The Mercedes-Benz Art Collection is strongly committed to diversity. Its collecting practice is resolutely geared towards promoting international artists and the diversity of cultures, orientations, and views. Between 2000 and 2010, exemplary works and groups of works by artists from Australia (John Nixon, Gail Hastings, Ian Burn, and others), Asia, South Africa, India, and the United States were added to our Collection. In 2012, a group of contemporary Israeli artists found their way into the Art Collection, including Ilit Azoulay, Sigalit Landau, Sharif Waked, and Amit Berlowitz, who complement the Collection in the fields of video art and photography. A group of works by Scottish conceptual artist and 2011 Turner Prize winner Martin Boyce was acquired for the exhibition Conceptual Tendencies. Works by Frenchmen Michel Verjux and Philippe Parreno, originally from Algeria, also expand the Collection in the conceptual realm. With Natalia Stachon, Alicja Kwade, and Monika Sosnowska, contemporary Polish women artists are also represented.
Contemporary Art from China
One focus of the acquisition policy in 2014/2015 was Chinese contemporary art. Since then, around 40 works or groups of works by around 20 Chinese artists have added an essential dimension to the international art in the Collection. The impetus for this new collecting focus arose from the consistent and long-term internationalization of the Collection. Chinese contemporary art began as an independent development in the mid-1980s, which is reflected in the acquisition of a work by Zhang Peili, a pioneer of conceptual and video art in China. Brown Book No.1, 1988, is the documentation of one of Peili’s early mail art projects. Other already established artists from whom works from the period around 1990 to 2010 were acquired include Qiu Zhijie, Cao Fei, Yin Xiuzhen, Liu Zheng, and Ding Yi. The focus of our acquisitions is clearly in the area of recent work being created in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Guangdong (including Hong Kong), as well as from artists born around the years 1980–85.
Art as Network: Research and Exhibitions Concerning the Historical and Contemporary Readymade
In 2016, the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection, together with Marcel Duchamp expert Katharina Neuburger, initiated research for a symposium and publication of the Mercedes Art Collection. Under the theme “Duchamp as Curator,” Duchamp’s curatorial activities were brought into focus and their relevance to his artistic work examined. Based on this research and comprehensively expanded, a first publication was created in 2019, which presents in chronological order Duchamp’s curatorial activities as they related to exhibitions, collections, and publications.
Duchamp’s first written mention of the term “readymade” in 1916, as well as the first exhibition of the early readymade Fountain in 1917 in New York, were the occasion to give the concept of the readymade in the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection further theoretical and practical, exhibition-based foundations in 2016/17. On the Subject of the Readymade, or Using a Rembrandt as an Ironing Board: Works from the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection selected by Bethan Huws on the occasion of 100 years of the Readymade was the title of the first presentation in the exhibition space Mercedes-Benz Contemporary Berlin concerning this theme. The Welsh conceptual artist Bethan Huws had conceived a site-specific project and an artist’s book with exemplary works from the Collection. With the exhibition The Duchamp Effect: Readymade—Works from the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection as guests at Kunsthalle Göppingen (2016/17), the historical significance of the concept of the readymade was explored further. The theme was taken up again in 2020 at Mercedes-Benz Contemporary Berlin with 31: Women(Exhibition Concept after Marcel Duchamp, 1943). Accompanying the exhibition, also in cooperation with Katharina Neuburger, was the publication Marcel Duchamp and Women: Friendship, Cooperation, Network. The book opens an unusual perspective on the “artist of the century” Marcel Duchamp. Based on art historical essays and biographical portraits of some 80 female protagonists from early modernism up to the 1960s who shaped Duchamp’s life and work, the book discusses key initiatives and collaborations that accompanied and inspired his artistic projects. In addition, the book offers translations into German of texts by women that were previously only discoverable in remote places or available only in French or English. The volume traces the social and cultural impact of women who helped shape their time in Europe and the United States as collectors, gallery owners, fellow artists, and authors. A summary discussion of the topic is provided on our website by five digital Lecture Talks.
Artists of the African Diaspora
Since 2019, the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection has been exploring the movement of Afrofuturism. At the center of this movement, which is particularly influential for the African diaspora in the United States, is a return to the cultural traditions of Black people. Related to this is the movement of Africanfuturism, which emerged around 2013. This latter movement focuses on the indissoluble connection between Black people on the African continent and the globally disseminated people of the Black diaspora, and more specifically on the cultural, literary, artistic, and political traditions that have developed in Africa. The impetus of the movement, which is sustained most essentially by people with African roots, is characterized by the strong will to intervene in the shaping of the future that originates in a knowledge of one’s own point of view and from a cultural rootedness. Africanfuturism lends to this dynamic, strong, and positive perspective musical, literary, and artistic images and formulates scientific, philosophical, technical, and economic reorientations.
The Mercedes-Benz Art Collection has accompanied these recent cultural developments via its cooperation with and inclusion of artists of Black African origin, some of whom live on the continent and others in the diaspora. These include Mbali Dhlamini (ZA), Zanele Muholi (ZA), Nnenna Okore (AUS/NGR/USA), Berni Searle (ZA), Lerato Shadi (ZA), Buhlebezwe Siwani (ZA/NL), Adejoke Tugbiyele (USA/NGR/BF), and Kayode Ojo (USA). They all address aspects of transculturality, social and political reconceptualizations, postcolonialism, feminism, and a contemporary perspective on identity politics and gender constructions. The work and position of Zanele Muholi, represented with three works in our Collection, presents an exemplary articulation of Africanfuturism. Muholi’s self-portraits and portraits of the people surrounding them show the physiognomies and charisma of a young, queer generation, in works which self-confidently integrate references to recent history and critical reflection on the “now” into a perspectivally open self-image.