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The new artworks in Germany's official collection

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March 8, 2018

The exhibition "Germany Is Not an Island" in Bonn features the latest acquisitions for Germany's official contemporary art collection. What do these works reveal about the state of the country?

Erik van Lieshout  "ohne Titel (The Island)", 2015
Image: Erik van Lieshout

The exhibition "Germany Is Not an Island" showcases a total of 150 selected pieces by 81 artists, whose work has been acquired by a committee of experts for the Collection of the Federal Republic of Germany over the last five years. The members of the acquisition committee focused on finding artworks that reflect on the country's society and convey information on Germany's current situation. 

For instance, Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh's audio installation "The Song of the Germans" (2015) has a choir of 10 African immigrants singing the German national anthem in their various native languages (Igbo, Yoruba, Bamoun, More, Twi, Ewondo, Sango, Douala, Kikongo and Lingala). 

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Ausstellung "Deutschland ist keine Insel" Bundeskunsthalle
A mirror installation by Thomas ZippImage: picture alliance/dpa/H. Kaiser

A collection without a permanent house

Every year since 1970, Germany has been investing tax money in contemporary art. The yearly budget is currently around €400,000 ($500,000). 

An artist originally initiated the project. In 1970, Georg Meistermann, president of the German Artists Federation, proposed to put together a federal art collection. The idea of establishing an art collection reflecting a modern and democratic Germany pleased former chancellor Willy Brandt.

The collection does not belong to any institution in particular. The works are shown temporarily in public institutions, ministries, embassies, the chancellery and various museums. The objective of the collection is to present post-war German art while supporting young contemporary artists. The latest acquisitions are now on show in the current Bonn exhibition.

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"Monkey Dance" by Asta Gröning
"Monkey Dance" by Asta GröningImage: picture alliance/dpa/H. Kaiser

A diversity of perspectives

The new pool of 170 works includes not only promising young talents but also forgotten artists whose work deserves renewed attention.

It includes minimalist art by Charlotte Posenenske, an artist from the 1960s who's since gained new recognition. There are also washed-out paintings by Jörg Herold, one of which depicts a German highway in a nostalgic light recalling the 1950s. A photo by Clegg and Guttman shows a bookshelf filled with works that were highly coveted in East Germany. Drawings of figures by Antje Majewski are reminiscent of the carvings done by inmates of the concentration camp of Ravensbrück.  

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The collection also includes photographic works by Jürgen Staak. While spending time in China, the artist shot pictures of blurs of color on walls. What initially appears to be an abstract painting turns out to be a cover-up attempt: Chinese authorities painted over telephone numbers of Chinese people offering various services, thus rendering them indecipherable.

"In the end, it's all about censorship," explained the artist, adding that he himself originally came from former East Germany, so the acquisition committee possibly saw a connection between the former GDR and China."But the fact that my artwork ended up being purchased is a wonderful gesture of appreciation. Of course, I'm proud of being a part of the federal art collection."

The exhibition "Germany Is Not an Island" runs from March 8 to May 27 at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn.