Classical Modernism – Constructivism and Concrete Art

Josef Albers, Study for Homage to the Square: ›Opalescent‹, 1962

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 BaumeisterCamille GraeserOtto Meyer-AmdenOskar 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’


Peter Brüning, Ohne Titel, 1962

Informel tendencies are well represented in the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection by names like Bernd BernerPeter 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—New Tendencies—Minimalism


Heinz Mack, Lichtfeld II, 1966-67

‘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 AlvianiGerhard von Graevenitz, DadamainoJan Henderikse, Heinz MackAlmir MavignierFrançois MorelletJan 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 FleischmannHartmut BöhmAndreas BrandtUlrich ErbenGottfried HoneggerKarl GerstnerHermann GlöcknerManfred Mohr and Anton Stankowski.

Exceptional examples of minimalist European art are represented in the Collection by groups of work by Peter RoehrCharlotte PosenenskeHanne DarbovenEckhard ScheneFranz 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 StazewskiPoul Gernes, Tadaaki KuwayamaKeiji UsamiArakawa/GinsAlbert Merz et al. There are artworks in the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection by Josef AlbersHermann GlöcknerRichard 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 DavisJohn McLaughlinJo BaerDavid Novros, Karl Benjamin, Marcia HafifOli SihvonenIlya 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 WolfMichael Zahn, Martin GerwersMartin Boyce and Natalia Stachon.

Abstract tendencies in Contemporary Art


Sean Scully, Red Night, 1997

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 NäherGünter Scharein, Artur Stoll, Ford Beckmann, Dieter VillingerSean 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 ArmlederCharlotte Posenenske, Nam June PaikWalter De MariaUlrich RückriemAuke de VriesDaniel Buren, Roman SignerFranz Erhard WaltherImi KnoebelHanne DarbovenBernar VenetOlivier MossetMichael HeizerGiulio PaoliniPeter 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 EdzgveradzeGünther 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 ArmlederGerwald RockenschaubPeter 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.


Pietro Sanguineti, (now), 2001

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 SanderKrysten Cunningham, Martin GerwersGail HastingsGreg Bogin, Andreas SchmidMichael ZahnGerold MillerSylvan LionniMartin Boyce, George Henry Longly, Rupert NorfolkMonika SosnowskaNatalia StachonLeonor  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 KahrmannMonika Brandmeier, Nikolaus KoliusisTobias Hauser, Silke Radenhausen, Eva Maria Reiner, Madeleine BoschanMathieu Mercier and Saâdane Afif. Substantial research into the field of new pictorial media has been conducted by Pietro SanguinetiMarkus HuemerIsabelle Heimerdinger, Takehito Koganezawa, Tacita Dean, Albert Weis, Katja DavarPhilippe Parreno, Marcellvs L., Shilpa GuptaBerni SearleSharif 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 VerjuxJonathan MonkLasse Schmidt HansenAndreas Reiter Raabe and Wolfgang Berkowski.

Internationalization of the collection


Martin Boyce, exhibition view Mercedes-Benz Contemporary, Berlin, 2011/12

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 AzoulaySigalit LandauSharif 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 StachonAlicia 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.


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