Classical Modernism – Constructivism and Concrete Art
The group of Classical Modern works in the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection consists primarily of paintings, but also contains sculptures, wall objects and graphics. They present an image of the development of art up until the 1960s, relating mainly to South-West Germany (the Stuttgart avant-garde—from Hölzel to Bauhaus—the ‘concrete’ artists: the Ulm Hochschule für Gestaltung, the Zurich Concrete Artists, links with ‘De Stijl’). Two compositions by Adolf Hölzel date from the first decade of the 20th century, thus forming the chronological starting-point of the collection. Hölzel, who was appointed to the Stuttgart Academy of Fine Arts in 1905, taught some of the pupils who were later to achieve the greatest distinction in his class at the academy: Willi Baumeister, Camille Graeser, Otto Meyer-Amden, Oskar Schlemmer and Johannes Itten; they are represented by work groups or by key single works. Schlemmer—who has a particularly strong presence in the Collection with nine works created over three decades— worked from 1921-28 as a teacher at the Weimar and the Dessau Bauhaus.
Josef Albers, whose biography was also significantly shaped by study and teaching at the Bauhaus, emigrated to the USA, where he became one of the leading figures in education, in 1933. Four works in the Collection illustrate the important stages of his development during his American period. Max Bill is another key artist in the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection. He studied at the Dessau Bauhaus under Schlemmer, Kandinsky and Klee, and was co-founder and first director of the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm. Bill became a member of the ‘abstraction—création’ group, founded in Paris in 1931, which also included, among others, the artists Arp, Baumeister and Vantongerloo, who also feature in the Collection. With Camille Graeser, Verena Loewensberg and Richard Paul Lohse, the last-named of these form the core of the ‘Zurich concrete’ artists, whose spokesman and chief theorist was Max Bill, whose tenure extended into the 1960s. Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart— a member of ‘De Stijl’, briefly a student at the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau, co-founder of ‘die abstrakten hannover’, friend of Bill and later a teacher at the Academy in Ulm—is connected with all these circles and can be seen as the most important pioneer of Concrete Art in Germany.
Informel, Figurative Painting, the ‘Karlsruhe school’
Informel tendencies are well represented in the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection by names like Bernd Berner, Peter Brüning, Karl Fred Dahmen, Gerhard Hoehme, Horst Kuhnert, Uwe Lausen, Georg Meistermann, Fred Thieler and Fritz Winter. The further gestural developments of the abstract school can be seen in the work of the Stuttgart painters Rudolf Schoof and K.R.H. Sonderborg. The Collection also contains its antithesis, the figurative counter-movement to Informel as represented by Stuttgart artists Leonhard Schmidt and Manfred Pahl (Wintersberger and Willikens also belong to this line of development), and the figurative and expressive Karlsruhe School, with its ‘father figure’ HAP Grieshaber and his pupils Horst Antes, Dieter Krieg and Walter Stöhrer.
The Stuttgart avant-garde
This group of young artists came together in the early 1960s, having emerged from the Informel scene. They developed a type of large-format color-field painting that represented an object lesson in breaking open the traditional picture format. At the same time, they endeavored to connect with architecture and town planning. Names connected with this group include Otto Herbert Hajek, Georg Karl Pfahler, Thomas Lenk and Lothar Quinte. Their artworks were shown alongside those of their American contemporaries in the Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart in 1967. This epoch-making exhibition was called ‘Formen der Farbe’ (Forms of Color).
‘Zero’ and ‘Neue Tendenzen’ (New Tendencies) – European movements connected to international minimalism – are represented in the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection by names such as Enrico Castellani, Getulio Alviani, Gerhard von Graevenitz, Dadamaino, Jan Henderikse, Heinz Mack, Almir Mavignier, François Morellet, Jan Schoonhoven and Klaus Staudt. Isolated German figures within this spectrum – figures connected with various movements but who also set themselves apart from them – include Rupprecht Geiger, Günter Fruhtrunk and Hermann de Vries. These figures have definitely left their mark on the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection with important groups of work.
Minimalism in Europe and America
The major abstract movements of the 1950s – 1970s era are characterized by a return to the basics of concrete, constructive and minimalist art, although this took different forms in Europe and America. Connections between European structural- constructive painting and American tendencies— Minimal Art, Color Field Painting, Hard Edge, Op Art—can plainly be seen in the Collection in works by Adolf Fleischmann, Hartmut Böhm, Andreas Brandt, Ulrich Erben, Gottfried Honegger, Karl Gerstner, Hermann Glöckner, Manfred Mohr and Anton Stankowski.
Exceptional examples of minimalist European art are represented in the Collection by groups of work by Peter Roehr, Charlotte Posenenske, Hanne Darboven, Eckhard Schene, Franz Erhard Walther and Ulrich Rückriem. Important positions in minimalism are represented by painting from Scandinavia. Works by Eastern European and Asian artists have also been added to the Collection: Henryk Stazewski, Poul Gernes, Tadaaki Kuwayama, Keiji Usami, Arakawa/Gins, Albert Merz et al. There are artworks in the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection by Josef Albers, Hermann Glöckner, Richard Paul Lohse or Vordemberge-Gildewart that anticipate European minimalism. One point of reference for reductionist painting in the USA is a picture painted by Robert Ryman from 1969. In parallel with this well-established core area, the Collection has addressed predecessors—practically unknown in Europe—of American minimalist painting; it has acquired artworks by artists including Gene Davis, John McLaughlin, Jo Baer, David Novros, Karl Benjamin, Marcia Hafif, Oli Sihvonen, Ilya Bolotowsky, Alexander Liberman, Larry Zox, Frederick Hammersley and Mary Corse. British minimalist representatives from the 1960s have been added since 2003 – artists like Jeremy Moon, Robin Denny and Michael Kidner. Their artwork represents the intellectual bedrock for ‘younger’ art philosophies also present in the Collection, by artists such as Greg Bogin, Jens Wolf, Michael Zahn, Martin Gerwers, Martin Boyce and Natalia Stachon.
