The exceptional collection of Frieder Burda that had never left Germany is now being presented for the first time in France, this summer at the Musée Granet
With more than 1000 works, the collection was built up by Frieder Burda, an heir to the Burda publishing and magazine empire in Germany, and since 2004 it has been kept and presented in the museum bearing his name in Baden-Baden. Contemporary art, with roots in the modern tradition, is a characteristic of his collection, which includes a large proportion of painting-based paintings and large formats; another characteristic is its architectural setting, the building designed by New York architect, Richard Meier.
Frieder Burda was a businessman when, in 1960, he started his collection through the acquisition of a torn canvas by Lucio Fontana which is showcased in the exhibition. This acquisition was followed by many others, always guided by a passion for colour, that the Musée Granet exhibition shows among a selection of masterpieces of the Frieder Burda Museum.
Patiently Collected Works
For the first time in its history, the Musée Granet shows, in an exhibition space of nearly 800 2m, German Expressionist artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann, August Macke, post-war artists Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Georg Baselitz - who was a friend of Frieder Burda -and the American painters Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, Willem de Kooning and Alex Katz. Pablo Picasso returns to the Musée Granet with seven major works from the last years of the incomparable period of 1960 to 1972. He had already featured, in 2009, in the Picasso Cézanne exhibition, and then in 2011, with the presentation of fifteen masterpieces that date from the period 1917 to 1970 and are now in the Jean Planque collection.
Continuing its interest in collections and collectors, the Musée Granet wishes to give an account, through the patiently collected and lovingly selected works, of the thousand and one paths taken by these tireless art enthusiasts. After the Swiss Jean Planque, whose collection was presented in the summer of 2011 and is now confided for fifteen years to the Musée Granet, it is now the German Frieder Burda who has accepted to present the finest works in his collection available to visitors in Aix-En-Provence.
Portrait(s) of Frieder Burda and the First Work Bought for his Collection
In the tradition of patrons and collectors since the Renaissance, portraits of Frieder Burda and his family have been done by many artists, such as Andy Warhol, Sigmar Polke and Jean Hucleux. Two of these portraits open the present exhibition with the first work bought by Frieder Burda in 1969.
The gouache on paper entitled Porträt Frieder Burda (1996) was given, sheet by sheet, to the collector by his friend Sigmar Polke (1941-2010), so that, each time, he was waiting to see the whole work. Just over ten years ago, Jean Olivier Hucleux (born in 1923) also did the portrait of Frieder Burda in front of one of the emblematic works of his collection, the painting Party (1962) by his friend Gerhard Richter.
Birth of the Idea of Collecting
This painting was among the first that Frieder Burda acquired after meeting Richter and discovering his work. This was also the time that he had the idea of starting a collection and that he became aware of what art could bring him. Lucio Fontana died in 1968, the very year that his Concetto Spaziale - Attese had such an effect on Frieder Burda; his was the first work to be bought by the collector. The painting really fascinated him, with its youthful radicalism, he who rather wanted to provoke his father, the publisher and collector of German Expressionism.
As long as he can remember, Frieder Burda was surrounded by the German expressionist paintings of his fathers collection (e.g. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, August Macke, and Max Beckmann) which forged his love of colour and that he subsequently inherited. The term «Expressionist» describes an artistic tendency that appeared at the beginning of the 20th century, mainly in Germany; the Expressionist group included various artists including many who participated in the exhibition of «Degenerate Art» mounted by the Nazis; they championed the use of instinct and introspection, claiming to follow Vincent Van Gogh who wanted to «express with red and green the terrible human passions.»
The Malaise of a Materialist Society
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was one of the most emblematic figures of the Die Brücke (The Bridge) group (1905-1913). One of his canvases features, Zwei Akte mit Badetub und Ofen of 1911 on one side and Pfortensteg Chemnitz of 1910 on the other: more than the visible reality of the scenes, it is the subjectivity of the artist which becomes the subject of the painting. With the painting Strasse mit Passaten bei Nachtbeleuchtung (19261927), Kirchner again took up his favourite themes at Berlin, representing the nightlife of a great city.
August Mackes meeting with Franz Marc led, in 1910, him into the adventure of the Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) between 1911 and 1914; both used the theme of animals in their search for a pantheistic communion with nature, visible in Zoologischer Garten in Braun und Gelb, painted in 1912. Three urban views and Akademie II (1944) represent Max Beckmann, who belonged to the Neue Sachlichkeit (the new objectivity), a figurative movement that appeared in the 1920s. In a style that was often cold, the artists took inspiration from the masters of the past as well as from photography to tackle contemporary themes and, disillusioned and objective, to indicate the malaise of a materialistic society. Beckmanns work never lost the tragic resonance of the 30s and the Second World War, and a certain muted anguish persists even in his Mediterranean landscape.
The Final Picasso
Between 1996 and 2004, Frieder Burda bought eight Picassos of the artists final period, dated between 1960 and 1972. At this time, the collector was living in the charming little town inland from Cannes where he intended to build his museum.
Picasso settled in Mougins in 1961, with Jacqueline «the lady of Vauvenargues,» in the large house, or mas, of Notre Dame-de-Vie that was large enough to house several workshops and which still had a wide view over the Bay of Cannes. He was then eighty years old and his whole life had been devoted to art, but as well as his usual appetite for work and his energy, there was, at his advanced age, an added feeling of urgency.
