The limitless gaze 0

Q&A with the team of the Olbricht Foundation on the Private Exposure exhibition

Agnese Čivle

Private Exposure
me Collectors Room, Berlin
Through June 22, 2016

The contemporary art collection of German collector Thomas Olbricht is among the most notable of such private collections in Europe. At the beginning of 2010, Olbricht established his two-story-, 1300 m2-large private art space in Berlin's Mitte district. Having named it the me Collectors Room, Olbricht designated the top floor for the permanent exhibition, while the bottom floor serves as a platform for temporary exhibitions, featuring pieces from both his own and other contemporary art collections.

The exhibition Private Exposure, which is being exhibited on both floors of the building through June 22, has been designed following the principle of “exposure” – i.e., due to the building's street-facing facade being made of glass, the people who have entered the building to view the art become themselves rather exposed to viewing by others. Indeed, it is yet another reminder of the fact that, in the history of civilization, we have never been so thoroughly observed by others as in this point in time. In addition, everyday observations are amplified in an art gallery – where the act of looking is focused upon and, in fact, becomes the dominant activity taking place. Private Exposure invites one to set one's gaze outside the limitations of the exhibition space, since the works on view have been selected for their ability to reach beyond their medium: they open up a dialogue, grip the viewer, and challenge our encounter with art. And the level of art is astounding! On view are works by Marina Abramović, Erwin Wurm, and Gerhard Richter, among others!

Charles Fréger. Laufr (Portfolio “Wilder Mann”), 2010-2011 © Charles Fréger, Courtesy Gallery Kicken Berlin

Worth noting is the fact that this is already the fifth time that me Collectors Room has handed its collection over to the talented hands of just-emerging curators. This aspect was especially intriguing to, which is why we queried the management of the art space on what is it that they look for when selecting relatively inexperienced curators to work on such an esteemed collection with artworks by truly world-renown artists. We received the following reply:

It is refreshing to have a new perspective on the collection from emerging international curators. This particular collaboration is done together with the master's-degree course “Curating the Contemporary ”, run by CASS, London Metropolitan University, and Whitechapel Gallery. The head of the course, Nicolas de Oliveira, pre-selects the curating team (usually three students), who are in the final year of their studies. For this edition, the team consists of Eilidh McCormick from Scotland, and Fabiola Flamini and Alice Montanini from Italy.

What follows is the rest of our express interview, revealing behind-the-scenes insights on the creation of the exhibition, and what shape the end product in Berlin has taken on.

André Gelpke. Christine mit Spiegel, 1977 © André Gelpke, Courtesy Kicken Berlin

Did these young curators have absolute discretion in the decision making of the curatorial process?

The student curators are given full access to the Olbricht Collection database, and they also meet with the collector himself, Thomas Olbricht, to discuss their ideas. The curators then make their ideal selections and design the exhibition – a process throughout which we maintain a constant dialogue, offering advice and recommendations where needed and requested.

It is important to us – a private art institution that is open to the public – to present an exhibition that works well within our program, but still has its own independent concept.  Also, accessibility to a wide range of visitors is always a key focus point of our exhibitions.

The exhibition is a result of a fruitful collaboration, one in which we wish to give the curators as much freedom as possible.

Aren’t they confused by the opportunity to work directly with some of the biggest names in the art world?

When working with the collection, the curators are usually excited to have the opportunity to work with such a variety of works and artists. Even with well-known names in the collection, and in the final exhibition, a balance is generally found as the selected works are based on relevance to the theme.

Sam Taylor-Johnson. Sustaining the Crisis, 1997 © Sam Taylor-Johnson & VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016, Courtesy White Cube

Could you give us a few highlights of the artworks that can be seen in this exhibition, as well as describe how the exhibition expresses itself visually?

The highlight of Private Exposure is the manner in which the exhibition has reacted to both the gallery space and the works in the collection. These three curators, Fabiola Flamini, Eilidh McCormick, and Alice Montanini, have taken inspiration directly from the gallery space: they worked in harmony with the architecture (as their theme explores the lines of sight), and investigated the ideas of watching and being watched. Presenting works that have been composed from a variety of media, the exhibition is visually interesting as the works engage with the viewer while investigating the different embodiments of “the gaze”. The design of the exhibition has reached beyond the designated exhibition space, with works presented in the cafe, and others positioned so as to connect with the street and the everyday.

Connecting through eye contact, “Garden Tiger Moth and Cinnabar Moth” by Nicky Hoberman, Gino Rubert’s works from the “Walks and Heads” series, and “W September 2000 #6” by Philip-Lorca diCorcia, engage directly with the viewers, asking for our rapt attention. André Gelpke’s “Christine mit Spiegel”, and Marina Abramović’s “Self Portrait with Skull”, are among the works that avoid our gaze, creating an ambiguous yet intimate connection. While through their reflective surfaces the sculptural work by Alicja Kwade (“Ein Hocker ist ein Bild”), and Gerhard Richter’s “Grauer Spiegel (Reminiszenz)” position the viewer within the gallery display, other works also generate bodily self-awareness by promoting the human figure and its powerful physical presence.

Read in the Archive: An interview with German collector Thomas Olbricht

Private Exposure. Installation view, 2016. © me Collectors Room Berlin. Photo: Bernd Borchardt

Artists: Marina Abramović, Barry X Ball, Jeremy Blake, Don Brown, John De Andrea, Rineke Dijkstra, Charles Fréger, André Gelpke, Paul Graham, Victor Guidalevitch, Nicky Hoberman, John Isaacs, Johannes Kahrs, Alicja Kwade, Leigh Ledare, Zoe Leonhard, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Tony Oursler, Evan Penny, Gerhard Richter, Pipilotti Rist, Zbigniew Rogalski, Gino Rubert, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Timm Ulrichs, Erwin Wurm, Jian Zhang