew as it was toured across Europe, and shown in Florence, Milan, Amsterdam, Brussels and Zurich, before setting up its permanent home in the Palazzo. |From 1951, she opened her house and collection to the general public every summer, though |she kept adding to it over the next 30 years. She donated the palace and her collection to the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation, but the |collection remains where it is, a cynosure for |art-loving tourists.

She died on 23 December 1979. Her ashes are buried in a corner of the Palazzo garden, near where her 14 beloved Lhasa Apso dogs are buried. The dogs were a vestigial emblem of the flamboyant, rich-bitch socialite she could so easily have remained, with her family inheritance and ritzy Manhattan haut-monde. But Peggy Guggenheim was something more than that: an art collector who believed that some works are worth keeping safe in the collective cultural memory, protecting them against obscurity, as if it were a noble cause.

Art world: The Guggenheim empire

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Best known for its building, Bilbao’s Guggenheim is an astonishing architectural feat designed by Frank Gehry. Its series of curved, interconnected shapes are clad in shimmering titanium, while the interior is designed around a large, light-filled atrium with views of Bilbao’s estuary and the surrounding hills of the Basque country. Opened in 1997, the museum has provided a home for large-scale, site- specific works and installations by contemporary artists, such as Richard Serra’s 340ft-long “Snake. Guggenheim Bilbao makes a point of supporting the work of Basque artists, as well as housing a selection of works from the Foundation’s extended collection.

Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin

Opened in 1997, the Deutsche Guggenheim is a joint venture based in the ground floor of the Deutsche Bank building in Unter der Linden, a grand boulevard in the historical centre of Berlin. The 510sq m gallery inside this Twenties sandstone building was designed by Richard Gluckman to provide a clean, clear space for artworks that belong to both the Guggenheim Foundation and the bank itself, which holds the largest corporate art collection in the world. The gallery presents major thematic exhibitions, as well as site-specific commissions by new and established contemporary artists, including John Baldessari, Anish Kapoor, Jeff Koons, and Rachel Whiteread.

Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York

Opened on 21 October 1959, the New York Guggenheim building is an artwork in its own right: a white spiral structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Inside, the museum brings together several private collections, including the “non-objective paintings” belonging to Solomon R Guggenheim, who established the Guggenheim Foundation that still owns the museums that carry its name. Up to 1,150,000 visitors flock each year to the Fifth Avenue museum, which is also home to his niece Peggy Guggenheim’s collection of Abstract and Surrealist works; art dealer Justin K Thannhauser’s masterpieces; and Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo’s large selection of Minimalist, Post-Minimalist and Conceptual art.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, Saadiyat Island, United Arab Emirates

Currently under construction, the latest Guggenheim will also be the biggest. Another innovative design from the California-based architect Frank Gehry, with clusters of block and cone-shaped connected galleries seemingly piled on top of each other, the 450,000sq ft museum is situated on a peninsula at the north-western tip of Saadiyat Island, adjacent to Abu Dhabi. It will house its own modern and contemporary collections, with a special focus on Middle-Eastern contemporary art, as well a presenting special exhibitions from the Guggenheim Foundation’s main collection.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

Solomon R Guggenheim’s niece, Peggy, bequeathed her collection, and the 18th-century palazzo house in which she had lived since the late 1940s, to the Foundation in 1976. Much smaller in scale than its New York counterpart, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni nonetheless houses an impressive selection of modern art. Its picturesque setting and well-respected collection attract some 400,000 visitors per year. The museum reflects Peggy Guggenheim’s personal interest in a variety of modern styles and schools, from Cubism to Expressionism to Surrealism, and is home to major works by the likes of Marcel Duchamp, René Magritte, Piet Mondrian, and Jackson Pollock.


April 1986

Peggy Guggenheim as history

by Hilton Kramer


There is no figure in the history of twentieth-century art more difficult to keep in proper focus than the avid collector—the kind of collector, that is, who specializes in the acquisition of contemporary art. To this strange, hardy breed—more often ridiculed and maligned than admired or understood— we obviously owe much. Without collectors who take an interest in new art and who are willing to lavish significant sums of money on it, the entire life of art in our society would be a very different thing. It would be a much poorer thing, in my opinion, and not only in the strictly financial sense. It is upon such collectors, after all, that artists and their dealers largely depend for their living; and it is to dealers’ exhibitions, let us remember, and to the donations and bequests which collectors make to the museums, that the rest of us owe a large portion of what is important to us in our aesthetic experience. We are all, in a way, the beneficiaries of the collecting enterprise—a fact of cultural life which, except on ceremonial occasions, is seldom accorded the acknowledgement it deserves.

Why, then, is it more or less to be expected that these same collectors will be regarded with considerable suspicion and resentment in their lifetime? There are many good reasons, alas. For one thing, in a buyers’ market—which, despite all the changes that have overtaken the art world, is still the kind of market which the majority of living artists are obliged to deal with—it is not uncommon for collectors to drive very hard bargains. What is worse, collectors often boast about them, too, even while claiming the role of generous and disinterested patron. For another, there are the collectors who clearly invest in contemporary art largely in the hope of making a financial killing at some later date. (The activities of the auction houses in recent years have provided abundant evidence of this practice, and the auction houses represent only the tip of the iceberg in this matter.) Then, too, there are the collectors who are guided less by their aesthetic interests than by their social ambitions, their sexual proclivities, their political affinities, or their fixation on some other extra-artistic obsession. Collectors—even the most enlightened and adventurous among them—tend to be arbitrary in their decisions, fickle in their tastes, and impure in their motives. Their interests are subject to sudden shifts which are seldom purely aesthetic in origin. And it doesn’t add to their appeal that, once their collecting activities are accorded a certain degree of public attention, their egotism is often found to rival and even surpass that of the artists themselves. The grounds for suspicion are indeed not wanting.

Collectors with sufficient money and drive constitute a power, moreover, and power of the particular kind which they are in a position to wield inevitably induces feelings of powerlessness—and thus of resentment, envy, and even outright hatred—among those who are excluded from its immediate benefactions. Around almost every significant collection of contemporary art there sooner or later accumulates a sizable accretion of bruised feelings, failed hopes, and broken promises waiting to be avenged. Like every manifestation of power, that of the collector is therefore a natural object of paranoia, and there is never any shortage of people, both inside the art world and out side it, who are given to nursing their grievances (real or imagined) and plotting their revenge.

On the other hand, it is not unusual for the collectors who are the targets of all this free-floating paranoia and revenge to come to believe that it is they who have been ruthlessly exploited. They aren’t always wrong, either. Human nature being what it is, gratitude tends to be of short-term duration in a rising art market. For all of these reasons, we shall harbor fewer misconceptions about collectors and the role they play in the history of their time if we recognize straightaway that they are not in any sense to be construed as angels.

Some collectors, of course, are in less danger of being misunderstood in this respect than others. Consider the late Peggy Guggenheim, who is now the subject of two very different books. One is a biography by Jacqueline Bograd Weld which leaves no sensational anecdote, no matter how distasteful or repugnant, unrecounted.[1] The other is a vast, scholarly catalogue by Angelica Zander Rudenstine which, while rigorously ignoring the personal affairs of the collector, concentrates with an almost superhuman objectivity on documenting the collection of works of art which Peggy Guggenheim acquired during a particularly crucial period of our history.[2] Peggy Guggenheim was, of course, a notorious character in her day. (She died in 1979 at the age of eighty-one.) Her collection is now preserved as a museum in Venice, Italy, where she lived during the last three decades of her life. Taken together, these two books neatly encompass the twin aspects of her career—the scandalous and the serious—neither of which can be ignored in any attempt to understand the place she once occupied in American cultural life.

In her own lifetime Peggy Guggenheim was praised for her sagacity and courage in recognizing important new talent—most especially, of course, Jackson Pollock’s— while at the same time she was reviled for her stinginess, her pettiness, and her utter lack of anything that could be described as personal morals. That as a collector and a dealer she played a significant role in the formation of the New York School is now universally acknowledged, and her distinction in this regard is in no way diminished by the fact that she availed herself of some excellent advice—what important collector hasn’t?—or that she drove some very hard bargains with the artists she benefited. That she was also, for much of her life, a selfish wretch who left a trail of broken lives wherever her power over others was complete is not to be denied, either. In many respects she was the very archetype of the heiress as a mad egomaniac, using what money she had —in Peggy Guggenheim’s case, it turns out never to have been a huge fortune—to gratify her wayward appetites and impose them on others. In Jacqueline Bograd Weld’s biography we are spared very little in the way of sordid detail about these matters. Yet whatever our judgments may be on Peggy Guggenheim as a woman—and they are bound to be pretty harsh, I think—she was nonetheless one of those people who made a difference in the life of art. What that difference was and how she came to play the role in the life of art that she did is, from our present historical perspective, quite the most interesting thing about her. After all, the world has never lacked for nymphomaniac heiresses or monster egomaniacs of either sex wreaking havoc on those around them; but the art collector represented in Mrs. Rudenstine’s 842-page catalogue remains a rarity even today when, it sometimes seems, every collector of contemporary art seeks to emulate one or another aspect of the Peggy Guggenheim role.

Interestingly, her career as a collector, dealer, and patron was of far shorter duration than the size and fame of her collection might lead one to suppose. Its major phase lasted about ten years, from 1938 to 1948. After that she continued to add works to the collection—Bacon, Boccioni, and Gonzalez in the Fifties, for example, and Dubuffet and Kupka in the Sixties, and slews of Italians during the entire term of her residence in Venice—but, with some notable exceptions, these were not the kind of acquisitions which added real luster to her holdings. Sequestered in Venice in these later years, she was no longer in touch with the most vital artistic currents, and she had begun in any case to think of herself as an historical personage—which in itself is probably fatal as far as taking a continuing interest in new art is concerned. For all practical purposes, then, Peggy Guggenheim’s role as a power in the art world was pretty much limited to a single decade. But what a decade it was!

What also has to be borne in mind is that as an American she belonged to the generation which expatriated itself to Europe in the period between the two world wars. She had gone to Paris in the Twenties, and had quickly become part of the American expatriate community of artists and writers there. If not for the Second World War, it is unlikely that she would have ever returned to the United States to live. The bohemian milieux she frequented in Paris and London clearly suited her, and so did the distance they provided from the oppressive family atmosphere in New York which she had fled as soon as she was able to do so. When she did return to New York in the summer of 1941, she was in some respects as much a foreigner—at least in regard to its art scene —as any of the artist-emigres whose arrival so decisively altered that scene.

In Paris in the Twenties she had met, among others, Marcel Duchamp, Brancusi, Kay Boyle, Jean Cocteau, Malcolm Cowley, Nancy Cunard, Janet Flanner, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Man Ray, Tristan Tzara, and Virgil Thomson.[3] This was her entrée into the world of the international avant-garde, and it stood her in good stead when, years later, she set up as a serious dealer and collector. She opened her first gallery, called Guggenheim Jeune, in January, 1938—not in New York, however, but in London—with Duchamp as her principal advisor. Its inaugural exhibition was devoted to the work of Jean Cocteau— which was not, perhaps, a happy augury. But the gallery’s second exhibition was, for it brought to London the first show ever to be devoted to the paintings of Kandinsky in the British capital. Because nothing in the show was sold, Peggy Guggenheim felt obliged to buy one of the pictures herself, and it was this purchase which marked the beginning of her career as a collector.

Guggenheim Jeune proved to be a shortlived enterprise—it opened on January 24, 1938, and closed on June 22, 1939—but not because of any diminution of interest on the founder’s part. On the contrary, she had quickly decided that a gallery was not sufficient for her ambitions. What she now wanted to establish in London was nothing less than a Museum of Modern Art. Inspired by the existence of the Museum of Modern Art in New York—which had been founded ten years earlier and was just then moving into its first permanent quarters at 11 West Fifty-third Street—she set about this daunting task with that combination of demonic energy, shrewd calculation, and madcap insouciance which was to carry her through some very odd adventures in the years ahead. She persuaded Herbert Read to quit his job as editor of The Burlington Magazine so that he could serve as the director of the new museum, signing him to a five-year contract, and she arranged to rent the London residence of Kenneth Clark for both her own and the museum’s use. The inaugural event was to be a loan exhibition of modern masterworks starting with Cubism and abstraction and ending with Surrealism and other contemporary works. Read was asked to draw up an appropriate list of artists to be represented in this show, and when, owing to the imminence of the war, the project had to be abandoned, she paid Read half the money due him on his five-year contract and set off for the Continent to acquire the proposed list for her own collection.[4] She assumed that sooner or later she would have a museum somewhere.

Was she slightly mad or was she merely an innocent as far as the true political and military situation in Europe that summer was concerned? Probably both, I suspect. About politics Peggy Guggenheim appeared to know nothing and care nothing. What is certain is that, in this matter as in others dear to her heart, she was determined to have her own way—and amazingly, despite Hitler and the expected invasion, she did. Her whirlwind adventures in France, which she did not leave until the summer of 1941, certainly add up to one of the most extraordinary stories of the time. Her goal, or so she claimed, was to buy a work of art every day, and she pretty much did—going to galleries and to the artists’ studios, and seeking out collectors who were eager to sell. And as soon as the word got around, there were plenty of people seeking her out. All in all, she spent about forty thousand dollars, and came away with a staggering hoard of superior works by Brancusi, Giacometti, Léger, Miró, Ernst, Dali, and sundry other members of the School of Paris. Not everyone was charmed by the spectacle, of course. As Jacqueline Weld writes:

One painter . .. from whom Peggy got nothing “but rude remarks” was Pablo Picasso. When Peggy arrived at his studio with her shopping list, hoping to buy one of his most recent pictures, the painter arrogantly ignored her, pointedly talking instead to some other guests. Then, ambling over to Peggy, he said contemptuously, “Lingerie is on the next floor.”

All the same, she managed sooner or later to acquire some very fine Picassos, too, though not from him, and for the most part she did very well indeed.

Was she taking advantage of the artists in a difficult situation? Sensitive to the charge, she afterwards claimed that “I didn’t know anything about the prices of things. I just paid what people told me.” But this was not the whole story, of course. She had, after all, been a dealer—even if she hadn’t sold much. She certainly pressed her advantage where Max Ernst was concerned, acquiring an important cache of pictures for relatively little money. On the other hand, the sale undoubtedly saved his life, enabling him to escape arrest by the Nazis. If the prices she paid for things now strike us as absurdly low, they were not all that different from the prices which such works of art fetched in the peacetime market in the Thirties. It was inevitable that Peggy Guggenheim’s wholesale assault on the French avant-garde art market at that dire historical moment would be resented, yet the whole story is rather wonderful, all the same, and I see no evidence that she caused anyone any injury in the process. She even outsmarted the French authorities by getting her whole collection shipped to America as “household goods” only months before the United States entered the war. The entire episode is like something out of a Henry James novel reinvented by Evelyn Waugh. Unfortunately, Jacqueline Weld isn’t really equal to either the high drama or the real comedy of this bizarre episode, but the essentials of the story are nonetheless recounted in a straightforward manner, and it remains a riveting one in any telling.

Within six months after her return to New York, Peggy Guggenheim was planning the new gallery which proved to be her most celebrated accomplishment. Called Art of This Century and designed by Frederick Kiesler in a highly eccentric style, it quickly established itself as the principal center for the international avant-garde in New York. It was also the place where the New York School made its debut.

Again, she had excellent advice. As Mrs. Weld writes, “Peggy credited men like Alfred Barr and James Johnson Sweeney as her primary influences during those whirlwind days of the 1940s.” Duchamp was also on hand, of course. And by all accounts a now forgotten figure named Howard Putzel, who had already been of help to her in Paris and now came to work at Art of This Century as secretary, advisor, and general factotum, played a major role. He was a real connoisseur of the new art. It was Putzel who recommended Frederick Kiesler to Peggy Guggenheim, and it was he who persuaded her to show Mark Rothko and Hans Hofmann—two painters whose work she really didn’t much care for. Not that she always followed his advice—she refused to give Adolph Gottlieb a one-man show, for example. Opinion appears to be unanimous about her treatment of Putzel: it was wretched. She picked his brain, relied on his judgment, paid him a pittance, made impossible demands on his time and attention, and in general drove him crazy. In the end he left her, of course. He got someone to back a gallery of his own, and it too was distinguished—but it survived for only a season, and he died soon after, probably a suicide. By and large, those who were completely dependent on Peggy Guggenheim did not come to a happy end.

In any event, within three years of opening Art of This Century, the gallery was solidly launched as the flagship of the new American avant-garde.

Many of Howard Putzel’s protégés [Mrs. Weld writes] exhibited in the autumn salon at Art of This Century, opening the 1945 season on October 6: William Baziotes, Julian Beck (who went on to fame as founder of the Living Theater), Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Jim Davis, John Ferren, David Hare, Lee Hersch, Peter Busa, Robert de Niro (the father of the actor), Jerome Kamrowski, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Richard Pousette-Dart, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still….

Writing to Herbert Read at the time, she singled out Pollock as “the best of all these new young people,” and added that he “may sometime be as well known as Miró.” She had then been acquainted with Pollock’s work for little more than two years.

Mrs. Weld tells an interesting story about Peggy Guggenheim’s first encounter with a Pollock painting, and—who knows?—it may even be true. If it is, it would give us a clue— though not, I think, the clue—to whatever perspicacity she brought to her artistic judgments. In the spring of 1943, Art of This Century organized a “Spring Salon for Young Artists,” and one of the jurors was Piet Mondrian.

As Peggy and Mondrian waited for the other jury members to arrive, Peggy began to set out the works around the gallery. She noticed Mondrian looking at a picture in the corner—one submitted by Pollock. “Pretty awful, isn’t it?” she asked. “That’s not painting, is it?” Mondrian made no reply, but stood staring. Peggy continued, “There is absolutely no discipline at ali. This young man has serious problems .. . and painting is one of them. I don’t think he’s going to be included. . . and that is embarrassing because Putzel and Matta think very highly of him.”

When he finally spoke, Mondrian told Peggy that it was the most exciting painting he had seen—in Europe or New York—in a very long time. “You must watch this man.” Peggy was stunned. But, she said, “You can’t be serious. You can’t compare this and the way you paint.” “So, don’t compare this,” he replied.

Jimmy Ernst, who claimed to have witnessed this scene, said of Peggy Guggenheim: “She was willing to listen, she was willing to be told, she was willing to see …. You know, there was nothing phony about it. And it was shocking to see those paintings.” Duchamp also served on the jury for that “Spring Salon,” and he disapproved of Pollock. Clearly some instinct told her that Mondrian was right and Duchamp was wrong. So Peggy Guggenheim came around, and soon put Pollock under contract—a rare thing for an American artist at the time, and virtually unheard of for an artist of Pollock’s generation. To be sure, she was characteristically stingy about it, and paid him too a pittance in return for quite a few pictures. But she launched him, all the same.

How are we to account for it? It simply won’t do to claim that she was merely following good advice. The advice, after all, was conflicting, and there was no shortage of artists under recommendation from one or another advisor. Also, it is clear that Peggy Guggenheim didn’t particularly like Pollock as a man, and she liked his wife, Lee Krasner, even less. (The feeling was mutual, to say the least.) So there was no question of a sentimental attachment. Unlikely as it seems from everything else we know about Peggy Guggenheim, I think we must conclude that her decision to back Pollock was based on a disinterested artistic judgment. But even to say this does not quite explain it, either. The only persuasive observation I have ever heard on this subject is one which Mrs. Weld quotes from Clement Greenberg. “Her taste. . . was often erratic and unsure,” Mr. Greenberg remarked. “But she had a flair for life, a sort of smell for life that made her recognize vitality and conviction in a picture. It was surer ground in selecting the new than taste.” It is, I think, the principal flaw of Mrs. Weld’s biography that in a book running to almost five hundred pages she really adds little or nothing to this observation. On the entire question of Peggy Guggenheim’s real relation to the art of her time—the art she exhibited, promoted, and sometimes acquired for herself—Mrs. Weld provides no answers. The subject remains as much an enigma on the last page of Peggy as it is on the first.

Compounding the enigma is the fact that when we turn to Mrs. Rudenstine’s catalogue we find that with the exception of the Pollocks there is really very little of the art of the New York School represented in the Peggy Guggenheim collection. The collection, which contains a great many first-rate works of the European avant-garde, is pretty skimpy on American art. Besides Pollock, only Alexander Calder and Joseph Cornell are represented in any serious way—and Calder and Cornell are closer to the Europeans in spirit than any of the painters of the New York School. For Peggy Guggenheim, clearly, her brief adventure on the New York scene was an enforced furlough, and she quit that scene to return to Europe as soon as it was possible for her to do so. I doubt whether she was then fully aware of what she had accomplished in New York. Later, of course, as the fame of Pollock and other members of the New York School prospered and the prices of their paintings began to skyrocket, she began to feel a little bitter— she felt she had been cheated by the Pollocks and even brought a legal action. Yet in the end her fundamental judgment on the New York School is to be found in the collection. Except for Pollock, she obviously regarded most of it as inferior to her beloved European masters. As a dealer, she is rightly considered a champion of the American avant-garde. When she closed Art of This Century in 1947, Mr. Greenberg wrote in The Nation:

[Peggy Guggenheim’s] departure is in my opinion a serious loss to living American art. The erratic gaiety with which Miss Guggenheim promoted “non-realistic” art may have misled some people, as perhaps her autobiography did too, but the fact remains that in the three or four years of her career as a New York gallery director she gave first showings to more serious new artists than anyone else in the country …. I am convinced that Peggy Guggenheim’s place in the history of American art will grow larger as time passes and as the artists she encouraged mature.

And he was absolutely right, of course. But as a collector Peggy Guggenheim was actually much closer to the other well-healed American collectors of her generation in preferring the work of the Europeans. About this curious paradox, too, Mrs. Weld has little or nothing to tell us. Indeed, one wonders whether she is fully aware that there is a paradox to be pondered in this matter.

In Mrs. Rudenstine’s mammoth catalogue, on the other hand, no issue or fact or document pertaining to the collection is allowed to go unexamined. Not only is every work of art meticuously scrutinized, but Peggy Guggenheim’s entire career as a dealer and a collector is painstakingly documented. Every exhibition and its catalogue is described; many of the most important reviews are excerpted; and in general we are given a vivid and detailed archive of a sort rarely attempted in the field of twentieth-century art. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice is a work of exemplary scholarship and intelligence. With its attention so firmly focused on works of art and their history, moreover, this fine catalogue recalls us to what is finally the real basis of our interest in Peggy Guggenheim—not the scandals and sexual escapades and broken lives, but the art in which she seemed to find an identity that eluded her in every other realm of experience. Is it this, perhaps, that offers us a clue to the mystery of the avid collector?


  1. Peggy: The Wayward Guggenheim by Jacqueline Bograd Weld. Dutton; 493 pages, $24.95. Go back to the text.
  2. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice by Angelica Zander Rudenstine. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., & The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; 843 pages, $85 (after June I, $95). Go back to the text.
  3. It was in the Twenties, long before she thought of buying paintings, that Peggy Guggenheim began her career as a patron. It was then that she gave Berenice Abbott, who was working as Man Ray’s assistant, the money which enabled her to set up as a photographer on her own. Money was also given to Jane Heap for the Little Review. And it was in the Twenties that Peggy Guggenheim began providing the writer Djuna Barnes with a regular monthly check—a practice which was continued for the remainder of both their lives. Go back to the text.
  4. About this list Mrs. Rudenstine writes: “The list itself has not, thus far, been located—either among the papers of Herbert Read or among those of Peggy Guggenheim, who believed that the list was lost during World War II. By the 1970s she was unable to recall a single specific work that had been on the list, and it has not been possible to reconstruct it. Indeed, it is not even clear whether the list enumerated individual works or merely artists’ names, although the latter seems more likely.” Go back to the text.

Hilton Kramer (1928-2012) was the founding editor of The New Criterion, which he started with the late Samuel Lipman in 1982.

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Addicted to Art: The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

  • Joanna McFarlane

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    Joanna McFarlane
ARTH2057 Joanna McFarlane Essay 2: Peggy Guggenheim U5333531 dedicated herself in the 1940s.
 Her influence in Italy functioned in several ways. She presented a full repertoire of pre-war avant-gardes at the Biennale, and introduced the Italians to artists such as Pollock and Kandinsky. The Peggy Guggenheim Museum is modest in size, and in its intimacy is unlike any other. The walls are packed with large canvases surveying Cubism, Surrealism, Expressionism and many other movements that Peggy came to love and patronise. Arguably her most successful patronage would be that of Jackson Pollock, the American Abstract Expressionist that Peggy helped in many ways, both financially and also by bringing his works centre stage in both New York and Venice.
 There is a special, rather tiny room, in the Venetian museum that features six priceless Pollocks, which entirely envelop the viewer in his frenzied and swirling world of paint. It has been said that it would be hard to find a more sexist bunch than the male artists who flourished between 1900 and 1960, yet Peggy managed to collect and preserve a boldly avant-garde and collection that is still of great cultural significance. She has been recorded as retaining a sense of calm naïveté and openness to all art that she was shown, and selected an incredible range of contemporary art. In 2010 the Art Gallery of Western Australia housed an exhibition of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, as part of their series on museums and galleries.
 The exhibition served to celebrate her achievements in the collection and patronage of arts, and formed a retrospective of Peggy Guggenheim and her collection. Seemingly, in this exhibition the works acted as bi-products of her success.
Peggy’s gallery and collection
form the manifestation of her life. As seen in this quote from an interview in 1970;
 Rylands & Subelyt
, Peggy Guggenheim: A Collection in Venice, p.28
Peggy Guggenheim: Life of an Art Addict 
, p.290
Rylands & Subelytė,
 Peggy Guggenheim: A Collection in Venice
, p.7
ARTH2057 Joanna McFarlane Essay 2: Peggy Guggenheim U5333531
“I worry what will happen to
my paintings after I am gone. I dedicated myself to my collection. A collection means hard work. It was what I wanted to do and I made it
my life’s work. I am not an art collector. I am a museum.”
Peggy claims that the collection is her life’s work, and
that she herself is a museum. Her
grave lies in the garden, alongside a plaque remembering the Peggy’s ‘beloved babies’ –
 fourteen little dogs.
 The museum pays homage to her and her lucky streak of timing, fortune and open-personality that made this collection possible. The location is her old home, a grand unfinished palace in the heart of Venice, and does in fact act as a self-portrait, defining the lifetime and work of one very special lady. Her passion for collecting and patronising the arts that she loved, which has even been described as an
‘addiction’, has led to the preservation and display of an incredible range of art
examples from the early to mid twentieth century, overshadowing her colourful personal life.
 Dortch (ed.),
Peggy Guggenheim and her Friends
, p.15
 The dogs were pure-bred
Lhasa Apsos, which in a series of generations shared Peggy’s life in the palace, they could be interpreted as yet another aspect of her ‘collecting’.
Detail of Peggy Guggenheim on her bed with Alexander Calder’s
Silver Bedhead,
c.1960, photo by Roloff Beny
ARTH2057 Joanna McFarlane Essay 2: Peggy Guggenheim U5333531
 Dearborn, Mary V..
Mistress of Modernism
: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 2004. Dennison, Lisa.
‘From Museum to Museums: The Evolution of the Guggenheim.’
 Museum International. Vol.55. Issue 1. 2003. pp.48-55 
Edlin, Nick.‘The Other Guggenheim’.
Fields, Jill. ‘Was Peggy Guggenheim Jewish?: Art Collecting and Representations of
Jewish Identity In and Out of Post-
War Venice’.
Indiana University Press: Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues. No.25. 2013. pp.51-74. Gill, Anton.
Peggy Guggenheim: Life of an Art Addict 
. London: Harper Collins Publishers. 2001. Guggenheim, Peggy (ed).
 Art of This Century 
: Objects, Drawings, Photographs, Paintings, Sculpture, Collages 1910
 1912. New York: Art Aid Corporation. 1942. Guggenheim, Peggy.
Out of This Century 
: Confessions of an Art Addict. New York: Universe Books. 1979.
Higonnet, Anne. ‘Self 
portrait as a Museum’.
 RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics. No.52: Museums: Crossing Boundaries. 2007. pp.189-211
Mastandrea, Stefano. Bartoli, Gabriella. Bove, Giuseppe. ‘Preferences for
 Ancient and Modern Art Museums: Visitor Experiences and Personality Characteristics
 American Psychological Association: Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Vol.3. No.3. 2009. pp.164
Rylands, Philip. Subelytė, Gražina.
 Peggy Guggenheim: A Collection in Venice
. Perth: Art Gallery of Western Australia. (Organised with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York). 2010.


Fashion & Beauty / Vintage Style

Peggy Guggenheim

— March 26, 2012 —

“We’ve dressed in our best, and are prepared to go down like gentleman,” were the parting words of Peggy Guggenheim’s father on deck of the Titanic. Peggy, aged 14 at the time, would go on, for better or for worse, to be one of the most notorious

Peggy Guggenheim in Venice, late 1950s

Peggy Guggenheim in Venice, late 1950s

“We’ve dressed in our best, and are prepared to go down like gentleman,” were the parting words of Peggy Guggenheim’s father on deck of the Titanic. Peggy, aged 14 at the time, would go on, for better or for worse, to be one of the most notorious figures of the twentieth century: a devotee to Surrealism and a crusader for the beau monde, she amassed one of the world’s most notable collections of modern day art. She knew Jackson Pollock as a carpenter, Samuel Beckett as a secretary and bought Berenice Abbott his first camera.

Guggenheim was haunted by a lonely and suppressive childhood and suffered great insecurities, often using her wealth and wardrobe as a shield. An extravagant flapper, she was famously photographed by Man Ray in a oriental Poiret dress, worn with a hairband given to her by Stravinsky’s girlfriend. Other favourites included an Elsa Schaparelli cellophane zipper, a black and gold Ken Scott dress and a collection of tricorn hats and ethnic jewellery.

Her clothing reflected her state of mind. On wearing two mismatched earrings, she declared: “I wore one of my (Yves) Tanguy earrings and one made by [Alexander] Calder in order to show my impartiality between Surrealist and Abstract Art.” When first husband Laurence discovered her infidelity on a skiing trip in Switzerland, he found her drunk with a lipstick red-cross marked on each cheek. “She was remarkably ugly,” the painter Jean Helion would comment, “in such a pleasant way.”

“Like her choice in art, her style was avant-garde and daring – she wore flamboyant earrings and illustrative eye make-up, most often covered by her iconic butterfly glasses”

Like her choice in art, her style was avant-garde and daring – she wore flamboyant earrings and illustrative eye make-up, most often covered by her iconic butterfly glasses, designed for her by Edward Malcarth in 1966. As a teenager she assisted in a bookshop, where she would sweep floors wearing pearl necklaces and a fur coat.

Guggenheim was an exhibitionist. Sexually, it is claimed she had close to one thousand liaisons, controversially including most artists that she supported. She married twice: Dada sculpturist Laurence Vali, an abusive alcoholic known to hold her head under water and rub jam into her hair; “he particularly enjoyed throwing my shoes out of the window and attacking chandeliers,” Peggy recalled. Violence was a common thread within her relationships: long-term lover John Holms, a Scottish writer and alcoholic, would make her stand naked in front of an open window while he threw whiskey in her eyes. Her second husband was Max Ernst. She rescued Max and his paintings from the Nazis but their marriage was short-lived, and he left her after five years of turbulent marriage and infidelity.

A botched nose job at 21 left her with what would be referred to as the “Guggenheim potato”. Painter Theodore Stamos would call it “an eggplant,” while John Holms would tell her, “I would like to beat your face so that no man will ever look at it again.” Jackson Pollock famously said that “To f*ck her, you’d have to put a towel over her head. And she did want f*cking.”

Like so many of her kind, Peggy was as extravagant as she was tragic. Tortured and exploited, she eventually settled in Venice in 1949, where she spent the remainder of her life exhibiting her treasures. She died aged 81, her Venetian palace by then a ruin, muddy and overgrown with leaking holes.

She too, dressed in her best, echoed an end somewhat similar to her father’s.

Suggested reading: Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim by Anton Gil.




Life history of the character from the painting.)

Peggy Guggenheim’s career belongs in the history of 20th century art. Peggy used to say that it was her duty to protect the art of her own time, and she dedicated half of her life to this mission, as well as to the creation of the museum that still carries her name.

Peggy Guggenheim was born in New York on 26 August 1898, the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim and Florette Seligman. Benjamin Guggenheim was one of seven brothers who, with their father, Meyer (of Swiss origin), created a family fortune in the late 19th century from the mining and smelting of metals, especially silver, copper and lead. The Seligmans were a leading banking family. Peggy grew up in New York. In April 1912 her father died heroically on the SS Titanic.

In her early 20s, Peggy volunteered for work at a bookshop, the Sunwise Turn, in New York and thanks to this began making friends in intellectual and artistic circles, including the man who was to become her first husband in Paris in 1922, Laurence Vail. Vail was a writer and Dada collagist of great talent. He chronicled his tempestuous life with Peggy in a novel, Murder! Murder! of which Peggy wrote: «It was a sort of satire of our life together and, although it was extremely funny, I took offense at several things he said about me.»

In 1921 Peggy Guggenheim traveled to Europe. Thanks to Laurence Vail (the father of her two children Sindbad and Pegeen, the painter), Peggy soon found herself at the heart of Parisian boheme and American ex-patriate society. Many of her acquaintances of the time, such as Constantin Brancusi, Djuna Barnes and Marcel Duchamp, were to become lifelong friends. Though she remained on good terms with Vail for the rest of his life, she left him in 1928 for an English intellectual, John Holms, who was the greatest love of her life. There is a lengthy description of John Holms, a war hero with writer’s block, in chapter five of Edwin Muir’s An Autobiography. Muir wrote: «Holms was the most remarkable man I ever met.» Unfortunately, Holms died tragically young in 1934.

In 1937, encouraged by her friend Peggy Waldman, Peggy decided to open an art gallery in London. When she opened her Guggenheim Jeune gallery in January 1938, she was beginning, at 39 years old, a career which would significantly affect the course of post-war art. Her friend Samuel Beckett urged her to dedicate herself to contemporary art as it was “a living thing,” and Marcel Duchamp introduced her to the artists and taught her, as she put it, “the difference between abstract and Surrealist art.” The first show presented works by Jean Cocteau, while the second was the first one-man show of Vasily Kandinsky in England.

In 1939, tired of her gallery, Peggy conceived “the idea of opening a modern museum in London,” with her friend Herbert Read as its director. . From the start the museum was to be formed on historical principles, and a list of all the artists that should be represented, drawn up by Read and later revised by Marcel Duchamp and Nellie van Doesburg, was to become the basis of her collection.

In 1939-40, apparently oblivious of the war, Peggy busily acquired works for the future museum, keeping to her resolve to “buy a picture a day.” Some of the masterpieces of her collection, such as works by Francis Picabia, Georges Braque, Salvador Dali and Piet Mondrian, were bought at that time. She astonished Fernand Leger by buying his Men in the City on the day that Hitler invaded Norway. She acquired Brancusi’s Bird in Space as the Germans approached Paris, and only then decided to flee the city.

In July 1941, Peggy fled Nazi-occupied France and returned to her native New York, together with Max Ernst, who was to become her second husband a few months later (they separated in 1943).

Peggy immediately began looking for a location for her modern art museum, while she continued to acquire works for her collection. In October 1942 she opened her museum/gallery Art of This Century. Designed by the Rumanian-Austrian architect Frederick Kiesler, the gallery was composed of extraordinarily innovative exhibition rooms and soon became the most stimulating venue for contemporary art in New York City.

Of the opening night, she wrote: “I wore one of my Tanguy earrings and one made by Calder in order to show my impartiality between Surrealist and Abstract Art». There Peggy exhibited her collection of Cubist, abstract and Surrealist art, which was already substantially that which we see today in Venice. Peggy produced a remarkable catalogue, edited by Andre Breton, with a cover design by Max Ernst. She held temporary exhibitions of leading European artists, and of several then unknown young Americans such as Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, Mark Rothko, David Hare, Janet Sobel, Robert de Niro Sr, Clyfford Still, and Jackson Pollock, the ‘star’ of the gallery, who was given his first show by Peggy late in 1943. From July 1943 Peggy supported Pollock with a monthly stipend and actively promoted and sold his paintings. She commissioned his largest painting, a Mural, which she later gave to the University of Iowa.

Pollock and the others pioneered American Abstract Expressionism. One of the principal sources of this was Surrealism, which the artists encountered at Art of This Century. More important, however, was the encouragement and support that Peggy, together with her friend and assistant Howard Putzel, gave to the members of this nascent New York avant-garde. Peggy and her collection thus played a vital intermediary role in the development of America’s first art movement of international importance.

In 1947 Peggy decided to return in Europe, where her collection was shown for the first time at the 1948 Venice Biennale, in the Greek pavilion. In this way the works of artists such as Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko were exhibited for the first time in Europe. The presence of Cubist, abstract, and Surrealist art made the pavilion the most coherent survey of Modernism yet to have been presented in Italy.

Soon after Peggy bought Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal in Venice, where she came to live. In 1949 she held an exhibition of sculptures in the garden curated by Giuseppe Marchiori, and from 1951 she opened her collection to the public.

In 1950 Peggy organized the first exhibition of Jackson Pollock in Italy, in the Ala Napoleonica of the Museo Correr in Venice. Her collection was in the meantime exhibited in Florence and Milan, and later in Amsterdam, Brussels, and Zurich. From 1951 Peggy opened her house and her collection to the public annually in the summer months. During her 30-year Venetian life, Peggy Guggenheim continued to collect works of art and to support artists, such as Edmondo Bacci and Tancredi Parmeggiani, whom she met in 1951. In 1962 Peggy Guggenheim was nominated Honorary Citizen of Venice.

In 1969 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York invited Peggy Guggenheim to show her collection there, and it was on that occasion that she resolved to donate her palace and works of art to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. The Foundation had been created in 1937 by Peggy Guggenheim’s uncle Solomon, in order to operate his collection and museum which, since 1959, has been housed in Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous spiral structure on 5th Avenue.

Peggy died aged 81 on 23 December 1979. Her ashes are placed in a corner of the garden of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, next to the place where she customarily buried her beloved dogs. Since this time, the Guggenheim Foundation has converted and expanded Peggy Guggenheim’s private house into one of the finest small museums of modern art in the world.


New Contemporary Art Centers in Miami Make it a Global Art Destination



The new ICA Miami, backed by the Braman family of Miami, who themselves own a collection of modern and contemporary art worth well over a billion dollars, will literally be next door to the de la Cruz Collection in Miami’s white-hot Design District when it debuts in 2016. The ICA Miami joins upcoming Faena Art Center from Buenos Aires in Miami Beach and the nearby Rubell Family Collection and the Margulies Warehouse, the Perez Art Museum and the Cisneros Fontanals (CIFO) (all in Miami) making the city into an instant international leader in the exhibition of modern and contemporary art. The Bass Museum in Miami Beach is expanding its exhibition space by several thousand square feet. No other city in North America outside of New York and Los Angeles has expanded its cultural infrastructure in the arena of modern and contemporary art exhibition making in the U.S. Already the existing powerhouse players have made Miami a world-class destination, especially during the annual new edition of Art Basel Miami Beach. Its been my experience that the volume and tremendous quality of 20th and 21st century contemporary art shown in Miami is a special not-to-miss treat every December, as several world-class exhibitions are held simultaneously and are open during the crush of the Art Basel Miami Beach tidal cultural tidal wave.

We can’t wait for all the construction dust to settle to see the fireworks begin  as these new venues bring even greater depth of exhibition capabilities than ever to Miami.

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles.


faena forum by OMA to open in miami beach in december 2015

image courtesy of faena/OMA

Dec 11, 2014

faena forum by OMA to open in miami beach in december 2015

original content
dec 05, 2014

it has been announced that ‘faena forum‘, a groundbreaking new center for arts and culture designed by rem koolhaas of OMA, is to open in miami beach in december 2015. the 50,000 square foot institution will be dedicated to the development of cross-disciplinary cultural programing, intended to encourage collaborations across artistic, intellectual, and geographic divides.

Rendering of the Latin American Art Museum

Latin American Art Museum, Miami | Scheduled opening: 2016

Wynwood art gallery owner Gary Nader revealed his plans for the $50 million museum, designed by Fernando Romero Enterprise. The 90,000-square-foot museum will feature permanent and rotating exhibits, space for emerging artists and a top floor restaurant.

ICA Miami Sculpture Garden

ICA Miami’s New Building in the Design District!

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami will build its new, permanent home in Miami’s Design District, on land generously donated by Miami Design District Associates. Located on NE 41 Street, the new 37,500-square-foot building is being designed by the Spanish firm Aranguren & Gallegos Arquitectos, marking their first US project to date.

Featuring more than 20,000 square feet of exhibition galleries, and a 15,000 sq ft public sculpture garden, the new building enables ICA Miami to expand its reach and programs, dedicated to promoting the exchange of art and ideas throughout the Miami region and internationally.

Pacific Standard Time LA/LA 2017


Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA Grants Awarded

A complete list of research and planning grants for Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibitions and programs around Southern California supported by the Getty Foundation follows below.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Los Angeles
From Latin America to Hollywood: Latino Film Culture in Los Angeles 1967–2017

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will undertake research for a film series, symposium, and book to explore the work and shared influences of Latino and Latin American filmmakers in Los Angeles. From the 1960s to the present, multiple generations of L.A. filmmakers were inspired by early Latin American cinema, and an exchange of ideas took place among filmmakers in Latin American countries and the Latin American diaspora. Areas of inquiry will include the Chicano film movement, which responded to stereotyped portrayals in Hollywood films and the lack of Latino participation in the industry, and the recent achievements of Latino and Latin American filmmakers, whose work has seen worldwide artistic and commercial success. The Academy will conduct oral histories with notable filmmakers and ultimately present a film series pairing contemporary films with their earlier influences.

Exhibition research support: $100,000

Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena
Aesthetic Experiments and Social Agents: Renegade Art and Action in Mexico in the 1990s

The 1990s was a period of radical social change in Mexico, marked by increasing violence, the devalued peso, industrial pollution, and political corruption. Against this backdrop, artists in Mexico City and Guadalajara created alternative spaces that nurtured experimental practices and helped gain acceptance for art that was more expansive, ephemeral, and socially based. The Armory will look at several of these spaces, from Mexico City’s Ex Teresa, founded by artists in 1993, to the energetic spaces that emerged in Guadalajara, including Jalarte and Clemente Jacks. Out of the dynamic activities of these local art spaces grew strong relationships with art centers abroad, an expanded dialogue that helped launch the careers of numerous internationally prominent artists.

Exhibition research support: $140,000

Autry National Center for the American West, Los Angeles
La Raza

Published in Los Angeles from 1967–1977, the influential bilingual newspaper La Raza provided a voice to the Chicano rights movement and its images became icons of the era. The Autry will examine La Raza’s photojournalism, drawing on a previously inaccessible archive of nearly 20,000 negatives now housed at UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. The film images range from street and documentary photography to portraiture and relate to many critical issues that persist today, including education, media representation, immigration, and civil liberties. The exhibition will explore the individual contributions of the editors, writers, and photographers in the La Raza collective. Focusing on how a distinctive “Chicano eye” contributed to the struggle for social equality, this exhibition will situate Chicano photographic practices within a larger social, aesthetic, and hemispheric context.

Exhibition research Support: $115,000

California State University Long Beach
David Lamelas: A Life of Their Own

The University Art Museum (UAM) will organize the first U.S. monographic exhibition on the Argentine-born photographer, filmmaker, and conceptual artist David Lamelas. A pioneer of conceptual art in Argentina and beyond, Lamelas gained international acclaim for his work in the 1968 Venice Biennale, Office of Information about the Vietnam War at Three Levels. Starting in the 1970s, Lamelas began living in Los Angeles for extensive periods. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, he produced videos for the Long Beach Museum of Art’s experimental video arts program. The UAM exhibition will feature selected objects, films, performance documentation, media installations, and ephemera from the 1960s and 1970s, and drawings of unrealized architectural “interventions”—one of which will be realized for the exhibition.

Exhibition research support: $100,000

Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA, Los Angeles

To be presented at LACMA as part of an ongoing collaboration with the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA, Home will feature works by approximately 30 U.S. Latino artists from the 1950s to the present. The focus will be on the largest historic groups—artists of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cuban origin—with Latin American diaspora artists also considered. Home seeks to investigate what the curators call the “betwixt–and–between” of these Latino artists who do not typically find a comfortable home in either American or Latin American art history. Works in a range of media will be examined for their exploration of such timely ideas as belonging, domesticity, and nationalism. The curators’ object driven approach will take into account the stylistic complexities of the artworks and the boundary crossing practices of many of the artists—a departure from previous exhibitions that tended to use individual artworks to illustrate preexisting concepts about Latino culture.

Exhibition research support: $210,000

Chinese American Museum, Los Angeles
Caribbean Visual Culture and the Chinese Diaspora

The Chinese community has been an important part of Caribbean society since the mid-19th century, when island-based enterprises, searching for cheap labor, recruited Chinese workers. This exhibition will bring together modern and contemporary work by artists of Chinese descent working in the Caribbean, or who have emigrated from the region. These artists often had a complicated relationship to their Asian roots, sometimes denying them, as in the case of Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, or enfolding them in a hybrid vocabulary, as in the work of Trinidadian artist Carlisle Chang. This exhibition seeks a richer understanding of Chinese diasporic art and how it relates to the broader spectrum of Caribbean art and culture, the study of which has traditionally been more focused on the region’s African influences.

Exhibition research support: $55,000

Craft and Folk Art Museum, Los Angeles
Design on the Border: Contemporary Design in Mexico and Mexican America

For the past twenty years, designers in Mexico have worked with traditional folk communities to preserve popular art forms. While championing the iconography of popular culture, these artists also infuse the imagery with fresh attitudes, assigning new meanings to familiar cultural symbols. The design collective DFC, for example, creates product lines with traditional crafts people that feature motifs related to Day of the Dead celebrations, celebrities, and Aztec imagery. Others such as Einar and Jamex de la Torre, working between Ensenada and San Diego, question notions of taste and kitsch in installations such as the Borderlandia (2011), with it glass versions of sugar skulls and luchador libre wrestlers. Design on the Border will be the first project to fully explore the work of these designers and the burgeoning cross-border market for their borrowed imagery of stereotypes.

Exhibition research support: $70,000

18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica

As part of their collaboration with LACMA on A Universal History of Infamy—an exhibition focused on alternative artist practices in Latin America and in the U.S.—18th Street Arts Center will provide eight residencies for Latin American artists over the next two years. Having hosted more than 300 artists from 36 countries, particularly those working in non-traditional performance, social practice, and multi-media, 18th Street is an ideal partner for the project. Artists in residence will interact with local artists, schools, museums, galleries, and community-based organizations, possibly resulting in new site-specific or process-oriented works. The partnership will also help shape the flexible structure of the LACMA exhibition, with segments of the show traveling to alternative venues similar to 18th Street in size and capacity throughout the U.S. and Latin America.

Support for artists’ residencies: $60,000

Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles
The Roads that Lead to Bahia: Visual Arts and the Emergence of Brazil’s Black Rome

Salvador, the coastal capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia, emerged in the 1940s as an internationally renowned center of Afro-Brazilian culture and an important hub of African-inspired artistic practices in the Americas. The Fowler will undertake the most comprehensive presentation of African-inspired arts of Bahia, looking at a complex group of artists from various racial, ethnic, and national backgrounds, along with their social circles and the arts patrons, government officials, and international development officers who fueled Salvador as a Mecca of Afro-Brazilian culture. The relationship between art and local religious and spiritual practices; prevailing notions of Africanness, regionality, and nationality; and why this art accrued such cultural significance beyond Brazil will all be examined.

Exhibition research support: $170,000

Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
The Political Body: Radical Women in Latin American Art 1960–1985

The Hammer Museum will bring to light the conceptual and aesthetic experimentation of women artists in Latin America from 1960 to 1985, extraordinary contributions that have received little scholarly attention to date. Made during a key period in the women’s rights movement, this work often required heroic acts in the face of harsh repression under military dictatorships. The exhibition will feature work in a range of media, including photography, video, and installation by several better-known Latin American women artists, such as Lygia Clark and Ana Mendieta, alongside lesser-known artists, such as Brazilian Mara Alvares and Argentine Margarita Paksa. With approximately 80 artists from 12 countries, The Political Body will constitute the first genealogy of feminist and radical women’s art practices in Latin America and their influence internationally.

Exhibition research support: $225,000

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino
Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin

Drawing on the Huntington’s Latin American and botanical holdings, Visual Voyages will explore indigenous and European depictions of Latin American nature over a 500-year period. From the time of Columbus through the 19th century, European and American naturalists produced images of fantastic animals, lavish flora, and landscapes of military and spiritual conquest as a means of understanding the natural world in Latin America, including Spanish California. The project will reveal how early explorers and chroniclers portrayed the region as an earthly paradise; how indigenous artists used representations of nature as a site for the study of cultural contact and transformation; and how 19th-century Latin American artists envisioned nature as integral to the creation of national identity.

Exhibition research support: $200,000

Japanese American National Museum (JANM), Los Angeles

JANM will mount the first exhibition on modern and contemporary artists of Japanese or Japanese Latino ancestry in Latin America and Southern California, expanding our understanding of what constitutes Latin American art. From the large wave of Japanese immigrants to Brazil to the influx of Okinawans in Peru, Japanese Latinos have complex cultural identities. Curators will investigate how the work of artists in places such as Lima, São Paulo, Tijuana, and Los Angeles illuminates regional differences, generational approaches, and the impact of transnationalism on individual and communal identity.

Exhibition research support: $100,000

Laguna Art Museum
Mexico/California, 1820–1930

Mexico/California, 1820–1930 is about how Mexico became California. Following the U.S.-Mexican War (1846–1848), lands that had for centuries belonged to New Spain, and later Mexico, were transformed into the thirty-first state in the U.S. This process was facilitated by the visual arts that forged distinct pictorial motifs and symbols to establish its new identity. This exhibition focuses on works that speak to the process of becoming California and to the dialogues and intersections between these two geographic identities. Contents range from a Mexican colonial painting transported to a California mission where it became a beloved icon, to the work of early modernists such as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, whose Portrait of Luther Burbank depicts the California horticulturalist whose development of over 800 fruits, flowers, and other plants contributed to the state’s agricultural growth. Utimately the exhibition will demonstrate how California evolved a profile distinct from any other U.S. state, which is directly attributable to its unique amalgam of Mexican and Anglo visual traditions.

Exhibition research support: $92,000

LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division)
Jose Dávila

LAND plans a mid-career survey of Guadalajara-based artist Jose Dávila (b. 1974). Trained as an architect, Dávila creates sculptural installations and photographic works that use reproduction, homage, and imitation to both explore and dismantle the legacies of 20th century avant-garde art and architecture. Referencing artists and architects from Luis Barragán and Mathias Goeritz to Donald Judd, Dávila explores how the modernist movement has been translated, appropriated, and reinvented in Mexican art. The exhibition will include the artist’s sculptural installations, photographs, studies, drawings, proposals, and models, as well as a new interactive public sculpture. In keeping with its mission to curate site-specific projects, LAND hopes to install the exhibition in a local modernist building, thereby referencing the architectural language so critical to Dávila’s work.

Exhibition research support: $70,000

LA Phil, Los Angeles

The LA Phil will undertake research and planning for bookend contributions to Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, including an opening concert event at the Hollywood Bowl and a closing music festival at Disney Hall. Taken in combination, these events will represent the largest scale and most in-depth exploration of Latin American performing arts ever presented by the LA Phil. Under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel, the LA Phil has already taken an active role in connecting Latin American music with L.A. audiences, but now it will be able to present an even more complex picture of contemporary Latin American musical expression. Exploratory trips throughout Latin America in the coming months will enable the curatorial team to identify and cultivate relationships with leading artists and ensembles. As a result the team will work actively with the artists to create a wide range of new programming.

Programming planning support: $68,000

Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) and Pitzer College Art Galleries, Claremont
Juan Downey: Radiant Nature

LACE and the Pitzer College Art Galleries will mount a two–part exhibition on the early performance work of video art pioneer Juan Downey (1940–1993). Born in Chile, Downey moved to Paris in the 1960s and later to Washington, D.C. where he developed a practice combining interactive performance with sculpture and video. Works such as Video Trans Americas (1973–1976), based on his Amazonian travels, and The Thinking Eye (1976–1977), a meditation on myths, media, and mass culture, highlight the artist’s fascination with perception and identity. While previous exhibitions have focused on Downey’s video work, the current project will consider his extensive body of performance art. Along with drawings, installations, photographs, videos, and ephemera from the performances, LACE and Pitzer will restage some of Downey’s rarely seen, interactive performances, such as the four-day piece Plato Now (1973).

Exhibition research support: $120,000

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
For three exhibitions

50 Years of Design in Latin America, 1920–1970

LACMA will undertake the first survey of modern design in Latin America, from Art Nouveau and Pre-Columbian Revival, to mid-century modernist design and its successor styles. During the interwar era, Latin American designers adopted styles from Europe while also emphasizing regional motifs that reflected increasing nationalism. The region embraced utopian ideas of progress, from Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia, to Gui Bonsiepe’s work for Salvador Allende’s Project Cybersyn in Chile, and by the 1960s was home to internationally recognized designers and several industrial art schools. 50 Years of Design in Latin America will include a range of media—furniture, ceramics, jewelry, graphic design, paintings, photography, and film—to highlight the interplay between local and international contexts. The ties between Latin American and U.S. designers will also be featured, from pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial revival styles to mid-century design.

A Universal History of Infamy

Taking its title from a collection of short stories by Jorge Luis Borges, A Universal History of Infamy will present interdisciplinary works at LACMA and in a variety of venues around Los Angeles by some of today’s most compelling Latin American and Latino artists. As part of the project, LACMA will partner with 18th Street Art Center to organize artist residencies from 2015 to 2017, emphasizing process, collaboration, and performance. The culminating exhibition will offer a platform for new projects alongside significant works made in the U.S. and Latin America in the last twenty years.

Playing with Fire: The Art of Carlos Almaraz

Painter Carlos Almaraz was a driving force behind the Chicano art movement in the 1970s, active in the farm workers causa and with Gilbert Luján, Frank Romero, and Roberto de la Rocha, founding the artist collective Los Four. As a politically active Chicano artist, Almaraz’s identity was complicated, and this complex notion of self played out in his work. Almaraz’s images of lush vegetation, vibrant L.A. skylines, fiery freeway crashes, and flaming suburban houses are imbued with beauty and tension. While Almaraz has been the subject of smaller exhibitions since his untimely death in 1989 at age 48, Playing with Fire will be the first large retrospective, comprising some 60 works, including the major paintings, along with pastels, prints, ephemera, and notebooks. Following its landmark exhibition of Los Four in the mid-1970s, LACMA will be a fitting venue for this important artist whose work holds value for multiple communities.

Total exhibition research support: $335,000

Los Angeles Filmforum

With leading scholars from the U.S., Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Spain, Filmforum will research experimental film in Latin America, tracing the web of connections between the pioneering cinema of various countries. Starting in the 1930s with rarely–seen films such as the Brazilian surrealist masterpiece Limite, through the 1970s with collaboratively produced films such as Robarte el arte, to the current day, the series will look at the relationship of experimental film to mainstream entertainment, as well as to other avant–garde art forms. Along with its own film series and publication, Filmforum will also connect with the artists and movements explored in the various Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibitions, creating film programs in collaboration with the other partners.

