Abstract art is not readily accessible. It is the lyric poetry of the fine arts. Many find it bewildering. A volume of interviews now offers an anecdotal approach to abstract images.
By Holger Moos
Who can claim that their favourite picture from childhood is a non-representational painting? Carolin Scharpff-Striebich grew up with art. As a child she stared again and again intensively at a two-by-two metre abstract painting by Rupprecht Geiger, then closed her eyes and described the afterimages to her friends. Her parents, Rudolf and Ute Scharpff, assembled the Scharpff Collection in the 1960s. The collection cooperates with various museums, such as the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and the Kunstmuseum Bonn.
In 2004 she took over the management of the Sammlung Scharpff (Scharpff Collection) and is well connected in the art scene. She is a member of various commissions, such as the Tate Modern in London and the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Now, in Let’s talk abstract, she has interviewed 16 distinguished art experts, each about a non-representational painting. The works were selected by the interviewees.
THE CANON GOES MainstreamEach conversation takes a different course. The conversation with Marion Ackermann, General Director of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, about Bridget Riley's painting In excelsis (2010), which consists of many colourful stripes, segues into Old Master paintings and how the illusion of three-dimensionality is created through the use of complementary colours (e.g. red and green).
The art critic Walter Grasskamp chose Roy Lichtenstein's Brushstroke (1965) because he considered the painting to be one of the few good works by the American Pop Art artist; it went beyond Lichtenstein's otherwise tiresome “typical humour”. In the further course of this conversation, more general themes are consequently discussed as well, such as the canon which, according to Grasskamp, today is lacking a middle-class intelligentsia “that formulates, defends, and transmits it”. At present, any form of canon is no longer regarded as an educational responsibility, but instead as undemocratic paternalism. Now the market is regulating the art business - and the canon has gone mainstream. Artists are completely at the mercy of the “exploitative brutality of today's art market.” No mistaking what’s going on here: Grasskamp is an art sociologist.
ABSTRACT ART, ANGST-FREEThe objections of Deutschlandfunk Kultur’s Eva Hepper to the interview volume are understandable: It would have served the illustrations’ clarity better if they were larger. And the conversations would certainly have been even more instructive if there had been more differences of opinion. Nonetheless, the book is a successful introduction to abstract art - also and in particular for people who may have some qualms about it.
One should not be deterred by abstract art, but instead take art critic Hans-Jürgen Hafner’s advice to heart: “Our everyday life is basically a lot more complicated than any encounter with art.”
Scharpff-Striebich, Carolin (Hg.): Let’s talk abstract.
Berlin: Distanz, 2018. 224 S.