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In-Depth Collecting

Jacqueline Humphries, 31/13, 2013, UAB 882aus der Sammlung Brandhorst

Introducing text

From the very outset, the Brandhorst Collection has concentrated on individual artists, often acquiring works from their different creative phases. This philosophy allows the museum to examine precisely the development of individual artist positions, and to display them.


“We want to show our audience how artistic positions can change over time, what influences and currents impact upon their art.”
– Jacob Proctor


Generally, an artwork on a white wall is initially a silent puzzle. Without any context or information, all the viewer can do is think about what he or she is looking at – shapes, colors, material, and motif – and draw associations. On the lower floor of the Brandhorst, for example, a Silver Painting by the American painter Jacqueline Humphries (*1960), entitled “31/13” is currently hanging as part of the exhibition “Forever Young”. It is part of a series in which Humphries mixed black oil paint with silver industrial paint and applied it to the canvas. This resulted in works that both absorb light and at the same time reflect it, in which the viewer shimmers or disappears in a blur. If you want, you can read many things into this picture. Landscapes, clouds ripped open by the storm, a rainy city from above. This kind of observation is legitimate, but of course it is also radically subjective.


This path to art does not obstruct another approach; indeed, both methods can ideally complement each other. Because: what one cannot initially see in the individual work is the route taken by Humphries in creating it – the stages in her creative work that are united in this piece, the discourse they continue, what she is citing, or from what she is demarcating herself. Intangible works also reflect issues, personal experiences and – unifying both – a special development. The way in which Humphries constantly generates surfaces in repeatedly new variations using paintbrush, canvas and paints, which play with light and perspective and in which viewers can lose themselves: all of this is an expression of a progression. An artwork is always the intermediate step between the last and the next work, part of a development. The Brandhorst Collection has always been interested in the way artists develop, right from the very beginning. “We are interested in in-depth collecting,” says Jacob Proctor, curator at Museum Brandhorst. “We focus intensively on individual artist positions. That sets us apart from many other public museums, which tend to cover styles and eras.” The aim of this approach is to unite as many work phases by an artist in the collection as possible. This allows us to show and examine the developments they have gone through, the common thread through their work, or when and why it breaks, and perhaps even allows us to predict what we can still expect from him or her. The in-depth concentration on individual artist positions is the foundation of the Brandhorst Collection. The museum owns the most comprehensive range of work by Cy Twombly (1928 – 2011) in the world, and the largest collection of pieces by Andy Warhol (1928 – 1987) outside the USA. But the collection also has five decades’ worth of work by Alex Katz (*1927), as well as a large inventory of work by Mike Kelley (1954 – 2012), Seth Price (*1973), Albert Oehlen (*1954) and Jacqueline Humphries. The philosophy of in-depth collecting, and the associated discussion of artist positions in their development, is also expressed in the museum’s exhibitions.


In “Forever Young”, for example, there are “Spot On” rooms that are generally dedicated to one artist (sometimes two positions are presented), showing blocks of work that have recently been acquired by the Brandhorst. Until the beginning of September they hosted Jacqueline Humphries’ “Black Light Paintings”, and until 7 January works by Michael Krebber (*1954) and R.H. Quaytman (*1961). But also the design of many exhibitions in recent years has followed the approach of in-depth examination. Artists such as Kerstin Brätsch (*1979), Jutta Koether (*1958) and Seth Price were shown throughout most of the building, providing an extensive insight into their complex of works. “It is of course a statement, devoting so many resources, time and space to one artist. But we want to show our audience how artistic positions can change over time, what influences and currents impact upon their art,” says Jacob Proctor.


The elaborate exhibitions are accompanied by serious academic monographs that analyze and examine each work from different perspectives. The aim is nothing less than to create standard works: who ever wishes to study Koether or Price simply cannot ignore these compendiums. Furthermore, thanks to the spectrum of individual artist positions the Brandhorst can always show how certain discourses reflect the contemporary present in the works over the years. Or how artists comment on these events, or how their artistic approach relates to currents in contemporary art. This will once again be the case in the next large exhibition in the Museum after “Forever Young”, in 2020. The Scottish artist Lucy McKenzie (*1977) moves between installations and painting. She often applies her pictures to objects – furniture, for example, recalling Art Nouveau –   and then covering them in painted canvases. Thus a mattress attains the texture of marble, producing an illusionary interplay of hardness and softness, of expectation and disillusionment, of the apparently real unreality, for which McKenzie has been celebrated for many years. We will be taken on a journey to McKenzie’s world, in which places emerge from a combination of interior design, fashion, and classical painting, providing docking sites for countless associations.