Dresden State Art Collections exhibits works from the Hoffmann Collection

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Dresden State Art Collections exhibits works from the Hoffmann Collection
Installation view of "Crossing Borders", Adrian Sauer, 16.777.216 Farben, 2010 © Adrian Sauer; SKD, photo: Oliver Killig.

DRESDEN.- 2020 was an unprecedented year, a year of crisis in which our personal experiences of instability, of certainties dissolving, and of the fundamental connection between vitality and transience became universal experiences, touching people in societies around the world. Still Alive, the first comprehensive presentation of the Schenkung Sammlung Hoffmann, may be understood as a response to these experiences.

But the decision to focus on the themes of fluidity, process, vitality and transience, goes back well before the current crisis: it was set in motion through the act of the donation itself. When the Sammlung Hoffmann was gifted to the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden in 2018, it was not tied to a fixed exhibition venue, to its own building. Rather, the donated works were meant to enter into an ongoing exchange with all the collections of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, thus making room for the dynamic nature of art, its openness and its simultaneous reliance on time and context.

The artistic exploration of vitality, mobility, fleetingness, mutability and impermanence is also a strong and recurring aspect within the 1200 donated works themselves. Still Alive shows 65 works created between 1957 and 2017 which address these themes in one way or another. They range from expansive installations to photography series, illustrating the rich diversity of a private collection which, beginning in the 1960s, was not built systematically but instead grew out of a close, personal exchange with artists and their works.

Still Alive is loosely divided in three sections, or rather threads, that run through the exhibition. Opening with artworks addressing time and timelessness—like On Kawara’s endless stream of immense dates—the first emphasis is set on artistic positions that address transience as a constant in everything that lives. Here, the body becomes a shell for the spirit and the architectural space becomes a shell for the body. Central in this section is Ernesto Neto’s walk-in installation the house (2003). Built to accommodate one visitor at a time, its interior holds the potential for the physical experience of both protection and uncertainty. While this first focus of the exhibition touches upon existential states, works like Julian Rosefeldt and Piero Steinle’s Detonation Deutschland (1996) foreground the aspect of change as a principle of societal development, and the construction of history. Their arresting media installation demonstrates the never-ending succession of political and social ideologies by showing how their architectural remains are handled.

A third focus is exemplified by artworks that give instability an artistic form and bring out the processual as a direct element in the work of art. In Untitled (Indigo) from 1986, Sigmar Polke experimented with dye and bleach, creating a work that eluded his control. In this, it resembles Marike Schuurman’s Expired (2009–2011), a series of works which uses photographic material that has passed its expiry date, leading to unexpected results. And Marijke van Warmerdam’s Ice Ball (1998) is unthinkable without its own disappearance, making its loss an integral part of the work.

Particularly works created from changing or decaying materials pose a challenge to the museum as an institution of unlimited conservation. Titled Museums on the Move?, a partly digital lecture series (mostly in German) will be held at the occasion of Still Alive, addressing this and other current issues related to the premises and principles of museum work.

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