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Godmothers of Art
Sadie Coles and Bärbel Grässlin talk about their favorite works from the Deutsche Bank Collection

Their galleries in London and Frankfurt are among the most important in Europe. In addition, Sadie Coles and Bärbel Grässlin have advised the acquisitions commission of the Deutsche Bank Collection for several years. As godmothers for the anniversary show "25", the gallery owners have chosen their personal favorites from the more than 50,000 artworks in the Collection. Oliver Koerner von Gustorf asked them about what motivated their choices.

I just kind of love these works...
Sadie Coles on her choices for "25"

Laura Owens, Untitled , 1999
Deutsche Bank Collection, © Laura Owens,
Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: What was behind your choices for the exhibition?

Sadie Coles: With my choices – Laura Owens, Francis Alys and Sigmar Polke –I wanted to show the range of people the bank has collected. I’m starting with a very early and important – and obviously German – Polke drawing. The Collection has traveled a very long way since then, not just in terms of youth but also in terms of nationality. Laura Owens is one of the very best young American artists working on paper and Francis Alys seems to be in the middle of that. He is a conceptual artist but also works on paper. And I just kind of love these works.

Do you feel that these young artists have anything in common?

No, not particularly; other than what they make is very, very beautiful, Owens and Alys have a different kind of practice. That’s why I picked both of them, because I wanted to show two different approaches to works on paper. Because ultimately, the Frances Alys ones relate to his other activities – film, performance and sculpture – whereas Laura Owens has quite an academic and playful approach to the process of making paintings and works on paper.

You concentrated on drawings and watercolors; why didn’t you choose any photography?

I just tried to think of my favorite things in the Collection and these artists are up there. I was limited by numbers. It was hard to choose, because there are lots of fantastic works in the Collection.

You have emphasized that the spirit of the Collection is especially represented by the acquisition of artists’ early works. What is the special appeal of those artworks?

If you see early works by any artist, you get a very strong indication of which direction she or he will take in the future. From an academic point of view they are incredibly informative. If the Bank buys the early works of an artist on the primary market they tend to be reasonably priced and they give the Bank the ability to begin to represent an artist quite well for a lesser amount of money than at the height of their career.

Is there any way to recognize the potential of a young artist?

Sigmar Polke, Untitled, 1968
Deutsche Bank Collection, © Sigmar Polke

If we knew that, we would all be very, very rich (laughs). Obviously it’s all a gamble. That’s the nature of it, but that is also what makes it exciting. Of course you apply certain criteria, you have certain safeguards. You take advice from informed colleagues and acquire as much knowledge as possible before making your choice.

You have advised the Bank for a few years now. Is there something special you have to consider concerning the corporate identity of the bank?

There are lots of criteria that you have to address. The basic one is the limit of your acquisition budget, and the briefing that the Bank has given you. What has changed over the years is that there was a time in the history of the Collection when they have mainly concentrated on German artists. But that has changed a lot, even in the short time I have been involved. There has been a desire to find artists from specific geographical places that have something to do with the Bank. They might tell me they are interested in young artists from Los Angeles, South America or Japan. That reflects the global concept of the Bank. Then there are criteria which have simply to do with practicality. The works for the Bank need to be easy to display and easy to maintain. You can’t have terribly fragile or large-scale things, because the works need to be moved around and installed in peoples’ offices. And there are also political criteria. The works are going to be in this corporate environment. You can’t have things that could be read as offensive.

Didn’t that change a little bit?

Yes; in fact, they have some things that are pretty racy, considering they are a big corporate bank, but nevertheless there have to be some restraints in terms of sexual content.

What has been the most exciting acquisition you made for the bank?

Things that are hard to get are pretty exciting. Francis Alys is a good example. Somebody who is young and for whom there is a lot of demand – like Wilhelm Sasnal.

Francis Alys, L’adoration des images, 2001
Deutsche Bank Collection, © Francis Alys, Yvon Lambert, Paris

What are your hopes and expectations for the next 25 years of the Deutsche Bank Collection?

That it continues to reflect developments in contemporary art as they happen. That the collection stays relevant; that it doesn’t get fossilized and doesn’t become a collection that is only about a particular time period. That it continues to look at new artists in a focused way and in depth, so that the best younger artists are represented by more than one or two works from a single moment in their career.

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