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Between Myth and Reality - Victor Man's Existential Painting
"The Contemplative Art Experience no Longer Takes Place" - Olaf Nicolai on the Future of Biennials
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Hide and Seek: The Self-Portraits of Annina Lingens
An American Affair - A Visit to the 2014 Whitney Biennial
Let's talk: Dayanita Singh & Gerhard Steidl on the High Art of Making Books
Six Feet Under - Why does contemporary art love to spotlight Old Masters and forgotten outsiders?
"Optimism is part of a revolutionary mindset" - An Interview with Biennale of Sydney Curator Juliana Engberg
Rethinking the Language of Art - The Whitney Biennial 2014 beyond Discourse
The Man Who Invented Pop Art - London Celebrates Richard Hamilton
Dark Metamorphoses - Victor Man Is Artist of the Year 2014
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - "Colors were never strong enough for me": A visit with Nicolas Fontaine
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Lena Ader: A Certain Strength


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Six Feet Under
Why does contemporary art love to spotlight Old Masters and forgotten outsiders?

You keep running across them these days at international exhibitions, biennials, and art fairs—Old Masters and artists who were neglected during their lifetime. Massimiliano Gioni, for example, programmatically showcased outsider art on equal footing with contemporary pieces in his Venice Biennale show “Encyclopedic Palace.” But are the borders between epochs and genres really breaking down? Or do these rediscoveries and revivals merely open up additional marketing opportunities?

Daniel Baumann. Curator of the Adolf Wölfli Foundation, Museum of Fine
Arts Bern, and co-curator of the 2013 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh.
Photo: Courtesy Daniel Baumann

Daniel Baumann

On a cultural level, this reflects our society's obsession with youth and success. Both are anti-heroes—the outsider artist for (seemingly) not caring about success; the old master for having successfully survived youth and being still relevant. On an economic level, it is the expression of a strong and oversold market looking for new territory: the young and hot are overrated, the old and outsiders underrated. Beside this, they draw attention from people who are truly committed to an art that is relevant to history and our lives. However, more is needed than exciting discoveries and naive enthusiasm. Overlooked artists challenge our thinking, our canon, categories and collections, and ask us to reassess existing narratives and formulate new ones. They ask us to use our brains, not just our bank accounts.

Amy Cutler. Artist, New York.
Photo: Witold Riedel

Amy Cutler

As an artist, I’ve never felt constrained by these “boundaries.” My work is informed by a wide range of interests, including art from the fifteenth century and folk art from around the world. If I burdened myself with the restrictions of categories and labels I would never get anything done. There are plenty of art historians out there that have these topics covered. This type of thinking is counterproductive and is bound to stunt any kind of creativity. What goes on in the commercial art world has no bearing on what happens in my studio. I’m interested in looking at the art of my peers, as well as works from the entire history of art, and the arts and “crafts" of other cultures. The art market is the furthest thing from my mind while I’m working. I don’t see this as a rediscovery/orchestration of dead outsiders and old masters. The work of outsiders and old masters will remain a constant and far from just another marketing possibility. Art that is removed from its original context and continues to inspire people from another generation is very powerful. This integrity holds my fascination. It’s the intention and the skill that the artist uses that transcend trends and economic concerns.

Massimiliano Gioni. Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions, New Museum, New York;
director Trussardi Foundation, Milan; and artistic director Venice Biennale 2013.
Courtesy: la Biennale di Venezia. Photo: Giorgio Zucchiatti

