Forever Young — Paths to the Present Day
Identity politics, digitalization, subjects in late capitalism: Drawing on the holdings of the Brandhorst Collection, the exhibition “Forever Young – 10 Years Museum Brandhorst” shows how contemporary art is connected to our lives.
We constantly asked ourselves: What is relevant right now?
– Patrizia Dander, Curator
When an exhibition from the holdings of the Brandhorst Collection bears the title “Forever Young,” one might be forgiven for asking: Did someone forget to insert a question mark? Or is it meant to be ironic? Especially since many of the works on show are several decades old, while important contemporary positions such as post-internet art are not represented. How “young” can such an exhibition be?
Patrizia Dander, chief curator at Museum Brandhorst, put together “Forever Young” and she explains what is meant by the title: “The point was not to merely show the most important works in our collection. Rather, the selection aims to create reference points to the present, to contemporary art production, but above all to social practices – and these can just as easily be works from the 1960s as more recent ones.” The works shown latch on to key issues of the here and now: feminism and identity politics, the role of subcultures, the discourse on the body, the militarization of society, the ever-increasing commercialization of all areas of life, and lastly digitalization. All of that appears in “Forever Young”; sometimes quite obviously and directly, sometimes as a quotation or a meta-discourse. “We constantly asked ourselves: What is relevant right now?” says Dander.
And thus it is only logical that pop plays such a key role in the exhibition. “The great thing about Pop Art is its generosity,” says Dander, “it is so obviously connected to life.” The preeminent figure – both in the context of art history and in the Brandhorst Collection – is of course Andy Warhol. He is represented in “Forever Young” with 45 pieces. “One can rightly call Warhol one of the most influential artists of the 20th century,” says Dander. “Many of his subjects are still highly topical to this day: his preoccupation with gender and queerness, with bodies and self-dramatization, with the circulation of images and goods.”
“Forever Young” aims to show a side of Warhol – and of Pop Art in general – that has not yet sufficiently entered public awareness: its political and sociocritical dimension. “When, in the mid-1970s, Warhol displays the life and the look of drag queens of color in his series ‘Ladies and Gentlemen,’ from today’s perspective that represents a decidedly identity-political – and thus surprisingly topical – statement,” says Dander. A direct line can be drawn from there to the 1990s, when Wolfgang Tillmans traced the utopian potential of the rave scene in his portraits. A similar all-time favorite to Warhol is Jean-Michel Basquiat. His works, influenced by phenomena such as graffiti, reflect – like the works by Keith Haring on view – the habitat of the metropolis, which was addressed by artists from the early 1980s on: its codes and styles, but also the constant changes to which it is subjected, as well as its increasing commercialization.
A second narrative of “Forever Young” deals with the precarious status of subjects in late capitalism. All works on this theme are grouped together in the large exhibition room on the lower level. In contrast to the ground floor of the museum, the intention here is not to define individual currents or trends, but rather to present a room with different artistic positions that are related to one another, and which move thematically between an obsession with youth and self-optimization, between sell-out and pathologization – and which therefore reflect a society in decay. For example, “Deep Social Space” (1989) by Cady Noland is a kind of stocktake of the insignia of American white trash: barbecue, US flag, crushed beer cans. The dark side of the USA is also addressed by Mike Kelley, who concentrates on youth culture and the trauma of applying discipline, both in schools and education.The room also contains one of the absolute favorites of Museum Brandhorst’s audience: Damien Hirst’s gigantic mirrored shelf with 27,639 meticulously arranged medical pills.
The third narrative of “Forever Young” is dedicated to a theme that already has its tradition at the Museum Brandhorst: contemporary painting. Recently, the exhibition “Painting 2.0” (2015/16) examined the role that painting can assume in the information age. Dander: “One theme is how body images have changed over time. Or how painting reacts to the reproductions of pictures in the media and the endless possibilities of the digital.” The spectrum ranges here from the early 1960s, for example Sigmar Polke’s subtly ironic painting “Goethes Werke” (1963) – the painted spines of the noble poet’s collected works, a well-heeled cultural insignia that is both dramatic and, in an age of online libraries, now obsolete – to the immediate present, for example when Kerstin Brätsch applies her signature brushstroke as if it had been sampled with a Photoshoptool.
“The wonderful thing about ‘Forever Young’ is that the exhibition offers something to every visitor,” says Dander. “Experts, for example, will have the opportunity to see works that are new to our collection in the Spot On rooms, which are dedicated to one single artist. Other visitors who are only just discovering contemporary art for themselves will also find it easy to engage, since all of the works are linked in one way or another to the present. So everyone will come across something that relates directly to their world.”