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The Flick Collection - When art crosses over into the ethical-political sphere

On September 22nd, the collection of Friedrich Christian Flick will be opening at the the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Berlin. The millionaire business man is the grandson of Friedrich Flick, who made his fortune from the war arms industry during the Nazi regime using Jewish slave labourers. The exhibition has sparked much debate within the Jewish community as well as in the press, among politicians and also within the Flick family itself. The discussion revolves around the issue of "cleaning blood" and the accusation that the collector is trying to avoid paying taxes with this exhibition. Even his sister, Dagmar Ottman, argues that the collection should not be presented until an exhaustive survey on her family's past has been done and stated, in a letter to the newspaper 'Die Zeit', that she was not involved in the project.

Nam June Paik - Robot K 456 (1964)
© Nam June Paik
Foto: S. Rötheli, Zürich

The curator of the exhibition, Eugen Blume, clearly wants to make the art public and does not want the exhibition to be put into storage. He maintains that the point of the exhibition goes beyond scandals - it is for art´s sake and should be looked at from an aesthetical point of view. An interview held between Mr. Blume and Mr. Flick will be available to visitors, as well as complementary information on the family's past . While the exhibition is on, further research on the family will also be done.
The museum's exhibition areas have been enlarged with the Rieck Hallen, which covers an area of 13,000 m². The rooms are going to be used in the future for changing exhibitions. The collection stock will change during its seven year stay at the museum. For now they are showing more than one third of the collector's legacy, around 400 pieces, which range from painting, installation and video to photography and sculpture. The work is by artists from the last decades of the twentieth century as well as some work by classical modern artists such as Francis Picabia, Alberto Giacometti and Marcel Duchamp. The collection, which has never been shown before, consists of work from 150 different artists - 39 have been chosen for this exhibition. The work is organised into themes such as "space and architecture", "body and sexuality" and the theme of the museum itself. Work by the artist Bruce Nauman is one of the highlights. German artists such as Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz, Blinky Palermo, Neo Rauch and Daniel Richter, as well as the Belgian artist Luc Tuymans are among the painters being shown. Work from Paul McCarthy, Nam June Paik, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, On Kawara, Sol LeWitt, Dan Graham, and Marcel Broodthaers, among others, can also be seen. Stih y Schnoch, who carry out artistic action in public spaces, have placed a poster near the museum, criticising the exhibition with the phrase "Free entry for former slave labourers".

Bruce Nauman - Double Poke in the Eye II (1985)
© VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2004
Foto: A. Burger, Zürich

In response to the exhibition there will also be some parallel sessions on collectors and art and the exhibition Forced labour in Germany 1938-1945 from the Prenzlauer Berg Museum, which includes the Flick family as an example. What is happening in Berlin with the Flick Collection and the exhibition on the German terrorist group the RAF, which opens at the beginning of 2005, shows that art can enter in the area of ethical judgment and public values. Both exhibitions have been strongly criticised and censured. Apart from this, the curators want to present art beyond ethical-political values and think about the democratisation of art for a broader audience.
As Christina Weiss, senator of culture in Germany told the press in an interview, the Flick Collection confronts Germany with its own past and with its actual history. In this case, art is the moderator. Art goes beyond discussions and remains a free, creative expression, as well as a generator of dialogues.

Text: Katerina Valdivia Bruch
Translation: Katerina Valdivia Bruch
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