Dazzling Freedom of the Final Paintings
Enfant, a bronze dating from 1960, confirms the interest that Picasso always had for sculpture. In its simplification and formal density, it concentrates the vital energy and innocence of childhood. It is indeed in this way that one should experience the sculpture and the paintings of the Burda collection, on a quest to free painting and to bring it to life. Before 1965 and his illness, he would paint up to three paintings in the same day: the theme of the painter and his model, as seen in the painting of 1 November 1964, is recurrent in all of Picassos work and was particularly strong at this time. In 1968, he also found the time to paint, notably the Nu assis of 3 April and the Nu couché of 7 October, symptomatic of his artistic research into what was essential in figuration. The monumental Homme debout (September 1969) is an example of his figures that were uncluttered by anecdote, while Buste dhomme, painted between the 22 September and the 2 November 1969, is somewhat reminiscent of the musketeer series. In the Homme au chapeau assis of «Wednesday 16.2.72,» bought by Frieder Burda in 2001, there is still the creative vitality and dazzling freedom which pervades his final paintings.
To Frieder Burda, Picassos final period, as seen through his works, seems to encapsulate the whole of Expressionism. With the undisputed success of abstract art in the United States and Europe, Picasso went into resistance until figuration returned in force in the 1980s.
The American Artists
In the 1970s, Frieder Burda spent several periods in the United States. There, he discovered the work of a new generation of artists who shattered the world art scene of the post-war period. It was after this, at the end of the 80s, that he started collecting the works of these artists and built up a remarkable and representative collection of the various trends of American painting of the second half of the 20th century.
World-wide Triumph of American Art
Frieder Burda was naturally enthusiastic about Abstract Expressionism: in the works of Rothko, Pollock and Kooning he discovered the formal freedom and expressivity of the Expressionist paintings of his fathers collection. This movement was an original fusion of the practice of abstraction and the principles of expressionism, and it ensured the world-wide triumph of American art. Jackson Pollock, a figurehead of the New York School, just had to be included in Burdas collection. Composition no.16 (1948) shows the painter being born: the fluid paint was projected onto the canvas by dripping until it randomly covered the surface. Large Torso (1974) by Willem de Kooning puts into three dimensions the artists struggle with the pictorial material. Frieder Burda was interested in other trends of American painting. From the mid- 1950s some artists returned to figuration, but in new forms. Pop Art, New Realism and Hyperrealism questioned American society at different levels. Alex Katz used smooth and impersonal painting in his over-sized portraits (Scott and John, 1966). Big Piles of Bones (Scenarios), a late work of Robert Rauschenberg (2005), used the juxtaposition and assembly of images. Photography, with its optical anomalies was the direct source of virtuoso paintings by Richard Estes and Malcolm Morley.
Richter, Polke, Baselitz
Gerhardt Richter, Sigmar Polke and Georg Baselitz are all artists with whom Frieder Burda maintained a close and fruitful dialogue over many years, his collection permits an appreciation of the entire production of each of them. These three painters now have unanimous international recognition as major artists of the last fifty years.
Each, in their own way, is the product and the witness of the historical and political tribulations of Germany in the 20th century. The traumatism of the Second World War fed into the work of Baselitz, while the «capitalist realism» invented by Polke and Richter in 1962 denounced both the ideological indoctrination in the RDA and the consumer society of the West. However, artistic and pictorial aspects remained central to their interrogations and their practice.
Figuration and Abstraction Bring the very Nature of Painting into Question
The hijacking of images is central to Polkes work. His work on the canvas often involves a superimposition of various materials, some transparent, that interact with each other; images, stories and messages are mixed up in layers of matter and meaning.
Richter is widely admired for his refined and virtuoso work on pictorial material. An eclectic artist who asserts his absence of style as his main quality, his work can be smooth and velvety, giving a photographic effect, or he can work the material much more in the spirit of action painting. His constant oscillation between figuration and abstraction brings the very nature of painting into question.
Described as a new Fauve and a neo-expressionist, Baselitzs work inevitably interested Frieder Burda. Since 1969, he has painted often apparently insignificant motifs upside down: landscapes, portraits, nudes and animals done with energetic brush-strokes and in expressive colours have become his trademark. But under the brio of the form, Baselitz questions the capacity of Germans to really face up to their history.
New German Painting
For several years now, Frieder Burda has taken an interest in the painters of the following generation, that of artists born in the 1960s who are now the avant-garde of German painting. Remaining faithful to his personal taste and eye while also reflecting a certain German specificity in the international art world, he supports painting in the debates which, periodically since the 1970s, have predicted its demise as a mode of expression.
A Free, Eclectic and Internationally Monumental Painting
The most remarkable German artistic phenomena of the last 15 years has been the emergence on the international scene of the New Leipzig School that is well represented in the Burda collection. Rather than a school, it is an informal collective, based in the old East German town, that brings together generally figurative painters who have very diverse, even disparate, references: the classic artistic tradition as much as comic strips; graffiti and mass-media imagery, photography, socialist realism, Surrealism and hyper-realism. Artistic skill can be denigrated or emphasised and promoted. The result is a free and eclectic painting style that is intentionally monumental in its formats.
Neo Rauch is the most visible of the New Leipzig School artists and today has a wide international audience. His fantastical, timeless world is expressed in Interview (2006) in a dreamlike vision coloured with Surrealism. Flut I (1992-1993), inhabited by figurative debris, evokes some pictorial cataclysm. Much more serene is Tim Eitels painting, which reformulates German romantic sentiment in the language of modernity; the experience of photography is at the heart of Abend (2003). A hyperrealistic tendency is also present in the work of Eberhardt Havekost, (Alpennähe 2, 1999), whereas Heribert C. Ottersbach proposes, in Jasons Flucht (Moderne Kunstler) (2004) an Impressionist dissolution of the image.