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Musée à vendre pour cause de faillite: Herbert Foundation and mumok in dialogue
Mike Kelley, SS Cuttlebone, 2000 (SS Schulp) Papierzellstoff und Acrylfarbe, Vogelfutter, Schulp, Metallschmuck und Sägebänke /Paper pulp and acrylic, wood, birdseed, cuttlebone, metal jewelry, and sawhorses, 190 x 285 x 135 cm. Courtesy Herbert Foundation, Gent. Photo: P. De Gobert/Herbert Foundation, Gent© Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts.
VIENNA.- The Annick and Anton Herbert Collection is one of the most significant private collections of contemporary art in Europe. The Belgian couple began to purchase art in the wake of the political and social upheavals of the 1968 movement. They were fascinated by those developments that promoted new concepts of art and the artwork—parallel to contemporary endeavors for social renewal. The Herberts bought important works by American and European representatives of Minimal Art and Conceptual Art, including Carl Andre, Art & Language, Marcel Broodthaers, Hanne Darboven, Dan Graham, Donald Judd, On Kawara, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gerhard Richter, Niele Toroni, and Lawrence Weiner. As from the mid-1980s, with works by Martin Kippenberger, Franz West, and Mike Kelley, key figures from a next generation were added to the collection. The last artist to join so far was Heimo Zobernig.

In 2008, the Herberts created a foundation for most of their holdings, and in 2013 began showing them to the public during the summer months in a former industrial building in Ghent. This exhibition in Vienna, provocatively titled Musée à vendre pour cause de faillite (Museum for Sale due to Bankruptcy), is the last comprehensive showing outside of these Foundation premises. Augmented by major works from the mumok collection, which Annick and Anton Herbert have carefully selected, this is the most comprehensive presentation of the Herbert’s collection to date.

Dialogue with a Collection
More than earlier presentations of the Herbert Collection, the Vienna exhibition takes a discursive approach. The entrance level juxtaposes three artists who all concentrate on analyzing the potential of art: Marcel Broodthaers, Gerhard Richter, and Heimo Zobernig. On the next level, these works are contrasted with other positions in Conceptual Art, including works by Hanne Darboven, On Kawara, and Jan Dibbets, which address the ways in which we experience time, and works by Lawrence Weiner, Ian Wilson as well as the artists collective Art & Language, all operating with language. The adjoining gallery space takes the Specific Objects by artists such as Donald Judd and Carl Andre as a starting point, in order to follow up the development of debates on the self-perception of the viewer initiated by Minimal Art, but also the critique of Minimal Art’s claim to non-referentiality as formulated by Dan Graham, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Franz West. A separate floor is dedicated to the Herbert Foundation’s significant Bruce Nauman holdings. This leads to the upper level, which shows works by John Baldessari, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, and Jan Vercruysse, artists who—like Nauman—address the dark and repressed sides of the human psyche and also the role of the artist in society.

Marcel Broodthaers, Gerhard Richter, and Heimo Zobernig are artists from different generations who each in their own way ask fundamental questions as to the potential of art. Their works look at both specific elements of artistic forms of expression and the conditions pertaining to the production of art, and also fundamentally question and deconstruct concepts and categories as well as ordering systems in art. The Herbert Collection works provide a broad overview of Broodthaers’s analytical and poetic work, among them key pieces such as Le Corbeau et Le Renard (1968/72) and the installation Fig 1. Programme (1972/73).

4 Glasscheiben (1967) and 1024 Farben in vier Permutationen (1973) are major works by Gerhard Richter in which he explores and analyzes the means and potential of painting. There are various analogies to this in the work of Heimo Zobernig—such as his deconstructive interest in theories of color. Examples of Zobernig’s equally intensive explorations of performative art production are found in his early videos and a display box with a recording of the performance H.Z. erklärt seinem Double wie man eine Performance macht (Heimo Zobernig Tells His Double How to Do a Performance, 2008).