Research support: $150,000

MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House, Los Angeles
How to Read El Pato Pasqual: Disney’s Latin America and Latin America’s Disney

The MAK Center will investigate Walt Disney Studio’s work in Latin America, and its ongoing reception and reinterpretation. An early example is Disney’s 1942 The Three Caballeros, a musical film starring Donald Duck that was the product of a public–relations tour of South America by Walt Disney and his artists, musicians, and screenwriters to promote the U.S. government’s “Good Neighbor” policy. Disneyland itself was inspired in part by the Argentine theme park República de los niños, conceived by Juan and Eva Perón to teach children citizenship. The MAK Center will explore this history of Disney engagement with Latin American imagery, and the ways that Latin American artists have responded to, played with, re-appropriated, and misappropriated Disney iconography.

Exhibition research support: $140,000

Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (MOCA)
Latin American Abstractions

From the 1930s through the 1970s, a wide variety of artists in Latin America experimented with diverse modes of abstraction. While geometric abstraction has been featured in U.S. and European exhibitions, other strains with which it was in dialogue are less well-known, including lyrical, informalist, gestural, and expressionist abstraction. MOCA will uncover this heterogeneity of non-representational art throughout Latin America, and the ways in which the various forms developed, interacted, and competed over a span of almost 50 years. The exhibition will include the exploration of unfamiliar terrain, such as the work of Japanese artists who came to Brazil in the 1930s, the Grupo Signo in Chile in the 1950s, and the first presentation of the informalist movement in Argentina in 1959, as well as abstract practices in Central America and the Caribbean.

Exhibition research support: $225,000

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD)
Memories of Underdevelopment

In collaboration with Mexico City’s Museo Rufino Tamayo and the Museo de Arte de Lima, MCASD will examine the ways that artists from the 1960s through the 1980s, primarily in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Mexico, used conceptual and performance art to subvert artistic norms and redefine avant-garde practice outside the established centers of the art world. Searching for alternatives to museum-based exhibition practices, these artists sought to engage directly with local communities, often incorporating popular strategies from film, architecture, and theater, and grappling with political oppression. The exhibition will shed new light on such well-known artists as Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Pape, as well as lesser-known artists in Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, and Peru. Along with paintings, sculptures, and videos, the exhibition will recreate a number of site-specific, ephemeral works in Southern California for the first time.

Exhibition research support: $275,000

Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara
Art in Guatemala, 1960–present

This exhibition will feature key Guatemalan artists such as Roberto Cabrera, Isabel Ruiz, and the collectives Grupo Vértebra and Imaginaria, and the unique performance and conceptual art strategies they developed under the repressive regimes of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Even during the worst years of war under the presidency of General Rios Montt, these artists produced work, often covertly, that directly engaged the country’s socio-political realities. The exhibition will also include a younger generation of Guatemalan artists who came to international prominence following the 1996 peace accords, revealing an artistic history still largely unknown, and showcasing the country’s vibrant contemporary art scene today.

Exhibition research support: $65,000

Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), Long Beach
Spirituality in the Art of the Caribbean

Africans slaves arrived in the Caribbean with a rich artistic and spiritual heritage that has persisted in the art of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. MOLAA will trace the ways that African spiritual practices such as Santería, Macumba, and Voodoo were suppressed, tolerated, or embraced under different socio-political conditions. From Colonial-era Afro-Caribbeans creating equivalents between their “Orishas” (deities) and Catholic saints, to modern Haitian artists Hector Hyppolite and Robert Saint Brice incorporating elements of Voodoo, Caribbean artists have adopted traditional forms of spirituality for their own ends. Other artists such as Wifredo Lam used spiritual elements to promote a new pride in African culture, Ana Mendieta created highly ritualized self-portraits, and contemporary artists such as painter Santiago Rodríguez Olazábal, himself a “Babalao” or priest in the Ifá tradition, are also now incorporating spiritual practices.

Exhibition research support: $95,000

Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA), San Diego
Displacement: Mexican Photography, 2000–2012

The most recent generation of photographic artists in Mexico came of age in an era of profound political and social change, as the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ceded power after seven decades. Drug wars, outward migration, and changing attitudes toward religion and traditional gender roles characterized this “post-nationalist” period. Inheriting the social reforms of the 1990s, artists such as Karina Juarez, Jose Luis Cuevas, and Luis Arturo Aguirre used a range of practices, from “straight” photography, to manipulated photographs, installations, and videos, to explore the fracturing of personal and cultural identities in the new Mexico—displacements that were both disorienting and liberating. Located in San Diego’s Balboa Park, MOPA will draw on its strong relationship with artists and organizations across the border for this project, and will also contextualize this work within broader international developments in photography.

Exhibition research support: $100,000

The Music Center, Los Angeles

The Music Center will undertake a survey of performing arts organizations across Southern California to identify programs that could complement the visual arts exhibitions supported by the Getty. As a result of the survey, the Music Center intends to encourage and coordinate participation by a selection of artists, companies, and centers around dance, theater, and opera in support of LA/LA.

Programming planning support: $65,000

Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA), Newport Beach
Kinesthesia: South American Kinetic and Light Art of the 1960s

While L.A. was becoming the epicenter for vanguard sculptural practices in light and space, a separate set of experiments was unfolding in South America and Europe. With roots in 1940s Buenos Aires, two artists groups developed approaches to kinetic sculptures that had strong links to contemporaries in Paris, where many of the artists eventually relocated. These pioneers of optic and mechanical art, the “cinetic” generation, include Jesús Rafael Soto (Venezuela), Julio Le Parc (Argentina), and Carlos Cruz-Diez (Venezuela), and they had a profound impact on the trajectory of South American art. OCMA will showcase these remarkable yet under-known sculptural experiments and explore their dynamic social and political underpinnings, particularly the relationship between artists’ use of new technologies and the region’s political struggles, such as those that followed the 1962 military takeover in Argentina.

Exhibition research support: $170,000

Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles
Talking to Action

The Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design will survey the artistic, social, and anthropological actions of contemporary “Social Practice” artists in Latin America—artists who freely blur the lines between object making, political activism, community organizing, environmentalism, and performance. Creating a participatory art outside the gallery and museum system, these artists and artists’ collectives engage their respective communities in compelling ways. Argentine artist Eduardo Molinari, for example, adopts the strategy of walking—simply traveling and observing—to produce work critical of official historical narratives, while travel is also central to the SEFT (Sonda de Exploración Ferroviaria Tripulada) collective in Mexico, which uses a playfully futuristic vehicle to traverse land and rail, exploring disused railroads. Connections between Social Practice in Latin America and those of Los Angeles artists will also be explored though a series of artist residencies and collective research projects. Talking to Action builds upon the scholarship of Otis’ Graduate Public Practice MFA program.

Exhibition research support: $160,000

Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont
Prometheus: 1930/2017

In 1930 José Clemente Orozco completed his Prometheus fresco at Pomona College, the first mural painted in the U.S. by one of Los Tres Grandes of Mexican muralism and a work that Jackson Pollock declared the greatest contemporary painting in North America. Drawing on the Greek myth about bringing fire to humanity, Orozco’s mural goes beyond the story’s traditional symbolism to present a complex political work that questions the very idea of enlightenment in a modern world steeped in conflict. For Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, Pomona College will examine the politics of Orozco’s mural through the lens of contemporary Mexican artists who are producing a variety of socially-engaged and politically activist artworks, including forms of public intervention and social practice. Possible themes may include the ways socially-engaged art has been positioned in the public arena in Mexico from the 1920s until today, to the impact of conceptual art and post-minimalist art practices of the 1990s and the emergence of trans-disciplinary actions in more recent years.

Exhibition research support: $100,000

REDCAT, California Institute of the Arts, Los Angeles
Palabras Ajenas–León Ferrari

REDCAT will explore the work of acclaimed Argentine artist León Ferrari who died in 2013 at the age of ninety-two. The voice of a generation, Ferrari is best known for his politically-charged work that challenged authoritarianism of all types, from the Argentine dictatorship and the Catholic Church to the U.S. military’s war in Vietnam. REDCAT will focus on Ferrari’s use of appropriated text, his “deformed writing,” restaging the performance Palabras Ajenas (1965)—the first complete presentation of this landmark piece. This literary collage is an imaginary dialogue among 160 historic figures, composed of fragments from contemporary news-wires and historical texts. The project will be accompanied with an exhibition and publication that will contextualize the performance in its time and in Ferrari’s body of work.

Exhibition research support: $110,000

Riverside Art Museum
Spanish Colonial Revival in the Inland Empire

Spanish by way of colonial Mexico, the Spanish Colonial Revival style in architecture and design has been part of the aesthetic fabric of Southern California’s Inland Empire for 100 years. While claiming ties between Southern California and Colonial Spain and Mexico via their cultural and design traditions, the style was based largely on myth and invention. Influenced by such diverse sources as the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and the popular Ramona novel and pageants, the New California elite adapted Spanish Colonial, Mission, ecclesiastical, and native elements to create romanticized perceptions of California for a burgeoning tourism industry. Landmarks such as Myron Hunt’s First Congregational Church of Riverside (1912–1914) and the historic Mission Inn Hotel are amalgamations of the historic and the imagined. Even today the region’s suburban housing and public infrastructure continue to use an eclectic mix of elements rooted in Spanish Colonial Revival design motifs. The exhibition will use architectural and archival materials, decorative arts, paintings, and photographs to explore the style’s origins and continuing popularity.

Exhibition research support: $75,000

Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College, Claremont
Revolution and Ritual: The Photographs of Sara Castrejón, Graciela Iturbide, and Tatiana Parcero

This exhibition will focus on representative figures from three generations of women photographers in Mexico. From Sara Castrejón, the least known of the three artists and one of the few woman photographers who documented the Mexican revolution, to Graciela Iturbide, who often photographed the daily lives of Mexico’s indigenous cultures, to Tatiana Parcero, a contemporary photographer who splices images of her own body with cosmological maps and Pre-Columbian Aztec codices, the exhibition will trace a broader transformation in notions of Mexican identity. As part of a women’s college, the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery has built its photography collection with a special emphasis on women who have shaped the photographic field.

Exhibition research support: $100,000

San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA)
Indigenismos: Amerindian Inscriptions in the Art of the Americas

Indigenismos—the concern with peoples indigenous to a region—has primarily been studied as a defining characteristic of Mexican modernism, but SDMA will investigate the multiple ways in which indigenismos was a persistent force in Latin American art. From the first appearances of indigenismos in 19th-century figurative painting, to early 20th-century representations of the Indian as a symbol of national identity, to the Surrealists’ fascination with Indian imaginaries, artists have linked indigenismos to political and social concerns, and, above all, to what it means to be Latin American. The exhibition will examine these and later avant-garde practices of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the re-appearance of indigenismos in the second half of the 20th century in such forms as land art and early performance and video art.

Exhibition research support: $175,000

Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Valeska Soares

Brazilian-born artist Valeska Soares began her career in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and even after moving to New York in the 1990s, she maintains a deep connection to her home state of Minas Gerais. Soares creates environmental installations that use the phenomenological effects of reflection, light, entropy, and scent to explore how viewers experience time. Her work is often identified with other minimal and conceptual artists, including Eva Hesse and Robert Morris, and with the sensibilities of Brazilian artists from the 1960s through the 1980s, including Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, and Mira Schendel. This mid-career survey will include early works such as Vanishing Point (1999–2000), along with later installations not yet seen in the U.S., such as Narcissus (2005) from the Venice Biennale or Un-Rest (2010).

Exhibition research support: $95,000

Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMoA)
Martín Ramírez

SMMoA will reexamine the work of one of the most accomplished outsider artists, Mexican-born immigrant Martín Ramírez, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1930s and confined to California state hospitals most of his adult life. Ramírez produced intricate drawings and collages of horses and riders, the Madonna, and trains and tunnels, whose rhythmic linear qualities and spatial tension have been compared to the techniques of Wassily Kandinsky, Frank Stella, and Sol LeWitt. This first presentation of Ramírez’s work in Southern California will trace the artist’s technical development, his formal connections to mainstream modern art, and the significance of his cultural identity as a Mexican-American. A reexamination of the artist’s psychiatric evaluations may even call his diagnosis into question, recontextualizing Ramírez’s work and contributing to the growing reconsideration of outsider art more broadly.

Exhibition research support: $90,000

Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles
Idols & Icons: Anita Brenner and the Visual Culture of Mexico, 1920–1960

Moving often between her native Mexico and the U.S., the Jewish Mexican-American anthropologist, translator, author, and art critic Anita Brenner (1905–1974) was close to the leading Mexican intellectuals and artists, including José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, Jean Charlot, and Tina Modotti. An influential and prolific writer on Mexican culture, Brenner is best known for her critical study of Mexican art from the Pre-Columbian to the modern era, Idols Behind Altars: Modern Mexican Art and Its Cultural Roots (1929). The Skirball will use Brenner’s unique position as a contemporary observer and collaborator to reexamine Mexican modernism, looking not only at the most famous artists of the day, but also at lesser-known artists such as Lola Cueto and the photographer and cinematographer Agustín Jiménez. Befitting the Skirball’s mission, the exhibition will also trace the ties between Jewish intellectuals and the Mexican avant-garde.

Exhibition research support: $125,000

UCLA Film & Television Archive
Classic Latin American Cinema in Los Angeles, 1932–1960

As Los Angeles became a key destination for Mexican immigrants and native film industries developed in Mexico, Argentina, and Cuba, L.A. became the undisputed capital of Latin American cinema culture in the United States. From the 1930s through the 1950s, Downtown movie palaces like the Teatro Eléctrico, California, Million Dollar, and the Roosevelt were a prominent cultural force, presenting vaudeville, live appearances by top stars, and such classic films as La mujer del puerto (1934), Simón Bolivár (1941), and comedies with the Mexican actor Cantinflas. UCLA will conduct research for a film exhibition and related publication that will revive these classic but largely forgotten films from Latin America, painting a full portrait of Spanish-language cinema culture in L.A., from audiences to cinema owners and film critics.

Research support: $80,000

University of California, Irvine (UCI)
Magulandia and Aztlán

One of the founding members and the major force behind the Chicano artists collective Los Four, UCI alumnus Gilbert (Magu) Luján (1940–2011) is known for his colorful large-scale paintings and drawings, outrageous lowrider art, and Día de los Muertos altars. Irvine’s retrospective will focus on two concepts central to Magu’s work: Aztlán, the mythic northern ancestral home of the indigenous Mexican Aztecs that became a charged symbol of Chicano activism; and Magulandia, the term Luján used for the space in which he lived and produced his work, and for his work as a whole. While Aztlán and Magulandia represented physical spaces, together they also symbolized the complex cultural, geographic, and conceptual relationships that exist between Los Angeles and Mexico. Mining several local archives, curators will examine Magu’s background, professional activities, writings, and travels to paint a full picture of the artist’s practice.

Exhibition research support: $75,000

University of California, Riverside (UCR)
Critical Utopias: The Art of Futurismo Latino

The three gallery spaces that comprise UCR’s ARTSblock will host an exhibition on the representation of Latin American artists and Latinos/as in science fiction, and the ways that contemporary Latin American and Latino artists employ science fiction for social, cultural, and political critique. Scholars and writers have begun to investigate the genre’s affinity with histories of colonialism and its power to offer alternative perspectives on history. Drawing on the University’s strong faculty and collections in this area, the project will bring together scholars in science-fiction studies with curators and artists to examine Latin American and Latino science fiction’s capacity to imagine new realities, both utopic and dystopic. While the study of Latin American science fiction in literature and film is well underway, UCR’s focus on the visual arts promises to be groundbreaking.

Exhibition research support: $125,000

University of San Diego
Xerox Art in Brazil and Argentina, 1970–1980

Xerox art flourished internationally in the 1970s and 1980s under the names “Copy Art” in the United States and “Electrographie” in France, and was particularly strong in Brazil and Argentina. As part of a broader interest in the dematerialization of the art object, artists in these two countries experimented with photocopiers, fax machines, and teletext as they explored the intersection between art and forms of communication. The exhibition will explore how the work of Brazilians such as Nelson Leirner, Paulo Bruscky, Regina Silveira, Carmela Gross, and Eduardo Kac, along with León Ferrari in Argentina, developed in reaction to the rise of authoritarian regimes, and as an attempt to produce a truly democratic form of art. Xerox art’s relationship to billboards, artist books, and graffiti art and to international movements such as Fluxus and Mail Art will also be considered as a smaller component of the project.

Exhibition research support: $58,000

University of Southern California (USC), ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles
Mundo Meza

The ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries will organize a retrospective exhibition of Tijuana-born artist Edmundo “Mundo” Meza (1955–1985). Meza grew up in East L.A. as part of a generation of Chicano conceptualist artists that included Gronk and Robert Legorreta/Cyclona, with whom he staged confrontational performances in East L.A. in the 1960s and 1970s. Meza’s multidisciplinary practice encompassed performance, painting, design, fashion, and installation, and his work addressed the social and political upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s with wit and campy extravagance. Many early works also responded to his contemporaries’ use of Mesoamerican imagery, such as his queer “return to Aztlán” that co-opted this revered Chicano visual symbol. The exhibition aims to contextualize Meza within both the Chicano and Gay Liberation movements, and position sexual difference as a crucial, yet largely unwritten, facet of Chicano art history.

Exhibition research support: $95,000

Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College, Monterey Park
For two exhibitions

L.A. Collects L.A.

Beginning in the 1920s, legendary Hollywood figures, including Vincent Price, Edward G. Robinson, Kirk Douglas, Otto Preminger, and Natalie Wood collected Latin American art, from Olmec jades to Rufino Tamayo paintings. Starting with Museum founder Vincent Price’s own collection, L.A. Collects L.A. will examine these patterns of collecting and display, as well as the reframing of Mesoamerican antiquities as art objects and the ways collecting was popularized through mass media. Period rooms in L.A. Collects L.A. will evoke this history, including possible reconstructions of Walter and Louise Arensberg’s foyer on Hillside Avenue, a corner of John Huston’s Puerto Vallarta home, and Bernard and Edith Lewin’s furniture store in Van Nuys. Historical photographs, biographical sketches, and ephemera will further illuminate the sensibilities and ideologies that shaped these collecting practices.

Laura Aguilar Retrospective

East Los Angeles College alumna Laura Aguilar will be the focus of the Museum’s second show, organized in collaboration with UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. Aguilar uses startlingly frank portraiture to document social groups typically marginalized in mainstream culture including Latina lesbians. Many of Aguilar’s photographic series are autobiographical, exploring her own bi-national, Mexican American identity, as in her famous work Three Eagles Flying (1990). The exhibition will trace the development of her work from early themes to more recent self-portraits that explore the boundaries between the body and iconic landscapes in the American Southwest.

Exhibition research support for two exhibitions: $150,000

In addition, there will be three exhibitions at the Getty:

Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas

In contrast with other parts of the world, gold and silver in the ancient Americas were first used not for weaponry, tools, or coinage, but for objects of ritual and ornament, resulting in works of extraordinary creativity. The J. Paul Getty Museum will explore the idea of luxury in the pre-Columbian Americas, particularly the associated meanings of various materials, from 1000 BC to the Europeans’ arrival in the 16th century. The exhibition will trace the development of metallurgy from the Andes to its expansion northward into Mexico, but will also include works made of shell, jade, and tapestry—materials that were considered even more valuable than rare metals. Co-organized by the Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas will highlight the most precious works of art from the Americas, and provide new ways of thinking about materials, luxury, and the region’s visual arts in a global perspective.

A New Narrative: Constructed Photography from Latin America

Although several previous exhibitions on contemporary Latin American photography have called out the interest in fabricated imagery, no exhibition has been solely devoted to this practice of arranging compositions for the camera with props, models, and other materials. The J. Paul Getty Museum will explore the production of these images for religious purposes, the souvenir trade, propaganda, memorial portraits, journalistic photo-essays, medical diagnoses, identity politics, performance art, self-portraiture, and for narrative tableaux that recreate the pictorial traditions of painting and sculpture. Possibly focusing on one country, the exhibition is expected to include post-modern photography of the past forty years, with key earlier works included for historical context.

Materiality and Postwar Latin American Art

The Getty Research Institute, Getty Conservation Institute, Getty Foundation, and Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros will work together to research the materials and techniques used in key works from the Colección Cisneros—a world renowned collection of modern Latin American art—to inform new art historical interpretations. The team’s work will culminate in an exhibition at the Getty Center, bringing some of the collection’s most canonical works to Los Angeles for the first time. Included will be artists such as those in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela who were experimenting in the 1940s and 1950s both formally with geometric abstraction and through their use of new industrial materials. By considering the works’ social, political, and cultural underpinnings in tandem with the results of technical studies, the project aims to make significant contributions to both the conservation field and postwar Latin American art history.

The New Museum Triennial 2015 New York City – exhibition photos and reviews


‘2015 Triennial: Surround Audience’ Exhibit Features Artists Not Afraid of 3D Printing & Contemporary Technology

logo (2)An edgy exhibit at New York City’s New Museum truly has a realistic idea of what’s going on in contemporary art and design today — as they make a statement about the future — featuring compelling evidence as to how technology like 3D printing gives many artists and designers new ways to experiment as well as manufacture their own designs for prototyping and selling.

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The artists being featured are early in their artistic careers, and will have their work displayed in the exhibit, titled 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience. Spanning the globe with artists from 25 countries, 51 young creators have work in the show, including Josh Kline, Juliana Huxtable, and Oliver Laric, whom we have covered previously regarding a show he did with 3D Lincoln Scans at the Usher Gallery.

“Many of the works in the show look really closely at our present moment, a time when culture has become more porous and encompassing,” explained New Museum Curator Lauren Cornell, who is co-curating the exhibit with artist Ryan Trecartin. “The metaphor that Ryan [Trecartin] and I use is, ‘Surrounded.’”

While the show has a comprehensive mix of political and social statement, 3D printing certainly made its presence known as a new and viable medium, and was centered especially in Frank Benson’s Juliana. Benson, a New Yorker himself, chose to make a stunning statement with his entirely 3D printed piece, which is the third in a series of nude sculptures. Juliana is a striking statement with Benson’s use of 3D printing coupled with the complete nudity of transgender artist Juliana Huxtable — who is also featured in the show as an artist, with her self-portraits in the exhibit.

Full-sized, iridescent, and pushing boundaries with both technology and sexuality, the piece was originally not planned as a nude, but Benson wrote and asked her tentatively if she would consider allowing him to portray her like so.

“I was nervous of what she might think of that, so I sent her this intense email full of historical references,” said Benson.

Benson made sure to convey Huxtable’s personality, even in the buff, paying special attention to her braids and makeup.


“I want the sculpture to exist as a completely finished entity inside the computer,” Benson says. “The 3D model is its ultimate version and the print is the real-world manifestation of it.”

3D printing features extensively in the exhibit, with a mind-blowing display of creativity and mastery of various mediums, as well as technology. These artists are not just painters or sculptors, but true craftsmen and artisans with technical skill. They are building artworks, installations, and entire rooms of mixed media impressions and concepts.

Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s work, Phantom, also integrated the Oculus Rift into his work as viewers entered a virtual reality 3D forest. Casey Jane Ellison made a 3D printed USB containing her stand-up comedy routine, which has with a surreal slant. Artist Josh Kline made use of 3D printing for props in a dramatic installation featuring a room filled with riot police bearing Teletubby faces.

Aleksandra Domanović mixed up media to use 3D printing for the Belgrade Hands, robotic hands, in her installation, SOHO (Substances of Human Origin). Again bordering on surrealism and horror, the design is from robotic prostheses straight out of the movie Demon Seed.

“Technology has changed all of our lives so dramatically, and really changed how art is being made, too,” said New Museum Director Lisa Phillips.

Have you used 3D printing in any artwork or mixed medium pieces? What do you think of the ideas behind the exhibited pieces? Tell us your thoughts in the 2015 Triennial: Surround Audience Exhibit forum over at




Meet Juliana Huxtable: Star of the New Museum Triennial


Photo: Courtesy of Juliana Huxtable / @julianahuxtable

Tuesday night, amid a sea of black beanies that constituted the crowd at the opening of the New Museum’s 2015 Triennial, one cotton candy–color fur bomber jacket stuck out like a fabulous sore thumb. Its oversize chrome buttons, shaped like the letter “J,” stood for Juicy Couture, but they also announced the woman who was wearing the piece—the photographer, painter, poet, DJ, and downtown sensation Juliana Huxtable.

Huxtable is by turns the subject and author of five separate works installed at the second-floor galleries of this year’s Triennial, “Surround Audience,” which was collaboratively curated by Lauren Cornell and Ryan Trecartin. Four inkjet prints by Huxtable herself (two poems and two self-portraits from her lyrically titled series, “Universal Crop Tops For All The Self Canonized Saints of Becoming”) hang in front of a new 3-D Frank Benson sculpture for which Huxtable is the model. (It’s called Juliana.) Since the show opened Wednesday, both Juliana and Juliana have become Insta-sensations, hinting that we might see as much of them on social media this spring as we saw of Kara Walker’s A Subtlety last year. The New Museum also chose one of Huxtable’s self-portraits, Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm), as the Triennial’s holding image on the museum homepage. To put this in Hollywood terms, an analogy not unbefitting today’s art world: If “Surround Audience” were a film, Juliana Huxtable would be its star.


Photo: Benoit Pailley; Courtesy of The New Museum, New York

Born to a Baptist family in what she describes as a “conservative Bible Belt town in Texas,” Huxtable has been drawing, collaging, and painting since a young age but only began a career in art after graduating from Bard in 2010. “I’ve always kept a notebook,” Huxtable says, “but it was never a cultivated practice in the way that people studying studio art develop.” Brought up as a boy named Julian (Huxtable has transitioned in adulthood), she drew pictures that “were always high-drama, high-fantasy images of idealized women—like angels flying through the air,” she explains. “Now, I’m becoming those women.”Operating out of a “diaristic impulse,” Huxtable’s work uses her own life experience as a point of departure. Her best known pieces, including the two self-portraits in the Triennial, depict Huxtable as a character derived from imagery of the Nuwaubian Nation. (Nuwaubianism, which Huxtable describes as “technically a cult,” was a religious organization inspired by Islam, Ancient Egypt, and extraterrestrial theories. Huxtable has no affiliations with the group.) “From the standpoint of mythology,” Huxtable explains, “I think it’s brilliant. It was like the Animorphs before there were Animorphs.” Painting herself in toxic shades of sage green and violet, Huxtable makes photographs that blend the visual languages of comic books and hip-hop in a way that looks like an Internet meme made by aliens.

Huxtable describes her pieces as “self-imaginings” and, it seems clear, views her art in the first person. “My works are avatars for the constantly growing list of references in my head,” Huxtable explains. “Some of them are political ideas, some of them are aesthetic ideas, but to me the clearest way I can translate them is through portraiture and through text.”

Frank Benson saw a photograph of Huxtable’s first Nuwaubian persona two years ago and asked her to model for him around that time. “Actually, that is how my body looked about a year and a half ago, when I got 3-D-scanned,” Huxtable says, describing Juliana. “The proportions of my body have changed at a rapid pace. Frank’s sculpture is a sort of pastiche of me at different points.”

It would have been hard for Huxtable to imagine this moment four years ago. In 2011, she was working as a legal assistant for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program and keeping up a number of side hustles—hosting parties, baking and selling marijuana edibles, and DJing—to make ends meet. Most tellingly, she was part of the catering staff for the New Museum’s 2011 Spring Gala honoring Gilbert & George. These days, Huxtable still models (for DKNY last year and Eckhaus Latta this past season) and DJs—“I don’t see that as unrelated [to my art]”—but now also fields offers from dealers and collectors, in whom she doesn’t seem to have much interest. “Being in this show,” Huxtable says of the Triennial, “I never thought in a million years it would happen. It doesn’t have any sense of finality, but it definitely feels like a big step.”


Trans Artist Juliana Huxtable Is Owning the New Museum Triennial

Huxtable New Museum


Pictured, above: Untitled, Juliana Huxtable (2014)

Photographer, painter, poet, DJ, and OUT100 honoree Juliana Huxtable has created a series of artworks currently on view at the New Museum’s Triennial. The 27-year-old artist, who transitioned into a woman in adulthood, is in turn the author and subject of five pieces displayed on the second floor of the museum.

Huxtable New Museum

The centerpiece of the installation is a 3D sculpture by Frank Benson entitled Juliana. It represents Huxtable nude, revealing her breasts and penis.

Juliana Frank Benson

Huxtable, who’s been vocal on her blog about the discrimination she’s faced as a trans woman, was also recently featured in Vogue and the Wall Street Journal.

Frank Benson saw a photograph of Huxtable two years ago and asked her to model for him around that time. “Actually, that is how my body looked about a year and a half ago, when I got 3D-scanned,” Huxtable told Vogue. “The proportions of my body have changed at a rapid pace. Frank’s sculpture is a sort of pastiche of me at different points.”

In addition, the New Museum features one of Huxtable’s photographs, Untitled, on its website home page.

New Museum Triennial, on view through May 24, 2015.

Photo: Courtesy of New Museum



New museum feature

The New Museum’s Triennial Forecasts a Bleak Future

By Sehba Mohammad on February 25, 2015

Considering the New Museum’s technical savvy, one would expect its third triennial exhibition, Surround Audience, featuring post-internet, emerging artists tapped into global culture, to be rife with emoji art, glitchy videos of internet porn, and at least some of the 2014 Whitney biennial’s shock tactics. Especially since the triennial’s co-curator Ryan Trecartin is an artist known for his campy, over the top artworks which have been likened to Facebook having a nightmare. Instead the five floor exhibition,  featuring 51 artists from 25 countries , is understated and idea driven, consisting of muted works with dark undertones.

Most of the works on view traverse perceptions of the body in today’s technologically saturated, globalized world.

Middle Eastern artist Sophia Al-Maria’s three channel video installation Sisters (2014), shows ghostly repressed bodies freeing themselves through dance. Paranoia about militarism and regimes of control, most apparent in Josh Kline’s installation Freedom 2015, including sculptures of Teletubbies dressed as policemen, credit card trees, and a computer generation of Obama, are also prevalent.

The future, however, is the triennial’s most dominant feature. A considerable number of the show’s sculptural installations, as well as the abstract digital prints and Middle Eastern videos works that intersperse them, are portents of what could be. Their subjects vacillate from dystopian and suspicious to utopian and hopeful, presenting various imminent realities in the guise of art. Here, then, are the most futuristic works from the New Museum triennial.

Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s Phantom, 2015

Daniel Steegmann Mangrane

Tucked away in the second floor is Catalan artist Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s Phantom, 2015. From afar, the virtual installation seems simple: an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset dangles unassumingly in the middle of two concentric circles. Once you put on the headset things get exciting. The artist used 3D laser-scanning software to map a lush spot in Brazil’s endangered Mata Atlântica rainforest. The work allows viewers to explore the forest as if they are walking through it. As you move around, look up and down; different elements of the indigenous Brazilian landscape reveal themselves, albeit a grainy, colorless, digitized version of the forest. The artist’s pervasive viewing experience highlights the idea that reality is dependent on people’s perspectives. It also makes one ponder on the future of nature and how new ways of seeing and experiencing the world will effect our reality.  

Nadim Abbas’ Chamber 664 KubrickChamber 665 Spielberg, and Chamber 666 Coppola, (all 2014–15)

nadim abbasi

Three grey bunkers, sealed by screens, protrude from the gallery wall. Rubber gloves protrude in and outside a clear vestibule which resembles incubators for quarantining hazardous bodies. The bunkers are filled with familiar domestic objects: toilet rolls and pillows; making them inviting, alarming, and unbearably intriguing. Created by Hong Kong-based artist’s Nadim Abbas the works have an element of post-apocalyptic Hollywood to them, touching upon popular dystopian themes of biological warfare and highly contagious diseases. They are also a personal comment on modern day intimacy.

Juliana Huxtable’s Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm), 2015


Perhaps the most colorful works on display are inkjet self portraits by artist, DJ, and performer Juliana Huxtable or the “cyborg, cunt, priestess, witch, Nuwaubian princess,” as she calls herself. The prints belong to the artist’s series “Universal Crop Tops for all the Self Canonized Saints of Becoming,” depicting the queer, former legal assistant in guises based on black mythology. Surrounded by surreal landscapes with fantastical color palettes, she effectively mixes club kid aesthetics with deeper poetic insights. Her works are precursors of an emerging identity in which categories such as gender, race, sexuality, and age are fluid and open.

Ed Atkins’ Happy Birthday!!, 2014

Ed Atkins' Happy Birthday!!, 2014

This eerie six minute video centers around a melancholy computer-generated avatar with 2016, and other dates, tattooed to his forehead. He utters mysterious numerical phrases and his body continuously degenerates. The work is a meditative piece on our increased immersion with life-like digital images and how this alters what we know of ourselves and the material world. It reminds us to take note before it is too late; that realistic HD images no matter how exact, don’t really exist.

Antoine Catala’s Distant Feel (2014-15)

Antoine Catala's Distant Feel

The French video artist, previously preoccupied with incorporating human traits such as confusion and humor into machines, created an advertising campaign for a basic human emotion instead of a product, an act that seems logical in our increasingly commercialized world. In collaboration with agency Droga5, the artist created a a new symbol for empathy—EƎ, two E’s facing each other. A sculpture of the symbol, meant to be a generational update on the peace sign, is submerged in a fish tank with live coral growing on it, an attempt to inject life into the work.  Catala’s new project has an accompanying website  with more details


Adam Lehrer Adam Lehrer Contributor

I write about New York’s art gallery system and museum structure.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Lifestyle 2/25/2015 @ 11:00PM 2,045 views

Six Pieces That Stuck Out at the New Museum’s Triennial

The primary criticism towards the New Museum’s Triennial is that it it, quite simply, A LOT to take in at once. This criticism is fair, but it also might be missing the point. As I skulked around the opening last night, snapping photos on my sad point and shoot camera, I was overwhelmed with sensory and hyper aware of the setting. Trying to navigate through swarms of people, from young New School students to the elder statesmen of the art world, was like trying to escape from a straight jacket. The venue was packed, and there were hundreds of good looking artsy types adorned in fashionable clothing of one style or another that were clearly feeling the density of the production as well. Attendees were more often found schmoozing and boozing then taking in any single piece for any length of time.  It was a little uncomfortable, a little unnerving, and perhaps that was the entire point.

Scenes from the Opening of the New Museum Triennial

“Surround Audience” was aimed towards exploring the way we live in this mega-connected and technological world. And in this world, we are overwhelmed constantly. Even if we wanted to unplug, most of our jobs wouldn’t let us. It’s hard to appreciate beauty when you are plugged into the Matrix. The exhibit explores that notion teetering on sensory chaos. That being said, there were some pieces that sucked me right out of the pandemonium. Curators Lauren Cornell and Ryan Trecartin could certainly have kept the exhibit tighter; showing 51 artists at once is no easy accomplishment. But these six pieces took me out of the chaos; for a moment I could look closely and appreciate.

Frank Benson “ Juliana”

Frank Benson, "Juliana"

Judging from some of the press, it appears that the Virginia-based artist Frank Benson’s “Juliana” is a crowd favorite at the Triennial and with good reason: the sculpture of Benson’s friend, transgendered artist Juliana Huxtable, is beautifully rendered and clearly made in loving homage. Perched in the center fold of the museum’s second floor, the image cuts through the crowd. It’s dazzlingly life-like. Those that don’t know the subject of the piece before looking at it find themselves shocked when they look up and down the beautiful female form only to find a penis between the object’s legs. The piece forces you to recognize the world’s changing standards of beauty.

Josh Kline, “Freedom”

Josh Kline, "Freedom"
Philadelphia’s Josh Kline thinks about the way humanity has been commodified and controlled through various means of technological surveillance, and judging from his piece at the Triennial, he has a lot of fun doing it. “Freedom” consists of sculpted and life-like stormtrooper-looking police each equipped with their own screens attached to their bellies. Almost as if the guards are protecting him while watching the audience, a screen projection of an Obama lookalike giving a speech plays in the background. Standing from the corner of the room, it looked as if the museum attendees were blended into a crowd with the cops.

Antoine Cala “Distant Feel”

Antoine Cala, "Distant Feel"

French artist Antoine Cala examines the gadgets of the information age and illuminates their decay, darkness, and essentially, their life. In his piece, “Distant Feel,” he examines the issues he’s interested in with humor, with an object that resembles a fish tank. Of course, there are no fish. But looking at the piece you get the sense that life exists within the space. It’s bright neon colors highlight the ugliness and rotten appeal of the mold growing within the tank. I’m always a sucker for neon.

Aleksandra Domanović, “SOHO (Substances of Human Origin)

Aleksandra Domanović, "SOHO (Substances of Human Origin)

Conceptually, I couldn’t quite grasp the statement being made in Yugolsavian artist Aleksandra Domanović’s, “SOHO (Substances of Human Origin), but I loved looking at it and walking through it. Apparently, she was making a statement on the history of the Internet in her country and celebrating the women who helped make it happen. The installation, with prosthetic limbs derived from the model of the Belgrade Hand (the first robotic hand) and gorgeous rafters that must be walked through to get to them, takes on a life of its own.

Avery K. Singer, “Untitled”

Avery K. Singer, "Untitled"

Benjamin Sutton is one of my favorite art critics these days, but his statements about New York’s own Avery K. Singer and her piece, “Untitled,” couldn’t be more unfounded in my opinion. How could something so beautiful only be meant to take up wall space? The fact that her monochrome paintings stuck out to me more so than the larger-scale installations speaks to the piece’s striking beauty. Singer is a painter that uses technology as a tool rather than a medium: she uses Google SketchUp and projects images onto a canvas and then uses spray paint to bring the piece to life. The results are gorgeous; shadowy figures floating in an infinite space.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby “And We Begin to Let Go”

Njideka Akunyili Crosby "And We Begin to Let Go"

Nigerian painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s “Thread” strikes personal for me. For one, I love to see an artist just show his/her talents for painting and collage. I still believe that few objects can be more evocative than a gorgeous painting. In this painting, we see Crosby kissing her American husband’s back in bed. The husband is painted realistically, while she is made up of a collage of Nigerian imagery. Being in a relationship with a woman of a different cultural background myself, I certainly empathize with the sentiments at hand. Through the act of kissing, Crosby imparts her husband with her knowledge, experience and identity. Together, their two cultures form a new identity. A new way of viewing the world. Bi-cultural couples are not a new idea, but are not often explored enough contextually. There is no better way to spread culture than through the act of intimacy and love.


‘Digital’s Bitches’: The New Museum Triennial


DIS, The Island (KEN), 2015. Photo: Heij Shin/New Museum

Some inventions are mastered instantly. The earliest adapters of oil paint, including Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, are still among the best who ever lived. After the invention of the electric guitar, early recordings confirm that Les Paul, T-Bone Walker, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe (followed soon thereafter by Jimi Hendrix) were immediate maestros, and some say the novel has never gotten better than Don Quixote. But the internet is not like these inventions or genres. We are 25 years in and we still have no van Eyck, van der Weyden, Hendrix, or Cervantes. In part, that’s because nothing endures online; commerce and novelty topple all idols (even new ones); and today’s links are already decaying and may be useless in the near future. But we have no new masters also because digital technology is more than an invention, tool, or genre. It is a whole new landscape, a new biology, one that is changing us as much as we are changing it — and could one day live on the moon or inside us. Either way, we are digital’s bitches.

And have been for a while. Since everything changes but the avant-garde, art exhibitions about digital technology date back to at least 1968, and London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts’ “Cybernetic Serendipity” examination of “computer art. Most such shows are spectacles of interactive keyboards, whiz-bang effects, listening stations, impossible-to-navigate websites that do little more than give visitors who touch them colds, and wearable helmets that project distorted cyberscapes. Now comes the New Museum’s generously plentiful, frustrating but worthy-of-attention 2015 triennial, “Surround Audience.” This is the museum’s third triennial, each of which is devoted to “early-career artists” and is meant to be “predictive, rather than retrospective.” This year’s building-filling extravaganza is devoted to current art by newer artists who examine “the social and psychological effects of digital technology.” The exhibition has been adroitly co-curated by the New Museum’s Lauren Cornell, who made me happy when she said “media lounges have failed,” and happier still when she said she loathes “techno gimmicks.” Her co-curator is one of the best artists of his generation, 34-year-old Ryan Trecartin, someone who has narrowed the space between objects, images, digital manipulation, cultural narrative, millions of colors, and layers of sound to a supercharged splinter.

“Surround Audience” purports to examine “a world in which the effects of technology … have been absorbed into our bodies and altered our vision of the world … visual metaphors for the self and subjecthood.” Before you bristle — Excuse me, all art does this — not only are there no keyboards, workstations, or websites here, and only one helmet (Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s fantastically alluring depiction of layered linear space), there are, thankfully, no darkened rooms with portentous videos that make you wonder if curators are human beings aware that they’re spending fortunes while abusing the curiosity, patience, and humanity of their audience. That’s a big leap for the art world. These curators understand, finally, that there’s no such thing as “digital art” (certainly no variety that could be defined by the machines it’s made of and through), only art that might be inscribed with its ethos. And while the show includes a tad too much arty-adolescent apocalyptic dystopianism, there’s, happily, no annoying, New Age–y, utopian-Zeitgeist babble.

More important, it is full of artists thinking past objects of the digital era and addressing the much weirder experience of actually living in it and recognizing, all the while, that this landscape is already authored by and is us anyway, that there’s little distinction anymore between inside and outside, and that engaging with technologies doesn’t have to involve a computer, mouse, or iPhone. Even William Gibson, the man who invented the term, recently wrote, “Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere … Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical.”

I knew only a small percentage of the 51 artists and artist-collectives on hand, which is refreshing when many exhibitions look like they’ve been concocted in the curator-industrial complex, where all shows are made to look similar. Cornell and Trecartin abandon the lockstep curatorial love of preapproved, postconceptual academic practice, meaning installations with a little text, possibly photography, video, a sound file, booklets, and/or found objects displayed haphazardly or carefully in a vitrine or on a shelf. (This default international curatorial style not only marred the 2012 triennial, it infects most museum shows of contemporary art.) In many of the artists they’ve chosen to highlight, we glimpse a generation coming to terms not just with technologies that they’ve been immersed in since childhood, but with what it means to try to create change from within a system only to see that system closed back down again. These are artists comfortable with reconfiguring information and refusing refuge in vaunted Romantic terms like timelessness or cynicism.

Take Josh Kline’s epic third-floor installation, which includes replicated elements of Zucotti Park, benches, Teletubbies riot police standing guard, and communication towers, which suggest that all of this is being monitored and broadcast at all times. The work is titled Freedom and contains one of the most far-reaching videos I’ve seen in some time — a digitally manipulated President Obama delivering his first 2009 inaugural address, as reimagined by Kline and former Obama administration speechwriter David Meadvin. In this version, the words heard are those dreamt of by tens of millions of people for the two years leading up to Obama’s 2008 election, and we see Obama sharply taking aim at those who deny global climate change and calling for immediate action, pointedly holding corporations responsible for the financial collapse, calling out cynics and pundits who profit from fearmongering, and challenging bigots, homophobes, racists, and sexists. On the night of Obama’s 2008 election, thinking about how the politics of “hope and change” might be gutted by governmental dysfunction and pragmatism, I wrote on my Facebook, “A generation must now learn to be disappointed in new ways.” That did not happen.

After this vertex, don’t miss Lawrence Abu Hamdan, who enlisted Cairo sheikhs to deliver real sermons about noise pollution; it’s fantastic to listen to the religious tenets of the Koran used to understand adverse effects of noise. (A sub-theme of the show is how the organism of the internet landscape allows old systems and filters to be adapted.) Also excellent are Lena Henke’s large, three-dimensional JPEGs, which make you grasp how artists are using old tools to dig deeper into new ones. To see a steel frame wrapped in a transparent photo, and have that clunky thing become a thing with no dimensions at all, titillates. Casey Jane Ellison takes the old form of stand-up comedy or talk shows to explore states of hypervisibility on social media and the earnest failed ways we try to communicate; Frank Benson presents a hyperreal rendition of the trans body of one of his fellow “Surround Audience” participants, Juliana Huxtable, which includes her breasts and penis. To be both bodies at once, to unveil the enigma and beauty of both, is radical vulnerability, while the new sculptural persona achieved via scanning and what looks like 3-D printing turns this most physical thing vividly, paradoxically immaterial. Speaking of which, also get a load of Steve Roggenbuck’s mad poetic video ramblings of a self looking inside and outside at the same time.

As probing as these and other works are, I won’t recommend seeing this show without a serious warning and complaint. As with the last triennial, “Surround Audience” has way too many lengthy wall labels explicating multi-level backstories, histories, sciences, rationales, philosophies, various lores, myths, art history, and personal narratives. Wall labels like these are epidemic in museums. The problem isn’t reading. It’s that what the text claims the work is “about” is rarely actually in the work itself, and is only on the wall label or in the artist and curator’s flimsy imaginations. The label next to Velázquez’s Las Meninas is a tiny fraction as long as those accompanying most contemporary art in museums. Long labels like these are a triumph of pedagogy over the object, a breaking of faith with art and its audiences. Worse, they evince institutions and artists armoring themselves in ridiculously obtuse, implacable language to hide the fact that their ideas are skin-deep, masturbatory, lazy, and banal.

And it’s not just labels. The art world as a whole is enamored with work that withholds some backstory — intellectual, biographical, material, or influence-based — to be delivered only upon request, through conversation with a gallerist, a curator, or the artist him- or herself. It’s really elitist. When one is told the secret, we are meant to feel a tingle of personal insight (“I see. His mother was kidnapped.”), even when the story doesn’t add up to much or seem to be actually present in the work. While the phenomenon isn’t entirely new, it does connect with the logic and language of the internet, which is this triennial’s subject. Namely, the way the internet prizes secret or arcane understandings — links that only you’ve found, cults that you visit while still in your bedroom — even while making all information instantly accessible, though often without real understanding. The internet may radically flatten hierarchies of knowledge, but it also builds little tribal moats around particular ideas. Most important, it doesn’t even recognize either of the paradoxes or contradictions contained in that approach. (See most Zombie Formalism, and much of the above-mentioned neo-conceptual practice.) As good as it is in places, I left “Surround Audience” convinced that museum labels shouldn’t be longer than three inches. With that in mind: Only read the last two lines of any label, rejoice in curators gleaning the digital as a new landscape, garner activism inside disappointment, and don’t miss “Surround Audience.”

*This article appears in the March 9, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.



Slide Show|7 Photos

‘Surround Audience’


It is early 2009. Hope and change are in the air. President Obama stands before the camera delivering his Inaugural Address, but within seconds something seems off. The speech is not the pragmatic one he gave on that cold January day but a fiery message in which he excoriates “peddlers of hate whose stock-in-trade is xenophobia, homophobia, racism, sexism and isolationism, and who define America by our differences rather than our common bonds.”

As he speaks, his face seems to be slipping digitally — and disturbingly — around his skull, and you suddenly realize it is not the president but an actor who has had the president’s portrait software-mapped uncertainly to his own face. The video is the creation of Josh Kline, an influential 35-year-old New York artist. And his Philip K. Dick vision of an alternate past wishfully conjuring an alternate present provides a fitting window onto the ambitions of the New Museum’s 2015 Triennial, a show that will take on the widely debated and often misunderstood ideas of “posthuman” and “post-Internet” art as squarely as any American museum has.

Opening Feb. 25, the exhibition includes Mr. Kline and 50 other artists and collectives from more than two dozen countries, many of whom have never shown in the United States before and whose work casts a queasy science-fiction eye onto an ever more digital, more automated, more omniscient society. The show, the third iteration of the museum’s emerging-art triennial, has been highly anticipated in part because of its two curators — Lauren Cornell, a former director of Rhizome, the Internet-focused art organization; and Ryan Trecartin, one of the most admired artists of his generation, whose video work has always seemed to exist at least a dozen years in the future, where identity, language and humanity itself have become as gleefully anarchic as a 14-year-old’s social-media feed.

The triennial is titled “Surround Audience,” Mr. Trecartin’s effort to capture that sense of a wired world in which, as Ms. Cornell puts it, “technology and late capitalism have been absorbed into our bodies and altered our vision of the world.” For many of the show’s younger artists, the Internet and the digital revolution are no longer just the tools and delivery system for their work but the air they breathe and the world they see before their eyes. That also means that while the digital might not be formally present at all in some of the work, it still hovers sociologically and politically on every side.

“I think I look at the way things are changing more from an optimistic standpoint, and Lauren tends to see it more from a dystopian one, but the older I get the more complicated my own views get,” said Mr. Trecartin, 34, who told The New Yorker last year: “Everything we do is going to be captured and archived in an accessible form, whether you want it or not. It’s going to change all of our lives. We are a species that can no longer assume a sense of privacy. It’s not an individual decision, and I feel that’s exciting to explore — or something.”

In an essay for a show last year called “Art Post-Internet” at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, the curators Karen Archey and Robin Peckham tried to find some consensus about the kind of art that Mr. Trecartin and other young artists have brought to attention in recent years, writing that “post-Internet refers not to a time ‘after’ the Internet but rather to an Internet state of mind — to think in the fashion of the network.”

And by that definition, most of the artists in the triennial seem to be fully in a “post” world, one without much abstract painting (there is none in the show) but lots of representations of bodies yearning to leave human form, in ways that science-fiction novelists and philosophers have been imagining for years. The posthuman has become more prevalent in pop culture, too — in movies like “Her” (man falls in love with operating system) and “Transcendence” (man becomes one with the Internet), but 21st-century artists can move with a nimbleness that often puts them in touch with the implications of technological change before the culture at large.

Casey Jane Ellison, a Los Angeles stand-up comic and artist in the triennial, creates video routines using digital avatars that vaguely resemble her but sometimes look more like Max Headroom. Antoine Catala, a French artist working in New York, has made previous work consisting of drones that fly around a space, analyzing the images in it and reciting descriptions of them in a mechanical voice. Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, a Spanish artist working in Brazil, has conceived an installation in which New Museum viewers will wear a version of the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset and be transposed into a representation of the rapidly disappearing Mata Atlântica rain forest in Brazil.

There will be paint on canvas in the show, though most of it by artists deeply immersed in the digital, like Avery K. Singer, a figurative painter in the South Bronx who often depicts comically simple robot-like figures that she creates in virtual 3-D space using a SketchUp animation program.

And there will also be work by artists that addresses the technological revolution only by seeking to deny it as thoroughly as possible. Eduardo Navarro, an Argentine artist who has worked with meditation and trance, is creating a work called “Timeless Alex,” in which a performer will meditate for days to try to enter the mind-state of a turtle and then wear a handmade turtle shell and creep across the city. Mr. Navarro, who describes turtles as “the opposite of the Internet,” explained one recent morning in a studio adjacent to the New Museum, where he has been creating the turtle shell, that part of the aim is to suggest a conception of time probably always inconceivable to humans but now certainly so.

“If it’s boring to watch, I think that will be better because watching a turtle can be very boring,” he said, speaking quite slowly, as if already trying to get on reptile time. “I like the idea that turtles are not even aware of their own longevity.”

In a recent interview at the museum, after travels that took her, non-virtually, to more than two dozen countries in search of emerging artists, Ms. Cornell, 36, said: “I think there is this kind of expectation, because Ryan and I are the curators, that the show is going to be all holograms and that we’re going to fly in on U.F.O.s. But it’s because there are still pretty simplistic ways of thinking about art in the digital age. That kind of online-offline binary that used to exist about art made with technology or the Internet as a factor doesn’t really exist anymore.”

Mr. Kline is one of many artists in the show who plumb the darker depths of contemporary society — surveillance, identity theft, government coercion, the commodification of “the most literally intimate aspects of life,” as the show’s catalog says — with an unabashed political edge. For “Hope and Change,” his Obama-inauguration piece, he hired David Meadvin, a veteran Democratic speechwriter and strategist, to rewrite the address in a way that imagines change from within the political system being possible.

Calling his creation a “kind of simulated open-source Obama,” Mr. Kline said: “Obama campaigned as a transformational candidate and once he got into office, here was this very pragmatic, efficient technocrat. This is definitely about trying to actualize the presidency that people voted for.” For the triennial, Mr. Kline has also created a piece in which he uses face-mapping software to morph off-duty uniformed police officers, whom he hired for the occasion, so that they come to look like civilians. In this transfigured state, the officers recite words from the social-media feeds of the civilians they have been made to resemble, as if their job entails not only monitoring the lives of others but also almost supplanting those lives. Similarly, Nadim Abbas, an artist working in Hong Kong, has built a artwork, commissioned by the New Museum, in the form of a kind of biohazard bunker that feels like a cozy apartment, an attempt to show how “violence has been sublimated into the fabric of the everyday,” as he said in an interview.

But others in the show play around the idea of an emergent Big-Brother-capitalist-military state in much more ambiguous ways, making it tough to tell which side they are on — or suggesting that sides are just so depressingly 20th century. K-Hole, a New York collective that makes work in the form of brand research (in 2013 it coined the term “normcore,” which took the fashion world by storm) has made its work for the triennial in the form of an advertising campaign for the show itself, which will soon begin showing up on buses and the streets.

The ad slogans, written with input from Mr. Trecartin, tweak the suspicions and fears many people seem to harbor about the kind of art the show will feature: “No Past, No Present, No Problem” and “Nothing Lasts Forever” (Mr. Trecartin’s suggestions included “Meaning Needed,” “Triennial Season 3” and “Pay Me in Feelings;” he wrote to K-Hole explaining that the aim of his slogans was to “get high school and middle-school kids to come see the show on their own inspired terms.”)

Probably the most visible and provocative piece in the show, in the glassed-in lobby gallery, will be by the New York collective DIS, which over the last four years has pushed questions of where art ends and fashion and merchandising begin to a kind of breaking point. The triennial work will be an installation in the form of a surreally combined kitchen and bathroom, made by the collective in collaboration with the high-end German fixture manufacturer Dornbracht.

“We like that it is going to be extremely confusing — some people are going to read this as a product showroom,” said Lauren Boyle, one of the collective’s members, who explained that the group became interested in the company after seeing its “hyper-real imagery” on Pinterest. “Google brought us to Dornbracht through Pinterest, in a way, through this weird sort of feedback loop. And so I guess we wanted to create another kind of feedback loop and bring the actual thing into the art world.”

A performer in the kitchen-bathroom will shower as visitors watch, merging the role of performance artist and showroom model. But Ms. Boyle, evincing no hint of irony, said the group also dreamed of inviting Gwyneth Paltrow to take part in the project, to add to it in ways they could not imagine. “Basically to do anything she wants to do,” Ms. Boyle said, beaming, “because she’s amazing.”

The phrase “Surround Audience” sounds like it could be the name of an EDM party, a function in a home theater system, a Quickmeme caption, or Michael Fried’s worst nightmare. It is actually the title-cum-motto-cum-slogan of the 2015 New Museum Triennial, which at first glance appears to be some mixture of these descriptors. The current Triennial, curated by Lauren Cornell and the artist Ryan Trecartin, is the third installment of an event that has quickly realized its ambition of becoming New York’s leading exhibition of on-trend global contemporary art. As if this weren’t enough, the current Triennial aspires to expand into a kind of aggregative platform: hosting performances, publishing a poetry collection, and sponsoring residencies, research projects, and a web series.

Visitors to the Triennial will indeed feel themselves surrounded, even overrun by competing appeals for their attention. These bids are so numerous and elaborate that at times the show seems less like an art exhibition than a tech convention or a curated Tumblr. To be fair, such heterogeneity is endemic in biennials, which tend to be at cross purposes in trying to craft a cohesive, timely statement from disparate works chosen for divergent reasons. Depending on one’s age, taste, and stimulus threshold, this tension might be a distracting nuisance, or perhaps a problem worth reflecting on. Those of selective, delicate, or “critical” dispositions should by all means visit the Triennial, but are advised to regard it as three more or less separate exhibitions; these are described below in ascending order of their presumable appeal to such an audience.

