What can artists and their work tell about the time and place they lived in? How does a country collect art? Is it possible to distil a French identity from a contemporary art collection consisting of art from all over the world? The exhibition A Republic of Art, which is being held in the Van Abbemuseum
from 27 June to 4 October, raises some interesting questions. A Republic of Art tells the story of contemporary art since the 1980s from a French perspective. The ten galleries in the old building of the museum are filled with more than a hundred much discussed works from the collections of the FRACs (Fonds Régionaux d'Art Contemporain), many of which are being shown outside France for the first time.
Three decades of contemporary art The exhibition starts in the early 1980s with works by celebrated artists such as Daniel Buren, Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman and Paul McCarthy. A Republic of Art reveals the emergence of new media with works by, for example, Dara Birnbaum and Harun Farocki. Luc Tuymans questions the reliability of mass media in his work. Developments in film and literature are the source of inspiration for artists like Sophie Calle and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. Other trends become visible in the 1990s and 2000, such as the increasing interest in the environment and in alternative ways of living together in society. For example, this is reflected in the works of N55 and Simon Starling.
The FRAC system
The Fonds Régionaux d'Art Contemporain (FRAC) was founded in France in 1982, consisting of 23 institutions in every part of France, even including Corsica and La Réunion. The FRACs, gathered in the umbrella organisation PLATFORM, have put together a collection of more than 26,000 works by (inter)nationally celebrated artists over the course of more than thirty years. Fifty per cent of the collection consists of works by French artists. According to the FRAC philosophy the only point of purchasing works of art is that they become accessible on a large scale.
For this reason they organised big educational programmes and produce more than five hundred exhibitions a year, particularly in places that were not originally intended for art.
The Van Abbemuseum was invited by PLATFORM to reflect on this collection that is embedded in French cultural and political history. The Van Abbemuseum was chosen because of the many experiments it has conducted with new ways of exhibiting and interpreting its own collection during recent years.
A Republic of Art is a stimulating tour of the contemporary art which has been collected by the French government since 1982. In their works of art the artists reflect on the world around them, so that visitors are taken along through history, undoubtedly evoking personal memories.