From the broad spectrum of Conceptual trends, the show includes an important early work by Hanne Darboven, Ein Jahrhundert (Bücherei) (1970–1971), from the mumok collection; the large Date Painting Nov. 21,1988 by On Kawara, and also his One Million Years (1970/71); as well as The Shadows in My Studio as They Were at 27.07.1969 from 8.40-14.10, Photographed Every Ten Minutes (1969) by Jan Dibbets. These works all develop sign-based or photographic forms of notation for the experience of time. Examples for diverse uses of language are Lawrence Weiner’s work GREEN AS WELL AS BLUE AS WELL AS RED (1972), Ian Wilson’s conceptual sheet There was a discussion in New York City, in 1968, on the idea of Time (1968), and Index 02 (1972) by the Art & Language collective.

Carl Andre’s Henge on 3 Right Thresholds (Meditation on the Year 1960, (1971), his floor work Voie d’acier (1988), and also two cubes from Donald Judd’s legendary exhibition in Baden-Baden (1989) are examples of the Specific Objects of Minimal Art. The exploration of perception and the experience of the self that these works triggered is further developed and critically reassessed in the work of Dan Graham. His Public Space/Two Audiences (1976) is a major piece within the Herbert Foundation. A critical answer to the claim of non-referential reception of artworks as postulated by Minimal Art is also formulated by Michelangelo Pistoletto in his sign-like objects (Segno Arte / Art Signs) and the works of Franz West. They all point out the ambivalent readings of images, depending on the specific context and the individual reactions of the recipients.

A further gallery level, containing works by Bruce Nauman, links the lower levels with the exhibition’s finale in the top floor of the museum. From the very beginning of their collecting activity, the Herberts considered Nauman to be crucially important. His works use formal idioms that are in many ways related to Minimal and Conceptual Art, while addressing the dark and repressed sides of human life. Striking examples are his Musical Chairs (1983), suspended from the ceiling, or the neon work Sex and Death (1985).

Nauman’s position leads to a later generation, presented in the top level – artists that came on the scene in the 1980s. Jan Vercruysse, Martin Kippenberger, and Mike Kelley also address basic existential experiences, but place these more strongly in relation to specific social conditions and realities. Spiderman Atelier (1996) is a late major piece by Kippenberger, in which shortly before his death the artist reflected in a particularly memorable way on the social role and existential exposure of the artist. Mike Kelley‘s Lumpenprole (1991), from the mumok collection, is equally important. With its stuffed animals under a crochet blanket, this work is an exploration of the childhood causes of fear and trauma that literally get swept under the carpet. It is complemented by further important Kelley-pieces from the Herbert Collection, such as his picture Memory Ware (2001), which combines glittering fragments of souvenirs on its surface, or the sculpture Cuttlebone (2000), which is also adorned with glitter, and whose enigmatic and biomorphic shape may trigger disturbing associations.

Mini-Retrospectives: Marcel Broodthaers, Bruce Nauman and Mike Kelley
A special feature of the Herbert Collection are larger groups of works by individual artists. In some cases, these holdings are so extensive that mumok has been able to create mini-retrospectives within its exhibition. This is particularly the case with the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers, who marked the starting point of the Herberts’ collecting activities and with whom they engaged in lively exchange over many years. It is also true for Bruce Nauman and Mike Kelley.

Deliberately Provocative Title
As was the case for all previous presentations of the Herbert Collection, the exhibition title is taken from a work of the collection. With Musée à vendre pour cause de faillite, a provocative statement by Marcel Broodthaers was selected as a deliberately unsettling and thought-provoking title. In 1971, Broodthaers had placed it on the double page of the Galerie Werner in the catalog for the Cologne Art Market, (with the German translation on the back of an invitation of a follow-up show in this gallery). The artist considered this action as the Section Financière stage in a project that ran from 1968 to 1972, in which he created fictional museums, in the form of exhibitions, installations, and artistic interventions. The aim was to criticize traditional concepts of the museum, and with this project Broodthaers became an early representative of institutional critique.

Today, with the complex relationship between private and public collections being so frequently discussed with respect to money and finance, Broodthaers’s statement may gain yet another significance and inspire new thoughts on the relationship between the two. While this relationship is often seen as competitive, the Herberts seek to meet at eye-level. They see cooperation between the two as a form of productive and mutual exchange, and a way of complementing available resources on both sides, in favor of a lively debate and discourse on important transitional phases and renewal movements in twentieth-century art.

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