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>> Curator Jürgen Bock on "Drawing a Tension" / The Press on "Freisteller"
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"The Deutsche Bank Collection Was a Myth for Me"
Interview with Curator Jürgen Bock on the “Drawing a Tension” Exhibition

Even back when he was a student in the 1980s, Jürgen Bock found the art of Deutsche Bank "sensational". Now he has been engaged as an external curator to organize a show featuring works from the Deutsche Bank Collection at the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon. Bock has lived in Portugal for more than 20 years and has expert knowledge about the art scene there. In an interview with Filipa Oliveria from the Portuguese art magazine L + artes, the critic and director of the private art school Escola de Artes Visuais Maumaus talks about the exciting encounter between older and young artists and his understanding of art as “text.”

Teresa Gouveira, trustee of Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian,
Hermann-Josef Lamberti, Board member of Deutsche Bank and
curator Jürgen Bock at the opening of "Drawing a Tension"

Filipa Oliveira: How did you become an external curator for the Deutsche Bank Collection?

Jürgen Bock: The Deutsche Bank gave me access to the collection archive from the very beginning. Initially, I researched the collection based on all the publications issued by Deutsche Bank Art since the 1990s. Previously, I had only known the collection as a kind of “myth” from my student days in the 1980s. At that time, the foundation of the collection caused a sensation. The bank acquired two skyscrapers which were still being built in Frankfurt for its headquarters and decided to devote each floor to an individual artist. In the building’s elevator, every floor was provided with the name of an artist. This was all followed with a great deal of attention back then, particularly because it was the initiative of a bank and because an effort was being made to bring art closer to the bank’s employees as well as to customers. The works were designated for the bank’s offices and branches from the very outset. Even by today’s standards, the concept is very innovative.

Gerhard Richter, Besetztes Haus, 1990,
Deutsche Bank Collection

Is the exhibition oriented to a particular subject? What angle do you give the exhibition?

I find it difficult to work with themes, to take a word or sentence as a point of departure and to subordinate existing artworks to a concept derived from a theme, let alone from techniques used in the works. You often risk anticipating interpretations. This applies to the many interpretations of the artists represented in the collection as well as the general public’s reception of the show. During my research I discovered that the collection opens up a very interesting perspective of European art. And different emphases can be placed on important positions, as artists who use all kinds of different techniques are represented. For Drawing a Tension, being able to resort to the paintings, silkscreen prints, or photographs of one artist offered me the possibility of presenting that artist’s diversity based on the different techniques he or she works with. For example, it is strange to see that the prints and photographic works of Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke in the Deutsche Bank Collection convey a completely different picture of these artists’ political attitudes than their paintings. Having the opportunity to show one single artistic stance in different technical manifestations makes it possible to better illustrate to the audience the artistic discourses concealed behind certain positions. I try to do this by combining important aspects of art history with current positions.

Francis Alys, Study for la Bataille du Bien & du Mal, 2001,
Deutsche Bank Collection

How is the exhibition conceived?

The selection includes works from 1922 to the present, as well as recent purchases acquired from Portuguese galleries specifically for this exhibition. The visitor takes a journey through 20th-century art history up to the present day. You could say that key figures of the modern era are shown whose works were motivated by utopian notions, for instance, of enlightened people. At the same time, younger positions are represented which transform these critical utopias into criticism of utopia. Among these artists are ones who set self-examination in relation to their artistic practice, to the modernist zeitgeist, and to the upheavals of the last third of the 20th century.

Albers, Josef, Study for Homage to the Square, o.J.,
Deutsche Bank Collection

A stroll through the exhibition shows different groups of artists and offers the possibility of identifying correspondences and tensions between the works and positions, not only within the groups but also in a comparison between different groups. The first group shows works from the 1960s to the present that are characterized by poetic concepts, including works by Francis Alÿs, Heimo Zobernig, Marcel Broodthaers, Blinky Palermo, and James Lee Byars. These works are quite accessible, very humorous, and minimalist in their own way. The second group brings together the most important positions of the postwar period in Germany, which are very strongly represented in the collection: Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Hanne Darboven, but also Martin Kippenberger. These works are characterized by irony and an engagement with the political situation – a reaction to the contradictions in divided postwar Germany. The last group consists of artists who focus more on the continuity of history than on historical breaches. Perhaps this group particularly challenges viewers, since the latter are called on to see the established and better-known artists in a new light in connection with younger positions.