The first of these is loud, shiny, cool, and young. It basically amounts to a trend forecasting report, which is not surprising given the participation of the soi-disant collectives K-HOLE and DIS, which unapologetically compare or even equate their art to consulting, advertising, and merchandizing. This ploy arguably has less to do with Warhol, who flirted with tragic irony, than with the more purely cynical Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst. K-HOLE’s ad campaign, which is somehow more inane than their pseudo-trend normcore, features slogans like “HATRED OF CAPITALISM,” which in this context is so ludicrous as to almost be an insult to capitalism. While the ads are easily enough ignored, at least once inside the museum, the same can’t be said for the DIS contribution, The Island (KEN) (2015), in which a stress-relieving luxury shower will doubtless serve as a popular selfie station, as well as a platform for the Red Bull-sponsored DIScourse (sic) of invited theorists, some of whom openly identify as Marxist. #accelerationism #srsly?

In a feat of curatorial legerdemain, this part of the Triennial showcases post-internet art without actually using that now unfashionable term. If this art and much of the debate around it were deservedly criticized as forms of self-promotional branding, they also promoted the McLuhanite fantasy that The Internet Changed Everything, ignoring the ways that digitalization has reinforced existing socioeconomic divisions. The problem was not that post-internet is a utopian notion, but rather that its dystopianism was merely atmospheric or gestural. It is one thing to surround an audience with reminders of its immersion in techno-spectacle; it is another to explore why this matters.

As an artist, Trecartin has taken such inquiries further than some critics realize; the scrappy, Ritalin-addled character of his work can disguise its perverse genius. As a curator, he and Cornell have chosen some works that can’t quite live up to his example. Daniel Steegmann Mangrané uses a VR gaming headset to immerse viewers in a laser-scanned rendering of an endangered Brazilian ecosystem (Phantom, 2015) without seeming to register the flagrant contradiction between these environments. Josh Kline does some clever things with face substitution software, only to brandish it clumsily in an installation that recalls the overtness of Ed Kienholz (Freedom, 2015). The most interesting and problematic of such practices belongs to Juliana Huxtable, whose four prints from the series “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING” (2015) are coupled with a life-size 3D-printed sculptural avatar of her body by Frank Benson (Juliana, 2015). While Huxtable’s work provocatively integrates the histories of Afrofuturism, black militancy, and cyber-feminist theory with the contemporary efforts of transgender activists, it also exemplifies the contradictions of a post-Fordist identity politics in which self-styling, no matter how radical, can simultaneously produce value through the commodification of difference.

The second “exhibition” within the Triennial, while much less conspicuous, forms the bulk of the show and consists mainly of work by emerging artists born outside the North Atlantic. Given that New York remains the most provincial and self-obsessed of the art world’s major centers—witness the New Museum’s 2013 show “NYC 1993”—this is welcome, even subversive. That said, the selection skews toward artists working in the EU and within familiar, market-sanctioned modes. Beijing-based Guan Xiao juxtaposes repurposed camera equipment with constructed artifacts to track the emergence of new techno-animisms in The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture (2012). The Indian artist Shreyas Karle has mined the Bollywood imaginary to produce the Daniel Spoerri-esque Museum Shop of Fetish Objects (2012), which casts a sly eye back on the exoticizing impulses of its host institution. Georgian-born Ketuta Alexi-Meskishvili contributes a captivating suite of semi-abstract photographs; these stand out in a show where abstraction, painterly or otherwise, is noticeably absent. However, although such works are perfectly well executed, they often fail to problematize their status within the emergent, increasingly dominant category of Global Contemporary Art, in which artworks tend to present their own singularity in paradoxically generic or universalizing terms.

It is only in our third hypothetical show-within-the-show that such contradictions are engaged thoughtfully and productively. One can imagine re-curating the Triennial into a tighter, more powerful exhibition featuring the work of about a dozen artists. Some pieces would engage new technologies from a position of critical immanence. These would include Li Liao’s Consumption (2012), in which Li worked 5 weeks of 12-hour shifts at a Foxconn plant, earning just enough to buy one of the iPads he was helping to manufacture; Aleksandra Domanović’s SOHO (Substances of Human Origin) (2015), which proposes an alternative genealogy for technicized embodiment through 3D-printed sculptures patterned after the Belgrade Hand, an early prosthetic developed in 1960s Yugoslavia; and Exterritory’s Image Blockade (2014), a research project based on neurobiological experiments with conscientious objectors from an elite Israeli military intelligence unit. (One can’t help but notice that this piece, easily the most confrontational one in the Triennial, is installed in what must be the most inaccessible location in the New Museum, in the far corner of the topmost floor.)

A second strand would comprise moving-image work made in speculative or essayistic modes. While such an approach is hardly uncommon, especially in Europe, its still-considerable potential is demonstrated by artists like Nicholas Mangan, who re-narrates the recent history of resource extraction in Micronesia from the perspective of a limestone pinnacle (Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World, 2009), or Oliver Laric, who locates a surprising degree of pathos in the transformation of animated characters, updating classical myths of metamorphosis in a moment of Tindr romance and imposed vocational “flexibility” (Untitled, 2014­–2015). Especially noteworthy is Basim Magdy’s marvelous short film The Dent (2014), which nods to Alexander Kluge in its parabolic style and its subject (circus elephants), interweaving references to ecology and biennialization with lustrous double-exposed shots of clouds, forests, and construction equipment.

The last group one might wish to extract from the Triennial includes artists working in a more poetic mode, favoring obliquity, facture, and restraint. Olga Balema exemplifies this orientation in her untitled contributions: two large plastic sacs containing rusting rebar, decaying images, and water (both 2015). It is easier to trip over these unprepossessing floor sculptures than it is to grasp their quasi-abstract, semi-organic form, which seems to equally recall tidal pools and IV bags. Kiluanji Kia Henda’s prints combine the idioms of conceptual photography and traditional Angolan sona drawing to suggestively indicate the vicissitudes of global development (Rusty Mirage (The City Skyline), 2013). And in one of the Triennial’s most memorable pieces, Not How People Move But What Moves Them (2013–ongoing), the Czech artist Eva Kotátková has covered a large wall with pottery, architectural fixtures, and wire sculptures of unclear origin and function. These elements become props in a obscure and bewitching tableau vivant, which transforms the precedents of Jirí Kovanda and Rebecca Horn into a compelling drama of constrained movement. In such moments, the phrase “Surround Audience” assumes a markedly different connotation, one that the Triennial only intermittently endorses. Here, it is not a meme or a brand; rather, it becomes a problem, an injunction, and above all a point of departure.

Andrew Weiner is Assistant Professor of Art Theory and Criticism in the Department of Art and Art Professions at NYU-Steinhardt.

View of "Surround Audience," New Museum, New York, 2015.

1View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015.

View of DIS, The Island, 2015.

2View of DIS, The Island, 2015.

View of K-HOLE, Extended Release (detail), 2015.

3View of K-HOLE, Extended Release (detail), 2015.

Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Phantom, 2015.

4Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Phantom, 2015.

Josh Kline, Freedom (detail), 2015.

5Josh Kline, Freedom (detail), 2015.

Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (Destroying Flesh), from the series "UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF-CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING," 2015.

6Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (Destroying Flesh), from the series “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF-CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING,” 2015.

Guan Xiao, The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture, 2012.

7Guan Xiao, The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture, 2012.

Aleksandra Domanović, SOHO (Substances of Human Origin), 2015.

8Aleksandra Domanović, SOHO (Substances of Human Origin), 2015.

View of "Surround Audience," New Museum, New York, 2015.

9View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015.

(Left) Nicholas Mangan, Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World, 2009. (Right) Nicholas Mangan, Dawiyogo's Ancient Coral Coffee Table, 2009-2010.

10(Left) Nicholas Mangan, Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World, 2009. (Right) Nicholas Mangan, Dawiyogo’s Ancient Coral Coffee Table, 2009-2010.

Basim Magdy, The Dent, 2014.

11Basim Magdy, The Dent, 2014.

(Left) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015. (Right) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015.

12(Left) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015. (Right) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015.

  • 1View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
  • 2View of DIS, The Island, 2015. Mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
  • 3View of K-HOLE, Extended Release (detail), 2015. Advertising campaign, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York.
  • 4Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Phantom, 2015. Virtual environment and Oculus Rift DK2, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Mendes Wood DM, São Paulo, and Esther Schipper, Berlin.
  • 5Josh Kline, Freedom (detail), 2015. Mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
  • 6Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (Destroying Flesh), from the series “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF-CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING,” 2015. Inkjet print, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York.
  • 7Guan Xiao, The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture, 2012. Mixed-media installation, three parts, 230 x 280 x 210 cm each.
  • 8Aleksandra Domanović, SOHO (Substances of Human Origin), 2015. Mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
  • 9View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
  • 10View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015. (Left) Nicholas Mangan, Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World, 2009. HD video, sound, color, 12:27 minutes. (Right) Nicholas Mangan, Dawiyogo’s Ancient Coral Coffee Table, 2009-2010. Coral limestone from the island of Nauru, 120 x 80 x 45 cm. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.
  • 11Basim Magdy, The Dent, 2014. Still from super 16mm film transferred to full HD video, sound, color, 19:02 minutes. Image courtesy of Gypsum Gallery, Cairo.
  • 12View of “Surround Audience,” New Museum, New York, 2015. (Left) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015. Water, steel pipes, acrylic paint, dimensions variable. (Right) Olga Balema, Untitled, 2015. Water, steel pipes, acrylic paint, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of New Museum, New York. Photo by Benoit Pailley.


Quickly Aging Here: The 2015 Triennial

After six years and three installments, is the New Museum’s Triennial entering middle age? An odd question for an exhibition devoted to “early-career artists,” as the museum’s press release describes them. But compared with its predecessors, the latest rollout, which is called Surround Audience, frankly isn’t all that audacious.

There’s a lot to see — the exhibition, which was organized by New Museum curator Lauren Cornell and the artist Ryan Trecartin, feels crowded in spots — but that doesn’t translate into the knockabout energy that characterized the earlier versions. This may be a byproduct of the curatorial focus, which grounds the show in a context of technological interconnectedness. From the press release:

We are surrounded by a culture replete with impressions of life, be they visual, written, or construed through data. We move through streams of chatter, swipe past pictures of other people’s lives, and frame our own experiences as, all the while, our digital trails are subtly captured, tracked, and stored.

The statement puts contemporary culture at a remove from reality (“replete with impressions of life”) as it underscores the distractions that derail us from true engagement with art or each other. Accordingly, as if not to crack the veneer of a network thrumming with interrelated ideas, most of the artworks seem content to reside on the periphery, surrounding the audience but not grabbing attention for themselves.

The air of reticence, even politeness, encountered here feels like a deliberate step away from the rambunctiousness of the earlier iterations, The Generational: Younger Than Jesus in 2009 and The Ungovernables in 2012. That may be a sign of maturity for the Triennial as well as for the artists (more than one have already breached the age of 40), but it doesn’t really make for an exciting show.

Paradoxically, the emphasis on daily life’s immersion in technology as a curatorial premise seems to work against the exhibition’s cutting-edge intentions. Technology is so much a part of who we are, regardless of age, that to remark upon its ubiquity at this point feels dated and even a little clueless. Video, photography and digital devices may abound in this show, which also features lots of sculptural objects and a handful of paintings and drawings, but its look and feel aren’t markedly different from other surveys.

Which is another reason why the exhibition seems middle-aged. The first two Triennials, by dint of their age restrictions, felt front-loaded with a sense of discovery. While the current show is filled with just as many fresh faces, the work on display appears more generic, more tried and true, as if it belongs in the Whitney Biennial instead of the distinct niche that the New Museum has carved out for itself with the Triennial. Even the title is bland and hard to grasp, unlike the artist-centric handles of the previous two. Priorities have shifted, it would seem, from the individualistic to the atmospheric, the unruly to the phlegmatic.

A case in point is “The Island (KEN)” (2015) by the collective DIS, which, at the press preview, featured a performance by a fully-clothed woman who lay beneath a horizontal shower stall for about ten minutes before silently emerging, soaking wet, to turn off the faucets.

This piece may be among the most arresting in the show, but it felt like a retread of Chu Yun’s far edgier “This is XX” (2006) from the first Triennial, in which volunteers (after ingesting what was described in the wall text as “sleeping aids”) would lie in bed asleep during viewing hours, creating a discomfiting power imbalance between the conscious and the unconscious — an aesthetic experience inextricable from voyeurism.

Still, thankfully, the dreariness afflicting the last couple of Biennials is nowhere in evidence. There is enough variety to sustain interest, even if the assortment does not ultimately hold together, let alone add up into a sum greater than its parts.

Among the more fractious works are Geumhyung Jeong’s video “Fitness Guide” (2011), which includes an attempt by the artist to outrace an out-of-control treadmill; Nadim Abbas’s isolation chambers dedicated to three American filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola; Shreyas Karle’s fetish objects; and Juliana Huxtable’s incantatory poetry and quasi-mythic self-portraits, which are installed in dialogue with Frank Benson’s meticulously rendered sculpture of the transgendered Huxtable’s nude body.

Like the earlier Triennials, there is at least one breakout work to fix the exhibition in memory. And like such showstoppers as LaToya Ruby Frazier’s searing domestic photographs and Keren Cytter’s demonic video “Der Spiegel” (2007) in The Generational, or Adrián Villar Rojas’ towering sci-fi golem from The Ungovernables, Eva Koťátková’s performance/installation “Not How People Move But What Moves Them” (2013) is a confluence of personal and cultural histories, a repurposing of selective traditions into a bracing new configuration.

Writing in the exhibition catalogue, Rachel Wetzler describes Koťátková’s art as ingrained with elements of Czech avant-garde theater, Art Brut and Surrealism, set against a backdrop of the failed states of Communist Czechoslovakia and the Prague Spring.

“Not How People Move But What Moves Them” is composed of a large yellow wall outfitted with a door and shelves, and hung with framed collages. The shelves hold a variety of sinister/funny objects made from wire, steel, thread, terra cotta, leather and other materials, all of which will presumably be “activated,” to use the term found in the piece’s wall text, by performers at various points during the run of the exhibition. Larger examples of these structures, all of which are meant to constrain the body in some way, sit on the floor.

The objects are both props for the performers, who silently pose — standing or lying on the floor — with the pieces attached to their bodies, and persuasive works of sculpture in a funky-Minimalist mode. The collages, which are squarely — perhaps a little too squarely — in the mold of John Heartfield and Hannah Hoch, depict painfully fanciful applications of the objects on variously deconstructed human bodies.

The catalogue entry states that Koťátková’s sculptures derive from “disciplinary systems as a point of departure, ranging from those found in the family home and schools to psychiatric institutions or prisons.” These repressive tactics are conjoined with a highly specific art historical lineage that evokes the prewar work of Alberto Giacometti, such as “The Cage” (1930-31) and “The Palace at 4 A.M.” (1932); the infernal machine from “The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope” (1983) by the great Czech animator Jan Švankmajer; and the Eastern European Surrealist dread suffusing the Quay Brothers’ “Street of Crocodiles” (1986), a stop-action animation freely adapted from the stories of the Polish writer Bruno Schulz.

What is most compelling about Koťátková’s “Not How People Move But What Moves Them” is that it is activated not only by the performers, but also by the viewers’ imaginations. What will be done with the clay pots, we might ask, and why is there an undulating wire construction resembling an elephant’s trunk attached to a hole in the door? And why is the door leaning against the wall rather than set into a jamb? One question leads to the next, as the mysteries embedded in each detail draw us deeper into the piece.

“Not How People Move…” represents the kind of interactivity — not digital, but intellectual, physical and emotional — that many of the works in the Triennial lack. It doesn’t attempt to surround the audience; instead, its tough materiality and formal elegance inch their way across the threshold of consciousness until they lodge, uninvited, in the brain.

2015 Triennial: Surround Audience continues at the New Museum (235 Bowery, Lower East Side) through May 24.



New Museum Triennial: Art for a Digitalized World

New Museum Triennial exhibition highlights wide range of ‘exuberant’ works by young artists

A performers in the activation of Eva Kot’átková's work ‘Not How People Move But What Moves Them’ at the 2015 New Museum Triennial. ENLARGE
A performers in the activation of Eva Kot’átková’s work ‘Not How People Move But What Moves Them’ at the 2015 New Museum Triennial. Photo: Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal

On a recent morning in a studio on the Bowery, talk-show host Casey Jane Ellison had a pressing question for a panel gathered in advance of the New Museum Triennial opening Wednesday.

“What is the most insane thing about art?” she asked her guests, two other artists and a patron. “Is it the money? Is it the content? Is it the people?”

Her tone suggested that she thought it was all three—and that insanity might be a virtue.

Special episodes of Ms. Ellison’s web series “Touching the Art,” now in its second season online on the Ovation network, will screen on a loop in the lobby of the New Museum, as part of its triennial exhibition titled “Surround Audience.” They are among works by 51 young artists and artist collectives hailing from 25 countries.

The show defines art broadly, including sound, dance, comedy, poetry, installation, sculpture, painting, video, and yes, a web-based satirical talk show. Half the pieces were commissioned for the exhibition, which runs through May 24.

Artist Casey Jane Ellison is projected on a monitor as she hosts her talk show ‘Touching The Art,’ part of her exhibition at the New Museum Triennial. ENLARGE
Artist Casey Jane Ellison is projected on a monitor as she hosts her talk show ‘Touching The Art,’ part of her exhibition at the New Museum Triennial. Photo: Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal

At the shooting for a particularly reflexive episode of Ms. Ellison’s show, the topic under discussion was the significance of triennials and biennials—curated roundups of new art—in an age of abundant, often hypercompetitive art fairs.

“What is a triennial?” asked Ms. Ellison, 26 years old, in a deadpan manner that signaled her sometime persona as a standup comedian.

“It’s kind of like a sports competition, definitely not like the Super Bowl,” said the artist K8 Hardy.

“What is the Super Bowl?” Ms. Ellison asked.

Visitors preview artist Josh Kline's new installation ‘Freedom’ (2015), at the New Museum Triennial. ENLARGE
Visitors preview artist Josh Kline’s new installation ‘Freedom’ (2015), at the New Museum Triennial. Photo: Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal

The exhibit, said co-organizer and New Museum curator Lauren Cornell, is “very exuberant and very surreal.”

In it, artists address life in an increasingly digitized, hyper-aware world through topics such as virtual reality, drones, avatars, product design and advertising. One work by the artist collective K-Hole takes the form of an ad campaign for the triennial, doubling as both genuine marketing and conceptual critique.

Other chosen works poke provocatively at notions of gender, race, nationality—and the relationship between artists, their identities and their audience.

“We were thinking about people who are assuming a spot in their own audience or allowing for different vantage points to come at their work that they didn’t intend,” said video artist Ryan Trecartin, who co-curated the triennial along with Ms. Cornell.

New York-based Juliana Huxtable, for one, said most people who know her “are aware of me as a night life and Internet figure, so I’m happy [the curators] understand all the aspects of what I do and the connections between them.”

Artist Juliana Huxtable poses in front of her artwork at the New Museum Triennial. ENLARGE
Artist Juliana Huxtable poses in front of her artwork at the New Museum Triennial. Photo: Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal

The exhibit includes self-portraits of the 27-year-old transgender artist posed in digitally enhanced settings with fantastical colors and editing effects that make her look, at times, like an online avatar.

Is she excited to move her art off the Internet and onto museum walls?

“I think I’m really excited,” Ms. Huxtable said. “It’s not about privileging that over other ways of creating, but it’s an opportunity to translate the work I do for different people. Not everyone relates to or understands the world of Tumblr or social networking.”

José León Cerrillo, an artist from Mexico City, achieved a different effect with a minimalist sculptural installation that plays tricks on the mind and the eye. The works, which define space with a skeletal metal framing, greet viewers right off the elevator, arranging the room with what seem like visions into extra dimensions.

“I think of them as screens into the act of looking,” Mr. Cerrillo said. “The idea was to point into the void.”

For a series of dance performances that will be presented throughout the triennial, Niv Acosta —who grew up in Washington Heights and the Bronx and now lives in Brooklyn—drew inspiration from the portrayal of the black American experience in science fiction.

“I’ve been thinking about…how it’s translated into being like an alien culture,” said Mr. Acosta, 26. “Often the people in these projections are female-bodied or female-presenting, bodacious and dancing.”

Artist Niv Acosta performs an excerpt of ‘DISCOTROPIC’ in the Sky Room at the New Museum. ENLARGE
Artist Niv Acosta performs an excerpt of ‘DISCOTROPIC’ in the Sky Room at the New Museum. Photo: Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal

For his piece, Mr. Acosta and three other dancers will take over the New Museum’s theater and gallery spaces to interpret “The Star Wars Holiday Special,” originally made for network television in 1978, and now viewable online.

He said his favorite scene features the African-American actress Diahann Carroll singing inside a machine called the Mind Evaporator.

“It’s a super-pervy but also majestic moment,” Mr. Acosta said. “It’s exciting for people who are queer-identified and also black to think about what our lineage is in the terms of sci-fi and disco. These are our ancestors in a way.”

The exhibition, in all its analytical energy and cultural commentary, is particularly suited for New York, said co-curator Mr. Trecartin, himself a Los Angeles native. “It’s so much a city for showing things in their final state…a place for things to go to be presented and judged, and I like that there’s a city so exhaustingly all about that.”


New York – The New Museum Triennial: “Surround Audience” Through May 24th, 2015

March 3rd, 2015

Frank Benson, Juliana, via Art Observed
Frank Benson, Juliana, via Art Observed

If the New Museum Triennial is to be believed, 2015 might in fact be the year that artists put the pervasive notions of “cyber-dread” to death in the contemporary discourse.  Curated by Ryan Trecartin and New Museum Curator (and former Rhizome head) Lauren Cornell, the exhibition combines aspirational commodities, linguistic play and digital microcosms into a fascinatingly deep exhibition, one that feels particularly appropriate as the 21st century turns 15.

Works by Anna Graff, via Art Observed
Works by Ana Graff, via Art Observed

Trecartin’s particular blend of digital maximalism was jarring by nearly all accounts when it first breached the art world over ten years ago, but as his breakneck editing and hyper-commodified landscapes gained a certain degree of palatability in recent years, so too did the work of his contemporaries: the Dis collective, poet/artist Juliana Huxtable, critic and writer Brian Droitcour, and a range of other artists in the orbit of the downtown New York art community, each of whom took their own respective viewpoints on the development and embrace of contemporary life within hyper-mediated spaces.

Josh Kline, Freedom (2015), via Art Observed
Josh Kline, Freedom (2015), via Art Observed

Verena Dengler, via Art Observed
Verena Dengler, via Art Observed

The Triennial, as a result, feels like something of a victory lap, a recognition of their particular approach to capital and consumption in the millennial era.  Throughout, mechanisms of production are bound up with their distribution and practical use, or perhaps vice versa, as illustrated in the marketing and social media campaign devised by K-Hole, including a selection of social media “stickers” users are invited to adorn Instagram photos and share, and a lighthearted poster series with phrases like “I’ll Triennial Once,” that invites publicity as a space of play and innovation.

Eloise Hawser, The Bride's House, via Art Observed
Eloise Hawser, The Bride’s House, via Art Observed

Performers at Eva Kotatkova's installation, via Art Observed
Performers at Eva Kotatkova’s installation, via Art Observed

A certain sense of generative practice sits at the heart of much of the work, embracing new modes of expression within older forms as a point of departure.  One highlight is the dizzying glow of Antoine Catala’s Distant Feel, a new emoticon and website platform developed by the artist as a method to express empathy online (expressed as “E3″).  Placed in a tank, the immense scuptural rendering of the icon is used to grow coral and other sea-life, a space for the maintenance and sustenance of new life within the cold linguistic confines of the digital.  On the ground floor, Dis has produced a gleaming horizontal shower/fountain, complete with a beverage tap, in which a performer lies down, inside its clean lines, fully clothed, while enjoying what appears to be a mint julep from.  The sheer excess of the work walks a fine line between critique and fetish. One wonders if the object merely pushes luxury beyond practicality, assuming the role of art object, or if is this goal merely propels it to a new level of commodity capitalism.  Several floors up, artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan has created a sonic environment exploring the critical noise pollution of Cairo, where cabs, bustling markets and mosque sound systems have created one of the most densely sonorous spaces in the world.

Lena Henke, via Art Observed
Lena Henke, via Art Observed

Guan Xiao, via Art Observed
Guan Xiao, via Art Observed

In other works, this same sense of playfulness and exploration turns its eye towards the archive.  The work of Eva Kotatkova, for instance, places performers among a selection of sculptures that vaguely reference early twentieth century surrealism, but are placed into interactions with a pair of performers, turning their intersections into a constantly shifting relationship with the works’ own historical references.  On the fourth floor, spatial intrusions by José Léon Cerrillo, Verena Dengler and Tania Pérez Córdova interact to create a drastically reformatted flow of movement, utilizing pop imagery and familiar sculptural forms to reformat the space of the museum as one of physical encounter.  Close by, Oliver Laric’s hypnotic video, depicting copied transformations of characters in varied animated television programs worldwide, proved an early favorite, inviting meditations on the structure and definition of bodies in media representation, and the willful desire for fluidity among them.

Dis, The Island (KEN) (2015), via Art Observed
Dis, The Island (KEN) (2015), via Art Observed

Yet the exhibition doesn’t shy away from the darker corners of digital modernity, either.  In the ground floor gallery, bitingly close to Dis’s aforementioned installation is Consumption, Chinese artist Li Liao’s performance work in which he assumed a position at a Foxconn-operated plant, creating components for iPhones and iPads, finally saving up enough after 45 days to buy an iPad himself.  The sheer scale of labor to merely own this icon of digital consumption is sobering.  But for sheer shock, few works can escape Josh Kline’s Freedom, a dystopian environment populated by shock troop mannequins, all masked with the faces of Teletubbies.  Nearby, the artist’s face-mapped performance as Barack Obama features a speech the artist longed for the president to give during his tenure, decrying corporate greed and calling for citizens to take back their government.

Li Liao, Consumption (2012), via Art Observed
Li Liao, Consumption (2012), via Art Observed

At times sprawling and surreal, at others powerfully concise, the New Museum’s current exhibition is a deep look at a disparate series of practices, united by material and political concerns that gradually emerge throughout the show’s five floors.  Almost impossible to properly summarize, the Triennial takes the polymorphic formats of digital circulation and places them into a free-flowing exchange, one which shifts from every perspective.

Surround Audience is on view through May 24th.

Aleksandra Domanovic, via Art Observed
Aleksandra Domanovic, via Art Observed

— D. Creahan

Read more:
“Review: New Museum Triennial Casts a Wary Eye on the Future” [New York Times]
“New Museum Triennial: Art for a Digitalized World” [Wall Street Journal]
“The 10 Most Interesting Works From the New Museum’s Triennial” [Bloomberg]
“Meet Juliana Huxtable: Star of the New Museum Triennial” [Vogue]
“Where Virtual Equals Real” [New York Times]
New Museum Triennial [Exhibition Site]



travel & leisure


Travel Blog

Advising the Curators of the New Museum Triennial


The 2015 New Museum Triennial<br />
Not So Charmed

The 2015 New Museum Triennial:
Not So Charmed

Does the third edition of the New Museum Triennial, Surround Audience, struggle amidst curatorial conceits? Brienne Walsh reports

For the third edition of its triennial showcase for early-career and emerging artists, the New Museum claims a light curatorial touch. Entitled Surround Audience, the show professes to explore the tension between new forms of freedom in contemporary culture and threats to such freedom — embodied by social media, extremist states, the corporate sovereign entity, and the cult of self, to name a few examples. What the exhibition emits in execution is a sort of self-driven approach to both art making and curatorial practice.

Exploring themes such as sexuality, racism, nationalism, and consumerism, most of the works — by 51 artists from 25 countries, many of who identify as poets, dancers, designers, writers, and filmmakers rather than artists — are highly personal. But instead of connecting with one another, the pieces stand within the museum walls as cloistered units, reading like individual manifestos. The effect is somewhat like reading a blog composed of posts examining completely disparate topics. ‘It was really important to encourage the artists to do what they wanted to do, and not impose too much,’ says video and performance artist Ryan Trecartin, who co-curated the show with New Museum curator Lauren Cornell. ‘I just drop out of that shit if someone tries to do it to me.’

Casey Jane Ellison, IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO SEEM WONDERFUL, 2015 (still).
Video, sound, color. Courtesy the artist

Antoine Catala, Distant Feel, 2015. Production still

Staging a show that reads like an art fair, where many exhibitive displays are offered in a single forum, wasn’t the intention of the curators. According to Trecartin, the museum was meant as a ‘jumping off point into the world rather than a place where things are put into.’ In the context of other exhibitions, such as Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond,which closed at the Brooklyn Museum last month and truly did extend off-site with works such as Pimp My Piragua, 2009, a coco helado cart that artist Miguel Luciano drove through the neighbourhood during the course of the show, Surround Audience is fairly unexceptional.

The show’s pervasive sense of alienation is introduced by Casey Jane Ellison’s Touching the Art, 2014. Presented on a television in the museum lobby, the ongoing series of videos features the artist in discussion with various cultural workers on the state of the art world. ‘I’m in a death metal band, and I’m only in the art world by accident,’ states musician and performance artist Kembra Pfahler. ‘I think we all are,’ replies Ellison.

DIS, Studies for The Island (KEN), 2015. Codesigned by Mike Meiré. Courtesy the artists and Dornbracht

Frank Benson, Juliana, 2015. Digital renderings of painted Accura® Xtreme Plastic rapid prototype. 54 x 48 x 24 in (137.2 x 122 x 61 cm) (approx.). Courtesy the artist; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; and Sadie Coles HQ London

Freedom, 2015, by Josh Kline well embodies the cult of self that runs throughout the Triennial. In a black box, life-size figures dressed in riot gear sport Teletubby heads and stomachs implanted with screens offering remarks on the culture’s proliferation of violence sourced from social media. These surround an HD video that depicts a digitally rendered version of President Barack Obama giving an inaugural address authored by the artist. ‘People who love the country can change it,’ says the facsimile, echoing a sentiment that galvanised the 2008 presidential campaign, now deemed as rhetoric unable to survive 21st-century political realities. As a dream of what could have been in the face of what is, the work reads as naïve rather than insightful.

Despite wanting to shed the label of artist, all of the show’s practitioners are keenly accomplished at creating art objects. There isn’t a work in the exhibition that doesn’t appear entirely at home in the museum galleries. The Island (Ken), 2015, by the collective DIS is a mash-up of kitchen and bathroom fixtures designed by the German luxury goods manufacturer Dornbracht. Commenting on the confluence of high-end design and fine art as systems that rely on one another to appeal to potential consumers, the piece will be the site of various performances including product demonstrations, cooking lessons, and a lucky few participants taking actual showers. Without its interactive component, however, the work, which resembles a tanning bed, remains quietly hermetic. Antoine Catala’s Distant Feel, 2015, is a pair of facing letter Es constructed from living aquatic plants encased in an aquarium. Pulsating with life, the work is the result of a collaboration between Catala and the advertising agency Droga5 that attempts to re-brand the concept of empathy. Regardless of its conceptual intent, its hard not to see it simply as a mind-numbingly beautiful object.

Left: Juliana Huxtable, Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm) from the “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING” series, 2015. Inkjet print. Courtesy the artist; Right: Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (Destroying Flesh) from the “UNIVERSAL CROP TOPS FOR ALL THE SELF CANONIZED SAINTS OF BECOMING” series, 2015. Inkjet print. Courtesy the artist

And aesthetically, the show appeals. Frank Benson’s Juliana, 2015, is a regal, nude statue, painted in shimmering tones of green and purple, of artist Juliana Huxtable, who is represented by her own self portraits as a comely female force with whom anyone would be lured into reckoning. Museum Shop of Fetish Objects, 2012, by Shreyas Karle, is a cabinet of curiosities that examines the culture of Bollywood with the clinical air of an anthropologist. Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s And We Begin To Let It Go, 2013, is a collage of thread, Xerox transfers of advertisements and women’s fashion images, and paint, that depicts the artist kissing the back of her husband. One could potentially spend hours before it, detangling its many references.

With people taking to the streets globally to protest injustice, the Triennial’s stab at cultural commentary will likely have little lasting impact. It reflects rather than leads, which is a shame given the potential for art to shape perceptions in society. ‘For some, it will be more traditional than expected, and for others, it will be a lot weirder,’ says Trecartin. The stance of being impervious to the reaction of others might be necessary for an artist to take to make bold work. But if Surround Audience is any indication, curatorial indifference to viewer experience only has the effect leaving both artists and visitors cold.

Main image: Frank Benson, Juliana, 2015. Digital renderings of painted Accura® Xtreme Plastic rapid prototype. 54 x 48 x 24 in (137.2 x 122 x 61 cm) (approx.). Courtesy the artist; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; and Sadie Coles HQ London


New Museum’s Generational Triennial: wired for the future

The 51 young artists in the New York gallery’s show are exploring the frontiers of digital technology, from the surveillance state to gaming culture

Surround Audience
Surround Audience: digital worlds explored. Photograph: Benoit Paley/New Museum

“Almost everybody wakes up and does something they don’t like – we can do better than this! … You are going to die: Make something beautiful before you die!” Screaming manically, alone in a damp Maine forest, the euphoric intensity of internet poet Steve Roggenbuck is balanced with humour in his 2012 video Make Something Beautiful Before You Are Dead. Roggenbuck embraces the cosmos and encourages us to do the same: “Back in my grandfather’s day they didn’t have #yolo! We have #yolo! We have to harness this gift,” he yells.

He is one of the 51 artists and collectives included in Surround Audience, the New Museum’s third Generational Triennial, which opens on Wednesday. The exhibition is hotly anticipated, largely because of its two curators: Lauren Cornell, a former director of Rhizome, a New Museum-affiliated organisation that has been promoting digital art for almost two decades, and Ryan Trecartin, the artist wunderkind whose work has been received rapturously by critics since he emerged on the scene in 2006.

Surround Audience

Frank Benson’s Juliana in the installation foreground. Photograph: Benoit Paley/New Museum

Because of their shared engagement with new digital technology, the exhibition is expected to be future-focused (“predictive, rather than retrospective”, according to New Museum director Lisa Phillips). People are eagerly awaiting the outcome of Cornell and Trecartin’s shared endeavour, which brings together artists from countries including Jordan, Qatar, South Korea, China and India, as well as Europe and America: “We’re expecting to be wowed by the breadth of interesting new work,” says collector Mihail Lari, who, together with his partner Scott Murray, has provided support for the exhibition.

“I think we are lucky to have a lot of artists in the world right now who are truly trying to invent and establish a unique creative freedom. Artists are reaching,” Trecartin says. Most of the artists in the exhibition are digital natives, born into an age of rapid technological change. While artists have always used the tools available to them, those in the triennial are particularly agnostic about medium. Their work is a mash-up of different materials and digital platforms, from PVC, nail polish, jade powder and oil paint, to works incorporating 3D printers, Google Earth and HD video.

Surround Audience
A performance on the first night of Surround Audience. Photograph: Benoit Paley/New Museum

For many of the artists, the medium is merely the means of expression, not the subject. The exhibition focuses on artists who, Trecartin says, “are creating new realities through their transformative thinking. They aren’t concerned with the somewhat parochial thinking about what an art practice can or should encompass right now. It’s hard to meditate on potential futures when we are still transitioning out of a period that has been culturally obsessed with defining the past through acts of rejection or fetishization. There are many artists today who are not only looking past older entrenched ways of thinking about art, they are actually behaving past it.”

The wired ways in which we receive information today – a lot of it all at once – is suggested both by the kaleidoscopic range of influences evident in the exhibition, and their compression. The artists eddy around a swell of subjects from art history to sci-fi fiction, from the surveillance state to gaming culture, from racism in America to issues of self-identity – with their evident paranoia tempered by a healthy dose of humour.

Surround Audience

Dowiyogo’s Ancient Coral Coffee Table by Nicholas Mangan. Photograph: New Museum

Many of the artists in the show express a sense of invasion, whether by technology, political systems or the effects of late capitalism. Several deal with the environment, such as Lisa Tan’s Waves, which uses Skype footage, HD video and Google’s virtual Art project. Taking Virginia Woolf’s experimental novel as its cue to explore language and consciousness, the work is also “a poetic imagination of how technology affects the planet,” Tan says. Meanwhile, Australian artist Nicholas Mangan’s Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World is based on his expeditions to Nauru, a once-booming, phosphate-rich Pacific island that has been mined to the point of destitution. “A lot of my work is about finding materials that open up stories – stuff to do with our human mark on the world,” he says. His work is far removed from digital technology. “I’m totally against social media. I find it exhausting. I guess I’m making a considered decision to move in the opposite direction. I’m much more interested in tree-ring dating – it’s like Google in reverse.”


Other artists use new media to address centuries-old concerns, such as German artist Peter Wächtler. His work, whether stop-frame animation, charcoal or video, centres around the existentialist problems of being human. Sweetly melancholic and slightly absurdist, Wächtler’s art deals with “change and the impossibility of it, the lie of it and the idea of another self”, creating “a looping environment with characters fixed and paralysed by the wish for personal change, unable to perceive that you are still the same idiot watching a different sea.”

The search for self, or loss of self, manifests in different ways: the intricate still-life works by Nigerian artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby speak to the liminality of the immigrant experience; Avery K Singer’s figurative paintings of robot-like people created with a Sketch-Up animation program suggest a sense of disassociation with the body; the avatars in Ed Atkins’s videos point to the post-human possibilities long imagined by the sci-fi fiction community.

Gender identity and body politics are the focus for artists including Frank Benson, showing a 3-D sculpture of the transgender DJ and artist Juliana Huxtable (who is also a Triennial artist), or trans dancer Niv Acosta whose Discotropic performance will deal with race and queer identity.

Other works simply ask us to imagine being somebody else. A twice-daily performance piece by Luke Willis Thompson will take visitors on walks, pursuing one of his cast members and collaborators through New York in choreographed routes. “You never really know which narrative you’re going to be immersed in,” says the New Zealander. “Some of them lead home, or to an idea of home, while others are designed to disorientate the audience.” The work emerged from time spent visiting New York. “When I first came Michael Brown was still alive and when I left he wasn’t, so there is this sense of social change the cities are going through which I felt strongly had to be part of the work.”

The quest for meaning leads to new connections, and this is really what the show is about. Bringing together scores of artists from around the world, the meshing of so many ideas and intentions mirrors the way in which we consume information and create meaning. Indian artist Shreyas Karle, who is creating a museum-within-a-museum dedicated to fetish objects, which is about the impact of cinema on Bombay (and vice versa) and the idea that censorship and licentiousness are “two sides of the same coin”, is looking forward to the exchange. “My wife keeps telling me to focus on my own work, but I’m not really like that. Being asked to exhibit in the triennial, it’s less about me than it is about being part of something dynamic.”

Reviews of the Dazzling Anselm Kiefer Retrospective at the Royal Academy London



Britain’s Royal Academy Surveys Anselm Kiefer’s Work
Preoccupied by politics and history, the German-born Anselm Kiefer is getting a retrospective at Britain’s Royal Academy

Anselm Kiefer often uses unusual materials including straw and real blood to confront Germany’s past.DPA/Zuma Press


© Anselm Kiefer/Irma and Norman Braman, Miami Beach, Florida


© Anselm Kiefer/Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich

© Anselm Kiefer/Collection Stedelijk Museum

Sept. 18, 2014 4:09 p.m. ET
The Works of Anselm Kiefer
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Anselm Kiefer often uses unusual materials including straw and real blood to confront Germany’s past. DPA/Zuma Press

In the late 1960s, when German artist Anselm Kiefer was in his early 20s, he owned recorded speeches by Adolf Hitler and other Third Reich leaders. The Allies had distributed the recordings after World War II in a move to encourage reluctant Germans to confront their Nazi past.

For Mr. Kiefer, now 69, the impassioned speeches acted as a trigger: He would use his art as a weapon to fight social amnesia. “Now you can turn on German TV and there’s likely to be a documentary about the war. When I was growing up in the 1960s you didn’t even talk about it,” says Mr. Kiefer.

In 1969, wearing his father’s military uniform, the artist had himself photographed giving the banned Nazi salute and bound the photos along with Nazi-themed watercolors into two cardboard books. The performance launched a career that would remain dominated by Mr. Kiefer’s preoccupation with Germany’s past and the nation’s politics.

Both books are part of a retrospective opening at London’s Royal Academy on Sept. 27 and running until Dec. 14. The exhibition documents how over 40 years the France-based artist has employed such materials as oil paints, straw and electrolyzed lead to convey his mostly grave messages.

The Nazi salute quickly disappeared from his work, and some art in the show touches on more neutral themes, such as “Osiris and Isis,” a large 1985-87 work of oil and acrylic emulsion exploring the nuances of ancient Egyptian mysticism. But Mr. Kiefer has kept returning to Nazi Germany, albeit often in oblique ways. ” Georges Bataille : Blue of Noon,” a new set of watercolors and pencil on plaster, alludes to a prewar erotic novella by the 20th-century French writer in which a group of Hitler youths plays a peripheral role.

“I hate that I’m using this clichéd phrase but he’s very much an ‘intellectual artist,'” says Kathleen Soriano, the show’s curator. Ms. Soriano, 51, says she decided against explanatory wall captions to avoid “hitting visitors over the head with all the meanings in the show” and limited such clarification to the catalog.

Visitors unschooled in the artist’s obscure references may be left to focus on the artist’s often unconventional materials, both Mr. Kiefer and Ms. Soriano say. In “Parsifal III,” a 10-by-14-foot work on paper from 1973, Mr. Kiefer used a mixture of paint and blood. This image, which addresses Wagnerian themes adored by Hitler, aims to “rehabilitate” artists like Wagner from the blemish of Nazi worship, Mr. Kiefer says.

A similar-size work, “Margarethe,” was created using gray and white paints mixed with straw Mr. Kiefer found in a cornfield. Mr. Kiefer says the work was inspired by the poem “Death Fugue” by Paul Celan, a Jewish poet jailed by the Nazis. “My art… changes not only because the materials like straw change over time, but also because since they concern themselves with history, the world views of those looking at it are unavoidably different as the decades pass,” he says.

Ms. Soriano says she’s dedicating two rooms in the show, including the first, to Mr. Kiefer’s delicate watercolors. Mr. Kiefer’s Paris-based dealer Thaddaeus Ropac welcomes the move. Mr. Ropac, 54, only offered one watercolor in his latest exhibition. It sold for $65,000, far below the $650,000 to $5.8 million for large paintings. “The watercolors are still such virgin ground,” he says.

As he awaits his retrospective, Mr. Kiefer says he can never begin to answer one question: Would he have been a Nazi? “Naturally I hope I would have said ‘I’m fighting against Hitler.’ But I can’t say for certain if I had lived then, what I would have done or decided.”


All my doubts about Anselm Kiefer are blown away by his Royal Academy show

Plus: Why the Turner Prize should be abolished – and what could replace it
‘Winter Landscape (Winterlandschaft)’, 1970, by Anselm Kiefer

‘Winter Landscape (Winterlandschaft)’, 1970, by Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer

Royal Academy, until 14 December

The Turner Prize 2014

Tate Britain, until 4 January

In the Royal Academy’s courtyard are two large glass cases or vitrines containing model submarines. In one the sea has receded, dried up, and the tin fish are stranded on the cracked mud of the ocean floor. In the other, the elegantly rusted subs are mostly suspended like sharks in an aquarium: a fleet in fact, all pointed in the same direction.

These works are the visitor’s first sight of the vast and glorious exhibition by Anselm Kiefer (born Germany, 1945) currently occupying the main galleries of Burlington House, and they are apparently related to his interest in the Russian poet and futurist Velimir Khlebnikov. At once we are confronted by several Kiefer themes: war, poetry (he says poems are ‘like buoys in the sea. I swim to them, from one to the next …without them, I am lost’), and Mesopotamian clay tablets. His very particular mix of history, imaginative transformation and high culture is thus succinctly introduced.

There have been plenty of opportunities to see Kiefer’s work in Britain in recent decades (I well remember an impressive show of giant lead books at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith in 1989), but I must admit that up to now I have remained equivocal about him. The Academy’s show has completely changed my mind. I have never seen Kiefer better presented, and in this exhibition his imagery and use of materials make perfect sense. The increasingly large works have been superbly laid out through the grand galleries, and their cumulative effect is not so much overwhelming as utterly convincing. This remarkable display makes a great argument for the monographic exhibition. Not all artists can survive this sort of exposure, some looking too repetitious or threadbare in extensive solo shows, but Kiefer’s work thrives on it, and the exhibition is a triumph.

The first couple of rooms offer a kind of prologue of early work, introducing Kiefer’s abiding passion (since 1968) for artists’ books, his drawings and watercolours, and the wood-grain ‘Attic’ series of the 1970s. The exhibition really catches fire in room 3 with the increased scale and texture of the paintings, the inventive use of materials (clay, ash, earth, straw, dried sunflowers, scorched photos) and a certain salutary grimness of subject. Here the aggrandising tendency of Nazi architecture is squarely faced, the neoclassical stone structures built to last (and make fine ruins), as against the bricks of straw and the writing on the wall of the artist’s alternative reality. If some of the paintings look like dried-up river beds, suggesting drought and starvation, this is the other side to handsome prisons of the spirit.

Kiefer uses the shape of a palette in his pictures to stand for himself, and I was reminded of Leonard Cohen’s lyric ‘like a bird on the wire/ Like a drunk in a midnight choir’ when looking at ‘Palette on a Rope’ in room 4, though there’s more than one bird on this particular wire, and they look decidedly flame-like. Room 5 contains just two enormous paintings: ‘Osiris and Isis’ on one side, decked out with copper wire and what looks like the fragments of a washbasin; ‘For Ingeborg Bachmann: The Sand from the Urns’ is on the other, an achingly beautiful, desiccated landscape. The theme is death and resurrection, just one of the great linked polarities that Kiefer rarely shrinks from addressing.

Burnt books, branches, roses — all are incorporated in one or other of the epic paintings on display here, many of which, despite their size, come from private collections. Kiefer has a genuine interest in the mystic life, and is as likely to explore the diamond-studded firmament as he is the fertile plain. In room 11, we find Kiefer in agrarian mode, evoking ‘a land, perpetually coming to harvest’ (Ronald Johnson: The Book of the Green Man). These intensely romantic images of fruitfulness are subverted by such things as a mantrap attached to the painting’s surface — a notable vagina dentata clearly echoing Courbet’s ‘L’Origine du Monde’ — old shoes or a set of primitive scales, along with volcanic stone and gold leaf. Since the death of the Catalan master Antoni Tàpies, Kiefer must be our leading artist-magus.

Some people complain that they’re overburdened by the weight of reference in Kiefer’s paintings, the history, poetry and philosophy that inform his approach. I can only say that the viewer does not need to know or recognise its presence, nor feel inadequate before Kiefer’s learning. There is much to enjoy in his work on a purely formal level, but if you wish to explore the manifold layers of meaning below the surface, there’s even more to intrigue and savour. Then there are those who think his pictures rather rudimentary, exploiting texture and simple perspective and owing more to the mud and muck of the farmyard than to any alchemical (or artistic) transformation.

Others admire his work but regret the industrial scale on which it now seems exclusively to operate, and suggest that you can get away with murder with an adoring international market and an army of assistants. But I have to say that such quibbles dwindle and vanish in the face of this beautifully installed exhibition. It is the art that has to convince us or condemn itself, and this is a breathtaking show, a real source of awe and wonder, probably the most astonishing event of the season.

And it can be a pretty silly season too, as demonstrated by the media circus which is now the annual Turner Prize. When the prize was founded in 1984, it seemed to offer some hope of promoting excellence with such artists as Malcolm Morley and Richard Deacon winning in early years. But since the millennium, it has increasingly become the resort of installation and multimedia artists, not painters and sculptors, and this colonisation has resulted in a tragic loss of credibility. The new conceptual orthodoxy is nothing more than a current establishment fashion but its perpetrators and propagators seem bent on excluding more traditional forms of art.

The problem is that the so-called experimental art showcased by the Turner Prize is so thoroughly passé that it merely recycles ideas thought new and original half-a-century ago. But the pundits of the media still find such stale stuff wonderfully controversial and diverting. To my mind, the unholy crop of films, wallpaper, slide projections, bad writing, flags, sociological reportage and relentless pretension that makes up this year’s shortlist is intensely depressing. The banality is unredeemed. Time to abolish the Turner Prize and inaugurate a Constable Prize for Painting, and perhaps a Henry Moore Prize for Sculpture.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated



At the RA

John-Paul Stonard

Anselm Kiefer first came to public attention in London in A New Spirit in Painting, the exhibition held in 1981 at the Royal Academy. It’s fitting, then, that this should be the venue for the first full retrospective in Britain, curated by Kathleen Soriano (until 14 December). Kiefer has always divided critics, some taking fright at his heavy Germanic imagery, others describing the experience of his work in religious terms. It has lost none of its ability to provoke in either direction. Visitors circulate unusually slowly, silently contemplating the works. Looming at the top of the Academy stairs is a big sculpture,Language of the Birds (2013), a pile of large books made of lead sheets, interleaved with metal park chairs, surmounted by a giant pair of outspread wings, also of lead. Made from elements familiar from Kiefer’s work over the past forty years, the sculpture signals the epic journey that lies ahead.

At the heart of Kiefer’s work is an idea and image of history. For the series of photographs entitled Occupations, which launched his career in 1969, he posed in different European locations dressed in military garb and performing a Nazi salute. The claim some have made that the photographs are evidence of fascist sympathies is bizarre – the satire is obvious. Although other German artists – Gerhard Richter and Markus Lüpertz, for example – had used military imagery, only Kiefer was reckless enough to portray himself as a Nazi. Kiefer was breaking a taboo about showing the recent past, but he was also saying something about the present – about the confrontation of generations that was then taking place in West Germany. Those who were too young to have taken an active part in the Third Reich (the ‘blessed’ generation in Helmut Kohl’s phrase), were confronted with a society still dominated by collaborators. The task was to hold a mirror up to West German society, to show what it had been, and to some extent what it still was.

Anselm Kiefer’s ‘Heroische Sinnbilder’ (1969).

Anselm Kiefer’s ‘Heroische Sinnbilder’ (1969).

In paintings and books made over the next few years Kiefer seemed to plunge further down into German history, into the constellations of art and culture that had become so problematically entangled with fascism. His art is in this sense a form of unravelling.Man in the Forest, for example, a painting from 1971, is one of the first statements of his fascination with the theme of the forest and trees central to the Nazi myth. In a picture recalling Caspar David Friedrich’s The Chasseur in the Forest, Kiefer paints himself in a white gown, holding a burning branch in a thick forest, the oil layered and dripping as if the work was itself the outcome of a pagan rite.

With Kiefer there is always a sense of meanings lurking just beneath the surface, of barely hidden taboos. Four paintings from 1973 on the theme of the Parsifal legend (three are included in this show) depict an attic space, in fact Kiefer’s studio at the time, the canvas dominated by the wood grain of the interior, done in charcoal on an oil ground. Inscribed on the canvas are the names of characters from Wagner’s opera and Gurnemanz’s line ‘Oh, wunden-wundervolles heiliger Speer!’ (‘Oh wounding, wondrous holy spear!’), which puts one in mind of Albert Speer. Also inscribed are the names of members of the Baader-Meinhof gang – Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin had finally been arrested shortly before Kiefer began the work. Half-buried in the wood grain effect (a Kiefer trademark), the combination of names suggests not only ‘difficult meaning’, but also the generational conflict which was to culminate in the events of the Deutscher Herbst (German Autumn) a few years later.

Kiefer is one of the few living artists who can work convincingly on a truly monumental scale, creating vast works that seem not merely to take up, but to activate the space around them. This is particularly true of his paintings based on fascist architecture. The vast canvas Ash Flower (1983-97) is more than seven and a half metres long, and almost four in height, and shows a large ruin of what had been a classical interior in plunging single-point perspective, clay, ash and earth forming the desiccated surface. An enormous dried sunflower is attached, inverted, in the centre of the canvas. Peter Schjeldahl saw an ‘energetic contradiction of the frontal and the recessive’ in these works, which he compares to the paintings of Jackson Pollock. He refers to the sense of being caught between diving into the image, drawn into the perspectival vortex, or remaining on the surface of the canvas, seeing it as a physical object rather than an imaginary space. For perspectival recession read historical imagination, and for scarred surfaces read the historical present in which Kiefer was living and working, a Germany consumed with the task of reconstruction and, in its national life, the work of constant redefinition. According to Andreas Huyssen, this oscillation between past and present becomes a dilemma for the viewer, caught between the feeling of being ‘had’ and falling for the monumental aesthetic beguilingly presented as ‘art’. Hold onto the surface, remain in the present, if you can.

The final painting in the architectural series, Sulamith (1983), is one of Kiefer’s best-known works, and possibly his greatest. It shows a low-ceilinged vaulted chamber, based on the Nazi architect Wilhelm Kreis’s 1939 memorial hall for German soldiers. The charred walls and glowering atmosphere of Kiefer’s version, and above all the inscribed ‘Sulamith’ show that far from being a Nazi Valhalla this is a Holocaust memorial. The ‘ashen-haired’ Sulamith and the ‘golden-haired’ Margarethe are from Paul Celan’s Todesfugue; the loss of Sulamith is a symbol of the Holocaust. Political reunification in 1990 restored the former east, but the real ‘other half’ of German history, the Jewish part, could never be restored.

Kiefer’s range of subject matter and references is epic. Since the 1980s overtly Germanic themes – the forest, the Nibelungen, the Third Reich – have been joined by Mesopotamian history, Egyptian and Greek mythology, the Old Norse Edda and the Kabbalah. A summary of these interests is captured by The Rhine, an installation of monumental woodcuts displayed on free-standing screens: Goethe, Dürer, fascist architecture, the poetry of Celan, all hovering above an image of the longest German river. It is a testament to Kiefer’s tact that, despite the grandiosity of these themes, his work never feels overblown. At the heart of the Royal Academy display is an installation, Ages of the World, a title loosely translated from the German Erdzeitalter. A lofty, tapering stack of discarded canvases, stretched and rolled, interleaved with old photographs, rubble, lead books and more large dried sunflowers gives off a faint odour of the dust and solvent of an artist’s studio. Two works on the wall, large photographs of the sculpture overpainted with words, annotate the stack in terms of the strata of geological eras. At first it seems to be a monument to art’s failure in the face of history, or an attempt to escape history. The critic John Russell saw an earlier form of the work, titled Twenty Years of Solitude (1971-91) as a ‘portrait of the artist as Atlas, bearing upon his shoulders a whole world in epitome’. But despite this the mood remains somehow light, as though a burden has been shifted, a knot unravelled.

