The exhibition works with contrasts and affinities, with historical correspondences and connecting themes. In doing so, it places classics of the collection from Andy Warhol and Alex Katz to Jean-Michel Basquiat in dialogue with spectacular new acquisitions from recent years: works by Jana Euler, Keith Haring, Louise Lawler, Pope.L, Kara Walker, and many more will be presented in the museum for the first time.
The new collection presentation kicks off with Andy Warhol and his fascination with portraits and iridescent self-depictions. The silkscreens and paintings he created from the 1960s depict celebrities such as Jackie Kennedy, Mick Jagger, Elvis Presley and Liz Taylor in bright colors and strong poses. But none of these stars’ biographies were unaffected by disaster, and this is reflected subtly in his work. Marilyn Monroe, perhaps the most famous icon in Warhol’s oeuvre, was immortalized by the artist in his painting “Round Marilyn” (1962) just after her death. But the exhibition shows that other artists also reacted to the figure, who oscillated between self-promotion and loneliness: Richard Avedon, for example, captures the moment after an official photo shoot when the star’s face reveals the sad emptiness behind the glamorous façade. Keith Haring transforms Monroe’s portrait into a grimace, while Sturtevant immerses it in deep black. Louise Lawler photographed Warhol’s “Round Marilyn” in 1988, when the work was put up for auction. By putting a price tag on it, Lawler reminds us that our view of art is never innocent, but is riddled with prestige and capital.
In the rooms that follow, monographic presentations alternate with thematic focuses. Alex Katz, Sturtevant and Jana Euler consider strategies of self-preservation; Robert Gober, Arthur Jafa, Louise Lawler and Bruce Nauman make overt and hidden violence visible; Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mike Kelley, Pope.L, Raymond Saunders and Kara Walker examine racism and social inequalities, while Thomas Eggerer, Jacqueline Humphries and Sigmar Polke reflect on forms of political protest.
In its multiplicity and variety, the exhibition shows that art is not only beautiful and entertaining. It is precisely in their relationship to social issues that artworks present us with very different perspectives and realities of life. And they challenge us to take a stand ourselves. As American artist Pope.L says: “I believe art re-ritualizes the everyday to reveal something fresh about our lives. This revelation is a vitality and it is a power to change the world.”