Marcel Broodthaers, Huit projet's, 1971,
Deutsche Bank Collection

In addition, the three groups seem to be supplemented in the exhibition by four separate constellations occupied by individual artists.

That’s true. For example, a separate area is devoted to the works of Günther Förg. Förg’s photographs of modernist architecture can also be interpreted as abstractions which have had a decisive impact on the myth of modern utopias. Also belonging to this area are the works of Markus Lüpertz, the extreme artist personality who dealt effectively with the cult of genius in art back in the 1960s. His works from that period celebrate the invention of the new.

Günther Förg, Ohne Titel, 2006,
Deutsche Bank Collection

The object by Thomas Hirschhorn, “Musée Précaire Albinet (Lighter),” marks a further area. To my mind, this work represents an attempt to rescue the great European utopias that fell victim to the virtually endless relativization theories of the postmodern period. It serves as a leitmotif to the exhibition. The third area is devoted to Joseph Beuys. His unique position in postwar Germany concludes Drawing a Tension. Beuys succeeded in reconciling his interest in the "social project" of modern art with the genius myth and at the same time made his political voice heard …

Günther Förg, IG-Farben-Haus XII, 1996,
Deutsche Bank Collection

… while Karin Sander’s work, which forms the fourth distinct area of the show, is a rather clear answer to Marcos Corrales’ exhibition architecture.

Corrales’ installations are very important for the exhibition, because they hold together the wide spectrum of techniques and the different frames and formats of the works. The exhibition architecture with its balanced proportions and walls made of MDF panels manages to inscribe something equal into the very dominant and open spaces of the Gulbenkian Museum. At first glance it seems as though the two architectures complement one another. But a closer look reveals that Corrales calls the existing architecture into question, in keeping with modernism. He achieves this particularly through the choice of material, through how he deals with it, and due to the fact that he sets the walls asymmetrically against the stringency of the space.

Drawing a Tension at the Gulbenkian Museum, installation view

While Sanders’ wall work is created specifically for Drawing a Tension and is related to the proportions of the exhibition architecture, in its clarity it seems to oppose it at the same time. The high-gloss polished surface stands in a relationship of tension with the surrounding architecture and with the artworks placed nearby, which are reflected in artist’s work.

Could you say something more about your concept of mixing older positions with younger ones?

The entire exhibition calls on the viewer to put the works exhibited in a further context. The tensions between older and younger works are supposed to help you disregard the classical art-historical approach and thus prompt new interpretations. Many different artists are subsumed under this aspect (be it a work or a piece), including Hans Arp, Rosemarie Trockel, João Penalva, Pedro Barateiro, Joseph Albers, Olav Christopher Jenssen, Otto Freundlich, Eva Hesse, Max Ernst, Zoe Leonard, Maria Lassnig, and Louise Bourgeois.

Maria Lassnig, Ohne Titel, 2005,
Deutsche Bank Collection

I hope that the audience, similar to Roland Barthes’ distinction between "text" and "work", will discover facets of "text" in the works of the above-named artists – that is, find new interpretation possibilities going beyond the usual reception as completed works of art history. I propose to the audience a reading in which the artist steps out of his work, thus permitting the viewer a contemporary perception in which he himself with his own wealth of experience becomes co-author of the work in question. In the end this makes it easier for him to question the meaning ascribed to the works today.

Pedro Barateiro, Escultura de Casa, 2008
© Pedro Barateiro
Deutsche Bank Collection

The interview was conducted by Filipa Oliveira initially for L+arte.

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