This (relative) lightness of mood is one of the most striking qualities of Kiefer’s monumental works. These have taken the form of vast crumbling concrete towers, libraries of lead books – or the two enormous studio complexes he runs in France (descriptions of visits to these studios to interview the artist are a sub-genre of the Kiefer literature). The effect can be seen in the large canvas For Ingeborg Bachmann: The Sand from the Urns, 1998-2009 (even the date range is epic) which shows a large brick structure, perhaps a tomb, barely visible beneath a surface of acrylic and shellac (who knows what else might be lurking in there), the whole thing encrusted in a thick layer of sand. The title refers to the two poets whom Kiefer holds in greatest reverence; when Celan embarked on an ill-fated affair with Bachmann, he inscribed his poem ‘In Egypt’ in his collection The Sand from the Urns for her: ‘Thou shalt say to the strange woman’s eye: be the water!’ The surface of the painting recalls Joyce – ‘These heavy sands are language tide and wind have silted here’ – but at the same time his citation from Celan counters the heaviness of the lead books, the pyramids, the halls of fame, with a dash of mysticism to suggest that there is something to be read in those leaden tomes after all. His schoolbook-like script (which strongly recalls the lettering Kitaj used on his paintings) adds to the sense of more simple histories and truths, and also reveals something of Kiefer’s sense of humour, which he has sustained since the absurdist satire of the Occupations photographs. An endearing crankiness helps his work to survive the grandiosity of its subject matter.

As a retrospective the Royal Academy show is far from definitive. A weighting in favour of recent works, including two large diamond-encrusted lead-sheet ‘paintings’, and a room of seven new paintings, characterised by their rich gilded surfaces and grouped under the title Morgenthau, gives the impression of a mid-career show, organised in a commercial rather than a scholarly context (although the catalogue is highly informative and contains a fine essay by Christian Weikop on Kiefer’s use of tree and forest symbolism). It offers an opportunity to marvel, but not to get beneath the skin of Kiefer’s work, or to see him alongside other artists. His considerable debt to Joseph Beuys, at one time his teacher, is a case in point. The dried roses Beuys stuffed in a piano in 1969 are surely the origins of Kiefer’s sunflowers; and where Beuys used felt and fat as his signature materials, Kiefer uses lead (salvaged, we are told, from the roof of Cologne cathedral). The use of inscriptions, and the sense that an attempt is being made to create allegories of recent history also joins the two artists, although there are many differences too: Beuys was not a painter, for example; and Kiefer, since hisOccupations photographs, is not known for performances. And in many respects Kiefer has gone beyond his former teacher in creating a body of work that captures the experience and memories of a German artist working in the wake of the Third Reich. But it isn’t his subject matter, or even its poetic transformation, that makes Kiefer’s work so beguiling, particularly when compared with that of artists such as Beuys or Georg Baselitz. It is something far more prosaic: the fascination of running one’s eyes over the intricate surfaces of his paintings, admiring the sense of design in his woodcuts, his skill in painting in watercolour, or ingenuity in recycling materials for sculpture – the pleasure of wondering how it was all done.


Anselm Kiefer review – remembrance amid the ruins

Royal Academy, London
Anselm Kiefer’s monumental work in ash, straw, diamonds and sunflowers dazzles in a superb retrospective

Anselm Kiefer retrospective - London
‘This is a show covered in clinker’: Ash Flower, 1983-97 by Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy. Photograph: Justin Tallis/PA

Anyone who knows even the smallest thing about Anselm Kiefer will have gathered that his ambitions are not ordinary. An old-school history painter, didactic and inescapably moral, he works on a grand scale in lead, sand, gold leaf, copper wire, broken ceramics, straw, wood and even diamonds, his ideas informed by, among many other subjects, the Holocaust, Egyptian mythology, the architecture of Albert Speer, German Romanticism and the poems of Paul Celan. He is the kind of artist whose physical presence – in his black T-shirts and rimless spectacles, he puts one in mind just lately of an executive from Apple – always comes as a surprise. How, you wonder, can a man who deals with so much weighty stuff have such regular-looking shoulders, such ordinary biceps? And why is he smiling? Doesn’t the darkness ever threaten to engulf him? Doesn’t his project – now more than 40 years old – sometimes pinch at his sanity?

Ice and Blood (Eis und Blut), 1971 by Anselm Kiefer.

Ice and Blood (Eis und Blut), 1971 by Anselm Kiefer. Private collection © Anselm Kiefer Photograph: Bénédicte Peyrat/Private collection © Anselm Kiefer

Yet only with the help of a blindfold would you be able to wander the Royal Academy’s stupendous retrospective of his work and leave feeling anything less than drunk with amazement. However much you know about Kiefer, it’s impossible to be prepared for this show: for its scale, its pleasures, its provocations and – this must be said – its bafflements. This is a total experience. The work first speaks to the eyes, which instinctively scour every last corner of every painting, every sculpture. Then it calls to the heart, pulling from you all sorts of things Kiefer certainly didn’t intend (in my case: modern-day Syria; the 80s nuclear TV drama Threads; John Wyndham’s novel The Day of the Triffids). Last of all, it engages the head, as you attempt to unravel his complex, multilayered narratives. It’s certainly useful to know your history before you enter these spaces – and if you’re fluent in the language of Richard Wagner and Caspar David Friedrich, so much the better. But it isn’t necessary. In any case, mystification is half the point. No artist puts this much effort into the construction of their work without wanting their audience to linger over it, to try and fathom it out.

Ages of the World (Die Erdzeitalter), 2014 by Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy.
Ages of the World (Die Erdzeitalter), 2014 by Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy. Photograph: REX/REX

Kiefer was born in the Black Forest in 1945, a kind of year zero in terms of German history. And it’s this – the attempt to wipe out collective memory after the war – that has long been his creative wellspring (at school his teachers hardly mentioned the Third Reich). Taught by Joseph Beuys, the artist who helped Kiefer’s generation to reclaim much of the historical and mythological imagery rendered so toxic by the Nazis, his early work depicts himself, dressed in his father’s army uniform, taking the Nazi salute outside the Colosseum in Rome and elsewhere. The Royal Academy show, which works chronologically, begins with this zesty, youthful reappropriation. I was queasily hypnotised by the watercolour Ice and Blood (1971), in which an expanse of snow is scarred with pools of crimson and, far worse, a tiny, naive figure in a military overcoat, its right arm ominously raised. Before you get there, though, the Royal Academy reveals its breathtaking commitment to Kiefer with a little reappropriation of its own. The garish shop at the top of the gallery’s stairs has disappeared. In its stead is Language of the Birds (2013), a monumental sculpture comprising a pile of charred-looking books with a huge set of wings attached. Do these belong to a German eagle? Naturally, that’s what comes to mind. But I kept thinking, too, of the phoenix, a creature that speaks to Anselm’s preoccupation with myth, rebirth and the cycles of time every bit as loudly as the Reichsadler.

The phoenix rises from the ashes, and this, after all, is a show that is covered in clinker. Ash Flower (1983-97), made of oil, acrylic, paint, clay, earth, ash and – a recurring symbol in Kiefer’s work – a dried sunflower, is a seven metre-wide depiction of a ruin, the ruthless lines of a grand public building emerging through its murky surface like the prow of a ship through fog. Sulamith (1983), inspired by a Paul Celan poem, Death Fugue, which was written in a concentration camp (“your ashen hair Shulamite”), is a gloomy crypt rendered in oil, acrylic, woodcut, emulsion and straw, at one end of which a fire endlessly flickers. Untitled (2006-08) consists of a triptych of huge vitrines in which there resides a wintry graveyard of brambles, dead roses, more ash, and toppling concrete houses. Gradually, the work starts to talk to the future as well as the past. In the Royal Academy’s octagonal gallery is a new piece, Ages of the World (2014): a pile of abandoned canvases and rubble bedecked with an unhappy coronet of yet more dead sunflowers. It has a dystopian, post-apocalyptic feel: no culture, no hope.

Morgenthau Plan, 2013.



Morgenthau Plan, 2013. Photograph: Charles Duprat/© Anselm Kiefer

All this is pitch-dark. But there is radiance elsewhere – and colour too. For Ingeborg Bachmann: the Sand from the Urns (1998-2009) is a depiction of a ziggurat in a sandstorm so astonishingly dynamic you’re almost tempted to squint, the better to protect your eyes, while the satirical Operation Sea Lion(1975) has toy battleships floating in one of the zinc baths that were given to every German home by the health-obsessed Third Reich, its water a horribly chipper shade of blue. Best of all there are Kiefer’s Morgenthau paintings from 2013, named for the US Treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau Jnr – whose plan it was in 1944 to transform Germany into a pre-industrial nation as a means of limiting her ability to fight future wars – and crammed with impasto stalks of corn that sometimes blow and bend, and sometimes reach for the blazing sky. A note on the wall urges the visitor to note the crows circling above, a symbol of death and resurrection. But it isn’t these flapping shadows that keep you in the room; it’s the whispering grass, the beatific sunshine, the splashes of cornflower blue. Kiefer is that most resolute of artists. He has never turned away from the difficult and the sombre; his career is a magnificent reproach to those who think art can’t deal with the big subjects, with history, memory and genocide. In the end, though, what stays with you is the feeling – overwhelming at times – that he is always making his way carefully towards the light.



September 19, 2014 6:38 pm

Interview with Anselm Kiefer, ahead of his Royal Academy show

Politics, history, money – and alchemy. The provocative artist gives our visual arts critic a tour of his studio
Anselm Kiefer in front of his work ‘Ages of the World’ (2014)©Howard Sooley

Anselm Kiefer in front of his work ‘Ages of the World’ (2014)

When I tell Anselm Kiefer that my favourite work in his forthcoming Royal Academy retrospective is “Tándaradei” – a monumental new painting in oil, emulsion and shellac where pink, red and mauve blossoms seem to burst into life, fade, wilt, all at once – the artist looks apologetic. “I put it out of the exhibition because it’s too beautiful. It’s too much. I couldn’t allow it.”

Painters have been quarrelling about beauty for centuries but Kiefer, born in southern Germany in the last months of the second world war, has rooted his life’s work in the urgent postwar anxiety about art’s role and future: Theodor Adorno’s claim that there could be no poetry after Auschwitz.

“You cannot avoid beauty in a work of art,” says Kiefer. He waves at a room full of richly textured works with scorched, barbed surfaces – built up from ash, lead, shards of pottery, battered books and broken machines – that evoke war-ravaged wastelands but have lyricism etched into the violence of their making. “You can take the most terrible subject and automatically it becomes beautiful. What is sure is that I could never do art about Auschwitz. It is impossible because the subject is too big.”

This is a conversation stopper because Kiefer has rarely made art about anything else. In the 1960s he made his debut as a performance artist: dressed in his father’s army uniform, he photographed himself making the Nazi salute in iconic European locations such as Rome’s Colosseum, confronting what his fellow artist Joseph Beuys called Germany’s “visual amnesia” about the Holocaust. Half a century later, at this year’s Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, he displayed a new painting “Kranke Kunst” (“Sick Art”), a lovely willowy reprise of a 1974 watercolour of the same name in which a landscape of the kind idealised by the Nazis was dotted with pink boils.

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Kiefer explains: “I like the double sense, first ‘Kranke Kunst’ is negative, it comes from Nazi censorship of entartete Kunst [degenerate art]. And then, it’s completely true because all is ill, the situation in the world is ill . . . Syria, Nigeria, Russia. Our head is generally ill, we are constructed wrong.”

What can art do?

“Art cannot help directly. Art is the way to make it obvious. Art is cynical, it shows the negativity of the world, it’s the first condemnation.”

Can art be celebratory?

“Matisse, he celebrates, but I see through this – to desperation.”

Kiefer says all this to me cheerfully, deadpan, over vodka at three in the afternoon in his 30,000 sq metre Paris atelier, a former warehouse of the department store Samaritaine. Another studio in Barjac, southern France, occupies a 200-acre estate but even the Paris one is so extensive that you need a car to cross it, past rusting tanks, containers with paintings left out to the chance elements of weather, and rose bushes planted by the artist. At one point we nearly collide with a crane hoisting a slab of lead. “For me, huge doesn’t exist,” Kiefer admits.

. . .

Tall and greying but lean and swift in white shorts and open shirt, the 69-year-old has fled preparations for the show in London – “It’s boring for an artist to do a retrospective” – but he offers a tour of the work here. Sculptures wrought from damaged bomber planes are strewn across one studio. Styrofoam towers from his nine-storey set for the Bastille Opera’s In the Beginning tumble and crumble in another. Hundreds of bleached-out resin sunflowers at three times life size, a comic homage to Van Gogh, stand guard at the gated entrance.

You cannot avoid beauty in a work of art

Sunflowers like these are coming to London, part of an installation, entitled “Ages of the World”, of unfinished canvases stacked horizontally into giant rubbish heaps that will occupy the RA’s opening central hall. I had interpreted an allusion to German history, the unhealable rupture imposed by the Nazi attack on degenerate art. Kiefer, however, points to monochrome gouaches that will surround his fallen canvases, which are scrawled with words referencing stratigraphy, palaeography, geology.

Archaikum, mesozoikum,” he recites, drawing out the syllables like a line of poetry. He speaks English well but relaxes into real pleasure of expression when lapsing into German. “I like these words! How many million years are we old? You don’t know? You don’t know our age! I have all this catastrophe in my biography. That is what you see in ‘Ages of the World’. We go back much before our birthday. In our mind is inserted all this stratigraphy. Three hundred and fifty million years ago a meteorite touched the earth and 95 per cent of life was extinguished. Three hundred and fifty million years ago the dinosaurs – and lots of people – died. German history? It starts with Archaikum.”

In one of the most affecting paintings in the exhibition, “The Orders of the Night” (1996), there are also giant sunflowers, blackened, lined up in rows, menacing as soldiers, looming over a self-portrait of Kiefer as a corpse. And dried sunflowers mix with ash, clay and oil in the sombre, tapering interior, “The Ash Flower” (1983-87), the show’s largest painting at nearly 26ft wide.

At the Royal Academy, such ghostly interiors, echoing with references to Hitler’s architect Albert Speer, such as the chancellery in “To the Unknown Painter” (1983), will hang alongside desolate versions of the forests and fields of the German romantic imagination: landscape destroyed in “Painting of the Scorched Earth” (1974); deathly in the shimmering straw of “Margarethe” (1981), representing the blond camp guard; paired with the dark straw ashes of the victim of the furnaces “Sulamith” (1983); or inscribed with the poems of Paul Celan and studded with charred books in the more recent furrowed “Black Flakes” (2006).

When I got an early glimpse of the show, these struck me as the dark heart of Kiefer’s achievement I ask him if he feels that these were the works he inevitably had to make. “No, no. Perhaps I should have been a poet or a writer. You can never be sure because you make mistakes but the mistake becomes reality.” Poems, he says, “are like buoys in the sea. I swim from one to the next; in between, without them, I am lost.” He says Celan, a Holocaust survivor, “is the most important poet since the war. He puts words together as no one did before. He made another language, he’s an alchemist concerning words.”

Is alchemy a metaphor for what Kiefer does? “It is what I do,” he corrects. “Alchemy is not to make gold, the real alchemist is not interested in material things but in transubstantiation, in transforming the spirit. It’s a spiritual thing more than a material thing. An alchemist puts the phenomena of the world in another context. My bird is about that . . . ” He points out “The Language of Birds”, a new avian sculpture whose body is composed of burnt books, also to be completed for the London show. “It’s made with lead and strips of silver, gold. Its wings are lead and can’t fly, the books can’t fly, the metal is solid, but it changes.” He loves lead because “it has always been a material for ideas. It is in flux, it’s changeable and has the potential to achieve a higher state.” He grins: “And then, my paintings have a certain value, so I’m an alchemist.”

Art cannot help directly. Art is the way to make it obvious. Art is cynical, it shows the negativity of the world, it’s the first condemnation

Kiefer’s auction record is $3.6m, achieved for “To the Unknown Painter” in 2011, and he is represented by blue-chip dealers Gagosian, White Cube and Thaddaeus Ropac; indeed, in 2012, both Gagosian and Ropac launched massive galleries in Paris with rival Kiefer shows, flaming criticism of overproduction and repetition. “Kiefer has become better and better at making Anselm Kiefers. In them grandiosity rarely takes a holiday,” wrote Roberta Smith in The New York Times of a 2010 Gagosian Manhattan show. In that exhibition, Next Year in Jerusalem, Kiefer’s references to Jewish mysticism and history, a strand in his work since the 1980s, attracted protesters against Israel’s blockade of Gaza; wearing T-shirts inscribed with the show’s title, they asked to stay in the gallery to continue discussions raised by Kiefer’s work. The gallery called the police, saying, “This is private property. We’re here to sell art.”

Was this a betrayal of Kiefer’s seriousness, an admission that 21st-century art is primarily a commodity? I can think of no other contemporary figure who operates at the interface of art, money, politics and history as prominently, and with such confident equilibrium, as Kiefer. It is undeniable, and borne out by unpredictable auction results, that the quality of his prolific output is uneven, sometimes top-heavy with portentous theme or occult narrative. On the other hand, the cohesion of ideas and tone in the RA show, Kiefer’s first retrospective, dramatises how the conceptual impetus underpinning his material endeavours mean that all his works belong together as a sort of Gesamtkunstwerk – or even as a performance piece in progress, which began with his solitary Sieg Heil in Rome half a century ago.

At his Wagnerian stretch, Kiefer is a very German artist, though he left the country in 1990, after reunification. He says: “Since I live in France it seems that I am more German. Thomas Mann wrote Buddenbrooks in Rome: when he was in Italy he became aware of being German. It’s clear that I am in the tradition of German art, Holbein, Dürer, Caspar David Friedrich, but national character is no longer so present. The last time there was real distinction between French and German art was impressionism, which was French, and expressionism, which was German – then it was clear who was who. Now it’s not global but it’s European – if I take America as part of Europe, though they will not like that! In America and the UK it’s about the work. In Germany it’s always linked to some moral issue.”

It seems to me that there are two things that make the Royal Academy show significant beyond an account of one man’s vision. This autumn Kiefer is being shown alongside two German near-contemporaries, Sigmar Polke at Tate Modern and Gerhard Richter at Marian Goodman’s new Mayfair space. Each came of age in a morally fatherless culture and had to negotiate positions vis-à-vis German history: Polke’s was fundamentally absurdist, Richter’s ironic, and Kiefer’s is broadly tragic. All are valid responses to Adorno.

But an RA show is also an institution boasting a centuries-old history of debate about the formal nature of painting. Kiefer follows exhibitions devoted to Anish Kapoor, who in 2009 drove a “paint train” through the galleries and shot pigment at the walls from a gun; and to David Hockney, who in 2012 challenged traditional painting with iPad sketches enlarged to enormous scale and film. Both artists proved that painting could rival younger media as spectacle, theatre, performance; this show will do the same.

Before I leave Paris, Kiefer shows me a group of green-gold paintings, encrusted with metal, polystyrene, shellac, sheaves of wheat, paint layered over photographs, a shoe, a pair of scales. This is the Morgenthau series, begun in 2012 and named after a leaked, abandoned wartime American plan to deindustrialise Germany. “A big present to Hitler,” says Kiefer, “because he was able to say, ‘If you don’t fight, this will happen to you. Fifty million Germans would have died – though that’s nothing [compared] to Mao.”

I could never do art about Auschwitz. It is impossible because the subject is too big

Kiefer has made some new Morgenthau paintings especially for Burlington House. Altogether there are a lot of them: an obvious glitzy currency for a widening collector base. They are also rather beautiful.

“I came to the title,” Kiefer explains, “because I so much like flowers and I painted so many flower pictures that I had a very bad conscience, because nature is not inviolate, nature is not just itself. So what to do with this beauty? I thought, ‘I will call it Morgenthau’, in a cynical way telling that Germany would be so beautiful without industry. This way of turning it round, it tells you the ambiguity of beauty.”

A smart conceptualist’s marketing strategy or an artist making peace with the tradition of painting? Kiefer pauses to marvel at an emerald hue while fingering the gold leaf, which he has layered on to sediment of electrolysis, an industrial galvanisation process to which he submits the works – a modern alchemy. “You cannot produce it, it’s such a powerful green, that’s the electrolysis, it changes the painting and when I see it, I am surprised. And that’s what I live for: to be surprised.”

‘Anselm Kiefer’ is at the Royal Academy, London, September 27 to December 14,

Jackie Wullschlager is the FT’s chief visual arts critic. Read her review of Constable at the V&A

Photograph: Howard Sooley



Anselm Kiefer, Royal Academy, preview: Is he our greatest living artist?

Kiefer’s range seems limitless: the courtyard entrance to the Royal Academy will be dominated by his first ever vitrines for outdoor display, one containing ships, as it were, beached, the other with vessels afloat

The sunflowers are over for another year: the confident golden heads have drooped, their sunny countenances giving way to a black scowl.

It feels like a metaphor for the end of summer. But for the artist Anselm Kiefer, this is when sunflowers get interesting. Like his hero Van Gogh, he revisits the sunflower time and again, not for its buttery radiance, but for its blackened seeds. Sunflowers, in Kiefer’s work, are embedded into paintings, apparently dead, but bearing the potential for life.

The polarities of life and death, the heavens and the earth, micro and macro, are central to the work of the 69-year-old German painter and sculptor, described by the curator of a major retrospective of his work at the Royal Academy in London, opening this month, as “our greatest living artist”. Kathleen Soriano has worked closely with Kiefer, an honorary Academician elected by his peers, and while she has been selecting work from a career lasting almost 50 years, he has been making new pieces – 40 per cent of the work will not have been seen before, and much of it has been created with the architecture of the RA’s home in Burlington House in mind.

“One of the things that Anselm wanted to do was to respect the architecture,” explains Soriano. This is not simply an aesthetic response to a well-proportioned building, but a physical interaction with the bricks and mortar that can be both mankind’s triumph and its disgrace.

Kiefer, a child of the Second World War, was born into another polarity: on the one hand the grandiose, fascist buildings of architects such as Albert Speer, on the other, the rubble of bombed houses. On the day Kiefer was born, the neighbouring shop/house was destroyed, only a sewing machine propelled unbroken into the street, its isolation and solidity later echoing in works such as Black Flakes (2006), at first glance a desolate winter landscape, in which a book made of lead is embedded in the thawing snow.

Growing up with the heavy burden of his country’s wartime atrocities, Kiefer scandalised some when, early in his career, he produced images that were not only unacceptable but actually outlawed in Germany – depicting him, in a Nazi uniform, giving the Nazi salute. Due to feature in the first room of the exhibition, they force us to confront the past and raise the question of the role of the artist in the wake of a vicious regime. Though at the same time, Soriano says, “the work is as much about the present and the future … and the way he plumbs the past is always forewarning us about the evils of mankind.”

Kiefer wants to restore some of his country’s corrupted legacy, too. “The Nazis had tarnished so much mythology, and he wanted to reclaim it,” says Soriano. Much of that mythology lies in the woods and forests of Germany, which not only inspire the subjects of Kiefer’s work, but provide the materials. Going far beyond traditional oils and sculptural metals, Kiefer’s media for one work, based on the story of Isis reassembling her dismembered lover Osiris, reads: “Lead, concrete, roses, bramble, acrylic, emulsion, ash shellac …” Nothing is invalid as a material.

‘The Renowned Orders of the Night’, from the Seattle Art Museum
But even with the whole world as his supplier, Kiefer does not rest there. Another of the polarities that fascinates him is order and chaos. A completed work may, to him, appear too organised, and so he relinquishes it to nature – leaving it outdoors, allowing it to disintegrate. Curators and conservators have been known to retrieve flakes of paintings from the gallery floor, returning them to the artist, who incorporates them in other work. Sometimes he sets fire to his pieces; he has also shot at them. The ambiguity of fire intrigues him: it is cleansing and cauterising, but also disfiguring and destructive.

In contrast to the natural cathedrals of the forest canopy, Kiefer also paints vast, cavernous halls, but again he is drawn to extremes: on the one hand he admires their grand architecture; on the other, he is drawn to their simple building blocks. “He loves the idea of man making bricks as God makes stars,” says Soriano.

Kiefer’s range seems limitless: the courtyard entrance to the Royal Academy will be dominated by his first ever vitrines for outdoor display, one containing ships, as it were, beached, the other with vessels afloat. He is intrigued by the Russian Futurist Velimir Khlebnikov’s theory that history throws up a critical naval battle every 317 years. Even water, plain and simple, is ambiguous. When the Rhine, which forms a geographical border between Germany and France, flooded the basement of his childhood home, Kiefer wondered where the boundary lay then – in the midst of the swollen waters or in his cellar?

Landscape is important to him, and not only the golden lakes of sunflowers. The American Morgenthau Plan, devised in 1944 to strip a near-defeated Germany of its industry and turn it into a farm for Europe, is thought to have only strengthened the Nazis’ resolve, and cost more lives. Kiefer harvests the landscape in his own way, embedding straw in his portrayals of Margarete, a blond Aryan who appears in a series of paintings inspired by Paul Celan’s elegy to victims of the Holocaust, Death Fugue, alongside another figure from the poem, black-haired Jewish woman Shulamite.

Since 1968 Kiefer has been making books, the pages of which do not necessarily reveal obvious text and images: 48 will be on show at the RA, and the exhibition will conclude with a walk through the panels of a larger-than-life, concertina-like volume, called a leporello (after Don Giovanni’s servant, whose list of his master’s lovers that is so long he must fold it).

“People think of Kiefer’s work being so masculine and confrontational,” says Soriano, “and I don’t think they understand his gentle side. What I want people to take away from this show is not only the knowledge that he is a great painter, but also that he has great relevance.” Indeed Kiefer, she adds, is looking, like all of us, with great anxiety at today’s turbulent world. “He says you have to remember that history is cyclical.”



Review:  Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy


A visit to the Anselm Kiefer retrospective exhibition at the RA can be a daunting prospect for many reasons, the scale of the work, the complexity of themes and the sheer overwhelming volume of diverse media on display in this huge exhibition.

Kiefer has many interests among which German history, mythology, alchemy, poetry, ritual, metaphysics, cosmology, are explored and transformed into a special, unique vision of our world.

Kiefer was born in Germany on 8 March 1945 just before the end of the Second World War, so growing up in post-war Germany has been a major conditioning factor in his development and a defining influence in his practice.

As a young artist he found that there was a reluctance to acknowledge and confront the recent Nazi past and the damaging distortion that had been inflicted on German culture.

Reacting to this he made provocative photographs and paintings of himself wearing his father’s coat (he had been a Nazi party member) giving an illegal salute.

But in these images, the pose looks weak and limp and pathetic. In one painting there are references to Classical sculptures, favoured by the Third Reich, hovering in ghostly form in the sky above the saluting figure seen standing beside the Rhine. This painting, despite the unsettling subject matter is full of beautiful passages showing Kiefer’s command and expressive use of oil paint.

He is also a skillful and fluent watercolour painter exploiting the potential of the medium to great effect as seen in Winter Landscape 1970, where the delicacy of the paint starkly contrasts with the violence of the image. Any idea about watercolour being a soft medium used for pleasing subjects, easy on the eye and brain, will be rapidly dispelled here. It is this quality of employing seduction with repulsion that forms a consistent element flowing like the Rhine through the show.

A major characteristic of Kiefer’s work is the use of elemental materials that includes ash, clay, straw, wood, blood, lead, sunflowers, copper and recently, gold and diamonds.

The physical manipulation of materials has given him opportunities to explore his themes and concerns resulting in awe-inspiring work, gigantic in scale and ambition.

As his practice has developed over the years, the surface of the 2D work becomes increasingly 3D to the point where it seems as if a vertical canvas cannot support the weight of the material.

Because many of the materials employed are by nature fragile, paint and other additives trowelled on in heavy impasto, the monumentality of the work increases a sense of its precariousness and possible disintegration.

Kiefer apparently, is not worried by this possibility!

One of the preoccupations that recurs in the paintings is the forest. Being aware of recent history, these paintings can have different readings dependent on whether they are viewed as places of refuge or murder.

Kiefer’s understanding of the way in which paint behaves is seen here, dripping, contrasting thin with thick textures, implying spatial depth and volume. There is always an underlying sense of perspective in the composition of the visual elements giving, however obscured, structure to the painting.

The use of single point perspective is especially strong in the converging parallels employed in the huge paintings of the bombastic Nazi Neo-Classical architecture, destroyed in the war, but reimagined by Kiefer as charred ruins.

Railway lines and tracks in the landscape take us nervously towards an ominous vanishing point.

With his high status in the art world justifiably recognized he now has the power and means to do anything he dreams of, demonstrated by the increased use of very expensive materials and huge installations. I was left with the feeling that because he “can do” he “will do”.

Is there the possible risk that the priceless value of the materials will overwhelm us and act as a barrier in our ability to reach further into the meaning of the work?


The exhibition continues until 14 December.


Anselm Kiefer
Operation Sea Lion (Unternehmen Seelowe), 1975
Oil on canvas, 220 x 300 cm
Collection of Irma and Norman Braman Miami Beach, Florida
Photo Collection of Irma and Norman Braman, Miami Beach, Florida / © Anselm Kiefer



Reviews of African London Post-Conceptual Painter Chris Ofili’s “Night and Day” at the New Museum, New York City




An Ode to Blackness

CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times


Chris Ofili makes paintings that will not let us be. For more than two decades, the work of this British artist has dazzled and discomfited, seduced and unsettled, gliding effortlessly between high and low, among cultures, ricocheting off different racial stereotypes and religious beliefs. His paintings mesmerize, whether with their opulent dotted surfaces or bawdy eroticism, their perfumed colors or their riffs on established masterpieces.

One example is “Rodin … The Thinker,” a black woman in garter belt, bra and bright orange wig. Another is a St. Sebastian in rusted bronze, reinterpreted as a dark-skinned martyr who, instead of arrows, is riddled with nails, conjuring a Congolese power figure. And then there are the eccentric materials, brightly colored map pins, glitter and — most famous — elephant dung. And always, through changes in subject, technique and style, Mr. Ofili never loses touch with his belief in painting as, foremost, a sensual, accessible experience meant to engross the eye before doing much with the mind. Sometimes he challenges the basic act of seeing.

“Chris Ofili: Night and Day,” the New Museum’s  intoxicating midcareer survey of Mr. Ofili’s ambitious art, presents six distinct bodies of paintings and drawings across three floors. In a darkened gallery on the museum’s third floor hangs shadowy paintings whose images flicker amid dark metallic purples, blues and reds. This ambiguous perceptual experience is akin to looking at the paintings of Ad Reinhardt, the Abstract Expressionist master of abstract geometries enmeshed in barely differentiated shades of black. But Mr. Ofili’s fleeting motifs reveal themselves to include images, set amid tropical settings, of a hanged figure, soldiers brandishing bayonets, and a black man surrounded by white policemen.

Standing before this last, especially disturbing image, which is titled “Blue Devils,” you understand beyond a doubt that the through line in this beautiful show is blackness: as night, as history, as culture, as skin, as majesty, as terror, as paranoia, as myth. It is present in the show’s opening second-floor gallery, too, but with a playful forthright decorativeness: Here are over 100 small watercolor “Afromuses,” bust-length portraits of imaginary men and women in full face or in profile, that Mr. Ofili began in 1995. At once regal and cartoonish, they suggest an extended family of royal ancestors and a bottomless well of inspiration.

In the next gallery, a dozen paintings from the late 1990s line the wall. They depict raffish black superheroes, blaxploitation film heroines and a brown clown-faced phallus — curvaceous characters with layers of dots, glitter-strewn resin and exotic backdrops — especially the radiating loops behind the goddesslike “She.” All are surrounded by tiny collaged images from black music or pornographic magazines, and garnished with one or more clumps of elephant dung, shellacked and stuck with colorful map pins that form decorative patterns or state the work’s title.

In the early aughts, summarized in an adjoining gallery, Mr. Ofili put a political symbol — the red, black and green of Marcus Garvey’s Pan-African flag — to lavish use. The five paintings here, which represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2003, depict figures, tropical plants and flowers. In three of them, mysterious lovers (or entertainers), descendants of the Afromuses, appear in formal evening dress. In two others, female nudes recline before us. It is as if the black maid in Manet’s 19th-century landmark “Olympia” has assumed the place of her white mistress. In each of these exultant paintings, a richly decorated dung ball forms the center of an immense star that seems to bless the scene like the star of Bethlehem.

Outstanding painters inevitably expand the medium to suit their needs and the specifics of their lives, and Mr. Ofili is no exception. Born in Manchester, England, in 1968, to Nigerian parents, he emerged with the group of Young British Artists led by Damien Hirst who heated London’s art scene in the early 1990s. His approach lacked their Conceptual orientation, but this did not stop him from being included in “Sensation,” the exhibition of the advertising magnate Charles Saatchi’s collection of Young British Artists at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999.

The rest is local history: Mr. Ofili’s painting, “The Holy Virgin Mary,” caused noisy outrage. Now displayed in the New Museum show, it depicts a black Madonna, a clump of elephant dung, shellacked and decorated as always in Mr. Ofili’s paintings, replacing her right breast, which is exposed in keeping with Renaissance tradition. She is also surrounded by little putti that on close inspection turn out to be images from pornographic magazines.

Mr. Ofili’s lack of Conceptual credentials differentiates him from American black artists whose art focuses on black identity, among them Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson or Kara Walker (although he shares Ms. Walker’s upfront bawdiness). Mr. Ofili has more in common with painters who couch blackness in a fierce visuality, namely Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, Robert Colescott and Ellen Gallagher, and with more distant precedents such as the insistent colors and forms of the American painters Bob Thompson, Beauford Delaney and William H. Johnson.

On a larger stage, Mr. Ofili belongs to a multigenerational group of painters, black and white, born primarily during the second half of the 20th century, who have sidestepped several popular wisdoms. They dismissed Minimalism’s premise that art had to be abstract, laughed at the post-Minimalist belief that painting was dead and largely ignored the Pictures Generation assertion that the only good image was a photo-based one. (Among these artists are Carroll Dunham, Nicole Eisenman and Ms. Thomas.) They turned back to Pop Art, the unfinished figurative styles of early Modernism, or non-Western art, among other sources. Mr. Ofili also rejected the early ’90s contention that painting could not be political, making it so by making it fully “out of himself,” to paraphrase Barnett Newman. It is a demanding, if not excruciating process  that most young artists today fail to grasp, much less to undertake.

On the show’s final floor, which culminates in several new paintings, riotous color returns and a final surprise awaits: looming gallery walls painted with a lush jungle in spreading violets and pale pinks. Across this ravishing expanse, nine paintings proceed from 2007 to 2014, indicating an artist growing steadily while inspired by precedents that include Gauguin and the Symbolists, Picasso in his Blue Period, Matisse, Art Nouveau and the Color Field painters and Ovid.

Building on a version of stain painting and mostly depicting couples, these works start out simply with flat blazing color and move toward mosaiclike complexity. In “Ovid-Desire,” a creature in a diaphanous gown swoons in her partner’s arms on a pink-and-black dance floor. In “Frogs in the Shade,” bright trees cast leaf patterns on the skin on the bodies of a nude couple, a reclining male entranced by the woman dancing before him.

These paintings form an impressive demonstration of headlong development, but they suggest an artist still in transition, moving toward a promising future, which is exactly where Mr. Ofili, at 46, should be right now.

Visionary Independent Curator Harald Szeemann: Articles and Interviews

Szeemann’s work

from Domus 898 December 2006

Harald Szeemann. Exhibition Maker, Hans-Joachim Müller, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany 2006 (pp. 168, s.i.p.)

Harald Szeemann reformed curatorial practice. Müller’s book leads us along the great Swiss critic’s intellectual path via his exhibitions.

  • by Maurizio Bortolotti

Harald Szeemann. Exhibition Maker, Hans-Joachim Müller, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany 2006 (pp. 168, s.i.p.)

Harald Szeemann reformed curatorial practice, a job that had been seen in museums for 200 years and was equated with that of the conservator, Alfred Barr having been the leading example for modern art. Müller’s book leads us along the great Swiss critic’s intellectual path via his exhibitions.

Harald managed to grasp certain aspects of contemporary art and create a far more versatile and mobile figure of the “critic” in the modern tradition. One who follows, interprets and defends artists’ projects when they are treading on experimental terrain without knowing exactly which direction they will take. His close bond with the artists of the 1968 generation, which can be epitomised with the names of Joseph Beuys, Mario Merz, Bruce Nauman and Richard Serra – the galaxy of reference for his entire lifetime – helped him create the condition of the independent curator. The person who is able to conduct a relationship with artists as a mediator and communicates with all the other art-world structures and the greater public.

However, he was not only a mediator of the art world. He was also a great interpreter thanks to a visionary capacity that distinguished him from all others, adversaries and imitators alike. He did not see the problem of curating exhibitions as a simple operational matter linked to the practice of organising. Harald had the ability to condense the symbolic force of a work or an object within the exhibition space, constructing exhibitions that were great productions of fantasy: visions of a specific epoch – the art of the second half of the 1960s – but also of a community or a geographic area. He always rejected the concept that art was simply an expression of formal values, the direction in which the art market and museums drove it for structural reasons.

In his work as a curator he managed to create a critical space that was independent of the other art institutions. This is also why he curated many apparently thematic exhibitions in his lifetime that seemed to have little or nothing to do with the artistic debate in course, such as the “Monte Verità” exhibition on the utopian community of Ascona, that on the concept of the total work of art “Der hang zum Gesamptkunstwerk”, and the “visionary” Switzerland, Austria, Belgium series and the “Money and Value” pavilion at the 2002 Swiss exhibition.

It was a method that allowed him to interpret his own times. These were flanked by exhibitions that had a profound impact on the contemporary art debate and changed the course of the history of art, such as “When Attitudes Become Form” and “Documenta 5”, which were followed by the no less important “Machines celibataires” and “Aperto 1980” at the Venice Biennale, plus the more recent ones he curated himself at the 1999 and 2001 Venice biennials.

In his exhibitions Harald always tried to pinpoint the conceptual density of the materials and he had an elevated idea of the avant-garde, able to show the world a different approach to the reality of art. In his work, he always tried to lend substance to artists’ visions and their ability to produce “personal mythologies” as he called them. The exhibitions often became visual routes, created using the artists’ works and objects of strong symbolic worth that were sometimes confused one with the other because of the everyday provenance of both. The aim, however, was always to conceive the exhibition as an autonomous space, a sort of social interstice in which to reconstruct a critical area that reacted to the secularisation of the world. In this sense, he was strongly influenced by the work of Joseph Beuys, at least from the 1970s on. As Müller wrote: “Szeemann thought he was the ‘most important artist since World War II.’ His faith in the (…) social and anthropological responsibility of the aesthetic paradigm and the vital reinforcement of visions was the strongest reflection for those utopias to which Szeemann’s exhibitions tried to lend substance.” (p. 108) The misinterpretations of his work by curators of the 1980s, who wanted to retrieve the European cultural substratum as a reaction to the standardisation and “Americanisation” of the world, were a direct consequence of this attitude.

Harald, however, understood how much the communication dimension had influenced art in the 1990s and with the ideas of “everywhere”, “open” and “audience of humanity” the two biennials of Venice clearly showed how hard he had tried to interpret that element of newness, sometimes with peaks of spectacularisation that were bound to the moment and managed to relaunch the Venetian institution in crisis. If today’s exhibitions have become common critical tools in the artistic debate – albeit often minus the conceptual density that his possessed – we owe much of it to him and are all indebted to him. If I think hard, I can still see his black Mercedes driving into the street for our last appointment in front of his office in Valle Maggia: the great Szeemann will be sorely missed.

Maurizio Bortolotti, Art critic


The show that made Harald Szeemann a star

Biennials and Beyond looks at the exhibitions, curators and artist run spaces that helped make art history

Harald Szeemann, curator of Live In Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form: Works - Concepts - Processes - Situations - Information
Harald Szeemann, curator of Live In Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form: Works – Concepts – Processes – Situations – Information
One of the things we love about art is its capacity to ruffle feathers. Maybe it’s the unresolved punk rocker in us at but the mockery, vituperation – not to mention the occasional dumping of manure outside a gallery entrance – that has accompanied some groundbreaking art shows over the years is all grist to our mill. Which is why we’ve spent the last week ensconced in Biennials and Beyond – Exhibitions That Made Art History 1962-2002, a new book that takes an in depth look at the shows that really did change the course of art.

Last night we were poring over the section dedicated to Live In Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form, the show held at Kunstalle Bern in the spring of 1969.  It was remarkable for a number of reasons not least because in Harald Szeemann, it introduced us to the idea of the curator as we know it today. Here’s a little extract from the book which will explain more.


Belt Piece - Richard Serra
Belt Piece – Richard Serra

As both foundational event and conceptual model, “When Attitudes Become Form” holds a special place in the curatorial imagination. It was the exhibition that brought international acclaim to the most important curator of the post-war period, Harald Szeemann. And it was the show that led Szeemann to re-create himself as an independent exhibition maker, founding a career path that would be followed by generations of curators. “Attitudes” has also come to represent the romantic conception of the curator as inspired partner of the artist, a creative actor who generates original ideas and structures through which art enters public consciousness.

Szeemann was an advocate for the new art that emerged in the 1960s, work grounded in an “inner attitude” elevating artistic prcess over final product. Across the diversity of Conceptualism, land art, American Post-Minimalism, and Italian Arte Povera, he also experienced a desire to be free of a system supplying aesthetic objects for the wealthy. He displayed this attitude and this aspiration by turning the Kunstahlle Bern into a giant artist’s studio, accommodating the practical demands of process -based art through Piero Gilardi’s idea of the exhibition as workshop and locus of discussion.

Capturing the ethos of the 1960s, Keith Sonnier contributed the phrase atop the catalogue page “Live In Your Head”. The catalogue alluded to Szeemann’sprcess as well as to that of the artists, containing the address list he used in New York and letters responding to his invitations to exhibit.


Art By Telephone - Walter de Maria
Art By Telephone – Walter de Maria

The book then goes into fascinating detail regarding the show. Richard Serra splashed lead inside the Kunsthalle foyer, Jan Dibbets excavated a corner of the building to expose their foundations. Michael Heizer smashed the sidewalk outside the museum while Daniel Buren pasted his signature stripes around the town and was promptly arrested for his trouble. Illegality was compounded with the burning of military uniforms outside the museum, which wasn’t part of the show but was associated by the public with it.

The conservative Swiss public did not react well to the show. There was mockery in cartoons  and manure, was indeed dumped at the entrace to the Kunsthalle. Despite positive reviews the museum cancelled Szeemann’s planned Joseph Beuys show. He resigned as director and the rest, as they say, became history.

Check out the book in the store, it really is packed full of fascinating stories and insights into the shows of the time and it’s fast becoming our go to read here at, filling in any gaps in our art history knowledge in an innovative but easy going way. It’s also particularly good on the role of commercial galleries, the influence of museums and corporate groups and the impact of globalisation on the art world.


Biennials and Beyond - Exhibitions That Made Art History
Biennials and Beyond – Exhibitions That Made Art History


Harald Szeemann 1933 – 2005


Remembering the life and work of one of the most influential and imaginative curators of the last century


Richard Serra

For me, since 9/11, there has been a daily ritual commemoration of the dead. I seem to be surrounded by death. Everything seems to make forgetting impossible. There is a growing voyeuristic detailed description of the terror of death via the media; and the more I consume, the less I grasp. Death as an incomprehensible phenomenon has produced a certain numbness in me and then I am told that a friend of mine for over 30 years has died and I am asked to write a few words. Writing is one form to seek compensation for loss. Death is an all too human fact. You don’t only live out your life, you also live out the lives of your contemporaries. Their mortality affects your living, your daily measure.
Harry was a great man who supported art and artists unequivocally his entire life. For decades he was able to pull forth meaning where others would only find absence – that is, he gave all artists the benefit of the doubt. The last time I was with Harry I laughed so hard I cried and that is the way I want to remember him.

Hans Ulrich Obrist

The curatorial work of Harald Szeemann was highly complex and cannot be seen as having just a single aspect. For me his exhibitions in Zurich – and above all Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk (The Tendency towards the Total Work of Art, 1983), which I visited every day while still at school – were formative experiences. This was due in part to Szeemann’s notion of the exhibition as a toolbox, as an archaeology of knowledge in the spirit of Michel Foucault. Whether he was showing Artaud, Gaudí, Schwitters, Steiner or contemporary artists, Szeemann accomplished the rare feat of bridging the gap between past and present. He tested out so many different modes of exhibiting, as well as curating many important solo shows: Beuys, Delacroix, De Maria, Duchamp, Merz, Nauman, Picabia, Serra … The 1985 Mario Merz exhibition, in particular, made a particularly lasting impression: Merz and Szeemann removed all the walls inside the Kunsthaus and displayed the work as an open field, with Merz’ igloos shown in the resulting space as a visionary and Utopian city: La Città Irreale.
Szeemann also saw his exhibitions as an ‘archive in transformation’. To me this was just as representative of his approach as the fact that he worked simultaneously as an independent curator and curator of Kunsthaus Zürich. Another important facet of his career was the way he oscillated between large and small, private and public. After the 1972 Documenta in Kassel, for example, there was the exhibition dedicated to his grandfather, held in a private apartment in Bern, with no hierarchy between the larger and the smaller show – entirely in keeping with Robert Musil’s observation that art can appear where one is least expecting it. Szeemann’s death is a major blow to the art world.

Visionary Belgium by Aaron Schuster

A mescaline-minded poet (Henri Michaux), the self-styled commissar of a bankrupt museum (Marcel Broodthaers), a bungling megalomaniac raised by a Belgian boulangerie owner and a web-footed French prostitute (Dr Evil in Austin Powers), an amateur scientist in tireless pursuit of the Absolute (Honoré de Balzac’s portrait of the Fleming Balthazar Claes) – Belgium, a country of visionaries? Such was the explicit wager of Harald Szeemann in his sprawling show, La Belgique visionnaire. C’est arrivé près de chez nous (Visionary Belgium. It’s in your neighbourhood) on display until mid-May, 2005 in the Victor Horta designed Palais des Beaux Arts. The late curator liked to refer to his method as one of ‘structured chaos’, and that is precisely what is presented here: a highly varied collection of paintings, advertisements, films, sculptures, books, archival materials and installations without any discernible organizing principle except to reveal that elusive quality known since the late 1970s as la belgitude.
The first thing to mention apropos this exhibition is Szeemann’s brilliant insight into which countries constitute the visionary core of Europe – the repository of its utopian longings, twisted dreams and undialectizable contradictions. ‘Visionary Belgium’ is the last in the sequence of three exhibitions, beginning with ‘Visionary Switzerland’ (1991) and followed by ‘Austria im Rosennetz’ (Austria in the Net of Roses, 1996). Here Szeemann’s intuition was spot on: one simply cannot imagine the same treatment of ‘major’ European nations like Germany, France and, in spite of its eccentricities, England, or even Spain or Italy. Visionary potential must rather be sought in the margins of the margins, in the dissident traditions within those countries that already have a ‘minor’ status. In this respect, one should also mention the Balkans, to which Szeemann consecrated the show ‘Blood and Honey’ in 2003. If the title of this latter exhibition cannot help but conjure up clichéd images of irrational violence on the one hand and the poetry of everyday rustic life on the other, this would seem to point to a more general difficulty implicit in the curator’s method. To borrow a term dear to him, this method might be dubbed ‘pataphysical anthropology’: an attempt to discern the ‘spiritual contours’ of a region via an examination of its most extraordinary and even unclassifiable cultural artifacts. As Szeemann understood, such an enterprise is not without dangers, and ‘Visionary Belgium’ sometimes risks becoming a mere ‘cabinet of curiosities’, reproducing the stereotype of Belgians as a darkly quirky, self-deprecating people. To voice another concern: the show also seems more backward than forward-looking, more retrospective in its approach than interested in divining what (if anything) is new and exciting in the Belgian scene.
These critical suspicions aside, ‘Visionary Belgium’ is an extremely rich exhibition. Apart from collecting together works of famous artists like René Magritte, Léon Spilliaert, Paul Delvaux, Félicien Rops, and Broodthaers, and contemporary stars such as Panamarenko and Wim Delvoye (a new upright version of the shit-machine Cloaca 2005), the main merit of the show lies in its unearthing of lesser known figures and events. To mention just a few: an extensive documentation of the avant-garde festival EXPRMNTL held each winter at the seaside resort Knokke from 1949 to 1974; the space reserved for pataphysician André Blavier’s personal library, including Professor Dewulf’s 1950s Debraining Machine; and, a large card catalogue transported from the archives of the Mundaneum in Mons, Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine’s early 20th-century utopian project to gather together all human knowledge. Benoît Poelvoorde’s C’est arrivé près de chez nous (1992), an exceedingly noir exercise in black humour, provides the show with its appropriate subtitle though it could have equally been named ‘The major ordeals of Belgium and the countless minor ones’ – a variation on the title of one of Michaux’s drug-inspired books. That major ordeal is none other than the strained existence of the Belgian state itself, a theme that resonates in many of the displayed works. Though the exhibition takes place within the rubric of Belgium’s 175th anniversary celebrations, it is significant that the country cannot commemorate this event without adding ‘and 25 years of federalism’, which is tantamount to simultaneously celebrating one’s birthday and divorce. Indeed, one could argue that the key to both Belgium’s visionary culture and its reactionary politics is precisely its lack of a well-defined centre or strong sense of national identity. It is therefore fitting that what ought to have the centrepiece of the exhibition, James Ensor’s The Entry of Christ into Brussels (1888) is missing; evidently Christ took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Los Angeles (the painting is in the Getty Museum). The absence of this remarkable work, mixing Christian theology with the International, in turn echoes another, more fundamental loss: the demolition of Horta’s La Maison du Peuple in 1954 – Brussels’s lost object of desire. It would hardly be a stretch to surmise that it is the populist socialist vision condensed by these two missing works – the breaking up of the dream of social fraternity – that provides the ultimate backdrop for the multiple visions of Belgium.
Szeemann is perhaps the single figure most responsible for the image we have of the curator today: the curator-as-artist, a roaming, freelance designer of exhibitions, or in his own witty formulation, a ‘spiritual guest worker.’ In a way this shift in the role of the curator makes perfect sense. If artists since Marcel Duchamp have affirmed selection and arrangement as legitimate artistic strategies, was it not simply a matter of time before curatorial practice – itself defined by selection and arrangement – would come to be seen as an art that operates on the field of art itself? Daniel Buren first voiced the critique of this development against Szeemann’s curatorship of Documenta 5 in 1972, and since then the polemic has only gained in intensity. Rather than repeating the same stale scripts, however, what would be useful today, and to my knowledge has yet to be written, is a critical history of curating, a study of the transformations in the manner of art’s staging and public presentation.1 It goes without saying that in such a study Szeemann would figure as one of the grand innovators.

1 One of the most interesting books on this subject is L’art de l’exposition. Une documentation sur trente expositions exemplaires du XXe siècle, Paris: Editions de Regard, 1998

Richard Serra and Hans Ulrich Obrist




The Bias of the World: Curating After Szeemann & Hopps

What Is a Curator?Under the Roman Empire the title of curator (“caretaker”) was given to officials in charge of various departments of public works: sanitation, transportation, policing. The curatores annonae were in charge of the public supplies of oil and corn. The curatores regionum were responsible for maintaining order in the 14 regions of Rome. And the curatores aquarum took care of the aqueducts. In the Middle Ages, the role of the curator shifted to the ecclesiastical, as clergy having a spiritual cure or charge. So one could say that the split within curating—between the management and control of public works (law) and the cure of souls (faith)—was there from the beginning. Curators have always been a curious mixture of bureaucrat and priest.

That smooth-faced gentleman, tickling Commodity, Commodity, the bias of the world—
—Shakespeare, King John1

Portrait of Harald Szeemann. Pencil and Paper by Phong Bui.

For better or worse, curators of contemporary art have become, especially in the last 10 years, the principal representatives of some of our most persistent questions and confusions about the social role of art. Is art a force for change and renewal, or is it a commodity for advantage or convenience? Is art a radical activity, undermining social conventions, or is it a diverting entertainment for the wealthy? Are artists the antennae of the human race, or are they spoiled children with delusions of grandeur (in Roman law, a curator could also be the appointed caretaker or guardian of a minor or lunatic)? Are art exhibitions “spiritual undertakings with the power to conjure alternative ways of organizing society,” or vehicles for cultural tourism and nationalistic propaganda?

These splits, which reflect larger tears in the social fabric, certainly in the United States, complicate the changing role of curators of contemporary art, because curators mediate between art and its publics and are often forced to take “a curving and indirect course” between them. Teaching for the past five years at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, I observed young curators confronting the practical demands and limitations of their profession armed with a vision of possibility and an image of the curator as a free agent, capable of almost anything. Where did this image come from?

When Harald Szeemann and Walter Hopps died in February and March 2005, at age 72 and 71, respectively, it was impossible not to see this as the end of an era. They were two of the principal architects of the present approach to curating contemporary art, working over 50 years to transform the practice. When young curators imagine what’s possible, they are imagining (whether they know it or not) some version of Szeemann and Hopps. The trouble with taking these two as models of curatorial possibility is that both of them were sui generis: renegades who managed, through sheer force of will, extraordinary ability, brilliance, luck, and hard work, to make themselves indispensable, and thereby intermittently palatable, to the conservative institutions of the art world.

Each came to these institutions early. When Szeemann was named head of the Kunsthalle Bern in 1961, at age 28, he was the youngest ever to have been appointed to such a position in Europe, and when Hopps was made director of the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) in 1964, at age 31, he was then the youngest art museum director in the United States. By that time, Hopps (who never earned a college degree) had already mounted a show of paintings by Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, Jay DeFeo, and many others on a merry-go-round in an amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier (with his first wife, Shirley Hopps, when he was 22); started and run two galleries (Syndell Studios and the seminal Ferus Gallery, with Ed Kienholz); and curated the first museum shows of Frank Stella’s paintings and Joseph Cornell’s boxes, the first U.S.retrospective of Kurt Schwitters, the first museum exhibition of Pop Art, and the first solo museum exhibition of Marcel Duchamp, in Pasadena in 1963. And that was just the beginning. Near the end of his life, Hopps estimated that he’d organized 250 exhibitions in his 50-year career.

Szeemann’s early curatorial activities were no less prodigious. He made his first exhibition, Painters Poets/ Poets Painters, a tribute to Hugo Ball, in 1957, at age 24. When he became the director of the Kunsthalle in Bern four years later, he completely transformed that institution, mounting nearly 12 exhibitions a year, culminating in the landmark show Live In Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form, in 1969, exhibiting works by 70 artists, including Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra, Eva Hesse, Lawrence Weiner, Richard Long, and Bruce Nauman, among many others.

While producing critically acclaimed and historically important exhibitions, both Hopps and Szeemann quickly came into conflict with their respective institutions. After four years at the Pasadena Art Museum, Hopps was asked to resign. He was named director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1970, then fired two years later. For his part, stunned by the negative reaction to When Attitudes Become Form from the Kunsthalle Bern, Harald Szeemann quit his job, becoming the first “independent curator.” He set up the Agency for Spiritual Guestwork and co-founded the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art (IKT) in 1969, curated Happenings & Fluxus at the Kunstverein in Cologne in 1970, and became the first artistic director of Documenta in 1972, reconceiving it as a 100-day event. Szeemann and Hopps hadn’t yet turned 40, and their best shows were all ahead of them. For Szeemann, these included Junggesellenmaschinen—Les Machines célibataires (“Bachelor Machines”) in 1975-77, Monte Veritá (1978, 1983, 1987), the first Aperto at the Venice Biennale (with Achille Bonito Oliva, 1980), Der Hang Zum Gesamtkunstwerk, Europaïsche Utopien seit 1800 (“The Quest for the Total Work of Art”) in 1983-84, Visionary Switzerland in 1991, the Joseph Beuys retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in 1993, Austria in a Lacework of Roses in 1996, and the Venice Biennale in 1999 and 2001. For Hopps, yet to come were exhibitions of Diane Arbus in the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1972, the Robert Rauschenberg mid-career survey in 1976, retrospectives at the Menil Collection of Yves Klein, John Chamberlain, Andy Warhol, and Max Ernst, and exhibitions of Jay DeFeo (1990), Ed Kienholz (1996 at the Whitney), Rauschenberg again (1998), and James Rosenquist (2003 at the Guggenheim). Both Szeemann and Hopps had exhibitions open when they died—Szeemann’s Visionary Belgium, for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and Hopps’s George Herms retrospective at the Santa Monica Museum—and both had plans for many more exhibitions in the future.

