In the Fog of the Present
On how the Brandhorst Collection is approaching the present – and searching for what will be important in the future.
“It is very clear that the age of the big male gestures is coming to an end.”
– Achim Hochdörfer
Art history always involves something amounting to historical far-sightedness. It is not hard to name the great upheavals and trends of the past. However, the closer one gets to the present, the more difficult it is to see developments. But that is precisely the mission of the Brandhorst Collection, what Armin Zweite, the first director of the museum, called the “historicization of the present”. The collection, which was established by Udo and Anette Brandhorst in the late 1960s before continuing as a foundation from 1993, contains many of the trends that significantly shaped the art of the last few decades: Pop Art and Minimal Art, Arte Povera and Neo-Avantgarde. “The fact that it has become difficult since 2000 to name specific schools is intrinsic to the matter at hand,” says Achim Hochdörfer, Director of the Museum Brandhorst. The formation of artistic movements, the sequence of clearly distinguishable styles and themes, are themselves a historical phenomenon. Nevertheless, tendencies can still be recognized, and these can also be seen in the collection.
“If I had to choose one piece from our collection that I believe captures the essence of the zeitgeist of the 2000s, it would probably be Seth Price’s ‘Vintage Bomber’ from 2006, a gold-colored, vacuum-formed plastic cast of a bomber jacket. In the 1990s there were still utopian approaches, such as Wolfgang Tillmans’ ‘Rave’ pictures. The 2000s were much darker; 9/11 set the tone.” Seth Price’s bomber jacket refers on the one hand to the lightness of the 1990s, to the playing with identity through fashion: bomber jackets played a decisive role in several different subcultures. “But then it also looks like a death mask, the swan song of subcultures hollowed out by capitalism,” says Hochdörfer. The shape and the folds suggest the human body, which however, is tellingly absent. The empty bomber jacket lies there like a second skin. “Ultimately, the gold makes us think of the crazy art market, which exploded at the beginning of the 2000s, and all that remained was the coveted consumer product, pure commodity fetish.” In this manner, many topics that were addressed in the works of the 2000s are compressed into this one artwork: bodies and fashion and political disenchantment all wrapped in one.
“One of the great trends of the 2000s was the return of painting,” says Hochdörfer. “More specifically: this was the period in which women, after decades, indeed centuries, finally found their way into the large museum collections.” This development is astonishing for many reasons. Art history is a male domain – from the Glyptothek to the Alte Pinakothek to the Neue Pinakothek, our museums are inhabited almost exclusively by male artists. Post-war modernist painting increasingly developed into a macho medium. From Jackson Pollock to the Junge Wilde, canvases were filled with large male gestures and spattered paint. “The age of these large gestures was gone by the 2000s – and finally attention was redirected to the works of female painters, who of course had always been there.” Thus in recent years, works by Charlene von Heyl, Amy Sillman, Monika Baer, Jacqueline Humphries, R.H. Quaytman and Laura Owens have been acquired in depth, while Kerstin Brätsch and Jutta Koether were each given large individual shows with a focus on painting. Another surprising aspect of this development is that painting, actually quite a traditional, indeed conservative medium, suddenly appeared very modern – and posed the decisive questions of our time. “Naturally it would not do justice to these artists to simply categorize them merely into a movement or school,” believes Hochdörfer. “For one thing, they each have highly individual approaches. But it is possible to name common themes that are addressed in different ways: one’s own body as a battle scene of society and of one’s own sensitivity, the enormous issue of digitalization, which is addressed by Kerstin Brätsch, for instance, with her Photoshop brushstroke, or Jacqueline Humphries, whose ‘Blacklight Paintings’ radiate like screens.”
But this development is far from being over: “That is clearly illustrated by our latest acquisition,” says Hochdörfer, “about which I am extremely pleased. At the moment Jana Euler is being celebrated internationally, and justifiably so. Her work is both accessible and sustainable.” The Brandhorst Collection purchased two of her latest paintings from the series “Great White Fear”. In one of the pictures, a great white shark, shoots out of the water, even at first glance clearly a penis; in the second picture, another shark slumps feebly and full of self-doubt. “Very humorously, the picture lampoons the whole phallocracy of old white men,” says Hochdörfer. “It is very clear that the age of the big male gestures is coming to an end. Such a thing can only be welcomed.”