Massimiliano Gioni

I am not so sure that contemporary art really loves to celebrate old masters and forgotten outsiders. If you look at the coverage in the mainstream media, it looks like contemporary art is mostly about record auction prices, about parties and art fairs, about a very limited number of artists who command extraordinary prices. On many levels I think that the interest towards under-recognized artists has a lot to do with a refusal of this overly commercial attitude that appears to dominate the image of contemporary art both inside and outside the art world itself. The interest in under-recognized figures expresses a desire for complexity, which stands in for a need to prove that art can be much more than just a pastime for the rich and a form of visual entertainment: it expresses a belief in art as an uncompromising existential adventure – hence the insistence on the biographical aspects in the reception and appreciation of certain forgotten masters. In other words, the interest in less canonical figures expresses a need for authenticity that is perceived by some as an antidote against the most spectacularized and glamorized aspects of contemporary art. Obviously we have to be careful because it is relatively easy to turn authenticity into a myth and fall into the trap of kitsch: the discourse surrounding the inclusion of outsider art in mainstream contemporary art exhibition is not foreign to the temptation of kitsch, an excess of sentimentality that makes us look at the outsider as a perennially innocent “noble savage” – I myself with some of my shows might have fallen into this trap, but if I did it was also because I do believe we are in need of a new enchantment of art and through art. If we are capable of avoiding the kitsch trap – and I think it is possible by treating both canonical works and less recognized ones in the same way, and that is as documents of different visions of the world that enrich our vision of art and of the world itself – then the appreciation for under-recognized figures can help us build a history of art and a view of contemporary art that is much richer, more polyphonic, more textured, and as such more rewarding than a sterile “Top 100” list of the most powerful and expensive artists.

Jerry Saltz. Senior Art Critic, New York Magazine.
Photo: Courtesy Jerry Saltz

Jerry Saltz

All art is contemporary art. From cave paintings to a Kara Walker slave narrative.

All art comes from other art.

All art is a comment on all the art that’s ever been made.

There is no more a lionizing of the past today as there was in the past.

Art is long.

Questions like this are short-sighted.

Victoria Siddal. Director Frieze Masters, London.
Photo: Jonathan Hokklo

Victoria Siddall

Contemporary art is often discussed as being separate from the rest of art history, but all art was contemporary once. The present is constantly informed by the past, something that artists have known for centuries. The Renaissance could not have happened without ancient art made hundreds of years earlier.

Artists tend to explain this better than anyone else. Lucian Freud said that he visited the National Gallery in London as he would visit the doctor. Ed Ruscha said of Ophelia, painted by Millais in 1851: “I feel as if there is a little silver thread between that painting and mine. So maybe the years between the works are not that distant.”

Frieze Masters Talks has brought artists including John Currin, Luc Tuymans and Beatriz Milhazes together with curators of historical museums to give their perspective on old master painting - their insights on the connections between past and present have been fascinating. All are available to watch online.

Axel Vervoordt. Antique dealer, Antwerp.
Photo: Bertrand Limbour

Axel Vervoordt

Art has always been contemporary, it is marked by timelessness. All objects, regardless of their origin and value, are infused with a timeless, universal meaning and an intrinsic purity that preserves their contemporary relevance. A passion for the arts is not restricted to a certain time frame, it spans continents, centuries and cultures.

The increased interest of today’s art in old masters and forgotten outsiders is – I believe – a consequence of the fact that the 21st century produces, consumes, and disposes more than the earth can take. We look for silence, shelter, and tranquillity in the timelessness of art. The desire and need to treasure the old will keep on increasing. This is exactly what we wanted to express with Artempo – When Time Becomes Art, our first exhibition at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice in 2007.

Julia Voss. Head of the art section, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,
Frankfurt am Main.
Photo: Courtesy Julia Voss

Julia Voss

The question has to be reversed: Why has the art world excluded these artists for so long? Why are they only now being shown in museums and galleries? The Swedish painter Hilma af Klint (1862 – 1944) is a good example. A wider audience was finally able to view her work in a large-scale retrospective in Stockholm and Berlin in 2013. Massimiliano Gioni showed her paintings at the Venice Biennale. Her work is unique. The artist arrived at her own unique formal language in 1906 – 07, with huge abstract images, organic shapes, and glowing colors. Whoever talks about Kandinsky in the future will also have to refer to Hilma af Klint. This exhibition was long overdue.

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