What Do Curators Do?

Szeemann and Hopps were the Cosmas and Damian (or the Beuys and Duchamp) of contemporary curatorial practice. Rather than accepting things as they found them, they changed the way things were done. But finally, they will be remembered for only one thing: the quality of the exhibitions they made; for that is what curators do, after all. Szeemann often said he preferred the simple title of Ausstellungsmacher (exhibition-maker), but he acknowledged at the same time how many different functions this one job comprised: “administrator, amateur, author of introductions, librarian, manager and accountant, animator, conservator, financier, and diplomat.” I have heard curators characterized at different times as:
Administrators Advocates
Bricoleurs (Hopps’ last show, the Herms retrospective, was titled “The Bricoleur of Broken Dreams. . . One More Once”)
Cartographers (Ivo Mesquita)
Catalysts (Hans Ulrich Obrist)
Cultural impresarios
Cultural nomads
Diplomats (When Bill Lieberman, who held top curatorial posts at both the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, died in May 2005, Artnews described him as “the consummate art diplomat”)
And that’s just the beginning of the alphabet. When Hans Ulrich Obrist asked Walter Hopps to name important predecessors, the first one he came up with was Willem Mengelberg, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, “for his unrelenting rigor.” He continued, “Fine curating of an artist’s work—that is, presenting it in an exhibition—requires as broad and sensitive an understanding of an artist’s work that a curator can possibly muster. This knowledge needs to go well beyond what is actually put in the exhibition. . . . To me, a body of work by a given artist has an inherent kind of score that you try to relate to or understand. It puts you in a certain psychological state. I always tried to get as peaceful and calm as possible.”3

But around this calm and peaceful center raged the “controlled chaos” of exhibition making. Hopps’ real skills included an encyclopedic visual memory, the ability to place artworks on the wall and in a room in a way that made them sing,4 the personal charm to get people to do things for him, and an extraordinary ability to look at a work of art and then account for his experience of it, and articulate this account to others in a compelling and convincing way.

It is significant, I think, that neither Szeemann nor Hopps considered himself a writer, but both recognized and valued good writing, and solicited and “curated” writers and critics as well as artists into their exhibitions and publications. Even so, many have observed that the rise of the independent curator has occurred at the expense of the independent critic. In a recent article titled “Do Art Critics Still Matter?” Mark Spiegler opined that “on the day in 1969 when Harald Szeemann went freelance by leaving the Kunsthalle Bern, the wind turned against criticism.”5 There are curators who can also write criticism, but these precious few are exceptions that prove the rule. Curators are not specialists, but for some reason they feel the need to use a specialized language, appropriated from philosophy or psychoanalysis, which too often obscures rather than reveals their sources and ideas. The result is not criticism, but curatorial rhetoric. Criticism involves making finer and finer distinctions among like things, while the inflationary writing of curatorial rhetoric is used to obscure fine distinctions with vague generalities. The latter’s displacement of the former has a political dimension as we move into an increasingly managed, post-critical environment.

Although Szeemann and Hopps were very different in many ways, they shared certain fundamental values: an understanding of the importance of remaining independent of institutional prejudices and arbitrary power arrangements; a keen sense of history; the willingness to continually take risks intellectually, aesthetically, and conceptually; and an inexhaustible curiosity about and respect for the way artists work.

Portrait of Walter Hopps. Pencil and Paper by Phong Bui.

Szeemann’s break away from the institution of the Kunsthalle was, simply put, “a rebellion aimed at having more freedom.”6 This rebellious act put him closer to the ethos of artists and writers, where authority cannot be bestowed or taken, but must be earned through the quality of one’s work. In his collaborations with artists, power relations were negotiated in practice rather than asserted as fiat. Every mature artist I know has a favorite horror story about a young, inexperienced curator trying to claim an authority they haven’t earned by manipulating a seasoned artist’s work or by designing exhibitions in which individual artists’ works are seen as secondary and subservient to the curator’s grand plan or theme. The cure for this kind of insecure hubris is experience, but also the recognition of the ultimate contingency of the curatorial process. As Dave Hickey said of both critics and curators, “Somebody has to do something before we can do anything.”7 In June of 2000, after being at the pinnacle of curatorial power repeatedly for over 40 years, Harald Szeemann said, “Frankly, if you insist on power, then you keep going on in this way. But you must throw the power away after each experience, otherwise it’s not renewing. I’ve done a lot of shows, but if the next one is not an adventure, it’s not important for me and I refuse to do it.”8

When contemporary curators, following in the steps of Szeemann, break free from institutions, they sometimes lose their sense of history in the process. Whatever their shortcomings, institutions do have a sense (sometimes a surfeit) of history. And without history, “the new” becomes a trap, a sequential recapitulation of past approaches with no forward movement. It is a terrible thing to be perpetually stuck in the present, and this is a major occupational hazard for curators.

Speaking about his curating of the Seville Biennale in 2004, Szeemann said, “It’s not about presenting the best there is, but about discovering where the unpredictable path of art will go in the immanent future.” But moving the ball up the field requires a tremendous amount of legwork. “The unpredictable path of art” becomes much less so when curators rely on the Claude Rains method, rounding up the usual suspects from the same well-worn list of artists that everyone else in the world is using.

It is difficult, in retrospect, to fully appreciate the risks that both Szeemann and Hopps took to change the way curators worked. One should never underestimate the value of a monthly paycheck. By giving up a secure position as director of a stable art institution and striking out on his own as an “independent curator,” Szeemann was assuring himself years of penury. There was certainly no assurance that anyone would hire him as a freelance. Anyone who’s chosen this path knows that freelance means never having to say you’re solvent. Being freelance as a writer and critic is one thing: The tools of the trade are relatively inexpensive, and one need only make a living. But making exhibitions is costly and finding “independent” money, money without onerous strings attached to it, is especially difficult when one cannot, in good conscience, present it as an “investment opportunity.” Daniel Birnbaum points out that “all the dilemmas of corporate sponsorship and branding in contemporary art today are fully articulated in [‘When Attitudes Become Form’]. Remarkably, according to Szeemann, the exhibition came about only because ‘people from Philip Morris and the PR firm Ruder Finn came to Bern and asked me if I would do a show of my own. They offered me money and total freedom.’ Indeed, the exhibition’s catalogue seems uncanny in its prescience: ‘As businessmen in tune with our times, we at Philip Morris are committed to support the experimental,’ writes John A. Murphy, the company’s European president, asserting that his company experimented with ‘new methods and materials’ in a way fully comparable to the Conceptual artists in the exhibition. (And yet, showing the other side of this corporate-funding equation, it was a while before the company supported the arts in Europe again, perhaps needing time to recover from all the negative press surrounding the event.)”9 So the founding act of “independent curating” was brought to you by . . . Philip Morris! 33 years later, for the Swiss national exhibition Expo.02, Szeemann designed a pavilion covered with sheets of gold, containing a system of pneumatic tubes and a machine that destroyed money—two 100 franc notes every minute during the 159 days of the exhibition. The sponsor? The Swiss National Bank, of course.
When Walter Hopps brought the avant-garde to Southern California, he didn’t have to compete with others to secure the works of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, or Jay DeFeo (for the merry-go-round show in 1953), because no one else wanted them. In his Hopps obituary, Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight pointed out that “just a few years after Hopps’s first visit to the [Arensbergs’] collection, the [Los Angeles] City Council decreed that Modern art was Communist propaganda and banned its public display.”10 In 50 years, we’ve progressed from banning art as Communist propaganda to prosecuting artists as terrorists.11

The Few and Far Between

It’s not that fast horses are rare, but men who know enough to spot them
are few and far between.
—Han Yü12

The trait that Szeemann and Hopps had most in common was their respect for and understanding of artists. They never lost sight of the fact that their principal job was to take what they found in artists’ works and do whatever it took to present it in the strongest possible way to an interested public. Sometimes this meant combining it with other work that enhanced or extended it. This was done not to show the artists anything they didn’t already know, but to show the public. As Lawrence Weiner pointed out in an interview in 1994, “Everybody that was in the Attitudes show knew all about the work of everybody else in the Attitudes show. They wouldn’t have known them personally, but they knew all the work. . . . Most artists on both sides of the Atlantic knew what was being done. European artists had been coming to New York and U.S. artists went over there.”13 But Attitudes brought it all together in a way that made a difference.

Both Szeemann and Hopps felt most at home with artists, sometimes literally. Carolee Schneemann recently described for me the scene in the Kunstverein in Cologne in 1970, when she and her collaborator in “Happenings and Fluxus” (having arrived and discovered there was no money for lodging) moved into their installations, and Szeemann thought it such a good idea to sleep on site that he brought in a cot and slept in the museum himself, to the outrage of the guards and staff. Both Szeemann and Hopps reserved their harshest criticism for the various bureaucracies that got between them and the artists. Hopps once described working for bureaucrats when he was a senior curator at the National Collection of Fine Arts as “like moving through an atmosphere of Seconal.”14 And Szeemann said in 2001 that “the annoying thing about such bureaucratic organizations as the [Venice] Biennale is that there are a lot of people running around who hate artists because they keep running around wanting to change everything.”15 Changing everything, for Szeemann, was just the point. “Artists, like curators, work on their own,” he said in 2000, “grappling with their attempt to make a world in which to survive. . . . We are lonely people, faced with superficial politicians, with donors, sponsors, and one must deal with all of this. I think it is here where the artist finds a way to form his own world and live his obsessions. For me, this is the real society.”16 The society of the obsessed.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Although Walter Hopps was an early commissioner for the São Paolo Biennal (1965: Barnett Newman, Frank Stella, Richard Irwin and Larry Poons) and of the Venice Biennale (1972: Diane Arbus), Harald Szeemann practically invented the role of nomadic independent curator of huge international shows, putting his indelible stamp on Documenta and Venice and organizing the Lyon Biennale and the Kwangju Biennial in Korea in 1997, and the first Seville Biennale in 2004, as well as numerous other international surveys around the world.

So what Szeemann said about globalization and art should perhaps be taken seriously. He saw globalization as a euphemism for imperialism, and proclaimed that “globalization is the great enemy of art.” And in the Carolee Thea interview in 2000, he said, “Globalization is perfect if it brings more justice and equality to the world . . . but it doesn’t. Artists dream of using computers or digital means to have contact and to bring continents closer. But once you have the information, it’s up to you what to do with it. Globalization without roots is meaningless in art.”17 And globalization of the curatorial class can be a way to avoid or “transcend” the political.

Rene Dubos’s old directive to “think globally, but act locally” (first given at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972) has been upended in some recent international shows (like the 14th Sydney Biennale in 2004, and the 1st Moscow Biennial in 2005). When one thinks locally (within a primarily Euro-American cultural framework, or within a New York-London-Kassel-Venice-Basel-Los Angeles-Miami framework) but acts globally, the results are bound to be problematic, and can be disastrous. In 1979, Dubos argued for an ecologically sustainable world in which “natural and social units maintain or recapture their identity, yet interplay with each other through a rich system of communications.” At their best, the big international exhibitions do contribute to this. Okwui Enwezor’s18 Documenta XI certainly did, and Szeemann knew it. At their worst, they perpetuate the center-to-periphery hegemony and preclude real cross-cultural communication and change. Although having artists and writers move around in the world is an obvious good, real cultural exchange is something that must be nurtured. Walter Hopps said in 1996: “I really believe in—and, obviously, hope for—radical, or arbitrary, presentations, where cross-cultural and cross-temporal considerations are extreme, out of all the artifacts we have. . . . So just in terms of people’s priorities, conventional hierarchies begin to shift some.”19

The Silence of Szeemann & Hopps Is Overrated

‘Art’ is any human activity that aims at producing improbable situations, and it is the more artful (artistic) the less probable the situation that it produces. —Vilém Flusser20

Harald Szeemann recognized early and long appreciated the utopian aspects of art. “The often-evoked ‘autonomy’ is just as much a fruit of subjective evaluation as the ideal society: it remains a utopia while it informs the desire to experientially visualize the unio mystica of opposites in space. Which is to say that without seeing, there is nothing visionary, but that the visionary should always determine the seeing.” And he recognized that the bureaucrat could overtake the curer of souls at any point. “Otherwise, we might just as well return to ‘hanging and placing,’ and divide the entire process ‘from the vision to the nail’ into detailed little tasks again.”21 He organized exhibitions in which the improbable could occur, and was willing to risk the impossible. In reply to a charge that the social utopianism of Joseph Beuys was never realized, Szeemann said, “The nice thing about utopias is precisely that they fail. For me, failure is a poetic dimension of art.”22 Curating a show in which nothing could fail was, to Szeemann, a waste of time.

If he and Hopps could still encourage young curators in anything, I suspect it would be to take greater risks in their work. At a time when all parts of the social and political spheres (including art institutions) are increasingly managed, breaking out of this frame, asking significant questions, and setting the terms of resistance is more and more vitally important. It is important to work against the bias of the world (commodity, political expediency). For curators of contemporary art, that means finding and supporting those artists who, as Flusser writes, “have attempted, at the risk of their lives, to utter that which is unutterable, to render audible that which is ineffable, to render visible that which is hidden.”23

This essay will be included in the forthcoming Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating
Edited by Steven Rand and Heather Kouris, published by Apex Art. It will be available by January 2007.


1 Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King John, Act II, Scene 1, 573-74. Cowper: “What Shakespeare calls commodity, and we call political expediency.” Appendix 13 of my old edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, edited by G. B. Harrison (NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), pp. 1639-40, reads: “Shakespeare frequently used poetic imagery taken from the game of bowls [bowling]. . . . The bowl [bowling ball] was not a perfect sphere, but so made that one side somewhat protruded. This protrusion was called the bias; it caused the bowl to take a curving and indirect course.”

2 “When Attitude Becomes Form: Daniel Birnbaum on Harald Szeemann,” Artforum, Summer 2005, p. 55.

3 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interviews, Volume I, edited by Thomas Boutoux (Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2003), pp. 416-17. Hopps also named as predecessors exhibition-makers Katherine Dreier, Alfred Barr, James Johnson Sweeney, René d’Harnoncourt, and Jermayne MacAgy.

4 In 1976, at the Museum of Temporary Art in Washington, D.C., Hopps announced that, for thirty-six hours, he would hang anything anyone brought in, as long as it would fit through the door. Later, he proposed to put 100,000 images up on the walls of P.S. 1 in New York, but that project was, sadly, never realized.

5 Mark Spiegler, “Do Art Critics Still Matter?” The Art Newspaper, no. 157, April 2005, p. 32.

6 Carolee Thea, Foci: Interviews with Ten International Curators (New York: Apex Art Curatorial Program, 2001), p. 19.

7 Curating Now: Imaginative Practice/Public Responsibility: Proceedings from a symposium addressing the state of current curatorial practice organized by the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, October 14-15, 2000, edited by Paula Marincola (Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, 2001), p. 128. Both Szeemann and Hopps passed Hickey’s test: “The curator’s job, in my view,” he said, “is to tell the truth, to show her or his hand, and get out of the way” (p. 126).

8 Carolee Thea, p. 19 (emphasis added).

9 Daniel Birnbaum, p. 58.

10 Christopher Knight, “Walter Hopps, 1932-2005. Curator Brought Fame to Postwar L.A. Artists,” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2005.

11At this writing, the U.S. government continues in its effort to prosecute artist Steven Kurtz for obtaining bacterial agents through the mail, even though the agents were harmless and intended for use in art pieces by the collaborative Critical Art Ensemble. Kurtz has said he believes the charges filed against him in 2004 (after agents from the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Depeartment of Defence swarmed over his house) are part of a Bush administration campaign to prevent artists from protesting government policies. “I think we’re in a very unfortunate moment now in U.S. history,” Kurtz has said. “A form of neo-McCarthyism has made a comeback. . . . We’re going to see a whole host of politically motivated trials which have nothing to do with crime but everything to do with artistic expression.” For the latest developments in the case, go to

12 Epigraph to Nathan Sivin’s Chinese Alchemy: Preliminary Studies(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968).

13 Having Been Said: Writings & Interviews of Lawrence Weiner 1968-2003, edited by Gerti Fietzek and Gregor Stemmrich (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2004), p. 315.

14 Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps—Art Curator,” Artforum, February 1996.

15 Jan Winkelman, “Failure as a Poetic Dimension: A Conversation with Harald Szeemann,” Metropolis M. Tijdschrift over Hedendaagse Kunst, No. 3, June 2001.

16 Carolee Thea, p. 17 (emphasis added).

17 Carolee Thea, p. 18.

18 With his co-curators Carlos Basualdo, Uta Meta Bauer, Susanne Ghez, Sarat Maharaj, Mark Nash, and Octavio Zaya.

19 Hans Ulrich Obrist, p. 430.

20 Vilém Flusser, “Habit: The True Aesthetic Criterion,” in Writings, edited by Andreas Ströhl, translated by Erik Eisel (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), p. 52.

21 Harald Szeemann, “Does Art Need Directors?” in Words of Wisdom: A Curator’s Vade Mecum on Contemporary Art, edited by Carin Kuoni (New York: Independent Curators International, 2001), p. 169.

22 Jan Winkelman.

23 Flusser, p. 54.



David Levi Strauss



Barry Barker
Flash Art n. 275 – November – December 2010 






TO REFLECT UPON an exhibition that took place over 40 years ago is a strange and salutary experience, and I am grateful that I still have the faculties to recall “Live in your Head: When Attitudes Become Form,” the exhibition I visited at the Institute ofContemporary Arts in London in September 1969. During the late ’60s through the mid-’70s, it was often considered inappropriate or irrelevant to critically refer to an artwork’s context or its authorship. It was the time of the “death of the author,” when any understanding of the work of art was to come solely from its own presence, withoutreference to metaphor, biography or any other outside circumstances. It now seems commonplace to consider the context of a work of art, which could be said to carry at least fifty percent of its meaning, whether it is relating to its materiality, physicality in terms of place, or social and cultural position. Looking back on this exhibition, context seems especially relevant.

From top left: (1, 7, 8, 9, 11) Live in your Head: When Attitudes Become Form. Installation views during the opening event at Kunsthalle Bern, 1969. © Kunsthalle Bern,Bern. (2, 3, 4, 5, 10) Live in your Head: When Attitudes Become Form. Installation views of the exhibition during the opening event at Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, 1969. (6) Live in your Head: When Attitudes Become Form. Harald Szeemann during the opening event at Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, 1969; sitting in the audience: Paul Wember, Director of Kunstmuseen Krefeld in 1969. (12) Live in your Head: When Attitudes Become Form. Paul Wember and artist Sarkis with two of the artist’s works during the opening event at Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, 1969; on the wall,Robert Morris, Batteries with Ripples, 1964; Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, 1969.
In 1968, the I.C.A. had moved from a small space in Dover Street to larger premises in the Carlton House Terrace, which backed on to the Mall, the road that leads to Buckingham Palace. This juxtaposition — the home of the British monarch close by what was meant to house the UK’s cultural avant-garde — was itself a paradox. This was the first time I’d visited this new I.C.A., but I had read and to some extent seen much of the work in “Attitudes” while traveling, and therefore was familiar with many of the artists in the exhibition. I walked down a few steps into an open, modestly largespace; it was obviously not an industrial space and bore the signs of being the ex-stables and coach house for the above apartments’ grand occupants of 18th-century aristocracy. The exhibition was curated and selected by the late Harald Szeemann, at the time director of Kunsthalle Bern, where the exhibition was first shown. The title was interesting in itself, as it implied the bringing together of ideas and thoughts, and their ability to inspire the formation of a material presence. Though in some instances they did the opposite, staying in the realms of language, or existing as works that — to quote the front of the catalogue — “live in your head,” which was the original title of ArthurMiller’s play Death of a Salesman (1949). The exhibition was conceived and curated notas a means of defining or fixing the art of its time, but the absolute opposite: to open up the concept of art and to change human perception of contemporary art as it was then understood. To quote Szeemann in his introductionto the catalogue, “In order to entertain certain ideas we may be obliged to abandon others upon which we have come to depend.” This exhibition was and still is a prime example of a curator responding to the work of contemporary artists, letting the artists provide the initiative rather than the curator imposing their personal theories or worldview, as often happens today. The subtitle to the exhibition, “Works-Concepts-Processes-Situations-Information,” in many ways describes its contents. These works asked spectators to join the artist in stepping outside their comfort zone — to allow

their consciousness to be realigned with a new order of things.

This was a time when many artists, writers and gallery directors, whether working withinan institutional or private context, found themselves in a world in which their vocation and even their aspirations no longer fit happily within a traditional definition of art or culture. There appeared to be a chasm between language, ideas and the world. Protests against the Vietnam War were at their height both in America and Europe. Lacking a fixed cultural order in equilibrium with the past, artists found themselves in a place of disenchantment. In a positive sense, however, it was also a time of discussion, idea exchange and information. The world was becoming a smaller place; every artist and thinker felt that there were many ideas and places to explore, yet they in turn had something to contribute to the cultural life of a global environment. It was in this spiritthat Szeemann researched and brought to light artistic developments of a younger generation. “When Attitudes Become Form” traveled from Kunsthalle Bern to the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld (Germany) to the I.C.A. London like a caravan traveling through a cultural desert from one oasis to another, picking up more local goods as it went along. It was brought to London on the initiative of the late Charles Harrison, who was a writer, freelance curator and assistant editor of the magazine Studio International.Harrison was approached by the sponsor of the exhibition, cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris, who offered to finance this ‘caravan.’ At the time, Harrison was planning an exhibition of his own, but he lacked funding. So instead he agreed to bring “Attitudes” to the I.C.A. if he could add his own selection of British artists, such as Victor Burgin (though he did not include the Art & Language group, which he was associated with). At that time, the I.C.A.’s director had little experience with visual art, let alone contemporary visual art (his discipline was in the theater), and so the institution accepted the show mainly for financial reasons — in other words because it was more-or-less free. Still, Harrison resented not being able to curate his own show, so much sothat when Harald Szeemann came to London for the opening, Harrison is quoted as saying that he “hardly talked to him.”

From top left clockwise: JOSEPH BEUYS, Jason, 1961. Live in your Head: When Attitudes become Form. installation view at Haus Lange Krefeld, 1969. ROBERT MORRIS, Felt Piece no. 4, 1968. GILBERTO ZORIO, Untitled (Torcia), 1969. JANNIS KOUNELLIS, Senza Titolo, 1969. All courtesy Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Germany.Photos: Archive Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Germany.
As soon as I saw the exhibition laid out before me I felt the mixed emotions of beingcaptivated and disappointed at the same time. As I came down the steps, on my left was a series of sacks that contained different kinds of grains [Jannis Kounellis, untitled, 1969]. Some visitors took handfuls and chewed them while viewing the exhibition and others threw them on the gallery floor. Some artists were invited by the sponsor to come to London and install their work; one of them was Reiner Ruthenbeck, from Germany, and it was his piece that drew my attention next, which consisted of tangled wire amid a pile of ashes [Aschenhaufen III, 1968] and was said to be about German war guilt. Ger Van Elk was invited to London to shave a cactus, which was filmed and then placed forlornly on a low brick wall in the gal lery [The Well Shaven Cactus, 1969]. JosephKosuth put statements in several of London’s local newspapers.

As for the disappointments, there were many. The installation of Eva Hesse’s works

somehow did not look convincing; it was some years later that Harrison admitted he

hadn’t installed them correctly through lack of instructions. Another disappointment wasthat Lawrence Weiner’s ‘wall removal’ [A 36 x 36 Removal to the Lathing or Support Wallof Plaster, 1968] was not ‘installed.’ However, the one major omission was of a work by an artist who we all wished to know more about at the time: Joseph Beuys. Beuys had been invited to the exhibition, and he offered a new work comprised of a Volkswagen Microbus and twenty-two sleds with fat and felt [Das Rudel (The Pack), 1969]. The I.C.A. could not afford the transport cost, so the British  Public lost out on seeing this major 20th-century work for the first time. In his introduction to the exhibition, Szeemannstated: “The exhibition appears to lack unity.” “[It]…gathers a number of artists whose work has very little in common yet also a great deal in common.” In hindsight, his remarks are understandable because the exhibition reflected so many different directions that were subsequently categorized as conceptual art, minimal art, arte povera, land art and installation art. One unifying aspect was the radical economy and simplicity of the artworks’ means and materials. Artists used common materials such as rope, wood, canvas, photocopy and language, often to greater effect than today’s artists who spend huge sums of money on fabrication.

In Bern, the exhibition so outraged the Swiss public that a few days after the opening

protesters placed a pile of dung in front of the Kunsthalle’s entrance. Yet in London

the attitude to the show was one of indifference; as long as there was no public fundingit could be happily ignored. I have come to believe that the Swiss public resented thefact that the exhibition had an English title together with the fact that it was sponsoredby an American company (Szeemann had already been accused by the Kunsthalle’s board of trustees of not showing enough Swiss artists). A month after the closing of the exhibition, Harald Szeemann resigned, going on to develop a more nomadic mode of working that has come to define much of today’s curatorial practice.


Barry Barker is a curator and writer based in London. He is Fellow of the University ofBrighton, UK. Amarcordis a new series of feature articles where Flash Art Internationalinvites writers and curators to discuss landmark exhibitions from the past.

Special thanks to Karin Minger of Kunsthalle Bern, and to Dr. Sabine Röder and Volker Döhne, respectively Curator and Photographer, of Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Germany.



The man who turned everything into art

Did Harald Szeemann single-handedly invent the idea of the contemporary curator? Three new books make the case

It is now widely accepted that the art history of the second half of the 20th century is no longer a history of artworks, but a history of exhibitions,” states—rather provocatively—the introduction to Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology. A concomitant phenomenon is the emergence of a new profession, namely that of the curator, and Harald Szeemann (1933-2005) is often credited with inventing the job.

Between 1957 and 2005, the Bern-born Szeemann organised a staggering number and variety of exhibitions, working in close collaboration with artists, exploring new forms of displaying art, redefining the role of the museum and ultimately expanding the notion of art. In 1961, he was appointed director of the Kunsthalle, Bern, where he staged monographic and thematic shows of contemporaries as well as displaying the art of the mentally ill and science fiction paraphernalia. His activity there culminated with the groundbreaking and controversial “When Attitudes Become Form” (1969), which saw Michael Heizer smash up the pavement outside the museum, while inside Richard Serra flung hot lead against the wall. The show eventually triggered Szeemann’s resignation. He went freelance, founding the deliciously named one-man band Agency for Intellectual Guest Labour, which applied to the museum the system of guest performances familiar to him from an early spell as a one-man theatre. He was appointed general secretary of Documenta 5 (1972), displayed his hairdresser grandfather’s belongings in his own flat (1974) and embarked on a series of highly original and ambitious thematic shows including “The Bachelor Machines” (1975), “Monte Verità” (1978) and “The Penchant for the Gesamtkunstwerk” (1983). From 1981 until 2000, he also held the position of permanent independent collaborator at the Kunsthaus, Zurich. In the 1980s, he staged a series of “auratic” sculpture exhibitions as “poems in space”. The 1990s saw him in great demand as an organiser of large-scale international surveys (including the 1999 and 2001 Venice Biennials) and striking out further afield, for example to Eastern Europe’s emerging contemporary art scenes. His last exhibition, “Visionary Belgium” (2005), was the

third in a trilogy of “mental-spiritual” country portraits

after “Visionary Switzerland” (1991) and “Austria in a Net

of Roses” (1996).

Next to works of art, object categories that found their way into Szeemann’s thematic shows included puppets, robots, machines, magazine covers, banknotes, propaganda, advertising, comics, personal memorabilia, utopian project documentation and architectural models—a real “Wunderkammer” which triggered free association and flash-like insights, making his exhibitions journeys through one’s own head as much as physical walks through space.

Despite this approach—more reminiscent of cultural anthropology than art history—Szeemann always held on to art’s position as an irreducible other, something different and apart. Not for him the equation of art and life or art’s immediate social and collective relevance, sought for and conjured by so many of his contemporaries. Accused by some of reverting to “art for art’s sake”, he countered with the primacy of the non-collective utopias he termed individual mythologies and his view of art as “a sum of narrations in the first person singular”: a reflection of his fascination both with those at the margins and resisting socialisation (outsiders, freaks and monomaniacs as much as artists) and with the notion of intensity, which served as the main criterion of his “tirelessly working art metabolism” (to

a traditional art history of

great masterpieces, he thus preferred an “art history of intensive intentions”).

Beginning in 1973, he put his Agency at the service of a Museum of Obsessions—his own as much as those of artists and creators. Indeed, so strongly did he extol the exhibition as a medium of expression rather than a merely mediatory activity that some accused him of turning it into a work of art, using the individual works on display as so many “touches of colour”. While Szeemann refuted this status as an artist, he did claim that of an author, staging deeply subjective shows.

Indeed, with its subtitle Catalogue of all Exhibitions 1957-2005, Harald Szeemann – with by through because towards despite flirts with the format of the catalogue raisonné, with over 150 entries which list information about catalogues, admission figures, tour venues and related events as well as reproducing selected press articles and exhibition reviews, interviews, exhibition floor plans, installation views, catalogue covers and exhibition posters, catalogue texts, Szeemann’s correspondence (including an irate letter from feminist art critic and curator Lucy Lippard), photographs with family and friends, and Szeemann’s own contemporary and retrospective notes and commentaries (the publication was originally conceived and produced in cooperation with Szeemann, and in view of his annotations’ lively, insightful and richly anecdotal character, one wishes they were even more numerous). An extensive bibliography completes the volume. Maybe the most telling document is Szeemann’s original address-list of artists in preparation for “When Attitudes Become Form” which, coupled with his travel diary, brings to life his frantic pace of studio and gallery visits. Editors

Tobia Bezzola and Roman Kurzmeyer, who both knew and collaborated with him on numerous projects, have compiled a dazzling panorama

of planet Szeemann.

While the Catalogue relies mainly on primary source material, Harald Szeemann: Exhibition Maker provides a more interpretive and discursive account of the curator’s career, organised along a general chronology but zooming in on major exhibitions, elegantly leaping from milestone to milestone and laying bare with fascinating clarity the internal logic driving the progression of Szeemann’s body of exhibitions. Art critic Hans-Joachim Müller also knew and worked with Szeemann, and this is a tender and incisive portrait by someone who candidly admits falling under the spell of “the maelstrom of Szeemann’s exhibitions, the fatal attraction of his fantasies, discoveries, assertions, these panoramas that he unfolded like paper scenes”. Interwoven with well-chosen photographs, this is a dense, beautifully composed text, which makes it the more

a pity that the English trans­lation should be so strangely inconsistent, at times elegant, at others all but incomprehensible.

Finally, Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology, the result of a research project of the International Curatorial Training Programme of Le Magasin, Grenoble, is the first in a series of curatorial notebooks developed jointly with the Department of Curating Contemporary Art at London’s Royal College of Art and was conceived as a companion to the Catalogue. The programme’s eight participants were granted access to Szeemann’s archive, located since 1986 at the Fabbrica Rosa near Locarno in Switzerland, which also functioned as the Agency for Intellectual Guest Labour’s headquarters: 300 sq. metres of structured chaos consisting of books, press clippings, correspondence, project documentation and objects assembled relentlessly since the early 1960s and kept in part

in empty wine cases of Szeemann’s favourite Merlot. Based on partly unpublished documents and interviews with close collaborators, the publication analyses the archive and the Agency as twin tools of Szeemann’s curatorial practice and examines in detail two of his projects, Documenta 5 (1972) and the Lyon Biennial (1997). The photographs of the archive are particularly engrossing.

Together and on their own, these three felicitously complementary publications function as fascinating insights into the universe of a man for whom each exhibition was an opportunity to create a temporary world and who still towers over the profession he pioneered.

Maud Capelle


June 2001 – Vol.20 No.5

Here Time Becomes Space:
A Conversation with Harald Szeemann

by Carol Thea

Harald Szeemann is a standard-bearer of change within the European curatorial tradition. He holds degrees in art history, archaeology, and journalism. Between 1961 and 1969 he served as director of the Kunsthalle Bern. Since he declared his independence by resigning his directorship in 1969, he has become one of the most important and active international independent curators, organizing such major exhibitions as “When Attitudes Become Form” (1969), “Happening and Fluxus” (1970), Documenta 5 (1972), “Bachelor Machines” (1975), “Monte Verità: Mountain of Truth” (1978), “Charles Baudelaire” (1987), and “Austria in a Lacework of Roses” (1996). He co-organized the Venice Biennale of 1980, where he created the Aperto, an exhibition for younger and emerging artists. Since 1981 he has been an independent curator affiliated with the Kunsthaus Zurich. He was the director of the 1997 Lyon Biennale, a commissioner of the 1997 Kwangju Biennial, and has been director of the Venice Biennale in 1999 and 2001. His exhibition in the Italian Pavilion of the Biennale, “The Plateau of Mankind,” officially opens June 9th and closes November 4th.

Collaborative work by Barry McGee, Stephen Powers, and James Todd. Artists chosen by Harald Szeemann for the 2001 Venice Biennale exhibition, “The Plateau of Mankind.”

Carolee Thea: The artist’s work is a seismograph of change in a society. When contemplating an exhibition, the curator must have a finger on this pulse, on the collective concerns of the moment, as well as on the more individual ones that inform an artist’s narrative.

Harald Szeemann: Yes, I also think that the curator has his own evolution. When you’ve been doing exhibitions for 43 years, you come to a certain point: the facteur Cheval said that with 43 years a human being reaches the equinox of life and can start to build his castle in the air, his “Palais idéal.” From this moment on, even if you do a show with contemporary artists, you want it to be not just a group show but a temporary world. And maybe this is why my exhibitions become bigger—because the inner world is getting bigger.

It is true that the changes you see with artists’ works are the best societal seismographs. Artists, like curators, work on their own, grappling with their attempts to make a world in which to survive. I always said that if I lived in the 19th century as King Ludwig II, when I felt the need to identify myself with another world I would build a castle. Instead, as a curator I do temporary exhibitions. We are lonely people, faced with superficial politicians, with donors and sponsors, and one must deal with all of this. I think it is here that the artist finds a way to form his own world and live his obsessions. For me, this is the real society.

View from the 1999
Venice Biennale.

CT: At the end of the 19th century there was a schism between art and technology; at the end of the 20th century there was a reunion. Aside from pragmatic information, the Internet has become a fantasy, a dream machine for the wired masses and a catalyst for globalization. What do you think about the effect of this technological revolution?

HS: This new technology makes an illusion of globalization, but again it creates a social split between those who can use it and those who cannot. In art we still have to go see the original object and discuss it with the artist. New technology does not know how to deal with the erotic element, with art that is spatial. This was always a problem. Think of Robert Ryman: he was always reproduced badly, but the originals are beautiful. We’re finally very old-fashioned—we must go around looking at originals. This is absurd, but it’s beautiful. When I was a student, hundreds of us had to go through the same books to find certain masterpieces; we marked our findings with pieces of paper. With the Internet, it is easier not to have to look through a thousand books—wonderful! But with art itself, we must go to the three dimensions.

View from the 1999
Venice Biennale.

CT: Mass production has been encroaching on the handmade for more than a century and was anointed into the art culture by Duchamp and Warhol. Now, in the computer age, the reproduction, the virtual, and the fictive have encroached further as products of information.

HS: Globalization would be perfect if it brought more justice and equality to the world, but it doesn’t. Artists dream of using computer or digital means to have contact and to bring continents closer. But once you have the information, it’s up to you what you do with it. Globalization without roots is meaningless in art.

CT: Do you mean, by “roots,” the individual narratives within the global village?

View from the 1999
Venice Biennale.

HS: Well, yes. An artist like Jason Rhoades uses technology, but he brings it into the service of the personal, as in the evocation of his father’s garden. The art is a new interpretation of something that possesses him. Also, a lot of things on the Internet are verbal. Only five percent is visual. The majority of people look through the ear. The Internet is good for information, but it never replaces eye contact. It also overloads you with a lot of trash. In a recent interview, Jeff Bezos defined the Internet as a narrow horizontal level of competence over all industrial fields. He compared it with electricity at the beginning of the 20th century, increasing speed for some things while revolutionizing others. Also, the digital image has extended possibilities. For me it is mainly information, but not art in itself.

CT: Jason’s accumulations come across as a trash heap that camouflages a narrative.

View from the 1999
Venice Biennale.

HS: That’s what I like about his work: he’s not isolating an object, ambiguous objects, “polybiguous” objects—he’s showing us that we all have the obsession to consume. All these objects in a structure are his obsessions. It’s no longer Duchamp’s pissoir, which is isolated. Accumulations were a revolt against Duchamp, but then, they too became objects, a strategy to make a new object—as in Jason’s case, albeit a temporary one. Of course you have inner rules, like a museum of obsessions in your head. Then there are the freedoms or constrictions that we have from place to place. For instance, I can work in the North as a freelance curator, but in the South, I must accept the position of director, as in the case of the Venice Biennale.

CT: You are considered the first independent curator. How did this occur?

HS: It was a rebellion aimed at having more freedom, because I already had eight years as Director of the Kunsthalle in Bern. Well, I was director, but we didn’t say director. We wanted to open up the institution as a laboratory, more as a confirmation of the non-financial aspect of art. Then I curated Documenta 5, which is considered the end of a career.

View from the 1999
Venice Biennale.

CT: Yes, to curate this exhibition, more than others, is to open oneself up to enormous scrutiny.

HS: Frankly, if you insist on power, then you keep going on in this way. But you must throw the power away after each experience, otherwise it’s not renewing. I’ve done a lot of shows, but if the next one is not an adventure, it’s not important for me and I refuse to do it.

CT: Conceptually oriented installation art and the foregrounding of the histories of exhibition spaces suggest a democratization of art challenges the museum’s elitism. In 1986 you took over unconventional, frequently gigantic venues: former stables in Vienna, the Salpetrière hospital in Paris, the palace in the Retiro park in Madrid. You invited artists to set up dialogues between their work and the chosen spaces.

Work by Maaria Wirkkala. Artists selected for the 2001 Venice Biennale exhibition, “The Plateau of Mankind.”

HS: In Venice I was glad I had white-cube spaces, but I also had the Arsenale, where the artists had to accept the historical space as it was. From the space problem came the question of the demand for objectivity and intervention, and how to give life to memory. During the last number of years in Venice, this was all about the survival of the institution of the Biennale. If you stay only in the Giardini, you maintain the nationalist aspect; for the institution to survive the 21st century, new spaces were needed.

CT: What does it mean to be Director of the Biennale after being an independent curator for so long?

HS: In Venice, only when you are Director can you show what you want. In ’95, I wasn’t Director and the planned exhibition “100 Years of Cinema” didn’t take place. I worked for the Biennale in different years; in 1975, I did “Bachelor Machines.” Of course, the contracts never came on time; I had to get money from a bank, and I paid the interest. Finally, I gave all museum contracts to the bank, and the museum paid the sum, which was 15,000 Swiss francs, directly to the bank. There are the usual delays in Italy with contracts, so we first started the exhibition in Bern, although it was produced for Venice. At this time I was taking over new spaces for art, specifically the Magazzini de Sal, the Salt Depository. In 1980, there were five curators. The theme was the ’70s. At that point I told them that we were in a moment when things were changing, so let’s not stop with Stella and the German painters. I told them we had to do Aperto or I would leave. The Aperto was not just a salon for artists under 35; I showed Richard Artschwager and Susan Rothenberg, Ulrike Ottienger and Friederike Pezold.

CT: The 1999 Aperto did not seem to focus only on young artists. Louise Bourgeois, Dieter Appelt, Dieter Roth, Franz Gertsch, and James Lee Byars were among your choices.

Work by Gerd Rohling. Artists chosen for the 2001 Venice Biennale exhibition “The Plateau of Mankind.”

HS: The Biennale of 1999, d’APERTtutto, was more in the spirit of the first Aperto, not limiting “young” to artists under the age of 35. I have always thought that if biennials wanted a future, they should emulate the structure of Documenta. And today, the oldest biennial—in Venice—when faced with so many biennials, should be the youngest.

CT: At Documenta, finally, does the curator have autonomy from the bureaucratic duties?

HS: Until 1968, there was a huge Documenta council; its founder, Arnold Bode, was a “degenerate” painter under Hitler. They wanted to show Germany what it missed in the “thousand years” of Nazism. After 1968, the council became quite absurd. They were missing many important issues, and for this reason they asked me to be the artistic director. All the former Documentas followed the old-hat, thesis/antithesis dialectic: Constructivism/Surrealism, Pop/Minimalism, Realism/Concept. That’s why I invented the term, “individual mythologies”—not a style, but a human right. An artist could be a geometric painter or a gestural artist; each can live his or her own mythology. Style is no longer the important issue.

Work by Joseph Beuys. Artists selected for the 2001 Venice Biennale exhibition, “The Plateau of Mankind.”

CT: In 1969 you curated the exhibition “When Attitudes Become Form: Live In Your Head.” It presented for the first time in Europe artists such as Beuys, Serra, and Weiner. With this exhibition, the process of creation was recognized as a work of art. It was also at this time that you became an independent curator.

HS: Yes, it was in March, only a couple of months after the end of Documenta 4, when I curated “When Attitudes Become Form.” How can you do this big exhibition, Documenta 4, and miss showing the works of new artists? So I did it in Bern in March. Of course, this made a big impact. Then I was asked to do the next Documenta with my own strategy. I dissolved the committee. It costs a lot to convene a committee of 40 people, and half are never present, anyway. Also it’s cheaper when one person travels to see colleagues and explore what is new in their region.

Documenta became the first of this new style. It became the image of the curator, a show by an author. In Venice, I also felt that we needed a good start like in the ’60s and ’70s—a complete change of structure—so I suggested that we adapt to this new system in 1999. I dissolved the national spatial unity of the Italian pavilion, causing a lot of trouble in Italy, where it was felt that a foreigner was destroying their country. But the artists preferred this. They didn’t like being only with Italians. They wanted to be with their international colleagues, where they learned more and were more competitive.

Work by Hans Schmidt
and Erich Bödeker.

CT: After suffering the difficulties of the bureaucracy, why do you feel that in 1999 and 2001 you were able to take the position of Director of the Biennale?

HS: Even though I am an independent curator, I took on the directorship because Venice is worth making the effort. The structure goes from a state organization to a foundation, and you’re always faced with the bureaucratic structure and financial problems. Now the Biennale is not only the visual arts; it incorporates architecture, film, theater, dance, and music, and there is enough space in the Arsenale to include the other arts. The Biennale is interested in continuity and collaboration among the arts, not only in isolated big events; it will become a laboratory and a place of creation. This is the future.

Yet it’s always the same in Venice: They promise you the space on January 10th and give it to you on May 10th. They’re renovating, patching all the walls and opening the roof. When all is done, you will be able to walk through from the Corderie to the Artiglierie. And now they’re restoring Isolotto, the location of Serge Spitzer’s installation Re/Cycle(Don’t Hold Your Breath) (1999). This installation was fascinating. Where once to see art only frontally disgusted everyone, now some artists with a theatrical touch show in spaces where you can see only a frontal view from the entrance.

Work by the Cracking Art Group.

CT: How will the 2001 Biennale differ from that of 1999?

HS: When you work with artists for 40 years, it’s no longer just a collaboration, but a going-together. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to show artists who were important figures from the late ’60s on. But there are also two, new, theater-like spaces, so you can play on the notion of performance. I have proposed to begin with two buildings that will form an international exhibition, a “Plateau of Mankind”: half-theatrical and half-projected. The entrance to the exhibition will be given a large space that will cover theater, social problems, all the races, what man can do to man, and then you are free again to give another accent, one from your unconscious. There are other ways of describing globalism, of being together. For instance, in old Paris, the Ballets Russes was a collaboration between artists, including Diaghilev, Picasso, Picabia, Satie, and Nijinsky.

CT: Does this early 20th-century model influence the way you will choose your artists for the Biennale?

Work by Niele Toroni.

HS: Well, I’m a European. It’s very strange that when you do an exhibition like the Biennale, you have only four months to make the show. So you cannot normally travel around the world. You go to the artists you want to show; you visit them and discuss the space, or you have them come. I did make lightning trips and discovered some things at the last minute, like the two Serbians, Tatiana Ristowski and Vesna Vesic. The Serbs were despised people in the world. It was like being in a second stage of seismographic culture. In the end, you must leave yourself open—to keep spaces free and to make room for surprise.

CT: Creating such a large exhibition is like making a film, but in compressed time.

HS: I was glad when people said that the exhibition was cut like in film. It really did correspond.

CT: What are some of the ideas for the new Biennale?

Work by Maurizio Cattelan.

HS: Well, I call it a “Plateau of Mankind.” So it is less a theme than a mood that gives to each art and artist the freedom of expression. The narrative will be, again, a walk from one surprise to the other.

CT: Last year, there was a lot of walking involved, but this was mitigated by surprise.

HS: Although one brain imagines the structure and themes, the walking leaves people free to decide the distance they want to take—an inner one or outer one. It’s another way of walking. In the cinema you are sitting and with video you can stand, but if it’s too long, you just sit. Exhibitions have a lot to do with space; the freedom is the space. In Parsifal, Wagner says, “Zum Raum wird hier die Zeit” (Here time becomes space).

This interview appears in different form in Foci: Interviews with 10 International Curators, a series of interviews by Carolee Thea published by Apex Art Curatorial Program in 2001. Several of the interviews appeared first in Sculpture.

Sculpture Magazine Archives

From: Artforum International | Date: 11/1/1996 | Author: Obrist, Hans-UlrichHarald Szeemann began his career as a curator, which spans more than 40 years, when he took charge of the exhibition ‘Dichtende Maler/Malende Dichter’ at the Museum in St. Gallen in Switzerland in 1957. Until 1969, he was the director of the Kunsthalle Bern, where he organized 12 to 15 exhibitions each year during his eight-year stint. He was responsible for transforming the museum into a venue which brings together emerging European and American artists.Ever since he “declared his independence” by resigning his directorship at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1969, Harald Szeemann has defined himself as an Ausstellungsmacher, a maker of exhibitions. There is more at stake in adopting such a designation than semantics. Szeemann is more conjurer than curator – simultaneously archivist, conservator, art handler, press officer, accountant and above all, accomplice of the artists.

At the Kunsthalle Bern, where Szeemann made his reputation during his eight-year tenure, he organized twelve to fifteen exhibitions a year, turning this venerable institution into a meeting ground for emerging European and American artists. His coup de grace, “When Attitudes Become Form: Live in Your Head,” was the first exhibition to bring together post-Minimalist and Conceptual artists in a European institution, and marked a turning point in Szeemann’s career – with this show his aesthetic position became increasingly controversial, and due to interference and pressure to adjust his programming from the Kunsthalle’s board of directors and Bern’s municipal government, he resigned, and set himself up as an Independent curator.

If Szeemann succeeded in transforming Bern’s Kunsthalle into one of the most dynamic institutions of its time, his 1972 version of Documenta did no less for this art-world staple, held every five years in Kassel, Germany. Conceived as a “100-Day Event,” it brought together artists such as Richard Serra, Paul Thek, Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, Joan Jonas, and Rebecca Horn, and included not only painting and sculpture but installations, performances, Happenings, and, of course, events that lasted the full 100 days, such as Joseph Beuys’ Office for Direct Democracy. Artists have always responded to Szeemann and his approach to curating, which he himself describes as a “structured chaos.” Of “Monte Verita,” a show mapping the visionary utopias of the early twentieth century, Mario Merz said Szeemann “visualized the chaos we, as artists, have in our heads. One day we’re anarchists, another drunks, the next mystics.” Szeemann’s eclectic, wide-ranging shows evince a boundless energy for research and an encyclopedic knowledge not only of contemporary art but also of the social and historical events that have shaped our post-Enlightenment world. Indeed, in the last few years he has mounted a number of shows that reflect his penchant for mixing artifact and art, combining as they do inventions, historical documents, everyday objects, and artwork. Two of the largest offered panoramic views of his home country and the one across the Alps: “Visionary Switzerland” in 1991 and “Austria im Rosennetz” (Austria in a net of roses), which recently opened at the Museum fur Angewandte Kunst in Vienna.

Szeemann now divides his time between the Kunsthaus Zurich, where he occupies the paradoxical position of permanent freelance curator, and the studio-cum-archive he calls “The Factory,” located in Tegna, the small Swiss Alpine town where he lives. What follows is a record of the conversation I had with Szeemann last summer, in which he reflected on his more than forty-year career.

HANS-ULRICH OBRIST: Until 1957 you were involved in theater. Then you began organizing exhibitions. What prompted this transition?

HARALD SZEEMANN: When I was eighteen, I started a cabaret with three friends, two actors and a musician. But around 1955, sick of intrigues and jealousies, I began to move away from ensemble work until I was doing everything by myself – a one-man style of theater that reflected my ambition to realize a gesamtkunstwerk.

At the time I had already been visiting the Kunsthalle Bern for five years. Bern is a small city where everyone knows each other, and when Franz Meyer (he took over as director from Arnold Rudlinger in 1955) was asked if he knew anyone who could show Henry Clifford, then director of the Philadelphia Museum, around Switzerland, he proposed me, knowing my interest in all the arts, but particularly in Dada, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism. We visited museums, private collections, and artists; it was a wonderful month of “vagabondage.”

In 1957 Meyer also suggested me for an ambitious project, “Dichtende Maler/Malende Dichter” (Painters-poets/poets-painters) at the Museum in St. Gallen. Four people were already working on the show, but the two main directors had health problems and the other two were reluctant to take on an exhibition of this size alone. So they asked Meyer if he knew someone who could take care of the contemporary section, and he said, “I only know one person. It’s Szeemann.” I was the ambitious understudy who ended up getting the main part.

The intensity of the work made me realize this was my medium. It gives you the same rhythm as in theater, only you don’t have to be on stage constantly.

HUO: What drew you to contemporary art to begin with?

HS: Until I was nineteen I still wanted to be a painter, but the Fernand Leger exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern in ’52 impressed me so much that I said to myself, “I’ll never get that good.” Through Rudlinger’s exhibitions – ranging from Nabis to Jackson Pollock – at the Kunsthalle Bern, one could really learn the history of painting. He was the first to show contemporary American art to a European public and later, when he became director of the Kunsthalle Basel, he bought paintings by Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Franz Kline, and Barnett Newman for the Basel Kunstmuseum. He was friends with many artists – Alexander Calder, Bill Jensen, and Sam Francis – and through him I met a lot of artists in Paris and New York. In Bern he did a series of exhibitions called “Tendances actuelles 1-3” (Contemporary tendencies, 1-3), a splendid survey of postwar painting from the Paris School to American abstraction. When he moved to Basel he had more space and more money, but his real adventure was in Bern.

Meyer served as director until ’61. He mounted the first exhibitions in Switzerland of Kasimir Malevich, Kurt Schwitters, Matisse’s cutouts, Jean Arp, Max Ernst, and he showed Antoni Tapies, Serge Poliakoff, Francis, and Jean Tinguely. By the time I took over the Kunsthalle in ’61, I was faced with this venerable past, so I had to change direction.

HUO: You wrote that Bern was something like a “situation.” A kind of “mental space.”

HS: I found art to be one way of challenging the notion of property/possession. And because the Kunsthalle had no permanent collection, it was more like a laboratory than a collective memorial. You had to improvise, to do the maximum with minimal resources and still be good enough that other institutions would want to take on the exhibitions and share the costs.

HUO: In the ’80s the Kunsthalle became more structured. The exhibition program was reduced from more than a dozen exhibitions a year to between four and six. And the introduction of “midcareer retrospectives” turned the Kunsthalle into an extension of the museums themselves – its elasticity was lost.

HS: Yes, everything was flexible, dynamic, and then suddenly everything changed. To hang an exhibition, to produce the catalogue, used to take us one week, and then suddenly you needed a four-week period between shows to photograph everything; with this slower pace came institutional pedagogies, restoration, and guards. In the ’60s we had none of this. For me, if there was a pedagogy it was about the succession of events; documentation was not important.

My approach attracted a younger public and a very young photographer named Balthasar Burkhard started to document exhibitions and events, not for publication but just because he liked what I did and what was happening at the Kunsthalle. That’s how I prefer to work. Actually I stopped publishing catalogues and just printed newspapers, which were anathema to the bibliophile collectors.

HUO: And that worked out?

HS: Of course. the Kunsthalle had an exhibition program but it also welcomed all kinds of participation. Young filmmakers showed their films, the Living Theater made its first appearance in Switzerland there, young composers performed their music – groups like Free Jazz from Detroit played – young fashion designers showed their creations.

Naturally this provoked reactions. The local newspapers accused me of alienating traditional audiences, but we also attracted a new audience. The membership increased from about 200 to around 600, with an additional 1,000 students paying a symbolic Swiss franc to belong. It was the ’60s and the zeitgeist had changed.

HUO: Which exhibitions influenced you most as you were starting to curate your own shows?

HS: Well, I already described some of what I saw in Bern and in Paris. Also very important was the German Expressionism show in 1953, “Deutsche Kunst, Meisterwerke des 20 Jahrhunderts” (German art, masterworks of the twentieth century), at the Kunstmuseum Lucerne, and, of course, in Paris ” Les Sources du XXe siecle” (The sources of the twentieth century, 1958), and the Dubuffet retrospective at the Musee des arts decoratifs in 1960, as well as Documenta II in ’59, curated by its founder, Arnold Bode. I also visited a lot of studios – those of Constantin Brancusi, Ernst, Tinguely, Robert Muller, Bruno Muller, Daniel Spoerri, Dieter Roth, among others. I saw the most fabulous show of Picasso in Milan in 1959. From the beginning, meeting artists and looking at important shows was my education – I was always less interested in formal art history.

Of my peers, I admired Georg Schmidt, director of the Kunstmuseum Basel until 1963. He was absolutely focused on quality, able to choose the work he wanted for his collection and to incite fabulous gifts like the La Roche collection. But I also admired William Sandberg, director of the Stedelijk Museum until 1963, who was Schmidt’s opposite. Sandberg was obsessed with information. Sometimes he exhibited only part of a diptych, for instance, or left a good work out of the show altogether because it was reproduced in the catalogue. For him ideas and information counted more than the experience of the object.

In a sense, I combined both approaches in my shows to achieve what I like to think of as selective information and/or informative selection. This is how I view my Kunsthalle years. In putting together an exhibition, I took both connoisseurship and the dissemination of pure information into account and transformed both. That’s the foundation of my work.

HUO: Tell me more about Sandberg.

HS: Amsterdam in the ’60s was the meeting point, the whole art world converged in the Stedelijk cafeteria under a mural by Karel Appel. Sandberg was very open-minded. He let artists curate exhibitions such as “Dylaby” with Tinguely, Spoerri, Robert Rauschenberg, and Niki de Saint Phalle; he was enthusiastic about new artistic directions: kinetic art, the California “light sculptors,” new synthetic materials. When Sandberg left, Eduard de Wilde took over and painting filled the Stedelijk. De Wilde was much more conservative.

I also have to mention Robert Giron, who had been exhibition director at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels since its inception in 1925, an exemplary institution. Everyday at noon curators, collectors, and artists met in his office to exchange the latest art-world news. When I met Giron, he had been running the Palais for forty years and he said, “You are too young, you’ll never hold up as long as me.” But out of my generation and the next, I’m the only one still going. It gives me pleasure.

HUO: What about Johannes Cladders, the former director of the museum in Monchengladbach?

