by Rahul KumarJul 02, 2022
Visit to the Pera Museum’s exhibit titled And Now the Good News was a highlight for me during my recent visit to Istanbul. Spread over three of the five floors of the museum, the show presented a curated selection from the private collection of Annette & Peter Nobel. The idea of press and media ran through all the works in the show. “…contribution to the social discourses is important. Artists are specialists in communication and know about the dangers of manipulation, propaganda and fake news. Press Art creates a new and crucial level of reflection,” says Christoph Doswald, the curator of the show. The ‘press’ has special historical significance, in general. The invention of the print media has brought about both the spirit of the enlightenment as well as state control. The exhibit explores both these aspects through the art works.
The genesis of the Switzerland-based Nobel collection itself originates from an incident when a work of art acquired for his office by Peter Nobel was rejected by the CEO. Painting of a man selling newspapers was not ‘arty’ enough and Nobel took it upon himself to begin the journey of building, what is now a magnificent collection.
The 164 artists at the show include John Baldessari, Georges Braque, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elmgreen & Dragset, Alberto Giacometti, Barbara Kruger, David Hockney, Malevich, Aleksandr Rodchenko, and Andy Warhol. They offer fresh points of view by questioning the autonomy of art and bringing future artistic discourses to face reality.
I speak to the art curator Christoph Doswald.
Rahul Kumar: Works on display at the Pera Museum show titled And Now the Good News are a part of the Nobel Collection. How did you go about selecting the works – did you first think of the theme or began by selecting the works and the theme emerged?
Christoph Doswald: An exhibition with works by a wide variety of artists needs a good ‘storyline’, i.e., a captivating narrative. The storyline of the exhibition at the Pera Museum is based on what the artworks say, on the themes they focus on. It starts with the white, blank paper. Then comes the word, followed by the photograph – and it is only from this combination of paper, word, and image that the basis for a newspaper emerges. From this starting point then emerges the diverse topics that are reflected in the reporting of magazines, newspapers and, more recently, social media platforms: politics, business, culture, society, sports, lifestyle. And Now the Good News focuses on these relevant aspects of our life through the lens of art. But art's view of the media is an ambivalent one. On the one hand it is carried by a critical basic tenor, on the other hand by an admiration for its power and influence.
Rahul: Please talk about the collection itself. How did the Nobels begin collecting?
Christoph: The Nobel Collection goes back to the 1970s when Mr. Nobel started to work as a lawyer for a publishing house in Switzerland. He was invited by the CEO of the company to buy an artwork for his new office. He immediately started a research in the local galleries and discovered a painting, showing a man selling newspapers on the street. At the time, this was a normal way to distribute newspapers and Mr Nobel was happy to have found an artwork with a link to his new company. He invited his boss and proudly presented the painting to him. But the CEO did not like it at all, stating the newspaper-man looked too sad – which was true. Mr Nobel was disappointed and angry of this reaction and decided to buy the painting for himself. He took it home and that was the first Press Art acquisition he made. Since then the collection has been growing enormously, to now more than 2000 artworks. For the exhibition at the Pera Museum we were looking for a comprehensive but focussed selection.
Rahul: What is the key area of focus for the Nobel collection, if any?
Christoph: The Nobel Collection has a very clear focus: it looks for art dealing with the media. This sounds simple, but has many different layers to it, as media and art interact almost without any limits. But the common ground between art and media is a very important value for our contemporary modern world – freedom. Freedom of thinking, freedom of writing, freedom of publishing. The timeline of Press Art included in the Nobel Collection is not though reflecting many important chapters of world history. Dadaism and Cubism are a comment on WW1 and on the industrialisation; Pop art and Nouveau Réalistes refer to the consumer's society of the 1960s and 1970s; Russian Constructivists had the support of a new and better socialist society in mind; US-photographers were sent out by Franklin D Roosevelt to deliver pictures for the reforms of the New Deal, following the economic crisis of 1929. You find all these important topics in the Nobel Collection.
Rahul: How has the evolution of media, its format, and therefore the format of how we consume news, has impacted ‘press art’ over the years?
Christoph: I would call it a parallel evolution and a creative interaction. You find many artists who work for the press – like Barbara Kruger or John Heartfield, to name just a few. The attraction of working for the media, I know that as I worked some years as an editor and writer, is its velocity and its influence on public opinion. This was a reason why the Dadaist created their own newspapers, and why Andy Warhol founded his legendary Interview magazine. On the other hand, the media is having an impact on public opinion, on politics, and on our perception of the world. This contribution to the social discourses is important. Artists are specialists in communication and know about the dangers of manipulation, propaganda and fake news. Press Art creates a new and crucial level of reflection.
Rahul: Art often responds to the contemporary times and socio-political environment. Please comment on some of the significant works in the exhibit that have a distinct language to showcase uncomfortable reality?
Christoph: There are many examples for artworks reflecting on the people’s and media’s ignorance. Let me just mention two: Alfredo Jaar collected the covers of Newsweek magazine from the day when the civil war in Rwanda started. The covers were celebrating the anniversary of Grunge musician Kurt Cobain and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Newsweek focussed on Wall Street and the new trend for health food. To cut it short: It took Newsweek four months to report finally on the horrible genocide, the killing of more than one million innocent people, one of the crudest acts in human history. You will find that impressive and central artwork in the Nobel Collection as well as a very small collage of Hans Arp, titled Du sollst nicht ahsen mit phrasen. Arp was an important Dadaist and a powerful enemy of the German Nazis. He cut out a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from the early 1930s. Thats the time when Adolf Hitler campaigned for German Kanzler and stated, that he was not applying for the job for the money as he is a successful writer, a cultural entrepreneur. That is ridiculous, of course, but it shows that also in art and culture we are not able to draw a clear line between good and bad – culture and writing are not necessarily better than any other profession.
Rahul: How have you dealt with the contrasting metaphors of mass production (through mass media) and mass culture at one hand, and the high art and ‘preciousness’ of a unique work of art on the other?
Christoph: This is a question which had been raised already by Pop Art and Nouveau Realists in the 1960s when the western world experienced for the first time a period of endless holidays, a disruptive period compared to pre-war era with a mainly materialistic focus. The lack or the prohibition of ideologies have been creating a new consumeristic behaviour, a focus on earning money, having a good life – sex, drugs and rock and roll is the core message. During the evolution the value of art has been transformed as well. Before the industrial revolution art had a very common presence in everyday life; it was part of religious architecture (churches) and of political representation (royal palaces, noble houses), During the industrialisation art was a symbol of enlightenment and modernity, of independent thinking and innovation. These values are now under pressure and we have to be aware of the actual tendencies, trying to transform art into a commodity, into a pure investment issue.
Rahul: Would you agree that several artists have used satire in their works. Is that a common approach, in your opinion, when dealing with the perception of ‘authority’ that a media house generally commands?
Christoph: I do not see that – the artists react very individually against the homogenisation of information, and that's good!