Art exhibition in Chemnitz: identity not proven

Thanks to Corona aid, the federal government recently acquired a lot of young art. She tells of our post-migrant society, as can now be seen in Chemnitz.

The neon sign of

Semantic trick of light: “The German Population” by Silke Wagner, 2018 Photo: (c) Silke Wagner, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

A delicate chessboard can be seen on the application for a child passport from the Federal Republic of Germany. A pencil figure moves from sheet to sheet. The visualization of the unequal game between the individual and bureaucracy. Sung Tieu came as a child of a Vietnamese contract worker to the GDR. Her “Theoretical Draw” was recently purchased for the Federal Republic of Germany’s collection of contemporary art and can currently be seen in the Gunzenhauser Museum in Chemnitz.

From around 360 purchases over the past five years, a good 50 works by 44 artists living in Germany will be presented under the title “present perfect”. Many of them talk about migration, racism and stereotyping, but also about solidarity. Bussaraporn Thongchai worked in a women’s shelter with migrant women who had been victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution.

One of her somber drawings in Chemnitz portrays a woman from East Africa who wanted to open an account. Since she did not have a passport, only a residence permit, her application was denied with the stamp “Identity not proven” – Bussaraporn Thongchai put nooses around the woman’s neck.

In 1971, Willy Brandt started the Federal Art Collection with the purchase of a first work of art. It now includes around 2,000 works. It does not have its own house, its holdings are loaned to ministries, embassies, the Federal Chancellery and museums. Since the cheaper works are mostly purchased by young artists – the annual purchase budget is 400,000 euros – the collection is also an archive of current artistic production in Germany. A commission of experts decides on the acquisitions; they are reappointed every five years by the Commissioner for Culture and the Media.

Buy direct from artists, not through the gallery

It was Monika Grütters who initiated the New Start Culture program, and this corona aid provided the collection with an additional 4.5 million euros for new acquisitions in 2020 and 2021. “The condition was that the artists were not institutionally secured, for example by a professorship, and were not only of qualitative interest, but also worthy of funding,” explains Frédéric Bussmann, General Director of the Chemnitz Art Collections and member of the restart jury. “An attempt was also made to buy directly from artists.”

In addition to Bußmann, Nadine Grünewald from the Kunstverein für Mecklenburg und Vorpommern and Hilke Wagner from the Dresden Albertinum work as three of seven jury members in East Germany. There are noticeably many artists on her purchase list who were born or studied in Erfurt, Karl-Marx-Stadt or Leipzig. Some were already active in the GDR, such as Osmar Osten, Christine Schlegel, Angela Hampel and Gabriele Stoetzer.

Abstract painting with large areas of color in light green and blue

Contributed the title of the exhibition: “present perfect” by Tamina Amadyar, 2016 Photo: (c) Tamina Amadyar, Galerie Guido W. Baudach

The exhibition of the Federal Art Collection also makes a cultural policy clear. At the same time as Chemnitz, the New Museum in Nuremberg is showing a selection from the collection. Chemnitz and Nuremberg had both applied for the title of European Capital of Culture 2025. He went to Saxony. If the newly acquired works of art deal with themes from the East, they are primarily shown in Nuremberg. Among them Sebastian Jung’s series of drawings “Concerned Citizens, Chemnitz, 08/30/2018” to the right-wing riots on the edge of a town festival.

In the Gunzenhauser Museum in Chemnitz, on the other hand, you can see Benedikt Terwiel’s photo series “Imbiss am Kotti”. She tells of the disappearance of a typical Berlin neighborhood culture in favor of a faceless renovation of public spaces. If you can still see where the snack bar was on the paved floor, the traces are soon no longer visible on the photos.

In Chemnitz, the artist Stephan Janitzky poses the question of the social possibilities of painting by placing two canvases on the floor with the remains of pieces of chalk in between, which the visitors had previously trampled on and worked into the canvases.

The question of the European self-image

Born in Kabul in 1989 Tamina Amadyar contributed the title of the exhibition with her abstract painting “present perfect”. A tense used when something began in the past and continues to the present. Luminous color fields of green and blue are reminiscent of water and plants or of hands that can’t find a hold.

At the end of the exhibition tour, a young woman stands barefoot on the runway of the former Berlin Tempelhof Airport. In the video by Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, she speaks the protocol of the Geneva Convention passed in 1951, which was intended to guarantee far-reaching rights to underage refugees. In addition, Tilman Hornig’s European flag in the European Capital of Culture 2025 raises the question of how Europe sees itself. Most of the gold stars on a blue background are whitewashed.

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