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'Beyond Fame' — The art of the stars at Düsseldorf show

Stefan Dege
August 21, 2023

Rock singer Bryan Adams is included as is Wimbledon winner Michael Stich: the "Beyond Fame" exhibition in Düsseldorf features artworks by celebrities.

A pieta featuring a bearded and tatooed man wearing nothing but a gold satin loincloth draped across the lap of a woman wearing a voluminous red satin cloak over a black corset.
Dramatic self-presentation in the show "Beyond Fame": German fashion designer Harald Glööckler references a biblical motif for this photoImage: Ronny Wunderlich

For the exhibition "Beyond Fame. The Art of the Stars" at the NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf, curator Alain Bieber has selected artworks by 18 celebrities. On show are photos, paintings, drawings and sculptures. The mix of genres is as varied as the range of artistic personalities, which includes musicians, actors, writers, sports stars and politicans.

How did he come up with the idea for the show? "We thought it was exciting to see all the people who were involved with art," Bieber told DW. He admits that, with celebrities, making visual art is often a marketing stunt. "Ed Sheeran did an action painting once, and Britney Spears once did some flower paintings while wearing a bikini, he pointed out. For "Beyond Fame," however, he says he chose people who take art seriously.

An art installation with black walls and paint-spattered upholstered chairs; three paintings hang on the wall, the one in the middle depicts two men, the ones on either side are abstract paint spatters; a gray, paint-spattered stag is to the left.
Installation with paintings and a stag: view of a room created by German fashion designer Harald GlööcklerImage: Andreas Endermann

He says there are "big surprises" among them — works by German singer Tim Bendzko, for example, or even former tennis pro Michael Stich, that have never been shown in a museum before. "You wouldn't think they'd paint like that." None of the selected artists had ever attended an art academy, he said. "We want to leave judgment of the works to our audience," Bieber says. "We're excited to see the reactions."

Former tennis star Michael Stich stands in front of his works at a press conference for the art exhibition "Beyond Fame. The Art of the Stars" at the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf.
Michael Stich at the exbibition "Beyond Fame. The Art of the Stars"Image: David Young/dpa/picture alliance

Is every star an artist?

"We cultivate Joseph Beuys' expanded concept of art here," explains Bieber, "which asserts that everyone is an artist." One example, he says, is former Wimbledon champion Stich. After retiring from tennis, he took up painting as a hobby, studied art history for two semesters and set up a studio. Stich said it took him 10 years before he went public with his paintings. "My art is a reflection of my personality and my emotions," as the exhibition organizers quote the former tennis pro.

The paths the selected personalities have taken to artistic expression are as varied as the people themselves are. And their choice of artistic medium is sometimes surprising. Some works are closely linked to their respective biographies. Some artists are at home in several creative fields at once. One of them is the German theater actress, author and visual artist Lea Drager. She draws images of popes, male and female, with which she questions patriarchal systems and hierarchical structures. Fellow German actress Meret Becker is active as a singer, actress and visual artist. Her work deals with social issues and she also campaigns for women's rights.

A photo pf a bare-chested, bearded man, with a bandaged wound on his forehead, wearing a black cord with with two metal keys around his neck.
'Michael Costello, London' (2011) by Bryan AdamsImage: Michael Costello

Musicians like Bryan Adams and Peter Doherty have sold millions of albums — and they've been creating visual art for many years. "Good photographs are like time capsules that store memories," Adams told the Düsseldorf museum. Doherty, the scandal-ridden singer of British band The Libertines, sees art — along with poetry — as "an expressive way to process his life." He works with blood and charcoal, combining drawing, painting, sculpture and collages of images and text.

Unknown facets of celebrities

The works by Canadian musician Claire Elise Boucher, aka Grimes, are populated by the kinds of fantasy figures — nymphs, cyborgs and manga characters — that she also portrays herself as in her music videos. According to the museum, she draws inspiration for her drawings and album covers from mythical and psychedelic images, borrowing figures and motifs from Art Nouveau and Surrealism, and has recently begun using artificial intelligence.

Whether as a counterbalance or a complement, people in politics also engage in artistic activities. For example, German Green Party politician Anton Hofreiter makes no secret of his enthusiasm for

nature. He earned a PhD in botany at the start of his political career, and he paints and draws flowers. For him, as the museum says, this is "a way of recognizing how things really are."

"Beyond Fame" promises to arouse curiosity about little-known facets of prominent contemporaries. "Some of our artists," promises curator Bieber, "should soon be on view in other museums." For the time being, the artistic director of the NRW-Forum is banking on the "Barbie" effect: "Whether you love Barbie or not — you simply have to have seen the latest movie!"

The exhibition "Beyond Fame. The Art of the Stars" at the NRW-Forum runs until January 24, 2024.

This article has been translated from German.