HS: Cladders was always an idol for me. I knew him when he was still in Krefeld. He did not rely on grand gestures. He had a love of precision but precision based on intuition. His first space was an empty school building on Bismarck Street. It marked a great period. James Lee Byars presented a golden needle in a vitrine, the windows to the garden were open, the birds were singing. Sheer poetry. And Carl Andre did a catalogue in the form of a tablecloth. I asked Cladders to participate in Documenta V. He said, Okay, but I won’t take over a section, I’ll just work with four artists – Marcel Broodthaers, Joseph Beuys, Daniel Buren, and Robert Filliou – and integrate them into the rest of the show. It was his way of working. This was a period when everybody was fighting to establish the significance of their institutions. In the late ’60s, art and culture started to be promoted by politicians and it became important which party you belonged to, especially in Germany. Cladders established his importance quietly, with artistic deeds at the museum in Monchengladbach, while the nearby Dusseldorf Kunsthalle did it with power plays.

HUO: You said you went to Amsterdam every month. Were there other places you visited regularly?

HS: Yes, there was an itinerary of hope and ambition: Pontus Hulten’s Moderna Museet, in Stockholm; Knud Jensen’s Louisiana, near Copenhagen; and Brussels. In 1967 Otto Hahn wrote in The Express magazine: “There are four places to watch: Amsterdam (Sandberg and de Wilde), Stockholm (Hulten), Dusseldorf (Schmela) and Bern (Szeemann).”

HUO: At the Kunsthalle Bern you not only organized thematic exhibitions but also many solo shows.

HS: The Kunsthalle was run by artists – they were a majority on the exhibition committee, so I had to deal with a lot of local art politics. There were Swiss artists I loved – people like Muller, Walter Kurt Wiemken, Otto Meyer-Amden, Louis Moilliet – but in my view they were not well-known, so I organized their first solo shows. I also showcased international artists: Piotr Kowalski, Etienne-Martin, Auguste Herbin, Mark Tobey, Louise Nevelson. Even Giorgio Morandi had his first retrospective in Bern. I usually did a thematic exhibition first – for example “Marionettes, Puppets, Shadowplays: Asiatica and Experiments,” “Ex Votos,” “Light and Movement: Kinetic Art,” “White on White,” “Science Fiction,” “12 Environments,” and finally, “When Attitudes Become Form: Live in Your Head” – with both established and emerging artists, and then showed single artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Max Bill, Jesus-Rafael Soto, Jean Dewasne, Jean Gorin, and Constant. It was logical for a small city to do it this way, to alternate between solo and group shows. In a couple of exhibitions I showed the work of young artists – young British sculptors or young Dutch artists.

HUO: You mentioned “When Attitudes Become Form” which was a landmark show opost-Minimalist American artists. How did you put it together?

HS: The history of “Attitudes” is short but complex. After the opening in the summer of ’68 of the exhibition “12 Environments” (which included works by Andy Warhol, Martial Raysse, Soto, Jean Schnyder, Kowalski, not to mention experimental film and Christo’s first wrapped public building), the people from Philip Morris and the PR firm Rudder and Finn came to Bern and asked me if I would like to do a show of my own. They offered me money and total freedom. I said, Yes, of course. Until then I had never had an opportunity like that. Usually I wasn’t able to pay shipping costs from the States to Bern, so I cooperated with the Stedelijk, which had the Holland American Line as a sponsor for transatlantic shipping, and I only had to pay for transport in Europe. In this way I was able to show Jasper Johns in ’62, Rauschenberg, Richard Stankiewicz, and Alfred Leslie, and many more Americans later on. So getting this funding for “Attitudes” was very liberating for me.

After the opening of “12 Environments,” I was traveling with de Wilde (then director of the Stedelijk) through Switzerland and Holland to select works by younger Dutch and Swiss artists for two group shows devoted to each nationality that took place in both countries. I told him that with the Philip Morris money I intended to do a show with the light artists of Los Angeles: Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Doug Wheeler, Turrell. But Edy said, “You can’t do that. I’ve already reserved the project for myself!” And I responded, “Well, if you reserved that idea when’s the show?” His was still years down the road, but my project was for the immediate future. It was July and my show was scheduled for March.

That same day we visited the studio of a Dutch painter, Reiner Lucassen, who said, “I have an assistant. Would you be interested in looking at his work?” The assistant was Jan Dibbets, who greeted us from behind two tables – one with neon coming out of the surface, the other one with grass, which he watered. I was so impressed by this gesture that I said to Edy, “Okay. I know what I’ll do, an exhibition that focuses on behaviors and gestures like the one I just saw.”

That was the starting point; then everything happened very quickly. There is a published diary of “Attitudes” that details my trips, studio visits, the installation process. It was an adventure from beginning to end, and the catalogue, discussing how the works could either assume material form or remain immaterial, documents this revolution in the visual arts. It was a moment of great intensity and freedom, when you could either produce a work or just imagine it, as Lawrence Weiner put it. Sixty-nine artists, Europeans and Americans, took over the institution. Robert Barry irradiated the roof; Richard Long did a walk in the mountains; Mario Merz made one of his first igloos; Michael Heizer opened the sidewalk; Walter de Maria produced his telephone piece; Richard Serra showed lead sculptures, the belt piece, and a splash piece; Weiner took a square meter out of the wall; Beuys made a grease sculpture. The Kunsthalle became a real laboratory and a new exhibition style was born – one of structured chaos.

HUO: Speaking of new structures for exhibitions, I wanted to ask you about the Agentur fur Geistige Gastarbeit (Agency for spiritual guest work). I know that it served as a kind of base from which you mounted a number of significant shows in the early ’70s, but I’m unclear how the agency was founded.

HS: “When Attitudes Become Form” and the following exhibition “Friends and their Friends” provoked a scandal in Bern. To me, what I was showing were artworks but the critics and the public did not agree. The city government and the parliament got involved. Finally they decided that I could remain the director if I didn’t put human lives in danger – they thought my activities were destructive to humankind. Even worse, the exhibition committee was mainly composed of local artists and they decided that from now on they would dictate the programs. They rejected the Edward Kienholz show and the solo show of Beuys, to which he had already agreed. Suddenly it was war, and I decided to resign, to become a freelance curator. It was during that period that the hostility to foreign workers began to manifest itself; a political party was even founded to lower the number of foreigners in Switzerland. I was attacked since my name was not Swiss but Hungarian. In response, I founded the Agentur fur Geistige Gastarbeit, which was a political statement since the Italian, Turkish, and Spanish workers in Switzerland were called “guest workers.” The agency was a one-man enterprise, a kind of institutionalization of myself, and its slogans were both ideological “Replace Property with Free Activity” and practical, “From Vision to Nail,” which meant that I did everything from conceptualizing the project to hanging the works. It was the spirit of ’68.

Since I wasn’t under contract at the Kunsthalle, I was free from my duties in September of ’69 and then I immediately began a film project called “Height x Length x Width,” with artists such as Bernhard Luginbuhl, Markus Raetz, and Balthasar Burkhard. But soon offers to do shows started arriving at the agency. I organized an exhibition in Nuremberg “The Thing as Object,” 1970; in Cologne, “Happening and Fluxus,” 1970; in Sydney and Melbourne, “I Want to Leave a Nice Well-Done Child Here,” 1971; and, of course, Documenta V.

HUO: Let’s talk about your 1970 exhibition “Happening and Fluxus” in Cologne. In this exhibit, time was more important than space. How did you decide on this approach?

HS: During the preparation of “Attitudes” I had long talks with Dick Bellamy at Leo Castelli about the art that preceded what I had grouped under the rubric “Attitudes.” Of course Pollock was evoked, but also Alan Kaprow’s early Happenings and Viennese actionism. So when I was asked by Cologne’s cultural minister to do a show, I thought, This is the place to retrace the history of Happenings and Fluxus. Wuppertal, where Nam Jun Paik, Beuys, and Wolf Vostell had staged events, was nearby. So was Wiesbaden, where George Maciunas organized early Fluxus concerts, and in Cologne itself Heiner Friedrich promoted La Monte Young. I chose a three-part structure. Part one was a wall of documents that I put together with Hans Sohm, who had passionately collected the invitations, flyers, and other printed materials that related to all the happenings and events in recent art history. This wall of documents divided the space of Cologne’s Kunstverein in two. On each side, there were smaller spaces where artists could present their own work – this was the second part of the show. All kinds of gestures were possible: Claes Oldenburg put up posters and publications, Ben Vautier did a performance piece in which he provoked the audience, Kudo imprisoned himself in a cage, and so on. A third part consisted of environments by Vostell, Robert Watts, Dick Higgins, as well as Kaprow’s tire piece. To cap it all, there was a Fluxus concert with Vautier, Brecht, and others, as well as happenings inside and outside the museum with Vostell, Higgins, Kaprow, Vautier, and of course Otto Muhl and Hermann Nitsch.

During the preparations, I felt something was lacking. So a couple of weeks before the exhibition opened, I invited, against Vostell’s wishes, the Viennese actionists – Gunter Brus, Muhl, and Nitsch – to add some spice to what was in danger of becoming a reunion of veterans. It was the first public appearance of the Viennese and they took full advantage of the opportunity. Their spaces were filled with documents concerning the “Art and Revolution” event at the University of Vienna which was followed by a trial. Brus, Muhl, and Oswald Wiener were given six-months detention for degrading state symbols. Their sentences were later reduced except for Brus’. It was after that that Brus and Nitsch emigrated to Germany and founded the “Austrian Exile Government” with Wiener. Their films for sexual freedom and body-oriented art, and their performances caused a scandal.

It was all very messy. Vostell who had a pregnant cow in his environment was forbidden by the Veterinary Institute to let her give birth. So he wanted to cancel the show. But finally after a night of discussion we decided to open. Since the exhibition was upsetting the authorities, it had to open and stay open.

Beuys was not in the show, but of course he came knocking on the museum’s door in the name of his “East-West Fluxus.” The same happened in “Attitudes” with Buren. Though I didn’t invite him, he came and glued his stripes throughout the streets around the Kunsthalle.

HUO: But Buren was invited to Documenta?

HS: Yes. And of course I knew that he would put me on the spot by choosing the most problematic locations for his striped paper. He was very critical of Documenta. He said curators were becoming superartists who used artworks like so many brushstrokes in a huge painting. But the artists accepted his intervention, which took the form of discrete white stripes on white wallpaper. It’s only in retrospect that I heard that Will Insley was offended by the wallpaper along the base of his huge utopian architectural model. Beuys participated with his Office for Direct Democracy, where he sat throughout the run of Documenta discussing art, social problems and daily life with visitors to the show. He chose the well-known medium of the office to show that you can be creative everywhere. He also intended by his presence to abolish political parties, to make each man represent himself.

This was the first time that Documenta was no longer conceived as a “100 Day Museum” but as a “100 Day Event.” After the summer of ’68, theorizing in the art world was the order of the day, and it shocked people when I put a stop to all the Hegelian and Marxist discussions. With Documenta, I wanted to trace a trajectory of mimesis, borrowing from Hegel’s discussion about the reality of the image [Abbildung] versus the reality of the imaged [Abgebildetes]. You began with “Images That Lie” (such as publicity, propaganda, and kitsch), passed through utopian architecture, religious imagery and art brut, moved on to Beuys’ office, and then to gorgeous installations like Serra’s Circuit, 1972. You could lie down under the roof and dream to a continuous sound by La Monte Young. All the emerging artists of the late ’60s were present. And their works formed an exhibition that included performances by artists such as Vito Acconci, Howard Fried, Terry Fox, Byars, Paul Cotton, Joan Jonas, and Rebecca Horn. I also decided to use only the two museum spaces and forget about putting up sculptures outdoors. The result was a balance between static work and movement, huge installations and small, delicate works.

I always felt that it was the only Documenta possible at that time, though during the first two months the reception in Germany was devastating. In France they immediately grasped the underlying structure of moving from the “reality of the image,” such as political propaganda, to “imaged reality,” Social Realist work or photorealism, for example, to “the identity or non-identity of the image and the imaged,” Conceptual art, loosely speaking. I also wanted to avoid the eternal battle between two styles, Surrealism versus Dada, Pop versus Minimalism, and so on, that characterizes art history, and so I coined the term “individual mythologies,” a question of attitude not style.

HUO: Your notion of an “individual,” self-generated mythology began with sculptor Etienne Martin.

HS: Yes, this expression was born when I organized an Etienne-Martin show in 1963. His on-site sculptures called “Demeures” (Dwellings) were for me a revolutionary idea, though the surfaces were still in the tradition of Rodin. The concept of “individual mythology” was to postulate an art history of intense intentions that can take diverse shapes: people create their own sign systems, which take time to be deciphered.

HUO: What about Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipe (Anti-Oedipus)? Did it influence your way of conceiving Documenta V?

HS: I only read Deleuze for “Bachelor Machines,” not before. I’ve never read as much as people think I have. When I curate exhibitions I barely have time to read.

HUO: After Documenta, you founded what you called the Museum of Obsessions. How did it come about and what was its function?

HS: I invented this Museum, which exists only in my head, to give direction to the Agentur fur Geistige Gastarbeit. It was Easter ’74 and the agency had already existed for five years. Documenta had been a brutal exhibition: with 225,000 visitors, fragile pieces were easily damaged if you did not pay attention. I reacted to that by organizing a very intimate exhibition in an apartment called “Grand-Father,” which consisted of my grandfather’s personal belongings, and the tools of his profession – he was a hairdresser, an artist. I arranged these things to create an environment that reflected my interpretation of who he was. I have always maintained that it is important to try new approaches.

In “Bachelor Machines,” for instance, the show was slightly different in each museum to which it traveled. New things were constantly added, in tribute to the various towns where the show was held: it went from Bern, to Venice, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Paris, Malmo, Amsterdam, and Vienna. After Documenta, I had to find a new way of doing exhibitions. There was no sense in proposing retrospectives to my colleagues at the institutions; they could as easily do these shows themselves. So I invented something else. In the Museum of Obsessions I settled on three fundamental themes, metaphors that had to be given visual form: the Bachelor, la Mamma, and the Sun. “Bachelor Machines” was inspired by Duchamp’s Large Glass and similar machines or machinelike men, such as those in Franz Kafka’s short story “In the Penal Colony,” Raymond Roussel’s Impressions d’Afrique, and Alfred Jarry’s Supermale le Surmale, and it had to do with a belief in eternal energy flow as a way to avoid death, as an erotics of life: the bachelor as rebel-model, as antiprocreation. Duchamp suggested that males are only a projection in three dimensions of a four-dimensional female power. I therefore combined works by artists who create symbols that will survive them – like Duchamp – and those artists who have what I would like to call primary obsessions, whose lives are organized around their obsessions such as Heinrich Anton Muller. Of course, I also wanted to abolish the barrier between high art and outsider art. With the Museum of Obsession, the word “obsession,” which from the Middle Ages up to Jung’s “individuation process” had negative connotations, came to stand for a positive kind of energy.

Another exhibition in this series was “Monte Verita,” which embraced the themes of the “Sun” and “La Mamma.” Around 1900 a lot of Northerners traveled South to realize their utopias in the sun and in what they considered a matriarchal landscape. “Monte Verita” near Ascona, Italy, was such a place. Many of the representatives of the greatest utopias went there: the Anarchists (Bakunin, Malatesta, Guillaume); the theosophists; the creators of paradise on earth in the form of botanical gardens; the life reform movement, which considered itself an alternative to both communism and capitalism; then the artists of Der Blaue Reiter; the Bauhaus; the revolutionaries of the new dance movement (Rudolf Laban, Mary Wigman); later on El Lissitzky, Hans Arp, Julius Bissier, Ben Nicholson, Richard Lindner, Spoerri, Erik Dietmann. Ascona is actually a case study in how what are now fashionable tourist destinations get that way: first you have romantic idealists, then social utopias that attract artists, then come the bankers who buy the paintings and want to live where the artists do. When the bankers call for architects the disaster starts. When I did the show with the subtitle “Local Anthropology to Form a New Kind of Sacred Topography,” there was another goal: to preserve the architecture on Monte Verita, which, though it only covered a twenty-six year span, presented an entire history of modern utopian architecture. The life reformers who wanted to get back to nature built huts, the theosophists attempted to eradicate the right angle, then there was the crazy style of Northern Italian villas, and finally the rational style of the Hotel Monte Verita (first drawn by Mies van der Rohe but executed by Emil Fahrenkamp, who built the Shell Building in Berlin).

“Monte Verita” involved about 300 people who were either represented individually or in one of the sections, each devoted to a particular utopian ideology: anarchy, theosophy, vegetarianism, and land reform, to name only a few. You can imagine how much research it involved. Even during the exhibition new documents and objects kept arriving. To deal with them, I bought a bed made by an anthroposophical sculptor (who had worked for Rudolf Steiner’s first Goetheanum) where I put all the newly arrived objects and letters before they were integrated into the show, in which documentation was grouped thematically, while the artworks were hung in a separate space.

HUO: Did “Monte Verita” map psychogeographical connections?

HS: It helped me to retell the history of Central Europe through the history of utopias, the history of failures instead of the history of power. Looking at Hulten’s great shows at the Pompidou, I realized that he always chose an East-West power axis: Paris-New York, Paris-Berlin, Paris-Moscow. I chose North-South. It was not about power but about change and love and subversion. This was a new way of doing shows, not only documenting a world, but creating one. Artists were especially comfortable with this approach.

HUO: After “Monte Verita” you did “Gesamtkunstwerk”?

HS: Yes, needless to say a Gesamtkunstwerk can only exist in the imagination. In this exhibition, I started with German Romantic artists like Runge, a contemporary of Novalis and Caspar David Friedrich, and the architects during the French Revolution; then I included works and documents relating to major cultural figures like Richard Wagner and Ludwig II; Rudolf Steiner and Vassily Kandinsky; Facteur Cheval and Tatlin; Hugo Ball and Johannes Baader; Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet and Schwitters’ Cathedral of Erotic Misery; the Bauhaus manifesto “Let’s build the cathedral of our times”; Antoni Gaudi and the Glass Chain movement; Antonin Artaud, Adolf Wolfli, and Gabriele D’Annunzio; Beuys; and in cinema Abel Gance and Hans Jurgen Syberberg. Once again it was a history of utopias. In the center of the exhibition was a small space with what I would call the primary artistic gestures of our century: a Kandinsky of 1911, Duchamp’s Large Glass, a Mondrian, and a Malevich. I ended the show with Beuys as the representative of the last revolution in the visual arts.

HUO: Since the ’80s you’ve focused on several big retrospectives which you organized for the Kunsthaus in Zurich: Mario Merz, James Ensor, Sigmar Polke, and more recently, Cy Twombly, Bruce Nauman, Georg Baselitz, Serra, Beuys, and Walter De Maria.

HS: Again I was lucky. After ten years of thematic exhibitions I felt the need to return to the artists I had always loved. When Felix Baumann, director of the Kunsthaus in Zurich, gave me a job with the museum, I was able to offer artists a large retrospective or a special installation in one of the biggest exhibition spaces in Europe. Of course, I tried to make the shows as splendid as I could. Actually Serra and De Maria each did site-specific installations: Twelve Hours of the Day, 1990, and The Zoo Sculpture, 1992, respectively. With Merz we pulled down the walls and all his igloos formed an imaginary city. Having worked with these artists at the end of the ’60s, it was great to do major exhibitions with them all these years later. After a twenty-four-year wait, I was able to realize the Beuys exhibition in 1993. I secured most of his important installations and sculptures. The show was my homage to a great artist: I had always thought that after his death one ought to make an exhibition reflecting his concept of energy, and I was pleased when his friends who came to the show told me they felt like Beuys had just emerged from one of his sculptures.

HUO: How significant have group shows been to your curatorial practice?

HS: In 1980 I created “Aperto” for the Venice Biennale to show new artists or rediscover older ones. In 1985 I felt that a new kind of “Aperto” was needed, there was still a predominance of “Wilde Malerei,” and I wanted to introduce the somewhat forgotten quality of silence. The show I mounted was called “Spuren, Skulpturen, und Monumente ihrer prazisen Reise” (Traces, sculptures and monuments of their precise voyage) and it was introduced by Brancusi’s Silent Muse, Giacometti’s Pointe a l’oeil, and Medardo Rosso’s Ill Child, and included sculptures by Ruckriem, Twombly, and Tony Cragg at the end of the space, works by Franz West, Thomas Virnich, and Royden Rabinovitch in the center, and in triangular rooms works by Wolfgang Laib, Byars, Merz, and Tuttle. It was sheer poetry. This show was followed in Vienna by “De Sculptura,” in Dusseldorf by “SkulpturSein” (To be sculpture), in Berlin by “Zeitlos” (Timeless), in Rotterdam by “A-Historical Soundings,” in Hamburg by “Einleuchten” (Illumine). In Tokyo by “Light Seed,” in Bordeaux by “G.A.S. (Grandiose, Ambitieux, Silencieux).” As you can see, the titles of the shows became very poetic. They don’t weigh on the artists and their works.

HUO: You have gone back and forth, working both inside and outside official institutions. What’s made you keep a foot in each world?

HS: I wanted to organize noninstitutional exhibits but was dependent on institutions to show them. That’s why I often turned to nontraditional exhibition spaces. “Grand-Father” was done in a private apartment and “Monte Verita” in five locations never before used for art – including a theosophical villa, an ex-theater, and a gymnasium in Ascona – before it traveled to museums in Zurich, Berlin, Vienna, and Munich.

HUO: These shows demonstrate another tendency of your exhibits in the ’80s: an increasing number of shows in unusual exhibition spaces.

HS: Yes, absolutely. The shows I did in the ’80s were sometimes the first contact the local public had with new art, so by necessity they were group shows. At the same time, I looked for spaces that would be an adventure for the artists. These exhibitions also allowed younger artists to show internationally for the first time: Rachel Whiteread in Hamburg, Chohren Feyzdjou in Bordeaux. It’s not a coincidence that they’re mostly women. I agree with Beuys that at the end of this century culture will be the province of women. In Switzerland most Kunsthalle curators are young women and Pipilotti Rist and Muda Mathis are the liveliest artists. Their work has a truly fresh and courageous poetic aggression.

HUO: What about your current project “Austria im Rosennetz” (Austria in a net of roses) which just opened at the MAK in Vienna? How does it relate to the exhibition you did in 1991 on Swiss culture, “Visionary Switzerland”?

HS: “Visionary Switzerland” coincided with Switzerland’s 700-year anniversary. At the center of the show was the work of great Swiss artists such as Paul Klee, Meret Oppenheim, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Giacometti, and Merz, juxtaposed with material on those who wanted to change the world such as Max Daetwyler, Karl Bickel, Ettore Jelmorini, Emma Kunz, Armand Schulthess, and, of course, Muller’s autoerotic machine and Tinguely’s art-producing machines, surrounded by the work of artists like Vautier, Raetz, and so on.

This exhibition traveled to Madrid and Dusseldorf and was perceived as an homage to creativity rather than as a “national” exhibition. One thing that came out of it was the Swiss Pavilion of the World Exhibition in Seville 1992, where I replaced the Swiss flag with large banners by Burkhard showing parts of the human body representing the six or seven senses, and created a circuit of work that integrated information, technology, politics, and art, which began with Vautier’s painting La Suisse n’existe pas (Switzerland does not exist) and ended with his Je pense donc je suisse.

The minister of culture from Austria saw these events and asked me if I would do a spiritual portrait of Austria. I called it “Austria im Rosennetz.” It’s a huge panoramic show of another Alpine culture. Austria is a complex place, once an empire with a flourishing capital where East met West, it is now a small country. In the Museum fur angewandte Kunst, I begin with a room that examines Austria’s dynasty; the second room has portraits by Messerschmidt juxtaposed with Arnulf Rainer’s overdrawings of those photographic portraits and Weegee’s photographs. In the third room are the now classical Austrian artists and architects of the Vienna Secession. The fourth and fifth rooms are devoted to narrative, showcasing works by Aloys Zottl, an unknown nineteenth-century animal painter, Fritz von Herzmanovsky-Orlando, who wrote the book Gaulschreck im Rosennetz (Terror of the horses in the net of roses), Richard Teschner’s marionettes, and, finally, the carriage that transported the body of Crown Prince Ferdinand, who was killed in Sarajevo. The entrance hall is a kind of Wunderkammer with Turkish relics and Hans Hollein’s couch from 19 Bergasse, where Freud practiced psychoanalysis. The upper floor shows Austrian inventions: Auer’s lamp and its use by Duchamp; Madersperger’s sewing machine with Lautreamont’s poetic image and Man Ray’s The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse, 1920; Franz Gellmann’s World Machine with Tinguely’s late multicolored and brightly lit sculptures. Three screening programs are devoted to Austria’s influence on Hollywood: Erich von Stroheim, Fritz Lang, Michael Curtiz, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi, and many others (all of whom emigrated), and Austrian experimental film (Peter Kubelka, Kurt Kren, Fery Radax). The seats in this cinema are a work by Franz West who is represented throughout the show along with other contemporary artists: Maria Lassnig, Eva Schlegel, Valie Export, Friederike Pezold, Peter Kogler, Heimo Zobernig, and Rainer Ganahl, to name a few.

HUO: Given a century in which the exhibit is more and more of a medium, and more artists claim that the exhibit is the work and the work is the exhibit, what would you say are the turning points in the history of mounting exhibitions?

HS: Duchamp’s Box in a Valise was the smallest exhibition; the one Lissitzky designed for the Russian pavilion of the Pressa in Cologne in 1928, the largest. During Documenta V, I did a section “Museums by Artists” with Duchamp, Broodthaers, Vautier, Herbert Distel, and the Mouse Museum by Oldenburg, which I think was important. The master of the exhibition as medium is, for me, Christian Boltanski.

HUO: Which artists of the ’90s interest you?

HS: I appreciate the intensity of Matthew Barney, although having seen his show in Bern I prefer his videotapes to his objects. I also like younger video artists such as Pipilotti Rist and Muda Mathis.

HUO: I know you have a huge archive. How do you organize the information you need for your work?

HS: My archive changes permanently. It reflects my work. If I do a solo show I make sure to have all the documentation on the artist, if it is a thematic exhibit I keep a library. My archive is a function of my own history. I know that I do not have to look for Wagner under the letter W, but under “Gesamtkunstwerk.” I also sort museum collection catalogues by location, in order to have a mental portrait of the institutions. My archive is a collection of several libraries. There is one for Ticino, which originally grew out of “Monte Verita,” one for dance, film, and art brut; of course there are multiple cross-references. The most important thing is to walk through with closed eyes, letting your hand choose. My archive is my memoir, that’s how I look at it. Too bad I cannot walk through it any more. It has become so full. Like Picasso I would like to close the door and start another.

HUO: Despite the current increase in information about art via the Internet and other media, knowledge still depends a lot on meeting people. I see exhibitions as a result of dialogues, where the curator functions in the ideal case as a catalyst.

HS: The problem is that information can be retrieved via the Internet, but you have to go to the site in question in order to see if there is something behind it, whether the material has enough presence to survive. The best work is always the least reproducible. So you speed from one studio to the next, from one original to another, hoping that some day it will all come together in an organism called an exhibition.

HUO: In the ’80s hundreds of new museums opened their doors. But the number of significant venues did not increase. Why do you think that’s the case?

HS: Whether a place is significant or not still depends on personality. Some institutions don’t show courage or love for art. For many new museums today all the energy and money goes toward hiring a “star” architect and the director is too often left with spaces he doesn’t like and no money to change them. High walls, light coming in from the ceiling, a neutral floor are still the best bet and the cheapest one. Artists usually prefer simplicity, too.

HUO: By establishing structures of your own, you initiated a practice which only in recent decades has come to be called curator or exhibition organizer. You were a pioneer.

HS: Being an independent curator means maintaining a fragile equilibrium. There are situations where you work because you want to do the show though there’s no money and others where you get paid. I’ve been very privileged all these years since I’ve never had to ask for a job or a place to exhibit. Since 1981 I’ve been an independent curator at the Kunsthaus in Zurich, which has left me time to do shows in Vienna, Berlin, Hamburg, Paris, Bordeaux, and Madrid, and to run the museums I founded on “Monte Verita” with no state funds. But of course you work harder as a freelance curator, as Beuys said: no weekends, no holidays. I’m proud that I still have a vision and that, rarer still, I often hammer in the nails. It’s very exciting to work this way, but one thing is sure: you never get rich.

HUO: Felix Feneon described the role of the curator as that of a catalyst, a pedestrian bridge between art and public. Suzanne Page, a curator at the Musee d’art moderne de la ville de Paris with whom I often collaborate, gives an even more humble definition. She defines the curator as a “commis de l’artiste.” How would you define it?

HS: Well, the curator has to be flexible. Sometimes he is the servant sometimes the assistant, sometimes he gives artists ideas of how to present their work; in group shows, he’s the coordinator, in thematic shows, the inventor. But the most important thing about curating is to do it with enthusiasm and love – with a little obsessiveness.

Hans-Ulrich Obrist is a Vienna-based curator currently living in London

above copied from:

China’s Spectacular New Art Museums

This is a collection of images and articles that cover the astounding new museums of art being built or already built-in China over the last few years. The startling rise of China’s gigantic economy is being matched by their movement and presence on the global stage. China has both centers for art production in Shanghai and Beijing, and a dazzling new international art market that will also be the third reveal of the phenomenal Art Basel art fair, which debuts in Hong Kong in 2013. No where else on earth is as fast-moving as the exponential growth in the China art scene and art worlds. China already has world-class collectors and collections, and is repatriating art purchased in the West back into its country of origin. China also is positioned in the secondary markets with its own global branded auction houses. China is building remarkable and gorgeous, stunningly beautiful museums that represent everything from a region to the nation to a single person contemporary artist. Yet what will further ground all the cultural movement are these new and amazing super-large scaled museums of art. Take for example the Chinese Museum of Wood. It is both spiritual and everyday, and holds most rewarding examples of works created in the woodworking tradition. Fortunately for us in the West, and in the US in particular, we will finally get to see China showcase itself in all of its cultural manifestations – no different than has Paris, with its various historic museums both small and enormous, that are markers of civilization for all the accomplishments of humanity.

Vincent Johnson

Los Angeles


MOCA Shanghai
Shanghai’s Private Museums
by administrator,
Monday, July 1, 2013 – 16:29

CHINA DAILY RECENTLY reported that 100 new museums open in China every year. Some are private, some are linked to upmarket shopping malls, and others are public institutions established by a government that seems suddenly to be aware of the cultural deprivation it has imposed on its citizens over recent decades. Since 1949, a lot of Chinese culture simply just disappeared.

Now suddenly Chinese contemporary art has become a hot commodity with records being broken at auction almost every week and official institutions running hard to catch up with collectors who are opening their own private museums and galleries.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Shanghai a city of 25 million people and one clearly making a play to become the cultural centre of China; in the previous 12 months alone Shanghai has seen the opening of China’s largest private contemporary art museum – The Long Museum – and two monolithic public art spaces, the Power Station of Contemporary Art and the New China Art Museum in the refurbished China Pavilion on the 2010 China Expo site.

The Power Station of Contemporary Art, on the banks of the Huangpu River, was converted over a frenetic nine months from the Nanshi Power Plant into mainland China’s first state-run contemporary art museum at a cost of US$64 million. It may not be the equivalent of London’s Tate Modern, yet, but its conceptual heart is beating confidently within its 41,200-square-meter space which itself is dwarfed by the 62,000 square meters of the colossal New China Art Museum.

Museums both private and public seem to be sprouting everywhere.  But it is an activity that requires big bucks; the infrastructure is staggering, the ongoing costs breathtaking and the cost of the art beyond the reach of all but the über-rich.

Chinese property developer Dai Zhikang is currently putting the finishing touches to a huge US$480 million development in Shanghai’s rapidly expanding Pudong District. The Himalayas Centre designed by acclaimed Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, includes conference facilities, luxury hotel, restaurants and shopping spaces; located on the top floor of the development is Zhikang’s soon-to-be-opened vast curvilinear Shanghai Zendai Himalayas Art Museum in which he will show his own art collection.

Across Shanghai and located in the equivalent of London’s Bond Street, is billionaire Adrien Cheng’s newly opened K11 shopping mall. Known as the ‘Art Mall’, K11 specialises in high-end Western brands. Burberry and Valentino are already in place but the mall is so new that many of the shops are vacant. It still smells of fresh paint and plastic and the highly polished floors are as yet unscuffed. The basement is a dedicated low- ceilinged art gallery that will show work by the country’s leading artists. Last month’s inaugural Shanghai Surprise exhibition was a group show with work from several local art stars including, Yang Fudong, Qui Anxiong and Birdhead.

Close by in the famous Bund area of the city is billionaire Thomas Ou’s Rockbund Art museum housed in an exquisitely restored 1933 Art Deco building that was at one time home to the Royal Asiatic Society. Ou’s large contemporary art space which opened in 2010 has no permanent collection but hosts impressive contemporary shows by leading Chinese artists.

Wang Wei, wife of billionaire entrepreneur Lui Yiqian, has recently opened (December 2012) the largest contemporary art museum in China in Shanghai’s Pudong district. The 10,000-square-meter Long Museum was built to showcase her collection of contemporary and revolutionary Chinese art with the upper floor devoted to ancient Chinese art and antiques which are her husband’s preferences. Wei plans a second museum later this year, part of the West Bank Cultural Corridor in Xuhui District, and will show even more of her collection of contemporary Chinese art.

Not to be out done Budi Tek, an Indonesian-Chinese agribusiness billionaire and Shanghai resident, will also open his Yuz Museum Shanghai on the same Xuhui site to accommodate his personal collection of international and Chinese contemporary art.

Lorenz Helbling, who owns the commercial ShangArt Gallery, has lived in Shanghai since 1995 and has witnessed the growth of private museums in the city. ‘In 1995, no one came to Shanghai to look at art. Now Shanghai is a contemporary city, a city of today and people here are interested in contemporary art even though they are still trying to understand what it art is all about,’ he said dryly.

There are a million millionaires in China but it is only the billionaires – of which there are 122 according to Forbes Magazine – who can afford the private galleries and the art to put in them. Their wealth has grown in parallel with an economy that has embraced, ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics.’ These nouveaux riches are, a ‘fast-growing thicket of bamboo capitalism,’ as The Economist magazine labelled them, with a cashed-up status that has in effect, allowed them to corner the contemporary art market during a period when government cultural institutions seemed uninterested.

Some critics have labelled private museums as vanity projects and a flaunting of wealth.  But Wei and Tek, both of whom spoke to Asian Art Newspaper last month in Shanghai, see such accusations as short-sighted. Their galleries are precisely planned philanthropic endeavours which come with clearly defined social responsibilities which include educational and lecture programmes.

Wang Wei’s Long Museum which opened last December in Pudong, cost of 271 million Yuan (US$43 million) to build and is bank-rolled by her billionaire industrialist husband, Liu Yiqian. The 10,000 square-meter space will cost 7 million Yuan annually to run Liu told CCTV recently. But the sobriquet of the Long Museum being China’s largest private museum will be short-lived. Later this year, Wang Wei will open her second even larger 16,000-square-meter, contemporary art space on an abandoned airfield that is being turned into the West Bank Cultural Corridor (WBCC) in Xuhiu District on the banks of the Huangpu River. The WBCC is being pioneered by local Party Secretary, Sun Jiwei and will comprise tourist attractions, restaurants, commercial space and parkland. DreamWorks Animation has already signed a multi-million dollar deal to build a movie studio and entertainment zone on the site.

Wang Wei’s museum will not be the only one on the site either. Tek is building his own privately financed Yuz Museum Shanghai there too. ‘Right next door to DreamWorks,’ Tek said. Tek’s 8,000-square-meter building designed by acclaimed Japanese architect, Sou Fujimoto is the first phase of a development that  will eventually take in adjacent land and add a further 20,000 square meters of exhibition space. Wang Wei and her husband Liu Yiqian have been collecting Chinese art for over 20 years. Liu, who is 171 on Forbe’s Magazine China Rich List with an estimated fortune of US$790 million has a passion for ancient and antique Chinese art while Wang Wei has preferred to concentrate on Chinese contemporary and modern and in establishing a museum quality narrative collection of Revolutionary Chinese art that covers  1945 to 2009. Fifteen minutes spent inside the Long Museum is long enough to realise that no expense has been spared; from its soaring 14-meter ceiling of the Central Hall to the unpolished marble flagstones of the stair well to the fastidious nature of the displays, all speak of a high degree of finesse rarely seen in private or public galleries.

News China reported that Lui Yiqian and Wang Wei spent US$139 million on art in 2009 the same year Yiqian set an auction record for a piece of Chinese furniture when he paid US$11 million for an 18th-century Imperial Qianlong period zitan throne, which is now displayed on the third floor of the Long Museum alongside ancient scrolls and fine porcelain all of which are bathed in pools of soft light triggered by the movement of visitors through the gallery. Annual running costs of seven million Yuan have led commentators to question the sustainability of private museum. But Wang Wei dismisses concerns about sustainability and points out that the name, Long Museum, was chosen because its Chinese pictogram means long-lasting. ‘The Long Museum will last for one hundred years,’ she said.

Budi Tek, whose Shanghai Yuz Museum will be the second museum to carry this name, the first opened in Jakarta in 2008, while happy to stump up the cost of both the building and establishing the collection, remains all too aware that the museum’s long- term viability lies in making it sustainable. He, like Wang Wei, will charge a small entrance fee somewhere between 50 and 100 Yuan he says and which visitors will be able to redeem against other onsite purchases. He plans to generate income from other elements of the development. For example, there will be design and furniture stores, restaurants, book shops and residences onsite which will be available to the public when not being used by artists. But he insists everything will be art-related and all profits will be returned to the museum.

Tek believes there is now too much money chasing too few works of contemporary Chinese art leading to a dearth of affordable museum quality pieces coming on to the market. ‘In China the most important pieces of contemporary Chinese art are already held by us collectors. There are no major museum collections yet,’ he said. Which of course begs the question, what will the mega-public exhibition spaces such as the PSA put on their walls?

More recently, Tek’s collecting has turned away from Chinese contemporary to international installation artists such as Fred Sandback, Antony Gormley and Adel Abdessemed, works that require a lot of space. He is an intuitive and slightly impulsive buyer and while he is happy to defer exhibition decisions to a curator he insists the decision about what he buys is his alone. ‘No one advises me. I see something and I buy it. No one advised me when I bought Maurizio Cattelan’s olive tree. No one advised me when I bought Adel’s plane.’

For her part, Wang Wei is adamant that her collecting policy is driven by a desire to reclaim her culture. It is a philosophy she has pursued resolutely throughout her 20 years of collecting. She insists that Chinese art should remain firmly in Chinese hands and it is this philosophy that has driven her definitive collection of Revolutionary Art. And she does not share Tek’s concerns about the dearth of good contemporary art coming onto the market. For the Long Museum’s opening exhibition 15 leading Chinese contemporary artists including Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun and Zeng Fanzhi created work to hang in the Central Hall. When asked if she owned the 15 works, a spokeswoman for Wang smiled and said, ‘Not yet!’.

Many commentators who question the sustainability of the private museums are also sceptical as to whether they can successfully operate in a climate where the commercial, cultural and political so closely overlap.

The shifting line between what can and cannot be shown in China was highlighted in May this year when Chinese censors excised several Andy Warhol images of Chairman Mao from a touring exhibition 15 Minutes Eternal, of 300 Warhol pictures before it reached Shanghai’s PSA.  The images had already been seen in Hong Kong, but were deemed to be irreverent and unsuitable for mainland consumption. The Mao pictures will be reinstated when the exhibition moves on to Tokyo. While the Chinese government is happy to pursue its ‘soft culture’ push overseas, it remains highly sensitive to images that could offend at home.

There are few images in Wang Wei’s collection of Revolutionary Art, with its litany of happy smiling peasant faces and images that extol Chairman Mao’s achievements over half a century of communist party control that would offend the Party hierarchy. Even so Wang Wei takes a cautious ‘softly, softly’ approach and sees her collection in broad terms as, ‘complementary to national collections which for historical reasons cannot present certain art,’ she said enigmatically. Shanghai citizens however are flocking to the new cultural icons throughout the city. Helbling says that since the first Shanghai Biennale in 1996 there has been a steady and growing interest in contemporary art and that now, the big problem for Chinese public galleries is ‘trying to sort out what type of contemporary art they will have’.




National Art Museum of China Proposal / MAD Architects

By: Lidija Grozdanic | October – 1 – 2012

National Art Museum of China, MAD Architects, architecture competition, museum architecture, floating architecture, 2008 Olympics

The building was designed by MAD Architects, as proposal for the international competition for the future National Art Museum of China in Bejing. Their concept is based on an elevated public square which is protected by a floating mega volume above.

The original structure of the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) built in 1962, houses one of the country’s largest art collections and has played host to some of the influential exhibitions as recorded in contemporary Chinese history. The current plans are to move the institution into a new building, situated within a designated ‘art district’ on the central axis of the 2008 Olympic site.

National Art Museum of China, MAD Architects, architecture competition, museum architecture, floating architecture, 2008 Olympics

MAD’s design is organized into three layers, where programs are divided by each level. The one-storey ground floor houses all ancillary functions and is conceived in such a way that it can be operated independently from the museum in off hours. Above this, a 20,000 square meter urban plaza program acts as the main gallery for permanent art collections and exhibitions. The arrangement of this hall gives visitors the opportunity to decide how to engage with the works on show, while simultaneously being surrounded by outward views of the surrounding cityscape courtesy of windows that wrap around the perimeter of the structure. This level is also directly connected to the former Olympic park via a bridge, thus making use of an area of the urban plan which would otherwise be ignored.

National Art Museum of China, MAD Architects, architecture competition, museum architecture, floating architecture, 2008 Olympics

National Art Museum of China, MAD Architects, architecture competition, museum architecture, floating architecture, 2008 Olympics

National Art Museum of China, MAD Architects, architecture competition, museum architecture, floating architecture, 2008 Olympics

National Art Museum of China, MAD Architects, architecture competition, museum architecture, floating architecture, 2008 Olympics

National Art Museum of China, MAD Architects, architecture competition, museum architecture, floating architecture, 2008 Olympics

This is design of a Beijing based architecture firm named MAD, they unveiled their new museum for Chinese wood sculptures. The museum is located in Habrin main city in Northern China. The city itself is currently trying to defining itself as a regional hub for the arts at a time when the historic city is rapidly expanding. That’s why they choose to build this museum right there right now. The main idea of the Chinese wood sculptures museum is inspired by the unique local landscapes of the city. The museum is a contrast between the elegance of nature and the speed of daily life. The museum is about 200 meters long and for the concept is shaped to explore and reflect the relation between the building and the environment as a big frozen fluid. The interior of the museum is separated on two general parts. Each one represents an expedition. They are connected mutually by a centralized entrance which separates the two museums while simultaneously joining them. This is used to make the impression of symbiotic relationship between the two expeditions. Another good idea by the designers is the full glass roof, this not only make the outside of the building outstanding and looking futuristic, but also helps for the sunlight to lighten the entire museum and helping for the viewing atmosphere inside.

Siteplan of the China Wood Sculpture Museum

Chinese architect Pei-Zhu’s OCT Design Museum in Shenzhen, China.
Courtesy Studio Pei-Zhu

Shanghai To Transform China Pavilion Into Art “Palace”

City Sets Ambitious Goal To Open 16 New Museums By 2015

The China Pavilion Will Reopen as the China Art Palace next fall

The China Pavilion Will Reopen as the China Art Palace next fall

Shanghai may be known as a city obsessed with the pursuit of money, but in recent years China’s most populous metropolis has busied itself with another obsession: rivaling Beijing as a cultural and artistic hub. As Jing Daily noted this past May, while Beijing still enjoys its status as China’s cultural and political capital, the city’s rampant growth over the past decade has cannibalized many of its vibrant arts districts and threatened many others, alienating the creative community and, in some cases, pushing artists to relocate.

This shift in Beijing, and Shanghai’s well-capitalized initiative to foster a more creative environment in the city, has invigorated Shanghai’s cultural ambitions. Over the last few years, new creative/lifestyle venues like 1933 (a restored Jazz Age abattoir), the Shanghai Songjiang Creative Studio, and the Rockbund Art Museum have opened their doors. Though red tape and fly-by-night private gallery owners continue to plague the industry, by 2015, Shanghai plans to open 16 more large-scale museums and galleries.

As Shanghai Daily writes this week, one of these 16 planned museums and galleries, the massive “China Art Palace,” is attracting particular attention. For the art “Palace,” the China Pavilion from last year’s Shanghai World Expo is being transformed into an art museum “on a par with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris,” according to a senior official. From the article:

The China Art Palace will collect top-level art from home and abroad, primarily to showcase the origins and development of China’s modern arts.

It is part of a plan by the city government to build 16 new major museums and art galleries and many smaller museums by 2015 and make Shanghai an “international cultural metropolis,” said Zong.

“In the future, Shanghai residents will be able to find a museum and cultural venue within a 15-minute walk of their homes,” she said.

“The number and quality of art galleries and museums is an important measure of cultural standing – cities such as New York and Paris are famed for their top-level galleries,” said Teng Junjie, art director of the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture Radio Film and TV.

The palace, which will cover an area of 70,000 square meters, will open on a limited basis next October, Zong said.

Most facilities from the former China Pavilion can be retained, bringing considerable savings, she said.

The three levels of the former main exhibition hall of the Expo pavilion will showcase the history and development of modern art of Shanghai and China, while the former joint pavilion for Chinese provinces and municipalities will have separate exhibition rooms for famous Chinese modern artists, including top Shanghai painter Cheng Shifa, said Teng.

As Teng Junjie added this weekend, the aim for cultural officials is to establish three major museums in the city by 2015: “the existing Shanghai Museum, the Shanghai Art Palace and the China Contemporary Art Museum – for historic, modern and contemporary artworks.” But, large scale public projects aside, more museums and galleries won’t do much to transform Shanghai into a cultural hub to rival New York, Paris or even Beijing unless, as Jing Daily pointed out earlier this month, the regulatory environment for private museums and galleries is transformed as well.


Super-Collector Wang Wei’s Dragon Art Museum Hits Construction Milestone

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12,000 Square Meter Museum Located In Shanghai’s Pudong District

Zhong Song's exterior design, featuring a projection of Chen Yifei's 1987 painting, "The Flute Player"

Zhong Song’s exterior design, featuring a projection of Chen Yifei’s 1987 painting, “The Flute Player”

This past February, Jing Daily covered Chinese art “super-collector” Wang Wei’s long-discussed private art museum in Shanghai, which Wang and billionaire investor husband Liu Yiqian plan to open next year. The “Dragon Art Museum” (龙美术馆) will showcase Wang and Liu’s extensive collection of blue-chip Chinese contemporary art on the ground floor, Wang’s Mao-era “Red Classics” from 1949-1979 on the second, and traditional works and ancient artifacts on the third floor.

Taking over a section of the former Tomson Centre (汤臣别墅商业中心) building in Shanghai’s Pudong district, near the Shanghai New International Expo Center, Wang’s museum will expand the original 8,000 square meter space to 12,000 square meters. With around 15 months to go until the museum’s planned November 18, 2012 grand opening, last weekend construction teams hit a milestone, starting work on the building’s facade.

Designed by Zhong Song (仲松), a “post-70s generation” artist and architect who started off his career at the studio of the late Beijing artist Chen Yifei, the museum’s facade is at tasteful and minimalist, going against the current preference for all things large and loud in the world of Chinese architecture. According to Zhong, the concept of the building’s facade is “clean and quality,” adding that he will use only light-colored granite for the exterior, installing fewer and smaller windows in order to give “a feeling of wholeness” to the building.

Based on an artist rendering of the exterior, which shows a projection of Chen Yifei’s 1987 work, “The Flute Player” on the museum’s facade, expect some high-tech features to be worked into the low-key granite-and-glass design. In addition to the facade currently under construction, crews will soon start work on the auxiliary warehouse, with all construction expected to be complete by the end of this year.

As Wang Wei told the Chinese art magazine Art Finance earlier this summer, she and Liu Yiqian have already invested over 200 million yuan (US$31 million) in the project, and are projecting an annual operating budget of 5 million yuan (US$774,000).


MVRDV: china comic and animation museum

‘china comic and animation museum’ by MVRDV, hangzhou, china
images © MVRDV

dutch practice MVRDV has won the international competition for the ‘china comic and animation museum’
in hangzhou, china. composed of eight balloon shaped volumes, the design looks to create an internally complex
experience measuring 30,000 square meters in total. fantastical and whimsical in its approach, the proposal is
part of a larger master plan that will include a series of parks, a public plaza and an expo center.

comic book library with view into interactive exhibition zone

set to break ground in 2012, the museum seeks to create a platform which will unite the evolving worlds of art
and entertainment. the application of one of the most iconic cartoon motifs – the speech bubble – allows the unit
to be instantly recognized as a place for comics, animation and cartoons. as text is projected onto the
monochromatic exterior surface, the forms come to life, further transforming the two dimensional motif into a
three dimensional reality.

interactive exhibition space

each of the eight volumes, occupied by unique and independent functions, are interconnected allowing for a
circular tour of the entire building. large voids at the point of interception provide visual connection and access
between the dynamic programs, which include a comic book library and three cinemas.

exhibition space

accommodating a range of versatile exhibition spaces, the museum will feature a permanent collection that is
presented in a chronological spiral along with smaller, adaptive halls for temporary displays.

exhibition space

entrance and view into multiple balloons

interactive light elements

aerial view of site

diagram of programs

additional images of the circulation zones:


foster + partners: datong art museum

‘datong art museum’ by foster + partners, datong, china
all images © foster + partners

construction has begun in datong, china on the ‘datong art museum’, designed by london-based practice foster + partners.
four pyramidal roof peaks interlock to define the exterior form, evoking the imagery of an erupted landscape. the external surfaces
are clad with corten steel, a material with earthen hues and will continue to weather over time. one of four new buildings bordering
a new cultural plaza, the 32,000 square meter center will be slightly sunken into the earth, matching the scale of its neighbors.
visitors descend through a stepped courtyard of sculptures to enter the museum.

at the ground level, a grand gallery with a 37 meter tall atrium with a clear span of 80 meters provides a centerpiece area
for large-scale installations and exhibitions. skylights within the high ceilings introduce northern and north-western daylight,
creating an optimal environment to display artworks with natural illumination and minimal solar gain.

aerial view of the entry plaza at night

perimeter exhibition spaces will contain state-of-the-art climate controls. artificial lighting runs along tracks within ceiling recesses
and a 5 meter grid along the floor integrates security, data and power. with 70 percent of the structure formed from a roof,
the building is insulated almost twice more than code requires, reducing the presence and necessary maintenance with only
10 percent overall glazing.

scheduled to open in 2013, the venue will represent the country in the ‘beyond the building’ basel art international tour.

main entrance


The National Art Museum of China by UnStudio


The architectural design concept for The National Art Museum of China by UnStudio reminds the artifact of ancient Chinese “stone drums”.  Historically, the Stone Drum bears inscriptions that represent precious piece of the fragmentary puzzle of the Chinese script. This special form of the museum highlights the identity of the country, its spirit and essence. Moreover, the design concept is based on the duplicities that complement each other: day and night, inside and outside, fast and slow, dao or tao, individual and collective.
The main aim of this design concept is to give diversified and visible spaces for pieces of art. Also, the role of light is extremely important in the design of this building. The edifice is constructed in such a way that gives more opportunities for artists and curators in displaying their works and showing their ideas. Designers of the museum creating their work did not forget about the visitors. So, internally it is organized in such a manner that gives visitor a possibility to explore the museum by different paths around thematic consistencies of art.
Museum is greatly involved in urban context and provides the strong cultural presence for the area.

Tania Sinitsa


Museum Lighting: National Museum Of China - Art and culture iGuzzini
Museum Lighting: National Museum Of China - Art and culture iGuzzini

Museum Lighting: National Museum Of China – Art and culture iGuzzini

Museum Lighting: National Museum Of China - Art and culture iGuzzini
Museum Lighting: National Museum Of China - Art and culture iGuzzini
Museum Lighting: National Museum Of China - Art and culture iGuzzini
Museum Lighting: National Museum Of China - Art and culture iGuzzini
Museum Lighting: National Museum Of China - Art and culture iGuzzini
Museum Lighting: National Museum Of China - Art and culture iGuzzini
Museum Lighting: National Museum Of China - Art and culture iGuzzini
Museum Lighting: National Museum Of China - Art and culture iGuzzini
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About the project
One of the most ambitious project for the museum lighting made by iGuzzini is certainly the National Museum of China, completed in 1959 as one of ten important public buildings in Tiananmen Square, in direct proximity to the Forbidden City, the museum is still a milestone in the history of modern Chinese architecture.

The conversion and extension of the Chinese National Museum combines the former Chinese History Museum with the Chinese Revolutionary Museum. Outline plans were invited from ten international architectural firms and the project was awarded to Gerkan, Marg & Partners (gmp) for its submission, together with Beijing’s CABR, ahead of Foster & Partners, Kohn Pedersen Fox, OMA & Herzog & de Meuron.

The original GMP submission envisaged gutting the existing museum. The aim was to join the northern and southern wings in a single complex, by removing the central structure. The 260 metre long hall acts as its central access area. It widens to embrace the existing central entrance which opens onto Tiananmen Square. The ‘forum’ thus created acts as an atrium and multi-functional events area, with all services for the public, that is to say, cafes and tea shops, book shops and souvenir stores, ticket offices and toilets.

The museum lighting for the coffered roof extending along the entire forum and in the central Hall was designed by the lighting design office conceptlicht. A key feature of the concept is a special luminaire, developed by conceptlicht and produced by iGuzzini, which creates a welcoming atmosphere throughout the building.

This project required a customized solution to conceal the lighting source into the coffers. The project utilized down light optics with both traditional and LED sources.


Art Museum of Yue Minjun

 posted in News

from Architectural Record

Art Museum of Yue Minjun
Image courtesy Studio Pei-Zhu

Studio Pei-Zhu, a Beijing-based firm, has designed a museum that will house the work of Yue Minjun, a Chinese contemporary artist known for his repetitive images of large, smiling figures.

“While the devastating Sichuan earthquake in May left a large portion of Western China in ruins, signs are emerging that some notable building projects in the area are pushing forward. One of these projects is the Art Museum of Yue Minjun, designed by Beijing-based Studio Pei-Zhu, a 2007 Design Vanguard winner.

Located near the Qingcheng Mountains, and adjacent to the Shimeng River in Sichuan Province, the 10,700-square-foot museum will house the work of Yue Minjun, a Chinese contemporary artist known for his repetitive images of large, smiling figures. It will be one of 10 new museums on the same site, each dedicated to the work of an influential Chinese artist. Zhang Xiaogang and Wang Guangyi are among the other artists to be showcased. The complex, which is being developed by the local government of Dujingyuan, is the brainchild of Lu Peng, an art professor at the China Central Academy of Fine Art.

Art Museum of Yue Minjun
Art Museum of Yue Minjun
Images courtesy Studio Pei-Zhu

The Yue Minjun museum will contain exhibition space and a small artist’s studio. According to Pei Zhu, one of the firm’s principals, a river rock that he picked up one day inspired the building’s form—a large, oblong sphere. “Everything is based on the natural stone, which has a very strong relationship between the creek and the mountain and nature,” explains Zhu.

Art Museum of Yue Minjun
Image courtesy Studio Pei-Zhu

On the exterior, curvilinear walls will be clad in highly polished zinc, a soft metal that blends in with the natural surroundings while also giving the building a futuristic look. “Normally, architects will use a local material and vernacular language,” says Zhu. “We believe we needed to make something both futuristic and very natural.” It’s a striking departure from another recent project designed by the firm for the 2008 Summer Olympics: Digital Beijing, a control center whose façade resembles computer circuitry.