Abstract tendencies in Contemporary Art
The Mercedes-Benz Art Collection contains prestigious high-caliber works by figures connected with major artistic movements and groupings within the 20th century’s abstract movements. The aim in the field of contemporary art is on the one hand to make it possible to look at one focal point of the Collection—the reduced, constructive-concrete and minimalist directions in contemporary art—and to show how it operated in distinct areas and continues to make an impact in the present. On the other hand, works by the younger generation demonstrate key movements in painting in the 1980s and 1990s. The latter group includes work by the generation of artists born around 1945/1950 – Ulrich Erben, Alfons Lachauer, Christa Näher, Günter Scharein, Artur Stoll, Ford Beckmann, Dieter Villinger, Sean Scully and Yuko Shiraishi.
The link between the non-representational positions of postwar Modernism and the multi-media field of contemporary art in the Collection is made largely by a group of artists born circa 1930/45: John M Armleder, Charlotte Posenenske, Nam June Paik, Walter De Maria, Ulrich Rückriem, Auke de Vries, Daniel Buren, Roman Signer, Franz Erhard Walther, Imi Knoebel, Hanne Darboven, Bernar Venet, Olivier Mosset, Michael Heizer, Giulio Paolini, Peter Roehr and Joseph Kosuth. They all worked to create a new definition of the concept of the artwork, going against the traditional genre boundaries and regarding the viewers’ mental and/or physical activity as part of the work process. They resisted the dematerializations and politically motivated deconstructions of the 1960s and 1970s, asserting that the picture in its broadest definition is a viable contemporary concept. Gia Edzgveradze, Günther Förg and Bertrand Lavier should be mentioned in this context. Like the abovementioned artists, they are mainly represented in the Collection by groups of works or important individual ones.
The work of artists like John M Armleder, Gerwald Rockenschaub, Peter Halley and Andrea Zittel draws on the fund of position-definitions and rejections, concepts and polemics, attempts to eradicate and to rescue the concept of the picture in the 20th century. What they effectively do is to review the stylistic canon of Modernism from the more distanced perspective of the Pop and Fluxus generation, revealing its historical and ideological decisiveness in Neo-Geo images, objects and sculptures, posters and video works.
Three major “young art” strands in the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection connect with this and with the above-mentioned artists (Paik, Mosset et al.), all of whom overlap with and complement each other: the tendencies of international Minimalism are further explored in the work of Andrea Fraser, Karin Sander, Krysten Cunningham, Martin Gerwers, Gail Hastings, Greg Bogin, Andreas Schmid, Michael Zahn, Gerold Miller, Sylvan Lionni, Martin Boyce, George Henry Longly, Rupert Norfolk, Monika Sosnowska, Natalia Stachon, Leonor Antunes, Eva Berendes and Alicia Kwade. The transition from the traditional panel painting to the wall-related object and the removal of the boundaries between the genres are addressed thematically in works by Sylvie Fleury, Bernhard Kahrmann, Monika Brandmeier, Nikolaus Koliusis, Tobias Hauser, Silke Radenhausen, Eva Maria Reiner, Madeleine Boschan, Mathieu Mercier and Saâdane Afif. Substantial research into the field of new pictorial media has been conducted by Pietro Sanguineti, Markus Huemer, Isabelle Heimerdinger, Takehito Koganezawa, Tacita Dean, Albert Weis, Katja Davar, Philippe Parreno, Marcellvs L., Shilpa Gupta, Berni Searle, Sharif Waked, Maya Zak, Ilit Azoulay and Sigalit Landau. Aspects of conceptual tendencies from circa 1970 to the present day can be recognized in the collection in the form of works by artists such as Dan Graham, Michel Verjux, Jonathan Monk, Lasse Schmidt Hansen, Andreas Reiter Raabe and Wolfgang Berkowski.
Internationalization of the collection
Between 2000 and 2010, exemplary artworks and artwork groups by artists from Australia (including John Nixon, Gail Hastings and Ian Burn) and from Asia, South Africa, India and the USA joined the collection. In 2012, a group of contemporary Israeli artists appeared; these included Ilit Azoulay, Sigalit Landau, Sharif Waked and Amit Berlowitz, who contributed video artworks and photography artworks to the collection. For the ‘Conceptual Tendencies’ exhibition, a group of works by the Scottish concept artist and 2011 Turner Prize winner Martin Boyce was acquired. Works by the French artist Michel Verjux and Philippe Parreno (originally from Algeria) extend the conceptual area of the collection. Natalia Stachon, Alicia Kwade and Monika Sosnowska are the first young Polish artists to be represented in the collection. The primary focus for the acquisition of art in 2014/2015 was on contemporary art from China.