Art Museum of Yue Minjun
Image courtesy Studio Pei-Zhu

Work is already underway on the art museum. Site preparation began earlier this year, and the building should be completed by early 2009. Zhu says the earthquake delayed the project a mere three months, at most. “The developer still really wants to push this project [forward],” he says, “and we think that this will still benefit the society and the city.”

Art Museum of Yue Minjun
Art Museum of Yue Minjun
Images courtesy Studio Pei-Zhu


CAFA Art Museum

Beijing Art Museum by Arata Isozaki & Associates

Beijing Cafa Art Museum Photo
Beijing CAFA Art Museum
CAFA Art Museum Architecture
Interior of Beijing CAFA Art Museum
Wall Design Beijing CAFA Art Museum

CAFA Art Museum, located at the northeast corner of campus CAFA (China Central Academy of Fine Arts), is set from curvilinear walls covered with traditional Chinese slate.

The walls are separated at the ends to which natural light enters the building through skylights and large windows.

From the main entrance, located in the center of the building, access to a large atrium in height with long straight ramps that ascend gradually to the various floors of the museum. Natural light spreads throughout the museum through the membranes of fiberglass skylights.

The ground floor can accommodate large installations that can be seen from the different levels of the ramp. The permanent collection, focusing on traditional Chinese art, is located on the first floor galleries, temporary exhibitions in the second and third floors.

Large open spaces with natural light, curvilinear walls, allow many different kinds of contemporary art installations. The exhibition space on the third floor is open to the double volume of the second floor.

There are four floors above ground, two below ground. The library and cafeteria are located in the main space on the ground floor. Basement 1 includes a reading room, a study room and a conference room. 2 In the basement offices are located in conservation of paintings and calligraphy, including the restoration room, laboratory and warehouse of temporary and permanent collections. Technical equipment protected stairways and elevators are located in rectangular volumes, covered with marble.


Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio

  • 22 Feb 2009

In Iwan Baan‘s website, we found one of the latest works he photographed, the Ningbo Historic Museum designed by Wang Shu, .

An amazing stone work, more pictures after the break:

Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (1) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (2) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (3) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (4) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (5) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (6) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (7) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (8) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (9) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (10) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (11) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (12) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
Ningbo Historic Museum / Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio (13) © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

MoMA Chengdu / Studio Ramoprimo

By: Lidija Grozdanic | February – 22 – 2012

Organized by the Chengdu Ministry of Culture and the Chengdu Culture and Tourism Development Group, the Competition for the Chinese MoMA was part of an initiative for creating a double ring of public facilities around the Tianfu Square in Chengdu. The first ring is supposed to consist of cultural facilities. The second and larger one is planned for highrises.

Museum of Modern Art china

Designed by Studio Ramoprimo, the winning entry proposes a dialogue with the surrounding, drawing physical references from the existing urban and architectural condition. The basic idea is to enlarge the existing public space of Tianfu Square and make it “climbing” on the roof of the new building. The new museum is a group of volumes creating a small cultural city.

Two main axis cut the site area defining a comfortable pedestrian island where people can walk away from cars. The new urban situation is also establishing new visual and physical connections between existing parts of the city. People can pass through the plot and easily come from the Tianfu square and reach the surrounding museums. The four museum blocks create an arising slope on which people can walk, seat, play, have a rest, enjoy the view to the central square like in a open public theater. The whole shape according the function is rising step by step from the earth to the sky, while the ending corner of the building replaces the original position of the ancient and forgotten city wall.

The Museum Of Contemporary Art & Planning Exhibition proposal is located at Futian District, Shenzhen’s most important central region for administration, business and culture. The building functions as part of Shenzhen’s civic centre, where the City Library, Opera House, Central Bookstore, Youth Activity Hall (YAH) and other civic building have been built. The international competition held in 2007 required The Museum Of Contemporary Art & Planning Exhibition (MOCAPE) to include two independent and yet inter-connected parts: The museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and Planning Exhibition (PE). Designed by Rome-based LABORATORIO 543, the proposal is a 90.000 square meter structure that aims to enhance the service of Shenzhen’s new civic center.

The building is divided into two parts: the first rests on the ground and the other is suspended on the upper level. These undulating segments have multiple connection points, ensuring the overall stability of the structure and facilitating communication between different programs. The structural frame, which is required to support the suspended level, can be compared to a cantilever. Located at ground level, the main entrance belongs to a composition of

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Art Museum of Yue Minjun

posted in News

from Architectural Record

Art Museum of Yue Minjun
Image courtesy Studio Pei-Zhu

Studio Pei-Zhu, a Beijing-based firm, has designed a museum that will house the work of Yue Minjun, a Chinese contemporary artist known for his repetitive images of large, smiling figures.

“While the devastating Sichuan earthquake in May left a large portion of Western China in ruins, signs are emerging that some notable building projects in the area are pushing forward. One of these projects is the Art Museum of Yue Minjun, designed by Beijing-based Studio Pei-Zhu, a 2007 Design Vanguard winner.

Located near the Qingcheng Mountains, and adjacent to the Shimeng River in Sichuan Province, the 10,700-square-foot museum will house the work of Yue Minjun, a Chinese contemporary artist known for his repetitive images of large, smiling figures. It will be one of 10 new museums on the same site, each dedicated to the work of an influential Chinese artist. Zhang Xiaogang and Wang Guangyi are among the other artists to be showcased. The complex, which is being developed by the local government of Dujingyuan, is the brainchild of Lu Peng, an art professor at the China Central Academy of Fine Art.

Art Museum of Yue Minjun
Art Museum of Yue Minjun
Images courtesy Studio Pei-Zhu

The Yue Minjun museum will contain exhibition space and a small artist’s studio. According to Pei Zhu, one of the firm’s principals, a river rock that he picked up one day inspired the building’s form—a large, oblong sphere. “Everything is based on the natural stone, which has a very strong relationship between the creek and the mountain and nature,” explains Zhu.

Beijing To Build “World’s Largest Art Museum”: What’ll They Fill It With?
Source:Jing Daily Date: 2011-03-18 Size:
This week, as part of its 12th five-year plan, Beijing announced a new phase for the National Art Museum of China, a massive, glass-covered structure that is being touted as “the world’s largest art gallery.” Currently in the design process, the new National Art Museum will be located next to the current museum and near the Beijing National Stadium, with construction expected to begin next spring.

Chinese Contemporary Art Getting Scarcer; Can Auctions Be Museums’ Only Source For Top Art?

Preliminary design for the National Art Museum of China new phase

This week, as part of its 12th five-year plan, Beijing announced a new phase for the National Art Museum of China, a massive, glass-covered structure that is being touted as “the world’s largest art gallery.” Currently in the design process, the new National Art Museum will be located next to the current museum and near the Beijing National Stadium, with construction expected to begin next spring. While the new National Art Museum sounds like another example of the Chinese government building a mammoth public venue for the sake of getting another “world’s largest” title under its belt, as museum director Fan Di’an told delegates at the recent National People’s Congress, China’s public art facilities haven’t lived up to the promise of the country’s burgeoning interest in the arts.

As Fan pointed out last week, the current National Art Museum — which was built in 1963 in Beijing’s Dongcheng district — is a meager 8,300 square meters in size. Compare that to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, at 58,529 square meters, and the Louvre, which boasts over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space. Since attendance became free at the National Art Museum on March 2, according to Fan Di’an, it has clocked nearly 6,000 visitors at peak times, “nearly hitting capacity,” according to Xinhua. Clearly, the current digs are inadequate, certainly for a city that most consider to be the cultural heart of China. But how will director Fan Di’an fill the 130,000 total square meters of exhibition space he’ll have when the new phase is complete?

One clue comes from an interview Fan Di’an recently gave at the “Art Power” awards in Beijing, where he was named “Best Museum Administrator.” Speaking to Sina, Fan said that the Chinese contemporary art world is becoming stronger as more artists become globally recognized, more curators have the ability to promote Chinese art, and more (and better) museums are built across the country. Fan’s interest in contemporary art and the priority he places on public arts education have made him something of a star in the Chinese art world, a break from the stereotype of the stodgy apparatchik or stuffy administrator. Fan also counts many first-generation Chinese contemporary artists as close friends, such as his former Central Academy of Fine Arts classmate Xu Bing. With the ample room he will be afforded with the new National Art Museum, expect to see Fan display an impressive array of contemporary Chinese works alongside his other interests, which include everything from 1950s Chinese prints to artifacts from Dunhuang in Xinjiang province.

With so much room to fill, not just in Beijing but in new provincial art museums throughout mainland China, it won’t be surprising if we see museum and gallery representatives showing up at the upcoming Sotheby’s spring auctions in Hong Kong, where works by some of China’s top artists will be on the block. Directors like Fan Di’an would almost certainly love to get some pieces from the Ullens collection on the walls and prevent them from leaving the country once and for all. Now that new Chinese private collectors are getting more involved with the auction market and works by blue-chip Chinese artists are getting scarcer and scarcer, it’s no surprise that excitement is growing in China for the upcoming spring auction season.


New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos suite (2012)

Cosmos. Oil on canvas  2012 by Vincent Johnson

Cosmos Red Yellow Green. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson

Green God. Oil on canvas 2012 by Vincent Johnson

This new painting series is part of my ongoing exploration of painting materials and techniques from the history of painting. The works combine knowledge of painting practices of both abstract and representation paintings. The works concern themselves purely with the visual power that paintings can do through the manipulation of paint. Some of the underpaintings are allowed to dry for months; some of those are built dark to light, others light to dark. None are made in a single setting. Most are worked and reworked using studio materials. Each new series takes a different approach to the painted surface from how the paint is applied, to varying the painting mediums. This suite concerns itself with the layering of paint by building up the surface and altering and reworking the wet paint with studio tools.

Two larger paintings will be completed and photographed on Sunday, July 15, 2012 and posted here.

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – installation shot – 2
Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – studio shot – 1 (Silver hand)
Vincent Johnson – in my studio working on my Nine Grayscale Paintings
Vincent Johnson’s Nine Grayscale Paintings – first stage of grayscale painting
Los Angeles based artist and writer Vincent Johnson
Vincent Johnson received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Painting 1986. He started out as a student in Pratt’s painting department. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was nominated for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 nominated for Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications. His photographic works were most recently shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. His most recent paintings were shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles.

Degenerate Art Exhibition/Entartete Kunst Munich 1937 – Exhibition Images/Texts

Hello. I’ve created this blog post in response to the recent reveal by Germany of 1,500 paintings being found in a Munich apartment from the Degenerate Art exhibition era.
photograph of silver paint on my hands in studio, Los Angeles, during the creation of Nine Grayscale paintings.
Vincent Johnson – in Los Angeles studio working on Nine Grayscale Paintings, 2011


When Hitler defined art

In July 1937, Hitler declared war on modern art with the opening of the Haus der Kunst in Munich. Seventy-five years later, an exhibition examines the historical legacy of the museum as an icon of ideological power.

Christian Philipp Müller races at top speed through the large exhibition hall of the Haus der Kunst in Munich. There, the Swiss artist enters the space in which Adolf Hitler threatened to purge modernity from art in 1937. Müller has created a counterpoint: In place of swastikas and portraits of the Führer is a larger-than-life picture of young woman in a fashion show.

It’s a snapshot: The Second World War is over and people are drawn towards lightness and color. A model on the runway parades past the audience. Her face cannot be seen, just an absurdly large structure which could well be a hat.

The image from the fashion show is representative of the changeable history of the Haus der Kunst. American occupying troops celebrated the end of the war here, transforming one of the exhibition halls into a basketball court. The models came in the 1950s.

What the backs of paintings reveal

“I was asked to intervene,” said Christian Philipp Müller. His task was to offer advice during the examination of the museum’s own troubled history. Adolf Hitler himself opened the Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art), as it was then called, on July 18, 1937. From then on, art was required to reflect National Socialist ideology. Art had to appeal to the masses, be simple to understand, and depict scenes from everyday “German” life. Abstraction was considered “un-German,” and was ostracized and forbidden.

The Histories of Conflict exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich The “Histories of Conflict” exhibition allows visitors to view backs artworks

At the current show, “Histories in Conflict,” 75 years later, roles appear to have been reversed. That which was previously forbidden now hangs on the walls in the exhibition hall, while the examples of “German art,” as Hitler defined it, are attached to a steel construction, similar to a collection of wire fences, in the exhibition hall.

The staging is part of Christian Philip Müller’s “intervention” and the result is that the back of the “German” artworks are now visible to the public. Visitors can now view the tag attached to the back of painting, depicting a ruined French town on which the words “Acquired by: The Führer” are written. Other motifs in the show include the image of a male elk in the German forest or a u-boat storming through the Atlantic Ocean. The pictures seem bizarre and anachronistic, even for the circumstances back then.

The National Socialists showed the world what they understood to be “German art” at the “Great German Art Exhibition” at the Haus der Kunst, and then, just around the corner, there was the accompanying “Degenerate Art” show. Anything which had any kind of status in the modern visual arts was suddenly banned: Picasso, Kandinsky, Beckmann, Klee.

“Modernism is now forbidden,” commented the New York Times on July 25, 1937.

Embarrassing slip-up

Rudolf Belling's 1925 bust of Toni Freeden An embarrassing slip-up: this work by Rudolf Belling was labeled “degenerate”

The organizers of the two shows didn’t realize that a one artist, Rudolf Belling, actually had works in both shows. While his sculpture of boxer Max Hemming was part of the Haus der Kunst exhibition, two other works were included in the “Degenerate Art” show. When those responsible realized their embarrassing slip-up, the two artworks in the degenerate art show where quietly removed.

The National Socialist regime assiduously celebrated the triumphal procession of German art in its home city of Munich. A model of the Haus der Kunst had already been paraded through the streets of Munich during the planning phase of construction. The model was also proudly presented at the Paris Exposition in 1937. Picasso’s “Guernica” – the world’s most famous anti-war painting – hung in a neighboring pavilion.

White chocolate and gold

Rudolf Bellings 1929 sculpture of Max Hemming Meanwhile, Belling’s sculpture of boxer Max Hemming was proudly presented as great “German” art

The Führer liked the building so much so that Herman Göring gave Hitler a gold model of it for his 50th birthday. For the exhibition “75 Years of the Haus der Kunst,” Christian Philipp Müller commissioned a 160-kilogram model out of white chocolate – a play on the sweet, seductive draw Hitler’s ideology had on the masses.

The Haus der Kunst did not deal with its own history in any scholarly sense until the mid-1990s, said Sabine Brantl, the historian who curated the current exhibition. People weren’t prepared to deal with this difficult history directly after the war. The desire was to return to “normality,” even in art, so that they would not be reminded of the dogmas of the Nazi period.

“It was locked away very quickly,” she said. “Maybe they also didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that many of images were much to the public’s taste.” Society quickly swept up in the economic miracle, suppressing thoughts of the past.

A model of the Haus der Kunst made from 160 kilograms of white chocolate A model of the Haus der Kunst made from 160 kilograms of white chocolate

But the present is unthinkable without some relation to the past, explained Okwui Enwezor. The internationally acclaimed Nigerian curator has been director of the Haus der Kunst since the end of 2011.

“Here the past, there the present – it doesn’t work like that,” he explained. “I always say, it’s our job to think historically about the present, since the present is always embedded in the past.”

The documents in the archives have been brought back to life as opportunities to reflect on the past, Enwezor said. That the exhibition “Image Counter Image,” examining the power of images, is running concurrently was not intentional but fits perfectly within the context.

“There is a dialogue between the two exhibitions. It’s about how we use art and images, about what world-view we are portraying,” commented Enwezor. The images, media and world-views which emerge from the dialogue encompass themes which are as relevant today as they were 75 year ago.

Author: Birgit Görtz / hw
Editor: Kate Bowen


Top 10 Famous Pieces of Art Stolen by the Nazis

Before the outbreak of World War I, Adolf Hitler was a practicing artist.  On two separate occasions, Hitler was denied admission to the Academy for Art Studies in Vienna.  He took art very seriously and during his 12-year reign as German Führer, the international art industry was demolished.  It has been estimated that Hitler stole over 750,000 artworks during the war.  The years between 1933 and 1945 are a black hole in the art community, with thousands of pieces of art changing hands and going missing.

During World War II, the Nazis went on a rampage destroying and stealing European art.  Priceless pieces of art were auctioned off at extremely low prices.  This has created a major problem in the art community that remains evident today.  People purchased stolen art and the victim’s families want their possessions back.  In many cases, proving the legal rights to a piece of art is a difficult and time consuming process.  This article will be examining 10 famous pieces of art that were stolen by the Nazis.

10. Saint Justa and Saint Rufina

Artist: Bartolome Esteban Murillo

St. Justa and St. Rufina

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo is one of the most important Spanish painters in history.  He was alive during the 17th century and is a cherished painter of the Baroque period of art.  Murillo is probably best known for his religious works, but also painted many portraits of everyday life.  In 1943, the Allied armies formed a coalition of men whose goal was to assist in the protection of valuable art and national monuments.  The group became known as the Monuments Men.  The Monuments Men were vital in the process of gathering stolen art and returning it to the rightful owner.  As the Allied Forces liberated Nazi-occupied territories, Monuments Men were present at the front lines.  In Germany alone, U.S forces found approximately 1,500 repositories of art and cultural objects, with hundreds-of-thousands of artifacts.  Some of the most identifiable pieces of art were immediately returned to their rightful owners.  However, thousands of artifacts were never claimed or stolen.


Monument Men organizations still exist today, with the goal of tracking down and returning stolen art.  Recently, a member of the organization stumbled upon an old picture taken during World War II.  It showed a photo of Murillos famous pair of paintings titled Saint Justa and Saint Rufina.  Immediately the connection was made with the Meadows Museum in Dallas, which houses the paintings.  The Meadows Museum holds one of the largest collections of Spanish art outside of Spain, with masterpieces by some of the world’s greatest painters.  After some intense research, it was confirmed that the museum had the two painting and they were in fact stolen by the Nazis during World War II.

This was accomplished by examining the back of the picture frames, which contained a number R1171.  This number is consistent with art stolen by Germany and stands for Rothschild, 1171, which is the 1,171st object stolen from the Rothschilds.  The Rothschild family was looted in France, 1941.  Like all stolen art, a major legal battle has pursued, as the Meadows Museum legally purchased the portraits at an auction, but the paintings whereabouts before the auction are confusing.  The two portraits are estimated to be worth more than $10 million.

9. Painter on the Road to Tarascon

Artist: Vincent van Gogh

painter on the road to tarascon

Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch painter that died in 1890 at the age of 37.  He is one of the most renowned and well known painters in the history of art.  On January 31, 1933 Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany.  One of his first actions was the “cleansing of the German culture,” which included book burnings and the labeling of degenerate art.  Degenerate art included all types of modern artistic expression.  Any artist, past or present, that was not seen as having Aryan blood was deemed degenerate.  Hitler made it a high priority to track down all degenerate art and steal it.  If you were labeled a degenerate artist then you were not allowed to paint.

Nazi soldiers would even make routine house calls to ensure that some artists were not painting.  The abuse was inflicted on many modern German painters, including Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, who was labeled degenerate and had all of his over 600 works sold or destroyed.  Kirchner would commit suicide in 1938.  The Nazis destroyed hundreds of famous paintings and the ones that survived were featured in a “Degenerate Art Show.”  It was claimed that this show was meant to incite further revulsion against the “perverse Jewish spirit.”  The famous pieces of art were crowded into small rooms and often displayed with a hanging cord.  According to the history books, the first room contained art considered demeaning of religion, the second featured works by Jewish artists in particular, and the third contained works deemed insulting to the people of Germany.

Some of the artists featured in the show were Alexander Archipenko, Marc Chagall, James Ensor, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh.  After the exhibit ended, the famous pieces of art were either destroyed or sold at auctions.  A large amount of “degenerate art” by Picasso, Dalí, Ernst, Klee, Léger and Miró was destroyed in a bonfire on the night of July 27, 1942 in Paris.  In 1939, a stolen self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh was auctioned at Gallerie Fisher, Lucerne, for $US 40.000.  One of the most famous paintings to be burned during World War II is the Painter on the Road to Tarascon by Vincent van Gogh.  It is not known for sure how the painting was burned, but it is thought to have perished when the Allied forces bombed Magdeburg, setting fire to the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum, which contained stolen art.


The Painter on the Road to Tarascon was lost forever when it became a causality of the Second World War, but the portrait has left a lasting impression.  It remains one of the most cherished pieces of art that was lost in the war.  The painting shows a lonely portrait of Vincent van Gogh traveling.  The painting was a heavy influence on artist Francis Bacon, who described it as a haunting image of van Gogh, showing him as an alienated outsider.  Vincent van Gogh was quoted as saying “Real painters do not paint things as they are…They paint them as they themselves feel them to be.”

8. Portrait of Dr. Gachet

Artist: Vincent van Gogh

portrait of dr gachet


In 1933, the famous Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh was put on Hitler’s list of “degenerate artists.”  Many of van Gogh’s most famous pieces of art were stolen from their owners and displayed in mock museums.  One of these paintings was the famous Portrait of Dr. Gachet.  The month before Vincent van Gogh committed suicide, he painted two different copies of the Portrait of Dr. Gachet.  He wrote a letter to his brother regarding the painting, “I’ve done the portrait of M. Gachet with a melancholy expression, which might well seem like a grimace to those who see it… Sad but gentle, yet clear and intelligent, that is how many portraits ought to be done… There are modern heads that may be looked at for a long time, and that may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later.”

In the case of the Portrait of Dr. Gachet, the Nazis didn’t steal it from a private collector, but stripped the art from the Städel museum in Frankfort, Germany.  The Städel acquired the portrait in 1911 and it was confiscated in 1937.  Nazi leader Hermann Göring realized the value of the art, so he decided to sell it and make a profit.  The Portrait of Dr. Gachet was auctioned off and purchased by a German collector who quickly sold the art to Siegfried Kramarsky.  Kramarsky was a Jewish financier that fled to New York in 1938 to escape the Holocaust.  He purchased the art for $53,000.


On May 15, 1990, exactly 100 years after the paintings creation, the family of Siegfried Kramarsky sold their copy of the Portrait of Dr. Gachet for $82.5 million. At that time in history, it was the most expensive piece of art ever sold.  It was purchased by Ryoei Saito, who was a Japanese businessman.  Upon Saito’s death in 1996, the painting was thought to have been sold, but no information was made available to the public. Various reports in 2007 claimed that the painting was sold to the Austrian-born investment fund manager Wolfgang Flöttl, but this was never confirmed.

Many questions remain regarding the history of the Portrait of Dr. Gachet.  In this specific case, a Jewish man was able to obtain the stolen art.  If a high powered German, Russian, or American businessman had profited off of the art, I think more people would have taken offense.  The second version of the Portrait of Dr. Gachet is currently in the possession of the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris, France.

7. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Artist: Gustav Klimt

Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I

Gustav Klimt was an Austrian born Symbolist painter.  During his lifetime, Klimt created many portraits, murals, and sketches.  The primary subject of his work was usually the female body.  In 1904, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer hired Gustav Klimt to create a portrait of his wife Adele.  The work took Klimt three years to complete and the portrait is made of oil and gold on canvas.  Adele Bloch-Bauer died of meningitis in 1925.  In 1938, all of Ferdinand Block-Bauer’s property was put under “Protective Custody” by the National Socialist party.  During the war, everything was taken away from Ferdinand and he eventually died in Zürich, Switzerland in November of 1945.

The will of Ferdinand Block-Bauer’s made no mention of donating his property to a museum.  After the war, the three living Bloch-Bauer siblings attempted to retain some of the famous paintings from the Austrian government, who were given the pieces of art after Nazi Germany was liberated.  Nothing happened for decades until 1998 when the Austrian government decided that they would return art that had been illegally seized by the Nazis.  However, in order to get the paintings returned, rightful ownership needs to be proved in a court of law, which can be expensive.  In 2006, the Austrian court ruled that Block-Bauer heir Maria Altmann was the rightful owner of the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and four other paintings by Gustav Klimt.


Portraits by Gustav Klimt are extremely rare and valuable.  After regaining the rights to the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Maria Altmann decided to sell it.  In June of 2006 the portrait became the highest selling piece of art up to that point in history.  American businessman Ronald Lauder purchased the painting for $135 million and placed it in his Neue Galerie, which is located in New York City.  The Neve Galerie is highly dedicated to pieces of Jewish art that were stolen from the Nazis and recovered.  Ronald Lauder was quoted as saying that the Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer I is his museums “Mona Lisa.”  In November of 2006, the second painting that Gustav Klimt made of Adele Bloch-Bauer (Adele II) sold for almost $88 million. Eventually, all five of the Block-Bauer’s Klimt portraits were sold, with a grand total of approximately $325 million.

6. Foundation E.G. Bührle

Paul Cézanne, Jeune garçon au gilet rouge

Paul Cézanne, Jeune garçon au gilet rouge

When researching the history of famous art, it is shocking the amount of paintings that have a large gap in documentation around the time of World War II.  Hundreds of valuable portraits changed hands during the war, but the specifics surrounding the sales are unknown.  This entry will not be examining one specific piece of art, but rather a man named Emil Georg Bührle.  Bührle was a born in Pforzheim, Germany in 1890 and was a German cavalry officer in the Imperial army from 1914 to 1919.  In the 1920s, Bührle became the CEO of a large company and was moved to Zürich, Switzerland.  Bührle was always interested in art and he started a huge collection during World War II.  He took the opportunity of war to build one of the most prestigious private art galleries in the world.  Today, his museum is known as the Foundation E.G. Bührle and is located in Zürich, Switzerland.

The collection of art at the museum is quite impressive and contains many famous painting and sculptures from Old Masters and Modern artists, including works from Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  You might say that there is no proof that any of these paintings are from stolen victims of the Holocaust.  However, after World War II, Emil Georg Bührle was forced to give back 13 paintings to French-Jewish families who had their property taken away during the war.  A book was put together with a list of artworks reported stolen and Bührle had 13 of them.  The amount of valuable artwork that Bührle obtained at a low price is astonishing.  The art collection housed at the Foundation E.G. Bührle is worth hundreds-of-millions of dollars.


The Foundation E.G. Bührle houses Der Sämann by Vincent van Gogh, Der Selbstmörder by Edouard Manet, Junge Frau by Amedeo Modigliani, and countless other famous works.  On February 10, 2008, one of the largest art heists in history took place at the museum.  Armed gunman stormed the museum shortly before closing and stole four famous paintings valued at $162.5 million dollars.  The most expensive painting taken was The Boy in the Red Vest by Paul Cézanne, valued at around $80 million.  The three other paintings stolen were Count Lepic and His Daughters by Edgar Degas, Poppies near Vétheuil by Claude Monet, and van Gogh’s Blossoming Chestnut Branches.  To date, the van Gogh and Monet portraits have been recovered, while the other two remain missing.


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5. Altarpiece of Veit Stoss

Sculptor: Veit Stoss

Altarpiece of Veit Stoss

Veit Stoss is a famous German sculptor who passed away in 1533.  His career spanned the transitional period between the late Gothic and the Northern Renaissance style of architecture.  Stoss primarily worked as a wood sculptor.  In the early part of his career he was approached by the people of Kraków, Poland and asked to build a magnificent altarpiece.  He agreed and developed the Altarpiece of Veit Stoss, which is the largest gothic altarpiece in the world.  It measures 13 m high and 11 m wide when the panels are open.  The piece is covered with incredible statue figures, which are more than 12 ft. tall and are carved from the tree trunk of a lime.

Prior to the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Hitler was well aware of the historic altarpiece and unjustly felt that it was his because Veit Stoss was a German sculptor.  Before the invasion of Poland, the altarpiece was taken apart and hid in various locations.  However, it was still discovered by the Nazis and stolen.  A German unit called the Sonderkommando Paulsen located the crates containing the altarpiece and had the statues and panels shipped to Berlin.  It was kept at Nuremberg Castle.


During the war, many members of the Polish resistance relayed the message that the altarpiece was being held at Nuremberg Castle.  Luckily, it was not significantly damaged during the liberation of Nazi Germany and was recovered by Allied forces.  The Polish National Treasure was immediately returned and in 1957 it was placed in St. Mary’s Church, Kraków, Poland, where it remains today.  The altarpiece underwent restoration from 1946-1949 to fix the structural damage caused by the Nazis.

4. Place de la Concorde

Artist: Edgar Degas

Place de la Concorde

Edgar Degas is considered one of the founders of the Impressionism art movement.  He was a popular French artist that lived predominately during the 19th century.  After the collapse of Nazi Germany, the Red Army was the first to invade Berlin.  During this time, the Soviets discovered hundred of hidden repositories of art.  The Soviet government has been criticized over the years for not reporting many of these discoveries.  In 1991, it became known that some paintings looted by the Red Army in Germany had been put on display at the Hermitage Museum located in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  After intense pressures, the museum announced in 1994 that they had displayed some pieces of art that had been looted from German private collections.

One should realize that art taken from German homes and underground storage facilities in 1945 consisted of a large amount of stolen goods.  The exhibition “Hidden Treasures Revealed” premiered in 1995 at the museum.  It consisted of 74 separate paintings that were displayed for the first time, including the world famous Place de la Concorde by Edgar Degas.  Place de la Concorde was painted by Degas in 1875.  It depicts the cigar smoking Vicomte Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic, his daughters, and his dog.  It also shows a solitary man in Place de la Concorde in Paris.


Place de la Concorde has always been considered one of Degas signature portraits.  It was thought lost after World War II, but showed up at the Hermitage Museum in 1995.  The famous painting remains on display at the Hermitage.  Another painting that appeared at the Hermitage in 1995 is the van Gogh masterpiece White House at NightWhite House at Night was also thought to be lost after the war.  It was painted six weeks before van Gogh’s death.  In December 2004, another looted work was discovered at the museum, the Venus disarming Mars by Rubens.  The French master Henri Matisse also has many of his early paintings on display at the Hermitage.  During World War II, Matisse’s paintings were widely distributed and stolen.  Today, they can be found in museums all over the world.  The story of how the Place de la Concorde survived is not documented to the public.  It is simply listed at the Hermitage as “provenance unknown.”

3. The Astronomer

Artist: Johannes Vermeer

vermeer astronomer

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter who lived from 1632-1675.  During his lifetime, Vermeer was moderately successful and has since become one of the most well known painters of the Baroque period of art.  He tended to paint portraits of domestic middle class life and many of Vermeer’s paintings were of scientists.  Hitler was a big follower of Johannes Vermeer and made it his ultimate goal to own all of his paintings.  In 1940, one of Vermeer’s most cherished works, The Astronomer, was owned by a French man named Edouard de Rothschild.  After the German invasion of France, the painting was stolen by the Nazis.  The Astronomer became one of Hitler’s prized possessions and was meant to be the focal point of the Führermuseum.  The Führermuseum was a large museum complex that Hitler planned on creating.  It was meant to store and display all of the plundered European art.  A black swastika was stamped on the back of The Astronomer, where it remains today.


The Astronomer was finished by Vermeer around 1668.  The art was created with oil on canvas, and measures 51cm x 45cm.  The painting is linked with another famous Vermeer portrait named The Geographer.  Both paintings are thought to portray the same man, which could be Anton van Leeuwenhoek.  The Astronomer shows incredible detail.  In the painting the book located on the table is turned to a specific page, which is a section that is advising the astronomer to seek “inspiration from God.”


In the portrait, the picture on the wall shows the finding of Moses.  After the war ended, The Astronomer was returned to the Rothschild’s.  It was then donated to the famous French museum Louvre in 1982.  It remains one of the museum’s most prized possessions.  Vermeer’s The Geographer had a bit of a different fate.  The Geographer is located at the Städel, which is one of the largest art museums in Germany.

2. Amber Room

Designer: Andreas Schlüter

The Amber room

Andreas Schlüter was German baroque sculptor and architect that lived at the end of the 17th century.  Along with Gottfried Wolfram, who was a Danish amber craftsman, Schlüter was the one that designed the Amber Room.  Construction of the Amber Room began in 1701 and the room was installed at Charlottenburg Palace, home of Friedrich I, the first King of Prussia.  As the name implies, the Amber Room was sculpted out of amber, which is a gemstone made from fossilized tree resin.  The room also contained many jewels, paintings, and gold.  In 1716, the Amber Room was given to Peter the Great to celebrate peace between Russia and Prussia, and an alliance against Sweden.  In 1755, Tsarina Elizabeth of Russia had the room transferred to the Catherine Palace, where Frederick II the Great had more amber sent for reconstructions.  Many renovations took place on the Amber Room throughout the 18th century, ultimately measuring 55 square meters and containing over six tones of amber.

During World War II, Hitler was very familiar with the Amber Room and felt that it should be in German possession.  The Nazi army reached the Amber Room after taking control of the city of Leningrad.  Hitler sent a group of men to dismantle the priceless piece of art.  The Soviet army was unable to properly hide the Amber Room because it was crumbling as they tried to dismantle it.  The Nazi army put the Amber Room in 27 separate crates and sent it to Königsberg in East Prussia.  On January 21, 1945 Hitler ordered the relocation of many pieces of art.  German leader Erich Koch was in charge of the Amber Room and may have decided to move it out of the city.  Later in the war, Königsberg was heavily bombed by the Royal Air Force and the Soviet military.  The Amber Room was never heard from again.


The disappearance of the Amber Room is one of the great mysteries of World War II.  Some reports have claimed that the room survived the war, while others have stated that it was destroyed by bombings or hidden in a lost bunker.  One theory has the Amber Room being loaded onto a German ship or submarine that was sunk by Soviet forces in the Baltic Sea.  Many different groups have been organized over the years in hopes of discovering the lost treasure.  In 2008, German treasure hunters claimed to have found the Amber Room.  The discovery of an estimated two tons of gold and silver was made, but it was hard to gain access to the site because of deadly booby traps.

The finding was never confirmed to be that of the Amber Room and some reports indicated that clues to the whereabouts of the Amber Room were discovered at the site.  Recently, the Amber Room Organization has announced another discovery that was made in the mountains about 30 miles east of Weimar.  A German ARO spokesman named Henry Hatt has stated that he knows where the Amber Room is hidden.  Apparently, he claims that the treasure was transported to the county of Saalfeld and hidden in an old underground mining chamber.  This story has not been confirmed.

1. Madonna of Bruges

Sculptor: Michelangelo

Madonna of Bruges

Michelangelo was an Italian Renaissance painter and sculptor.  He lived from 1475-1564 and is most widely known for his sculptures Pietà and David.  In the early 1500s Michelangelo created the masterpiece Madonna of Bruges.  The sculpture is made of marble and is 128 cm in dimension.  Madonna of Bruges is a depiction of Mary with the baby Jesus.  It is noted for being largely unique in comparison to other statues of Mary and Jesus created during the time of Michelangelo.  Most depictions show a smiling Mary looking down on a baby Jesus.  However, in Madonna of Bruges, Mary doesn’t cling to Jesus or even look at him.  She has a steady gaze down and away from the child.  It seems that Mary knows the fate of her son.

The sculpture is also notable for being the only Michelangelo work to leave Italy during his lifetime.  It was purchased by a family of wealthy cloth merchants from Bruges.  Bruges is a city located in the northwest corner of Belgium.  The Madonna of Bruges has only been removed from Belgium on two separate incidents in history.  The first came in 1794, after French Revolutionaries had conquered the Austrian Netherlands.  At that time, Napoleon ordered the people of Bruges to pack up the Madonn and ship it to France.  The sculpture was returned after the defeat of Napoleon.  The second removal occurred in 1944 when German soldiers were retreating from the area.  The soldiers smuggled the Madonna to Germany in a group of mattresses transported by a Red Cross truck.  Two years later the sculpture was found by Allied forces and returned to Bruges.


The Madonna of Bruges is located at the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium.  It has been kept at the Church of Our Lady since 1514 and this is where the sculpture belongs and will hopefully stay forever.  It is a cherished piece of art and is kept behind a piece of bulletproof glass.  Visitors are also required to stay 15 feet away from the sculpture.  These measures were taken after the 1972 attack on Michelangelo’s Pietà.  In 1972, a mentally disturbed geologist named Laszlo Toth attacked the sculpture, which is located at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.  Toth took a geologists hammer and bashed the Pietà while screaming “I am Jesus Christ.”  It suffered significant damage and many pieces of marble were broken from the statue.  To make things worse, people stole these pieces, which included the nose of Mary.

Paraphilia Magazine


By Tom Garretson 

On July 16, 1937, the German city of Munich gathered its citizens for a celebratory public festival of officially mandated, state-approved culture. Meticulously staged by the National Socialists (hereafter referred to simply as “Nazis”), the city’s Prinzregentenstrasse had been aligned with 160, forty-foot high pylons topped with the sinister emblems of eagles and swastikas, in addition to the 243 Nazi flags that decorated it from the railroad station to the center of the city. A tightly choreographed parade spectacle rolled out in a procession of Teutonic knights on horseback brandishing Nazi flags. Gothic-stylized maidens draped in white marched nobly, flanked by somber men in black medieval monk’s robes.  Gurneys rested upon the shoulders of silver-clad knights in armor, who displayed monumental, squared pedestals symbolizing the superiority of the new Nazi-styled architecture. Other floats with assorted themes passed on by, each with romanticized visions of Germanic culture and art. It was pompous and bombastic, if not overtly kitsch.

A giant golden eagle, the symbol of the Reich, was posed fifty-feet high, drawn by rows of horses draped in regal blue. It seemed ready to alight at any moment, held back only by the immense solidity its shape conveyed. Rows of flower maidens in peasant costume, signifying youth and fertility, graced the approving crowds kept securely at a distance by the rows of ominous SS officers. This was the celebration of the Zweitausend Jahre Deutsche Kultur (Two Thousand Years of German Culture), a festival pageant for the opening day of the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung (Great German Art Exhibition). In reality the crowds were to bear witness to a grand failure, however unapparent it might seem. The celebration was to be temporary, an ostensible victory in this grand masquerade triumphing Nazi culture.

Perhaps never before or since (even in the light of Stalinist Russia or Mao’s China), had art ever been so clearly used as a tool for controlling public thought. In the Great German Art Exhibition Reich chancellor Adolf Hitler and his Minister of Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels sought to collectively use art as a vehicle for public propaganda. The artistic merit of individual works became secondary to their collective use in promoting Third Reich ideology. German art existed as a didactic instrument promoting a state-created morality and served as instruction for its citizens. Any art critical of society or that asked inconvenient questions would be abolished, as similarly any art not falling into the Nazis’ rather vague definitions on what art should be. Good German art, according to the Nazis, must be based on traditional values, and reflect the petit bourgeois ideals of the Fascist state. As a failed artist, a mediocre watercolorist who was twice rejected from the Academy in Vienna, it almost seemed as if Adolf Hitler was enacting a personal revenge upon all of the arts, with the sole criteria for quality being his own personal and rather limited, conservative taste.

Figure 1: Hause der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art). Architect: Paul Ludwig Troost.

Already upon taking power in 1933, Hitler authorized the directives leading to the creation of a grand museum for German art in Munich. He commissioned his favorite architect, Paul Ludwig Troost to design and build the House of German Art [fig. 1], replacing the Glaspalast (a museum containing both romantic and modernist art works) that had previously burnt down in 1931. The heavy, dominating stone structure was derivative of the Greek Classical style and the propaganda tactics of ancient Roman Augustus, with rows of columns on its façade, typical in the style of Third Reich architecture. On October 15, the day of the groundbreaking ceremony, Hitler struck at the corner stone and broke the hammer. Conveniently censored from newsreel footage of the time, it certainly did not provide an auspicious portent for neither the Nazi policies on art nor for the longevity of its artists or its works.

The Great German Art Exhibition opened in the new House of German Art with a fanfare of ceremonial speeches on July 16,1937, and closed its doors to the public only three days later on the 18th. Hitler had come, as he stated in his inaugural speech, “to clean house”, leaving little doubt where Nazi policies on the future of art and culture laid. He had previously stated in his 1934 closing speech at the Nuremburg rally, the importance of the “tradition-minded” party members merging with the army and the “German Man”, carrying on their shoulders the “German State, the German Reich”. Here now at last could he display how art would comply in achieving this very objective. In his speech for the opening, he stated that art was to be nationalized, maintain its identity with the inherent culture, and not be “internationalized” as it had become. All movements or new ideas in art were, to Hitler, laughable and nothing but popular fashions produced by delusional artists.

Figure 2:  Gallery in the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung (Great German Art Exhibition), Hause der Deutschen Kunst, Munich, 1937.

Figure 2: Gallery in the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung (Great German Art Exhibition), Hause der Deutschen Kunst, Munich, 1937.

A new concept of art was needed, a true “German Art”, which should finally reflect the “eternal value of the people”. He did not, however, ever clearly define indeed what those values were. He negated all sense of development and change within art creativity, stating that German art should remain constant and immediately recognizable as such. No development of style or visual design, composition or technique would be allowed or should be allowed, even over centuries. Art that was seen as belonging to a period of history should be seen as a lesser form of art, because true art, according to Hitler, maintains its identity in the people and crosses across the centuries. There should be no variation of subjects, no changes in themes. “For the artist does not create for the artist,” Hitler stated, “but like everyone else he creates for the people.” Individual expression and creativity was not of interest, and only art that had immediate appeal to the vast majority of the population would be considered to have any value. Above all, finally, art must serve the objectives of the Reich.

After the inaugural speech, Hitler and assorted dignitaries were led inside the House of German Art, through grand rooms presenting the approved themes of the “new” Germanic art. Paintings were distanced far enough from each other to give each work a dignified presence, interspersed in places with sculptures or busts resting on podiums, with room enough so that the viewer could leisurely stroll from one work to another. The rooms were brightly lit, white and clean, enhanced with solid marble doorways. The main “atrium” exhibition gallery [fig. 2] featured a glass roof to convey a sense of openness and healthy, fresh air. Everything was linear with right angles, keeping in line with the style of architecture that Hitler so admired. The public could feel they were indeed in a temple of art. It was to be the model for which all museums would be based on in the Third Reich.

Figure 3: Werner Peiner. Autumn in the Eifel. Date unknown. Oil on canvas.

It was believed that 25,000 works had been submitted to the exhibition’s curators for consideration. However, the actual number had been closer to 16,000. Any lie or exaggeration that might display the Third Reich in a positive light was always utilized. Curated by the president of the Reich Culture Chamber, Adolf Ziegler (also a painter), the sculptors Arno Breker and Josef Wackerie presided over the selection of sculpture. The sole criterion was no stricter than the taste of the Führer himself, and Hitler would personally reject 80 paintings as “unfinished” or too experimental before the final selection was approved.

Progressing through the rooms of this “temple”, one would become aware that the exhibition was presented thematically. In one room, paintings of heroic landscapes that dominated the exhibition reflected the Nazis’ “Blood and Soil” philosophy, recalling a simpler time when man tilled the soil and understood his place in the world. Life in the country was idealistically depicted as it might have been a hundred years ago, without the clutter of modern machinery or the instruments of modern farming [fig. 3].

Figure 4: Helmut Schaarschmidt. Earth Work. Date unknown. Oil on canvas.

It was all derivative of quaint genre paintings of the previous century, and indeed also included works from that period. Heroic beasts in the form of cows, bulls and horses prevailed, as stoic symbols of Nazi dedication and persistence. Peasant farmers, men and women, were shown contentedly plowing fields or in strenuous labor, yet were always presented as determined and happy.

There must never be any doubt as to the joys of hard labor in serving the state. Painters such as Helmut Schaarschmidt excelled at this sort of painting, as seen in his Earth Work [fig. 4] or in Oskar Martin-Amorbach’s The Sower [fig. 5]. These were imaginary landscapes. No matter that they did not actually exist.  German citizens were expected to aspire to their example.

Figure 5: Oskar Martin-Amorbach, The Sower, 1937. Oil on canvas.

Paintings that did not break with tradition were extolled, especially if they promoted a sense of German identity. Often, by simply adding the word “German” to the title of an older painting could an artist present it as faithful to the Nazi doctrine.

Thus titles such as Day in the Mountains became A Day of Peasant Glory in the Germanic Landscape in order to gain advantage in the selection process for their works. Landscape painters such as Martin-Amorbach and Thomas Baumgartner, today largely forgotten by history, were more than willing to allow their works to serve as propaganda. Most of the paintings were depictions of rustic scenes, quaint, trite, and simply a continuation of the genre painting of the previous century.

Family life also was similarly portrayed, in moralistic tales conveying the benefits of many offspring in a home life where every citizen knew their place and their function – to serve the state. The German woman featured in portraits or landscapes was depicted as icons of motherhood or as retired matrons having done their noble duty of raising children.

Figure 6: Fritz Mackensen, Der Saeugling (The Baby), 1892. Oil on canvas.

Figure 6: Fritz Mackensen, Der Saeugling (The Baby), 1892. Oil on canvas.

Fritz Mackensen’s The Baby [fig. 6] aptly shows her breastfeeding an infant (again looking to the past in this painting from 1892 to represent the future). Woman’s duty was to produce cannon fodder for the coming wars.

Female nudity could also be depicted, often in quasi-pornographic representations as erotic objects, such as in Ernst Liebermann’s By the Water [fig. 7]. Such paintings always served as an object for the male gaze, never providing a sense of individuality or female sexuality, but presented them only as passive, fertile figures.

Figure 7: Ernst Liebermann, By the Water. Date unknown. Oil on canvas.

Figure 7: Ernst Liebermann, By the Water. Date unknown. Oil on canvas.

All figurative works of sculpture or painting expressed the Nazi ideal of racial beauty. The Aryan man or woman possessed classically inspired attributes [fig. 8]. Nothing remotely conveying Semitic or African-American racial traits would ever have been allowed to soil the Nazi canvas or disfigure a stone. The Aryan men in the works must be shown heroically, either in battle scenes or as pillars of strength, optimistic and glorified.

Figure 8: Albert Janesch. Water Sports. 1936. Oil on canvas.

Figure 8: Albert Janesch. Water Sports. 1936. Oil on canvas.

Whether leading a stubborn bull on the farm or raising the Nazi flag with his comrades, the image of the Aryan Nazi man was shown as willing to sacrifice himself for the common good, through the sweat and toil of labor or through the ultimate sacrifice in war [fig. 9].

Sculpture always conveyed a sense of power, in a stylized perversion of the classical Greek heroic nude, often carrying a sword or having an eagle by the male’s side, such as in Arno Breker’s gaudy sculpture Bereitschaft (Readiness)[fig. 10]. Josef Thorak’s Kameradschaft (Comradeship) [fig. 11] also reveals such an aggrandized form. Two exaggeratedly muscular men are shown nude, holding hands, with heads lifted upwards to the sky. Its homoerotic element obviously remained unnoticed by the selection committee.

Figure 9: Hermann Otto Hoyer, SA Man Rescuing Wounded Comrade in the Street. 1933. Oil on canvas.

Figure 9: Hermann Otto Hoyer, SA Man Rescuing Wounded Comrade in the Street. 1933. Oil on canvas.

The viewers of the exhibition for the most part must have experienced a sense of blandness and fatigue at viewing the works. One observer of the exhibition commented that the many paintings were dull and “looked like photographs,” and how the depictions of rural life had nothing to do with reality. Most of the art left little impression save for the technical or realistic quality involved. The paintings were based on formulaic ideals, suitable to Fascist ideology, with a clear link to an imaginary past.

For three days the public attended an exhibition that sought to educate them (and artists) on what would be the new cultural policies on painting and sculpture. It left no room for anything but the most obvious depictions of National Socialist ideology. Modernism was swept aside and it seemed as if painting and sculpture was placed back a century, modified by a romanticized ideal of a utopian society free from any conflict, racial infection, or “degenerate” Jewish or foreign art. Of the little over 600 works on display, it was little wonder that hardly any of these sold. The few that did went to Nazi Party members or to only a handful of museums.

Figure 10: Arno Breker, Bereitschaft (Readiness). 1937. Bronze.

Figure 10: Arno Breker, Bereitschaft (Readiness). 1937. Bronze.

The Great German Art Exhibition was the culmination of the Nazis’ drive to rid the Third Reich of any art that they considered “degenerate”, namely art that didn’t reflect the Nazi ideals of society. However, the idea that art could be defined as degenerate was not an entirely new thought. It’s origins stemmed back to the previous century in German culture. The book Entartung (Degeneration) published in 1892 by the pseudo-scientist Max Nordau (coincidentally a Jew himself) had used the term “degenerate” in describing certain forms of art for the first time. In it he decried Symbolism, the Pre-Raphaelites, the writings of Henrik Ibsen and many others, in an attempt to “prove the superiority of traditional German culture.” And in 1911, the German artist Carl Vinnen attacked the purchases of French Impressionsists in what he claimed was inferior works of art in his Ein Protest deutscher Künstler (A Protest by German Artists).

Figure 11: Josef Thorak, Kameradschaft (Comradeship), 1937. Bronze.  Location unknown, exhibited in the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstelung.

Figure 11: Josef Thorak, Kameradschaft (Comradeship), 1937. Bronze. Location unknown, exhibited in the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstelung.

Even in the more relaxed censorship of the Weimar republic, Georg Grosz suffered legal action by the First District Court of Berlin in 1922 for his series of critical drawings and watercolors Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), on obscenity charges. He and his publishers were fined and most of the plates for the series confiscated, and they again lost in their appeal in 1924. That same year Otto Dix’s painting Schützengraben (Trench, 1923) was exhibited at the Berlin Academy and its grotesque imagery received an onslaught of protest and angry criticism because of its anti-war message (strangely enough his depictions of sexual murder were ignored). All of this served and was used by the Nazis to strengthen the National Socialist argument that art had become immoral, indecent, and most of all, “degenerate.”

Also in the 1920’s, the Deutsche Kunstgesellschaft (German Art Association) attacked the works of Grosz and Beckmann, claiming that modern art had been run rampant with “Kulturbolschewismus” (art-Bolshevism), and that the association’s mission was to promote an “art that was pure German, with the German soul reflecting art.” And in 1927 the anti-Semite Alfred Rosenberg, instigator of many of the party’s cultural policies, established the Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur (known later as the Combat League for German Culture) in Munich. As the Nazis rose in power, so did Rosenberg’s denouncing of modernism, taking full form in his 1930 book Der Mythus des 20. Jarhhunderts (The Myth of the Twentieth Century). The book was an attempt to give validity to the Nazis’ attack on Expressionism and all modernist forms of art. In addition, Rosenberg’s office was also responsible for many art exhibitions and was directly under the authority of Goebbel’s Ministry of Propaganda, a situation that often led to conflict between the two party members. It seemed that no one could really agree on how to treat modernist art, what the new Nazi art should encompass, or worse, who would have the right to veto or approve exhibitions.

In the early years of the anti-modernist crusade this confusion was apparent. Strangely enough, shortly before the Nazi takeover of power Hermann Göring had commissioned Otto Dix, later viciously singled out as a “degenerate” artist, to paint portraits of his children. Emile Nolde at first was embraced by the Nazis (he even became a member of the Nazi party) and then rejected as an outcast because Hitler found his art distasteful. Franz Radziwill, a realist painter who joined the Nazi party in 1933, was himself banned only two years later. And Goebbels had owned a sculpture by Ernst Barlach, who it seemed the Nazis could never make up their minds about, until Hitler expressed his hatred of Barlach’s work and made him persona non grata in the Nazi art world. Barlach had gone from representing Germany in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair to having his works removed from churches and museums, and his drawings and books banned by 1936.

Also, on March 28, 1934 an exhibition of Italian avant-garde art opened in Berlin, entitled Aeropittura. The Italian Futurists featured works themed around airplanes in a modernist style, which provoked the opportunistic Nazi art critic Robert Scholz to write “Almost as in the hey-day of Marxism…decadent art is everywhere on the rise.” This is made all the more bizarre when one realizes that the Expressionist poet Gottfried Benn gave the opening exhibition speech and that Goebbels was on the honorary committee. Obviously, the regulations and decrees on art were not clearly understood or defined. The criteria for filtering out modernist art seemed to lay solely in the mind of Der Führer.

Apart from the attempts to regulate and control the exhibition of art, art criticism was also under attack. Goebbels issued a decree on November 27,1936 effectively banning all art criticism, a sentiment reiterated again in Hitler’s speech at the opening of the Great German Art Exhibition the following year: “… all these dumb, mendacious excuses, this claptrap or jabbering will no longer be accepted as excuses or even recommendations for worthless, integrally unskilled products.” The Nazis fully understood that art criticism would stand in the way of using Fascist art to sway the populace so they simply banned all criticism in the media.

In the pivotal year of 1933, the onslaught against modernist art was finally given free reign. After Hitler was appointed chancellor on January 30, he immediately set into action the chain of events to control art as an instrument of National Socialist dogma. On March 13 Joseph Goebbels was named Reich Minister for National Enlightenment and Propaganda, giving him the power to exercise a centralized state supervision of culture as well as the purging of “non-Aryans” (Jews) and anyone not faithful to Nazi dogma. In Decrees XXX to XXXIII, Goebbels was given unprecedented centralized power held previously by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, Posts and Communications. This condensed power over a vast area of society to one man, making Goebbels answerable only to Hitler. Music, the press, the stage, film, literature, art and every other conceivable cultural activity now became under his control.

The purge of art began. Previously in 1929, the Nazi Minister of the Interior for the state of Thuringia, Wilhelm Frick, had dismissed professors, museum directors, and most notably Walter Gropius and the entire faculty of the Bauhaus in Weimar, replacing him with the architect and racial theorist Paul Schultze-Naumburg.Schultze-Naumburg immediately ordered the destruction of Oskar Schlemmer’s murals in the Bauhaus school, as well as the removal of works by Kandinsky, Klee and Barlach from the Schlossmuseum in Weimar. His book Kunst und Rasse (Art and Race) described modern art as “entarte” (degenerate), further promoting Nazi cultural policies. When the Nazis took control in 1933, additional museum directors were removed from their positions across all of Germany and were replaced with party members. Artists such as Gropius, Kandinsky, and Klee fled Germany, and Beckmann, Dix, Hofer, Kollwtiz and many other artists were fired from their teaching positions. Any artist who did not hold a membership in the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture), formed in September, was effectively banned from practicing.

Figure 12:  Exhibitions viewers line up at the entrance of the Entartete kunst exhibition, 1937.

Figure 12: Exhibitions viewers line up at the entrance of the Entartete kunst exhibition, 1937.

The first of many smaller exhibitions decrying “degenerate” art and artists appeared already in April 1933 only one month after Goebbels took office.  Schandausstellungen exhibitions (exhibitions of shame) and Schreckenskammern der Kunst (chambers of horror of art) held in Mannheim and Dresden derided all of modern art. Other cities soon began following their example in sensationalistic, negative displays. These would be the forerunners for the grand exhibition of Entartete kunst (Degenerate art) of 1937 in Munich.

On June 30, 1937, Goebbels bestowed Adolf Ziegler as head of the Reichskammer der Bildenen Künst (Reich Chamber of Visual Art), to head a commission authorized to confiscate art from museums or collections that could be designated as subversive, modernist, or degenerate in any form. In the 1940 film Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew), we are provided with a glimpse of the skewed logic used to justify this seizure of art:

“For the purity and neatness of the German concept of art the Jew, without roots of his own, has no feeling. What he calls art must gratify his deteriorating nerves. The stench of disease must pervade it. It [is] unnatural, grotesque, perverse, or pathological. These feverish fantasies of hopelessly sick minds were once extolled by Jewish art critics of German public life as high artistic expressions. Today it seems incredible that such pictures were once bought by nearly all our galleries. The Jewish art dealers and art critics praise them as the only real modern art. German public life was ‘niggerized’ and bastardized. Painting, architecture, literature and music suffered as well.”

Figure 13: Cramped exhibition space in the Entartete kunst exhibition.

Figure 13: Cramped exhibition space in the Entartete kunst exhibition.

It is estimated that at least 16,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings and other works were confiscated, with some estimates as high as 20,000, from private owners and museums. Jewish households, businesses, institutions, and museums, all were raided as the Nazis confiscated works of art, modernist or otherwise. 730 of these artworks by 112 artists found their way into the Entartete kunst exhibition that poignantly served to juxtapose the Great German Art Exhibition.

Opening on July 19 in Munich, the Entartete kunst exhibition was to be the trophy room of the wild safari hunt on modernist art by the Nazis [fig. 12]. Located in the former local of the Institute of Archeology, across the park from the House of German Art, the building was unsuitable to exhibit artworks but intentionally chosen with that in mind. Chaotically hung paintings, some taken from their frames, hung cramped next to one each other on walls with painted slogans such as “Crazy at any price!” or “Even museum bigwigs called this ‘art of the German people’”, deriding the museum curators who had purchased them. The ground floor and seven rooms were covered in white-boarded walls and stuffed with works presented, as in the Great German Art Exhibition, thematically. While the latter exhibition displayed works in a pleasing manner with flat, open surfaces surrounding the works, the Entartete kunst exhibition overwhelmed the visitor with a barrage of images and negative commentary, thrown tightly together in a stifling and extremely confined space [fig. 13].

Figure 14: Ludwig Gies, Kruzifixus (Crucified Christ), c.1921; wood; formerly in Lübeck Cathedral, probably destroyed.  Shown here in the hallway entrance landing in Room 1 of the Entartete kunst exhibition.

Figure 14: Ludwig Gies, Kruzifixus (Crucified Christ), c.1921; wood; formerly in Lübeck Cathedral, probably destroyed. Shown here in the hallway entrance landing in Room 1 of the Entartete kunst exhibition.

In the hallway above the stairs that led to the upper floor, visitors were met by Ludwig Gies’ Kruzifixus (Crucified Christ, 1921) [fig. 14], a wooden, carved sculpture showing the contorted figure of an abstract Christ with an obtruding ribcage, heralded by the text, “This horror hung as a war memorial in the cathedral of Lübeck.” It served as the introduction for Room 1 of the exhibition, devoted to religious art, on which the wall held the inscription, “Insolent mockery of the Divine under Centrist rule.” Religious works by Nolde, Beckmann, Rauh and others hung here. By contrast, there were no religious works shown at the Great German Art Exhibition. These were instead replaced naturally by images of the Führer [fig. 15].

Figure 15: Hubert Lanzinger, Der Bannerträger (The Flag Bearer), c. 1935. Oil on canvas.  Note the slashed face, apparently pierced by a U.S. soldier with a bayonet.

Figure 15: Hubert Lanzinger, Der Bannerträger (The Flag Bearer), c. 1935. Oil on canvas. Note the slashed face, apparently pierced by a U.S. soldier with a bayonet.

Room 2 was devoted to Jewish artists, and included Marc Chagall, Lasar Segal, Jankel Adler and others. Texts by Hitler and Rosenberg were hung on the wall, decrying “Jews and Marxists…the cultural Bolsheviks.” The banner “Revelation of the Jewish racial soul” introduced the room, and under each painting the name of the artist was written with the word “Jew”, and the artist’s position such as teacher or architect, in indignation that a Jewish artist could hold a position in German society. Room 3 held nude expressionist portraits and sculptures of women, with the slogan “An insult to German womanhood” and “The ideal – cretin and whore” painted above them. Quotes by artists, taken entirely out of context, were used to demonstrate their “criminal” nature, such as Georg Grosz’s “How does the artist rise in the bourgeoisie? By cheating.”

Figure 16: Adolf Hitler visiting the “Dada Wall” in the Entartete kunst exhibition.  Note that the paintings have been titled.

Figure 16: Adolf Hitler visiting the “Dada Wall” in the Entartete kunst exhibition. Note that the paintings have been titled.

A quote from Hitler’s speech at the Nuremburg rally, discrediting Dadaists, Cubists, Futurists and their like, was hung opposite the “Dada Wall” [fig. 16 & 17], mocking the movement by hanging paintings and works in a crooked manner (later straightened after Hitler’s visit during the opening of the exhibit). Remarkably, the entire exhibition had borrowed heavily from the First International Dada Fair exhibition of 1920 in its use of aggressive and provocative slogans scrawled on the walls and tilted presentations of works. Again, the irony of this seems to have passed the Nazis by.

Figure 17: The “Dada Wall” without the public, now with paintings positioned vertically.

Figure 17: The “Dada Wall” without the public, now with paintings positioned vertically.

All of the exhibition’s rooms were set up to be defamatory, each one showing works with derisive comments, leaving no room for misinterpretation. The ground floor hallway focused on portraits by Grosz, Dix, Kokoschka, Kandinsky, Schwitters and others, acknowledging Hans Prinzhorn’s 1922 book Bildnerei der Geistekranken (Image-making by the Mentally Ill). That book had made comparisons of faces of the mentally ill and retarded to portraits of Expressionist art [fig. 18], and the Nazis used photographs from it as an obvious reference to their genetic “degeneracy”. Prices were hung by each painting, at their exorbitant Weimar-era inflation prices and not their Nazi era equivalent, so as to further heighten the sense of outrage.  Confiscated books containing art prints were on display, and one ground floor hallway was devoted predominantly to the exhibition of woodcut prints and etchings [fig 19].

Any of the “isms” such as Dadaism, Surrealism, Impressionism, Expressionism or anything considered new or experimental, were all conveniently placed under the umbrella of “modernism”, including also New Objectivism and abstract art. All works shown in the exhibit were the prime examples of Hitler’s Säuberrungskrieg (cleansing war) against such art, described in his appropriated terminology simply as “degenerate” art.

Figure 18: Juxtaposition of works of “degenerate art by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Amedeo Modigliani and photographs of facial deformities, from Paul Schultze-Naumburg, Kunst and Rasse, 1928.

Figure 18: Juxtaposition of works of “degenerate art by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Amedeo Modigliani and photographs of facial deformities, from Paul Schultze-Naumburg, Kunst and Rasse, 1928.

The Entartete kunst exhibition closed its doors on November 30, four and a half months after its opening. Interest in the exhibition far surpassed the Exhibition of German Art, which received an estimated 400,000 to 800,000 visitors compared to Entartete kunst’s 2,009,899 participant viewers. As no art criticism existed, we cannot fairly judge German society’s true response to the works, but judging by the Entartete kunst’s continuing onwards as a traveling exhibition to 11 other cities (and drawing over 3,000,000 visitors), one is inclined to believe that the “degenerate” art won the round.

No doubt the sensationalist component portrayed by the organizers and the Nazis drew the curious. But the truth is that the art offered by the Nazis simply could not match the vibrancy of creative vision that the modernist artists offered.  Modernist art was forward looking, evolving and vibrant. Nazi art by contrast looked backwards, lacked creative insight, and asked no engaging questions of its viewers. It was stagnant, its themes bland and repetitive. In contrast, modernist art was exciting, challenging, and offered no easy, passive participation in the reading of its works. The sentimentality of Nazi art could not match the aggressiveness of the modernists. As the attendance figures reveal, interest was far higher in the “degenerate” art than in the state-dictated art of the Nazis.

Figure 19: Ground floor hallway, exhibiting prints and etchings by Expressionist artists in the Entartete kunst exhibition.

Figure 19: Ground floor hallway, exhibiting prints and etchings by Expressionist artists in the Entartete kunst exhibition.

Hitler and the Nazi artists sought to portray a mirror of their world, but theirs was a world built upon shaky ground. It was a world of illusion and imaginary social fantasies borne by the megalomaniac obsessions of that failed artist, who longed for a golden age that in reality never actually occurred. Utopias are by their very nature non-attainable, especially if they are represented in art works that are complicit to myths and lies. It is because of this that today the art of the Nazis is predominantly considered to be “bad art.” Its substance simply doesn’t hold to the light of day, no matter how good the technique is.

The destruction of “degenerate” works of art has been well documented and written about. Many were destroyed and the Nazis sold some off for much needed currency. Others works wound up hoarded in underground mines, hidden until being discovered by American soldiers. Not all of the works stolen have been found, but yearly we hear of found works being returned to their original owner’s families after lengthy legal battles. The works by Nazi artists for the most part remain hidden away in government storage units or relegated to the back rooms of museums, hardly if ever exhibited. The names of most of the artists closely associated with the Nazis remain ignored by the curators of museums, considered taboo or too unimportant to exhibit, and are only of interest to the art historian.

Today one needs simply to visit a German museum to see how the art of the Nazis has ultimately failed to make its mark or last as a valued contribution to its artistic heritage. Avant-garde artists permeate Berlin’s galleries and the vibrant atmosphere of creative impulses that the Nazis attempted to obliterate, now flourish. Hitler’s dream temple still exists, after modifying its name to simply Haus der Kunst. Inside, the works shown there now are contemporary and installation art, the antithesis of what Nazi art was. And magically enough, the remnants of certain modernist works buried by the Nazis have literally started ascending up from the ground. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, 11 sculptures once designated as “degenerate art” recently were discovered in the ruins of a cellar in Berlin, dug out by archeologists and are now placed in the Neues Museum. All were part of the Entartete kunst travelling exhibition. It seems modernism and “degenerate art” has triumphed after all.

Tom Garretson

Edited & Designed By Díre McCain    © 2013 PARAPHILIA MAGAZINE

28 March 2011

An Ordinary Berliner on the Nazi Exhibition of “Degenerate Art”

In The Turbulent World of Franz Göll, historian Peter Fritzsche sifts through the lifetime of diaries kept by an ordinary twentieth century Berliner. A few weeks back, Fritzsche offered excerpts from the diaries to present the evolution of Göll’s attitude towards Germany’s Jews. Below, he gives us Göll’s thoughts on his 1938 visit to the infamous “Degenerate Art” exhibition staged by the Nazis as an attack on modernism.


Degenerate_Art Hitler’s Third Reich wove a series of extraordinary spectacles through the fabric of daily life. The Nuremberg Rallies, May Day rallies, and Führer birthday celebrations all attempted to testify to the unity and enthusiasm of the German population. Huge propaganda exhibitions also aimed to show Germans new, more racially sound ways of looking at the world. One of these was the exhibit on “Degenerate Art,” which opened in Munich in summer 1937 (the cover of the exhibit program is pictured at right). The exhibit was designed as a horror show of modern art, which the Nazis believed was unhealthy because non-representational, abstract, and cosmopolitan. The pictures, including paintings by Marc Chagall, Otto Dix, Georg Grosz, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee, were hung to produce a chaotic, dizzying effect. Since the exhibit was closed to children, it had a built-in shock appeal, and most of the three million Germans who visited probably walked through the exhibit room snickering their outrage and incomprehension. But aside from the propaganda barrages produced by the exhibit itself, historians do not really know how individual Germans reacted. However, the diarist Franz Göll left behind a revealing and lengthy response upon visiting the exhibit when it arrived in Berlin.

On the eve of Germany’s march into Austria in March 1938, Franz Göll took a look to see what all the fuss was about. His response:

“Supported by the Propaganda Ministry and organized by the Nazi Party, the exhibit is designed to arouse the regime’s abhorrence of the mentality of this sort of art among the broad masses and to justify, substantiate, and strengthen the required opposition . . . The exhibit displays . . . a picture, ‘The War.’ This picture is not pretty; it is horror-inducing, shattering. But the repulsion you feel is not because of the representation, but the subject of representation, war with its ruination and destruction of property, blood, and soul. It presents a cross-section of the war, not as the general staff would see it, for whom the individual is merely materiél to be thrown into battle, but as the front soldier experiences it.” (12 March 1938)

In front of Otto Dix’s masterpiece, Franz came to the extraordinary conclusion:

“The picture is not a bloody-minded depiction of the degenerate, war is.”

He continued on through the exhibit:

“Moreover, there is another picture to be seen, entitled ‘War Cripple.’ Today one sees this picture as mocking the war wounded. But I actually read it as depicting the great and quiet spiritual tragedy in the life of a severely wounded war veteran. A picture of great sadness that really strikes a chord. A war invalid who wants to tenderly draw his wife to him with his prosthetic arms. He awkwardly places his artificial arm outfitted with a claw hook around his wife. From their expressions, it is obvious that this caress is not regarded as a moment of bliss, but as a painful disappointment over a happiness that is gone forever.”

Historians have almost no responses of ordinary Germans to the exhibit. However, Franz Göll’s diary provides one extraordinary example. It shows that Germans by no means all believed the propaganda they were fed and could use the propaganda to come to their own, even diametrically opposed opinions. Göll sympathized with the weak and vulnerable, the frightened soldier and the wounded veteran, and he recalled Dix’s vision when he recorded the news of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, a war that Hitler believed would leave only the “Annihilated” and the “Survivors.”


The Exhibition Of Degenerate Art

For it is an affair of the State ….. to prevent a Folk from being driven into the arms of spiritual lunacy ….. for on the day that this kind of art were actually to correspond to the general conception, one of the most severe changes of mankind would have begun; the backward development of the human brain. — Adolf Hitler, My Struggle.

It is not the function of art to wallow in dirt for dirt’s sake, never its task to paint the state of decomposition, to draw cretins as the symbol of motherhood, to picture hunchbacked idiots as representatives of manly strength, Hitler had declared at the Party Rally in Nürnberg in 1935.

In July, 1937 Hitler and Göbbels decided to clear museums of all remaining modern works and to mount an exhibition of modern works as an example of the most horrific art ever created. The custodians of all government and private museums and art collections are busy removing the most hideous creations of a degenerate humanity and of a pathological generation of so called artists, the magazine Der SA-Mann reported triumphantly in the issue of September 18th, 1937.

And the director of the German Art Association had this to say to the cultural theorist Alfred Rosenberg: Throw this decaying foulness out of the art of the awakening Germany! Out also all those who still allow and foster cultural Bolshevism! ….. The undersigned knows that The Leader and you, Herr Reich Leader, cannot do everything alone ….. Therefore we make ourselves available to fight unreservedly, with all our strength and ability, for a German worldview, for the fertility of German life, and through this for German art. We are at your command. Heil Hitler!

Degenerate Art, München, 1937. Cover of the exhibition guide with the sculpture The New Man by the idiot Otto Freundlich
A Commission under the painter Adolf Ziegler, President Of The Reich Culture Chamber, aided by some art historians, including the Director Of The Folkwang Museum in Essen, Klaus Graf von Baudissin, seized over 5,000 works from private and public collections. Among the works were:

  • 1,052 by Emil Nolde,
  • 759 by Erich Heckel,
  • 639 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and
  • 508 by Max Beckmann.
  •                 They also took works by:
    • Alexander Archipenko,
    • Georges Braque,
    • Marc Chagall,
    • Giorgio de Chirico,
    • Robert Delaunay,
    • André Derain,
    • Theo van Dösburg,
    • James Ensor,
    • Paul Gauguin,
    • Vincent van Gogh,
    • Albert Gleizes,
    • Alexei Jawlensky,
    • Wassily Kandinsky,
    • Fernand Léger,
    • El Lissitzky,
    • Franz Masereel,
    • Henri Matisse,
    • László Moholy-Nagy,
    • Piet Mondrian,
    • Edvard Munch,
    • Pablo Picasso,
    • Georges Rouault,
    • and Maurice Vlaminck.

    Hitler at an early Degenerate Art exhibition, Dresden, 1935. Paintings: Erich Heckel: Seated Man; Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Five Women; Hans Grundig: Boy With Broken Arm; Johannes Tietz: Double Image — As in all things, the Folk trust the judgment of one man, our Leader. He knows which way German art must go in order to fulfil its task as a projection of the German character. I open the exhibition of Degenerate Art. — Adolf Ziegler
    Right from the start the National Socialists began to stage propaganda exhibitions of the most blatant examples of bad modern art. The League For The Defence Of German Culture had organised a show in Karlsruhe in 1933 which showed official art in Germany from 1918 to 1933. Official in these terms were the spiritually worthless works by Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter as well as paintings by Max Slevogt, Lovis Corinth, and Munch. Each of the works on show had a price tag to indicate how much the museum had paid for it. The aim was to educate the public by showing them how, in times of stupefying economic hardship, taxpayers’ money was spent. Stuttgart followed with an equally critical show of the works of Marc Chagall, Max Beckmann, and Otto Dix. As soon as the Dresden Museum was cleared of its modern art, the City Hall put on a show of the confiscated works entitled Mirrors Of The Decadence In Art. The Nürnberg and Dessau Museums also opened their own Chambers Of Horrors, displaying modern art. The National Socialist educator Gebele von Waldstein wasted no time. In the spring of 1933 he opened an exhibition of Cultural Bolshevism in the Kunsthalle in Mannheim; the show then travelled to München and Nürnberg. The painter Hans Adolf Bühler, the Director Of The School Of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe, quickly followed with an exhibition caricaturing the art sponsored by the previous Government: Official Art From 1918 To 1933. All these defamatory exhibitions were widely publicised and attracted many visitors. In München, The Eternal Jew, an exhibition of Jewish history in theatre, film, painting, and sculpture, attracted 150,000 visitors.

    In 1936, Hitler decided to stage his own show of the hated modern art. An official exhibition of Entartete KunstDegenerate Art opened in München on July 19th, 1937, a day after the opening of the first Great German Art Exhibition, to which it was a useful pendant. With great satisfaction, Göbbels announced:

    How deeply the perverse Jewish spirit has penetrated German cultural life is shown in the frightening and horrifying forms of the Exhibition Of Degenerate Art in München ….. This has nothing at all to do with the suppression of artistic freedom and modem progress. On the contrary, the botched art works which were exhibited there and their creators are of yesterday and before yesterday. They are the senile representatives, no longer to be taken seriously, of a period that we have intellectually and politically overcome and whose monstrous, degenerate creations still haunt the field of the plastic arts in our time. (Göbbels, November 26th, 1937, in Von der Großmacht zur Weltmacht.)

    The exhibition of Degenerate Art was installed in the old gallery in the Hofgarten. In his opening speech Adolf Ziegler announced: Our patience with all those who have not been able to fall in line with National Socialist reconstruction during the last four years is at an end. The German Folk will judge them. We are not scared. The Folk trust, as in all things, the judgment of one man, our Leader. He knows which way German art must go in order to fulfil its task as the expression of German character ….. What you are seeing here are the crippled products of madness, impertinence, and lack of talent ….. I would need several freight trains to clear our galleries of this rubbish. He added proudly, to thundering applause, This will happen soon. (Ziegler, July 19th, 1937, Mitteilungsblatt der Reichskammer der bildenden Künste, August 1st, 1937.)

    The Degenerate Art show in München was the most frank, radical, and brutally instructive of its kind. The pictures were jammed together with descriptive labels which seemed merely insulting until one noticed the garbage which they were labelling. In its arrangement the Directors borrowed from the much despised Dadaists. The way of hanging the pictures, the aggressive slogans resembling graffiti on the walls, the whole idea of wanting to shock had all been done years before by the Dadaists. Hitler and Göbbels came to look at the cream of Cubism, Dadaism, and Expressionism: approximately 650 works by 112 artists, among them Barlach, Beckmann, Corinth, Grosz, Heckel, Kandinsky, Kirchner, Klee, Kokoschka, Nolde, and Pechstein.

    Young people were barred from the show due to the obscenity of the exhibits from which decent German youth had to be protected. The Directors of the show wished that they could place the previous criminal museum directors and idiotic artists next to the works so that the public could spit at them.

    Stupidity Or Impertinence — Or Both — Pushed To The Limit!. Page 32 of the Degenerate Art exhibition guide. Paintings: Max Ernst: La Belle Jardinière; Willi Baumeister: Figure With Pink Stripe III; Johannes Molzahn: Twins
    The apparently chaotic display had order built into it. The exhibits were classified by subject just as in the other official exhibition. Only the themes here were Farmers Seen By Jews, Insult To German Womanhood, Mockery Of God. The spectacular and sensational way in which the art was displayed was aimed at mobilising vigorous popular protest. It was meant to be the last chapter of a barbaric age, while the official show signalled the dawn of a new one. Over two million visitors came. Does this not sufficiently prove the necessity for such an education through the horror chambers of degenerate art? reasonably asked one of the prominent members of the League For The Defence Of German Culture. (Dr. Walter Hansen, Judenkunst in Deutschland, Berlin, 1942, page 197.)

    The press joined in the tirades against the modern artists and announced proudly that the cleansing of the temple of German art was complete. The aim of the show was to kill off modern art, and it succeeded. Göbbels had achieved his aim of making the public the true judge of art:

    Had the representatives of decadence and decline turned their attention to the masses of the Folk, they would have come up against icy contempt and cold mockery. For the Folk have no fear of being scorned as out of step with the times and as reactionary by enraged Jewish literati. Only the wealthy classes have this fear ….. They succumb all too easily to that kind of demiculture which is coupled with intellectual pride and conceited arrogance. These defects are familiar to us under the label snobbism ….. Snobbism is sick and wormeaten ….. We have had the courage to reject the products of its insolent arrogance. Today they are assembled in the Exhibition Of Degenerate Art, and the Folk, by the million, walk by this staggering nonsense, shaking their heads angrily ….. In fact, The Leader has acted in the fulfilment of a national duty when he interfered here and again established order and a sure footing in this chaos.

    Degenerate Music, Düsseldorf, 1938. Cover of the exhibition guide by Hans Severus Ziegler
    There were suggestions that the remaining works be burned, and on March 20th, 1939, 1,004 paintings and 3,825 watercolours, drawings, and graphic works were burned in the courtyard of the fire station in Berlin. The confiscation of the moderns from the museums also provoked hectic activity among international art dealers. The Berlin art dealer Karl Buchholz offered his services in the cleansing action in order to take over some works. Karl Haberstock, a München art dealer who organised an auction of banned art in Lucerne in 1939, proposed a further cleansing action. Dr. Franz Hofmann of the Degenerate Art Commission proposed to sell these unsaleable works. Göbbels was reluctant, but Hitler, realising that this art could be a source of considerable income, decided to sell it for the good of Germany.

    Installation view of the Degenerate Art exhibition. Paintings: Emil Nolde: The Mulatto; Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Portrait of B. R.; at far right, a portion of Emil Nolde, Man And Woman — The niggerising of music and theatre as well as the niggerising of the visual arts was intended to uproot the racial instinct of the Folk, and to tear down blood barriers. — wall statement
    Soon the London dealer P. D. Colnaghi, trying to outbid the two Jewish dealers from Paris, Wildenstein and Seligmann, offered to take over the entire stock of the Degenerate Art exhibition, referring to the fact that he was the only prominent English art dealer never to have offered degenerate art from any country for sale.

    Ultimately it fell to the Galerie Fischer in Lucerne to organise the sale, in June, 1939.


The New York Times
December 1, 2010
Thomas Peter/Reuters

“Head,” by Otto Freundlich, is one of 11 pieces of art that were initially thought to be of ancient origin.

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Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
December 1, 2010
Neues Museum, Berlin

“Hagar” by Karl Kanppe. From left: the original bronze; the condition when discovered; and as it appears now, cleaned and on display at Berlin’s Neues Museum.

Thomas Peter/Reuters

“A Likeness of the Actress Anni Mewes,” by Edwin Scharff, is among the pieces found this year during excavations in Berlin.

The New York Times
December 1, 2010
John MacDougall/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Marg Moll’s “Dancer,” from around 1930, is one of the found works in the “Degenerate Art” show at the Neues Museum in Berlin.

Hitler’s Speech at the Opening of the House of German Art in Munich (July 18, 1937)On the day before the start of the “Degenerate Art” exhibition, Hitler officially opened the “Great German Art Exhibition,” which was on view in the House of German Art, a new museum designed by architect Paul Ludwig Troost (1873-1934). It was the first of eight annual exhibitions that aimed to define and display “German art.” The exhibited works were chosen in an open competition; artists Adolf Ziegler, Arno Breker, and Karl Albiker, all of whom were loyal to the regime, originally comprised the jury for the 1937 show. A few weeks before the opening, however, Hitler replaced them with his personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann. Approximately 900 works were exhibited. These included nudes, genre scenes, still lifes, idealized landscapes, mythological scenes, images of workers and heroes, and above all portraits of “pure” and “Aryan” people. At the opening, Hitler delivered a programmatic speech on National Socialist cultural policy and its conception of “German art,” making perfectly clear that the Nazi regime would only accommodate art that was suitable for propaganda purposes. Any type of art that did not comply with Nazi ideology would be labeled “degenerate” and banned from museums.
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But you understand now that it is not enough merely to provide the House [ . . . ] the exhibit itself must also bring about a turning point. [ . . . ] If I presume to make a judgment, speak my opinion, and act accordingly, I do this not just because of my outlook on German art, but I claim this right because of the contribution I myself have made to the restoration of German art. Because our present state, which I and my comrades in the struggle have created, has alone provided German art with the conditions for a new, vigorous flowering.It was not Bolshevik art collectors or their literary henchmen who laid the foundation for a new art or even secured the continued existence of art in Germany. No, we were the ones who created this state and have since then provided vast sums for the encouragement of art. We have given art great new tasks. [ . . . ] I declare here and now that it is my irrevocable resolve that just as in the sphere of political bewilderment, I am going to make a clean sweep of phrases in the artistic life of Germany. “Works of art” which cannot be comprehended and are validated only through bombastic instructions for use [ . . . ] from now on will no longer be foisted upon the German people!

We are more interested in ability than in so-called intent. An artist who is counting on having his works displayed, in this House or anywhere else in Germany, must possess ability. Intent is something that is self-evident. These windbags have tried to make their works more palatable by representing them as expressions of a new age; but they need to be told that art does not create a new age, that it is the general life of peoples which fashions itself anew and therefore often seeks to express itself anew. [ . . . ] Men of letters are not the creators of new epochs; it is the fighters, those who truly shape and lead peoples, who make history. [ . . . ] Aside from that, it is either impudent effrontery or an inscrutable stupidity to exhibit to our own age works that might have been made ten or twenty thousand years ago by a man of the Stone Age. They talk of primitive art, but they forget that it is not the function of art to retreat backward from the level of development a people has already reached. The function of art can only be to symbolize the vitality of this development.

The new age of today is at work on a new human type. Tremendous efforts are being made in countless spheres of life in order to elevate our people, to make our men, boys, lads,girls, and women more healthy and thereby stronger and more beautiful. From this strength and beauty streams forth a new feeling of life, and a new joy in life. Never before was humanity in its external appearance and perceptions closer to the ancient world than it is today.This type of human, which we saw last year during the Olympic games [ . . . ] exuding proud physical strength — this my good prehistoric art-stutterers — this is the “type” of the new age. But what do you manufacture? Deformed cripples and cretins, women who inspire only disgust, men who are more like wild beasts, children who, if they were alive, would be regarded as God’s curse! [ . . . ] Let no one say that that is how these artists see things. From the pictures submitted for exhibition, I must assume that the eye of some men shows them things different from the way they really are. There really are men who can see in the shapes of our people only decayed cretins; who feel that meadows are blue, the heavens green, clouds sulfur-yellow. They like to say that they experience these things in this way.I do not want to argue about whether or not they really experience this. But in the name of the German people I only want to prevent these pitiable unfortunates, who clearly suffer from defective vision, from attempting with their chatter to force on their contemporaries the results of their faulty observations, and indeed from presenting them as “art.” Here there are only two possibilities open: either these so-called artists really do see things this way and believe in that which they create — and if so, one has to investigate how this defective vision arose — if it is a mechanical problem or if it came about through heredity. The first case would be pitiable, while the second would be a matter for the Ministry of the Interior, which would then deal with the problem of preventing the perpetuation of such horrid disorders. Or they themselves do not believe in the reality of such impressions, but are for different reasons attempting to annoy the nation with this humbug. If this is the case, then it is a matter for a criminal court.This House, in any case, was not planned or built for the works of art incompetents or for maltreaters of art. A thousand workmen did not labor for four and a half years on this building only to have creations exhibited here by people who are lazy to excess and who spend but five hours bespattering a canvas, while hoping confidently that the boldness of thepricing would produce the desired effect and result in the hailing of the work as the most brilliant lightning-birth of a genius. No, the hard work of the builders of this House demands equally hard work from those who want to exhibit here. I do not care in the least if these pseudo-artists then are left to cackle over each other’s eggs!The artist does not create for the artist, but for the people! We will see to it that from here on the people will be called on to judge their own art. No one must say that the people have no appreciation for a truly valuable enrichment of its cultural life. Long before the critics did justice to the genius of a Richard Wagner he had the people on his side. For their part, however, during the last few years the people have had no affinity for the so-called modern art that was placed before them. The mass of the people moved through our art exhibits in a completely uninterested fashion or stayed away altogether. The people’s healthy perceptions recognized that all these smearings of canvas were really the outcome of an impudent and unashamed arrogance or of a simply shocking lack of skill. Millions of people felt instinctively that these art-stammerings of the last few decades were more like the achievements that might have been produced by untalented children of from eight to ten years old and could under no circumstances be regarded as the expression of our own time or of the German future.
Since we know today that the development of millions of years repeats itself in every individual but is compressed into a few decades, we have the proof that an artistic creation that does not surpass the achievement of eight-year-old children is not “modern” or even “futuristic” but is, on the contrary, highly archaic. It probably is not as developed as the art of the Stone Age period, when people scratched pictures of their environment on the walls of caves. [ . . . ]I know, therefore, that when the Volk passes through these galleries it will recognize in me its own spokesman and counselor [ . . . ] it will draw a sigh of relief and joyously express its agreement with this purification of art. And this is decisive, for an art that cannot count on the ready inner agreement of the broad, healthy mass of the people, but which must instead rely on the support of small, partially indifferent cliques, is intolerable. [ . . . ] We are convinced that the German people will again fully support and joyously appreciate the future truly great artists from within their ranks. [ . . . ]This exhibition then is but a beginning. [ . . . ] But the opening of this exhibit is also the beginning of the end of the stultification of German art and the end of the cultural destruction of our people. [ . . . ] Many of our young artists will recognize the path they will have to take; they will draw inspiration from the greatness of the time in which we all live, and they will draw the courage to work hard and will in the end complete the task. And when a sacred conscientiousness at last comes into its own, then, I have no doubt, the Almighty will lift from this mass of decent creators of art, several individuals who will rise to the eternal star-covered heaven of immortal, God-favored artists of great ages. [ . . . ] We believe that especially today, when in so many spheres the highest individual achievements are standing the test, so also in the sphere of art will the highest value of personality again emerge to assert itself.Source of English translation: Benjamin Sax and Dieter Kuntz, eds., INSIDE HITLER’S GERMANY: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF LIFE IN THE THIRD REICH. 1st edition. Lexington, MA, and Toronto: D.C. Heath & Company, 1992, pp. 224-32.Materials from Sax, INSIDE HITLER’S GERMANY, 1st edition, displayed with special permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All Rights Reserved.Source of original German text: Völkischer Beobachter, July 19, 1937. Munich edition. 200th Issue. 50th Volume. Title page; reprinted in Peter-Klaus Schuster, ed., Die “Kunststadt” München 1937. Nationalsozialismus und “Entartete Kunst.” Munich: Prestel Verlag, 1987, pp. 249-52.

Entartete Kunst


Degenerate Art

 Art of the Enemy, Tool of Propaganda


As early as 1927 the National Socialist Society for German Culture was established which had the dual aims of halting the “corruption of art” and relaying to the German people the relationship between art and race.  Art that did not support National Socialism was labeled “degenerate”. Said art might also be referred to as “Jewish” or “Bolshevik”.  Whether works were deemed acceptable was almost solely determined by Hitler who had a very specific attitude toward art.

                                                The House of German ArtIn July 1937, upon the opening of the House of German Art in Munich, Hitler gave a speech which denounced Modern art as simply “temporary” and accussed Modern artists who portrayed the world contradictory to reality of either having vision defects or of committing criminal acts just because they chose to paint a sky any color other than the natural blue.  Hitler also took the occassion to blame the Jewry for the downfall of art and stress the importance of having a purely German art to express the superiority of the Aryan race. The beliefs Hitler expressed were largely influenced by the architect and painter Paul Schultze-Naumburg.  Both believed classical Greece and the Middle Ages should be looked to as the sources for what would be truly Aryan art.  “Socialist” realism was what Hitler wanted from art and thus he rejected many of the popular movements of the time including cubism, Dada-ism, surrealism, symbolism, impressionism, and Fauvism not to mention anything else that might be considered remotely avant-garde.  In fact, avant-garde artists in Germany were even forbidden to paint under the Reich.

In conjuncture with the opening of the museum was the opening of the “Entartete Kunst” exhibit.  Six hundred and fifty works were put on display while over 20,000 works had been confiscated from museums and collections under grounds of degeneracy. These confiscations were legalized after the fact. The exhibit was meant to be instructional so each piece was accompanied by a card explaining exactly why it was unacceptable as German Art. Furthermore, the works were poorly hung, crowded together, and often unframed.  The walls were otherwise covered in slogans made to look like graffitti.  The sole purpose of these slogans was to debase the works of art and their artists. And while the goal of the exhibit was mainly to foster hatred toward the degenerate Jewish/Bolshevist population only 6 of 112 of the artists whose pieces appeared in the exhibit were actually Jewish. Simply destroying the works would have created martyrs and public sympathy. The exhibit was visited by more than 3 million people and later traveled to 11 other cities in Germany and Austria.  It was the ultimate propaganda display.

To see footage of the exhibit click here.

Below are just a few of the artists whose work was confiscated and exhibited in 1937 along with some examples of their work. 

chagall1.bmp    chagall2.jpgMarc Chagall

  I and the Village   1911                         The White Cricifixion   1938

Max Ernst                              

L’Ange du Foyer      1937                 


klee1.jpg        Paul Klee        klee2.jpg

                      Dream City                                                                                     Senecio   1922


Composition VII 

Wassily Kandinsky

The first three paintings in this series of ten were confiscated, displayed, and then destroyed.

Many of the pieces confiscated under Hitler’s rule were sold after the Entartete Kunst exhibit to museums and collectors outside the German realm. Others were, like the Kandinskys, were destroyed. Some simply disappeared. 


Added by nusch on 17 Aug 2012 09:25

❝ Degenerate art: Artists in the 1937 Munich show

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1. Otto Freundlich

After 1925, Freundlich lived and worked mainly in France. In Germany, his work was condemned by the Nazis as degenerate and removed from public display. Some works were seized and displayed at the infamous Nazi exhibition of degenerate art including his monumental sculpture Der Neue Mensch (The New Man) which was photographed unsympathetically and used as the cover illustration of the exhibition catalogue. Der Neue Mensch was never recovered and is assumed to have been destroyed. One of his sculptures was recovered in an excavation in Berlin and put on display at the Neues Museum.
Average listal rating (5 ratings) 7.4  IMDB Rating 0

2. Paul Klee

His varied color palettes, some with bright colors and others sober, perhaps reflected his alternating moods of optimism and pessimism.Germany in 1937, seventeen of Klee’s pictures were included in an exhibition of “Degenerate art” and 102 of his works in public collections were seized by the Nazis.
Elfriede Lohse Wächtler was a German painter of the avant-garde whose works were banned as “degenerate art”, and in some cases destroyed, by the Third Reich. She was killed in a former psychiatric institution at Sonnenstein castle in Pirna under Action T4, a forced euthanasia program of Nazi Germany. Since 2000 a memorial center for the T4 program in the house commemorates her life and work in a permanent exhibition.
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4. Ernst Barlach

Das Magdeburger Ehrenmal (the Magdeburg cenotaph), by Ernst Barlach was declared to be degenerate art due to the “deformity” and emaciation of the figures—corresponding to Nordau’s theorized connection between “mental and physical degeneration.”
In 1933, Kirchner was labelled a “degenerate artist” by the Nazis and asked for his resignation from the Berlin Academy of Arts; in 1937, over 600 of his works were confiscated from public museums in Germany and were sold or destroyed. In 1938, the psychological trauma of these events, along with the Nazi occupation of Austria, close to his home, led to his suicide.
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6. Emil Nolde

Membership in the Nazi Party did not protect Emil Nolde, whose 1912 woodcut The Prophet is shown here, from being proscribed by Hitler. 1,052 of Nolde’s paintings were removed from German museums, more than any other artist.
Average listal rating (17 ratings) 7.1  IMDB Rating 0

7. Wassily Kandinsky

Nazi raid on the Bauhaus in the 1930s resulted in the confiscation of Kandinsky’s first three Compositions. They were displayed in the State-sponsored exhibit “Degenerate Art”, and then destroyed (along with works by Paul Klee, Franz Marc and other modern artists).
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Average listal rating (1 ratings) 8  IMDB Rating 0

8. Cesar Klein

In the years after World War I Klein was associated with Walter Gropius, though he turned down Gropius’s offer of a teaching position at the Bauhaus. Through the 1920s and after, Klein devoted much of his work to designs for theater and film production. He was the set designer for Robert Wiene’s 1920 film Genuine, and for the 1924 production of Ernst Toller’s Hinkemann.
Klein was included in the famous Degenerate Art exhibition mounted by the Nazi regime in 1937. He was able to resume his career in theatrical design after World War II. He died in 1954, at Pansdorf near Lübeck.
Average listal rating (10 ratings) 8.5  IMDB Rating 0

9. Oskar Kokoschka

Deemed a degenerate by the Nazis, Kokoschka fled Austria in 1934 for Prague. In Prague his name was adopted by a group of other expatriate artists, the Oskar-Kokoschka-Bund (OKB), though he declined to otherwise participate. In 1938, when the Czechs began to mobilize for the expected invasion of the Wehrmacht, he fled to the United Kingdom and remained there during the war. With the help of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia (later the Czech Refugee Trust Fund), all members of the OKB were able to escape through Poland and Sweden.
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Average listal rating (3 ratings) 8  IMDB Rating 0

10. George Grosz

George Grosz / 1920 / Sonniges Land
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Average listal rating (1 ratings) 8  IMDB Rating 0

11. Jankel Adler

In 1937, twenty-five of his works were seized from public collections by the Nazis and four were shown in the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition in Munich.
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12. Rudolf Bauer

In 1938, upon his return from an exhibition of his work in Paris, Bauer was arrested by the Nazis for his “degenerate” art and for speculating on the black market — meaning selling his work to Guggenheim. The previous year Bauer’s work had been included in the infamous Degenerate Art show in Munich, organized by the Nazis to show all the deviant, abstract art. In spite of this Bauer had refused to move from his home country. Upon his arrest Bauer was held in a Gestapo prison for several months, as Rebay and Guggenheim worked to free him. After several false starts, he was finally released unconditionally in August 1938. During his time in prison, he created dozens of non-objective drawings on scavenged scraps of paper.
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13. Franz Marc

Marc gave an emotional meaning or purpose to the colors he used in his work: blue was used for masculinity and spirituality, yellow represented feminine joy, and red encased the sound of violence. After the National Socialists took power, they suppressed modern art; in 1936 and 1937, the Nazis condemned Marc as an entarteter Künstler (degenerate artist), and ordered that approximately 130 of his works be taken from exhibit in German museums.
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14. Philipp Bauknecht

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15. Willi Baumeister

On the 31st of March 1933, following the National Socialist rise to power, Baumeister was dismissed from his professorship at the Städel. Thereafter he earned his living mainly from commercial art, he was still however able to travel to Switzerland, Italy, and France. In the same year, his daughter Felicitas was born. In 1936 he was introduced by the Wuppertaler architect Heinz Rasch, with whom he work during the 1924 Exhibition in Stuttgart, to Dr. Kurt Herberts, the owner of a varnish factory in Wuppertal. He began working for the company in 1937, joining other artists ostracized by the National Socialist regime: Franz Krause, Alfred Lörcher, Georg Muche, and Oskar Schlemmer, and the art historian Hans Hildebrandt. That year five of his works were shown in the National Socialist exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate art) in Munich.
Until 1941, when a ban on his paintings and exhibitions was issued by the National Arts Chamber, Baumeister still had many opportunities to exhibit his works abroad in Europe. Despite the prohibition and the constant surveillance, he still worked at the Herberts varnish factory, as well as on his art. In 1943, when a bomb attack rendered Wuppertal as well as Baumeister’s house in Stuttgart uninhabitable, he moved with his family to Urach in the Swabian Alps.
Average listal rating (5 ratings) 8.6  IMDB Rating 0

16. Herbert Bayer

In 1928, Bayer left the Bauhaus to become art director of Vogue magazine’s Berlin office. He remained in Germany far later than most other progressives. In 1936 he designed a brochure for the Deutschland Ausstellung, an exhibition for tourists in Berlin during the 1936 Olympic Games – the brochure celebrated life in the Third Reich, and the authority of Hitler. However, in 1937, works of Bayer’s were included in the Nazi propaganda exhibition “Degenerate Art”, upon which he left Germany.
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17. Max Beckmann

His fortunes changed with the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, whose dislike of Modern Art quickly led to its suppression by the state. In 1933, the Nazi government called Beckmann a “cultural Bolshevik” and dismissed him from his teaching position at the Art School in Frankfurt. In 1937 more than 500 of his works were confiscated from German museums, and several of these works were put on display in the notorious Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich. The day after Hitler’s infamous radio speech about degenerate art in 1937, Beckmann left Germany with his second wife, Quappi. For ten years, Beckmann lived in poverty in self-imposed exile in Amsterdam, failing in his desperate attempts to obtain a visa for the US. In 1944 the Germans attempted to draft him into the army, despite the fact that the sixty-year-old artist had suffered a heart attack. =
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18. Paul Camenisch

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19. Heinrich Campendonk

When the Nazi regime came to power in 1933, he was among the many modernists condemned as degenerate artists, and prohibited from exhibiting. He moved to the Netherlands, where he spent the rest of his life working at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, first teaching Decorative Art, printmaking and stained-glass, then as the Academy Director.
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Average listal rating (18 ratings) 8.1  IMDB Rating 0

20. Marc Chagall

Beginning during 1937 about twenty thousand works from German museums were confiscated as “degenerate” by a committee directed by Joseph Goebbels. Although the German press had once “swooned over him”, the new German authorities now made a mockery of Chagall’s art, describing them as “green, purple, and red Jews shooting out of the earth, fiddling on violins, flying through the air … representing assault on Western civilization”.
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21. Lovis Corinth

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Davringhausen went into exile with the fall of the Weimar republic in 1933, first going to Majorca, then to France. In Germany approximately 200 of his works were removed from public museums by the Nazis on the grounds that they were degenerate art. Prohibited from exhibiting, Davringhausen was interned in Cagnes-sur-Mer but fled to Côte D’ Azur. In 1945 however he returned to Cagnes-sur-Mer, a suburb of Nice, where he remained for the rest of his life. He worked as an abstract painter under the name Henri Davring until his death in 1970.
Average listal rating (3 ratings) 9.3  IMDB Rating 0

23. Otto Dix

When the Nazis came to power in Germany, they regarded Dix as a degenerate artist and had him sacked from his post as an art teacher at the Dresden Academy. He later moved to Lake Constance in the southwest of Germany. Dix’s paintings The Trench and War cripples were exhibited in the state-sponsored Munich 1937 exhibition of degenerate art, Entartete Kunst. They were later burned.
Dix, like all other practicing artists, was forced to join the Nazi government’s Reich Chamber of Fine Arts (Reichskammer der bildenden Kuenste), a subdivision of Goebbels’ Cultural Ministry (Reichskulturkammer). Membership was mandatory for all artists in the Reich. Dix had to promise to paint only inoffensive landscapes. He still painted an occasional allegorical painting that criticized Nazi ideals.
In 1939 he was arrested on a trumped-up charge of being involved in a plot against Hitler (see Georg Elser), but was later released.
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Average listal rating (20 ratings) 8.2  IMDB Rating 0

24. Max Ernst

“L’Ange du Foyer” (1937)During the Nazi regime, works by Max Ernst were included in the 1937 “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) mockery exhibition, as examples of degradation in art.
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Average listal rating (1 ratings) 5  IMDB Rating 0

25. Hans Feibusch

Feibusch was born to Jewish parents and studied in Paris under Andre L’Hote. He was becoming successful as an artist when the Third Reich made his life in Germany impossible. He was one of the artists exhibited in the 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibition (Entartete Kunst) put on by the Nazis to highlight the modernist trends in art they opposed. Feibusch was one of a minority of artists included whose work was relatively conservative, and he was probably included for his Jewish heritage. His works in that exhibition, now lost, were two paintings of angels.
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26. Lyonel Feininger

When the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, the situation became unbearable for Feininger and his wife. The Nazi Party declared his work to be “degenerate.” They moved to America after his work was exhibited in the ‘degenerate art’ (Entartete Kunst) in 1936, but before the 1937 exhibition in Munich. He taught at Mills College before returning to New York.
Average listal rating (2 ratings) 6  IMDB Rating 0

27. Conrad Felixmuller

Average listal rating (1 ratings) 8  IMDB Rating 0

28. Otto Gleichmann

He took part in the Hannoversche Sezession from 1918, where he met Kurt Schwitters, among others, and became friends with Theodor Däubler. His exhibition was banned, and he was named a degenerate artist in 1938.
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29. Hans Grundig

Following the fall of the Weimar Republic, Grundig was declared a degenerate artist by the Nazis, who included his works in the defamatory Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich in 1937. He expressed his antagonism toward the regime in paintings such as The Thousand Year Reich (1936). Forbidden to practice his profession, he was arrested twice—briefly in 1936, and again in 1938, after which he was interned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp from 1940–1944.
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30. Raoul Hausmann

Organised by Hausmann, Grosz and Heartfield, along with Max Ernst, the fair was to become the most famous of all Berlin Dada’s exploits, featuring almost 200 works by artists including Francis Picabia, Hans Arp, Ernst, Otto Dix & Rudolf Schlichter, as well as key works by Grosz, Höch and Hausmann. The work Tatlin At Home, 1920, can be clearly seen in one of the publicity photos taken by a professional photographer; the exhibition, whilst financially unsuccessful, gained prominent exposure in Amsterdam, Milan, Rome and Boston.[13] The exhibition also proved to be one of the main influences on the content and layout of Entartete Kunst, the show of degenerate art put on by the Nazis in 1937, with key slogans such as ‘Nehmen Sie DADA Ernst’ (Take Dada seriously!) appearing in both exhibitions.
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31. Erich Heckel

In 1937, The Nazis deemed his art “Degenerate.” 729 works were expelled from German museums. In January 1944, his studio was bombed and all of his blocks and plates were destroyed. He later moved to Lake Constance where he took up graphics again but these later works are overshadowed by the genius of his early works.
Average listal rating (1 ratings) 9  IMDB Rating 0

32. Jacoba van Heemskerck

Tulips are here again (Day IV):‘Compositie No. 1, Tulpen in een Vaas’ – Jacoba van Heemskerck.
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33. Oswald Herzog

Average listal rating (1 ratings) 7  IMDB Rating 0

34. Heinrich Hoerle

In 1929 he began publication of “a-z”, a journal of progressive artists. He was among the many German artists whose works were condemned as degenerate art when the Nazis took power in 1933. He died in Cologne in 1936.
Average listal rating (1 ratings) 5  IMDB Rating 0

35. Karl Hofer

One of the most prominent painters of expressionism, he never was a member of one of the expressionist painting groups, like “Die Brücke”, who influenced him. His work was considered degenerate art by the Nazis, and only after World War II did he regain recognition as one of the greatest German painters.
Average listal rating (1 ratings) 6  IMDB Rating 0

36. Johannes Itten

Johannes Itten – Der Bachsänger (1938)
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37. Alexej Von Jawlensky

Meditation, 1934
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38. Wilhelm Lehmbruck

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39. El Lissitzky

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40. Gerhard Marcks

In September 1925, the Bauhaus was relocated to Dessau, and its Pottery Workshop was discontinued. Marcks moved instead to the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) in Burg Giebichenstein near Halle. After the death of its director, Paul Thiersch, Marcks was named his replacement, a position he continued in until his dismissal in 1933. He was fired because his work was deemed unsuitable by the Nazis, with the result that several works were in the infamous exhibition of “degenerate art” in Munich in 1937, along with that of other Bauhaus artists, among them Herbert Bayer, Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer and Lothar Schreyer.
Despite such persecution, Marcks continued to live in Germany (in Mecklenburg) throughout World War II. In 1937, when twenty-four of his works were confiscated and destroyed by the Nazis, he was prohibited from exhibiting and threatened with being forbidden to work. During this period, he made several trips to Italy, where he worked in the Villa Romana in Florence and the Villa Massimo in Rome. In 1943, his studio in Berlin was bombed during an air raid, and many of his works destroyed.
Average listal rating (2 ratings) 8.5  IMDB Rating 0

41. Ewald Matare

Mataré was denounced as “degenerate” and expelled from his position. One of his sculptures “Die Katze” (The cat) was placed into the exhibition of shame and derision “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) staged by the Nazis in Munich, 1937.
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Average listal rating (2 ratings) 8.5  IMDB Rating 0

42. Ludwig Meidner

Average listal rating (1 ratings) 8  IMDB Rating 0

43. Jean Metzinger

Average listal rating (3 ratings) 7.3  IMDB Rating 0

44. László Moholy-Nagy

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45. Marg Moll

Average listal rating (13 ratings) 8.2  IMDB Rating 0

46. Piet Mondrian

Composition II, in Red, Blue and Yellow- Piet Mondrian (1930)
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47. Georg Muche

Thirteen Muche paintings and two prints were confiscated from museums by the Nazis and at least two of those works were displayed in the 1937 Munich exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art).
Average listal rating (2 ratings) 7  IMDB Rating 0

48. Otto Mueller

In 1937 the Nazis seized 357 of his works from German museums, since the pictures were considered to be degenerate art.
Average listal rating (1 ratings) 8  IMDB Rating 0

49. Ernst Wilhelm Nay

Two of his works were shown in the notorious exhibition of “Degenerate art” and Nay was forbidden to exhibit any longer. He wasn’t even allowed to paint nor buy ready made colours.
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50. Otto Pankok

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Pankok was declared a degenerate artist. Subsequently, 56 of his pictures were seized from museums, some of which were included in the infamous exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), mounted by the Nazis in Munich in 1937.

Degenerate art: Artists in the 1937 Munich show

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51. Max Pechstein

Beginning in 1933, Pechstein was vilified by the Nazis because of his art. 326 of his paintings were removed from German museums. 16 of his works were displayed in the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition of 1937. During this time, Pechstein went into seclusion in rural Pomerania.
Average listal rating (6 ratings) 7.7  IMDB Rating 0

52. Hans Richter

Filmstudie (Hans Richter, 1926)“We destroyed, we insulted, we despised—and we laughed. We laughed at everything. We laughed at ourselves just as we laughed at Emperor, King, and Country, fat bellies and baby-pacifiers. We took our laughter seriously; laughter was the only guarantee of the seriousness with which, on our voyage of self-discovery, we practised anti-art. But laughter was on the expression of our new discoveries, not their essence and not their purpose. Pandemonium, destruction, anarchy, anti-everything—why should we hold it in check? What of the pandemonium, destruction, anarchy, anti-everything, of the World War? How could Dada have been anything but destructive, aggressive, insolent, on principle and with gusto? In return for freely exposing ourselves to ridicule every day, we surely had a right to call the bourgeois a bulging haybag and the public a stall of oxen? We no longer contented ourselves with reforming pictorial art or versification. We would have nothing more to do with the sort of human or inhuman being who used reason as a juggernaut, crushing acres of corpses—as well as ourselves—beneath its wheels. We wanted to bring forward a new kind of human being, one whose contemporaries we could wish to be, free from the tyranny of rationality, of banality, of generals, fatherlands, nations, art-dealers, microbes, residence permits and the past.”-Hans Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-Art
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Average listal rating (1 ratings) 9  IMDB Rating 0

53. Emy Roeder

Average listal rating (1 ratings) 7  IMDB Rating 0

54. Christian Rohlfs

Average listal rating (1 ratings) 9  IMDB Rating 0

55. Edwin Scharff

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56. Oskar Schlemmer

He was obliged to leave the Breslau Academy when it was closed down in the wake of the financial crisis following the Wall Street Crash, and took up a professorship at Berlin’s Vereinigte Staatsschulen in 1932, which he held until 1933 when he was forced to resign due to pressure from the Nazis. The Schlemmers then moved to Eichberg near the Swiss border, and then to Sehringen before his pictures were displayed at the National Socialist exhibition of “Degenerate art.” The last ten years of his life were spent in a state of ‘inner emigration’. Max Bill, in his obituary of Schlemmer, wrote that it was ‘as if a curtain of silence’ had descended over him during this time.
Average listal rating (1 ratings) 6  IMDB Rating 0

57. Lothar Schreyer

In 1933 he converted to the Catholicism. During the 1930s, he was concerned with Christian mysticism and folk ideas, and ultimately the Nazi ideology, signing the Gelöbnis treuester Gefolgschaft, the 1933 declaration in which 88 German authors vowed faithful allegiance to Adolf Hitler. However, his work was included in the “Degenerate art” exhibition of 1937.
Average listal rating (2 ratings) 6.5  IMDB Rating 0

58. Kurt Schwitters

Kurt Schwitters
Merzbild Rossfett c.1919
Average listal rating (1 ratings) 10  IMDB Rating 0

59. Lasar Segall

The positive feedback considers Segall one of Brazil’s most influential modernist artists. Although, back in Europe, his work was considered degenerate and preposterous. Specifically in Germany, his artwork was no longer able to be shown in exhibits. Fascism was rising quickly in Germany and many believed Segall’s work to portray negatively on Europe’s economic status due to the largely acknowledged outbreak of war.
Average listal rating (1 ratings) 7  IMDB Rating 0

60. William Wauer

Average listal rating (3 ratings) 8.7  IMDB Rating 0

61. Gert Heinrich Wollheim

Immediately after Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 his works were declared degenerate art and many were destroyed. He fled to France and became active in the Resistance. He was one of the co-founders of the artists’ federation, the Union des Artistes Allemandes Libres. An organization of exiled German artists, it was founded in Paris in autumn 1937. Meanwhile, in Munich, three of his pictures were displayed in the defamatory Nazi exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) in 1937.
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Hitler’s ‘Degenerate Art’

In a new exhibit, Munich’s Neue Pinakothek shows off 16 sculptures deemed ‘degenerate’ by Adolf Hitler.

Parade on the ‘Day of German Art’ in front of the ‘House of German Art’ in 1939
Hitler and his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels put together an exhibit in 1937 of roughly 600 ‘degenerate’ works of art.
Hitler considered Edwin Scharff’s portrait of the pre-war actress Anni Mewes, shown here after restoration, to be degenerate.
image Edwin Scharff’s bust
‘Female Dancer,’ a circa 1930 statue by the female artist Marg Moll (1884-1977)

A prewar depiction of Marg Moll’s circa 1930 statue ‘Female Dancer,’ derided by Hitler and damaged in a fire in Berlin in 1944.


‘Anything that exposed individuality or put emotions at the fore or showed weakness were qualities considered “degenerate,”‘ says Matthias Wemhoff. That includes Emy Roeder’s statue of a vulnerable pregnant woman, shown here in its prewar state. Only the head has survived.

Accompanied by Adolf Hitler and Josef Goebbels, the Italian consul Dino Alfieri visits the ‘Great German Art Exhibition’ in the ‘House of German Art’ on the ‘Day of German Art’ on July 16, 1939.