Balkan Art in Corporate Collections: The Case of Deutsche Telekom
Corporate patronage of the arts is not a new phenomenon; in fact, almost every global corporation owns art collections of some volume (the biggest one being that of Deutsche Bank). In 2016, pptArt, a crowd-sourced platform of art, organised the first Corporate Art Awards in Rome, in collaboration with LUISS Business School.
Some say it all started with the Medici family back in 15th century Florence, when patronage of the arts was a way of achieving higher social status and exculpating some of the ‘guilt’ from being rich. More recently, John D. Rockefeller, often referred to as the father of corporate art collecting, ‘one day just decided’ that his company should start collecting art. Either way, corporate investment in art has become widespread as global executives see in it an opportunity to enhance their image in front of important business partners, the general public and employees. It is seen to foster a more creative and aesthetic working environment, to boost employee productivity, and build connections. Over time, the focus of the practice has shifted from what hangs on the walls of conference rooms, to a form of social and cultural investment in artworks, which is not necessarily aimed at mere ornamentation.
One such collection belongs to Deutsche Telekom, the main German telecommunication company and an offshoot of Reichspost. The Telekom collection was established in 2010 and from its very conception has focused on preserving and promoting contemporary art from Eastern and Southeastern Europe. The collection features works from all ex-Soviet European countries and aims to reflect the variety of artistic, social and political narratives that marked the transitional years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
‘Narratives’ is the key word Mr. Rainald Schumacher, the chief curator at the Deutsche Telekom Art Collection, told me. For him and the company, the retrieving of lost histories and the unearthing of stories that were left out of the ‘official’ records is the key objective of the collection. There are works of all artistic mediums, ranging from the traditional drawings and paintings to the modern video and installation pieces, as well as textiles and sculptures. All of the aforementioned artworks come both from up-and-coming and well-established artists. This wide variety offers a unique insight into the numerous aspects of what the transition from communism to capitalism actually means for both the society and the individual.
In the case of the Balkan Artists, the tension between past and present is explored through various angles. Yane Calovski and Hristina Ivanovska focus on failed utopias and their relationship with religion. Danica Dakic explores displacement and alienation with specific emphasis on terms such as ‘home’, ‘nationality’ and ‘identity’, and their meaning in the context of war and social change. Braco Dimitrijevic tackles the complicated relationship between the individual and history; accordingly, he reflects on the mechanisms through which some people become famous and others do not. Pravdoliub Ivanov looks into the confusing relationship between a person and their environment. Petra Feriancova examines the relationship between emotional response and perception, between the personal and the universal.
Through site-specific performances Igor Grubic aims to break down the boundaries between the institutions and the public, a very painful subject across the region. Ion Grigorescu uses performance to examine the notions of sexuality, body and politics from communist and capitalist points of view.
Petit Halilaj grew up in a refugee camp and his drawings and installations are deeply concerned with the dichotomy ‘loss of home–belonging’, ‘rooted–uprooted’, thus concepts which obtain a new meaning in the context of the growing global mobility. Sejla Kameric’s sometimes cynical and sometime naïve works explore the construction and deconstruction of identities in the process of adapting to capitalism. Sanja Ivekovic uses glossy magazine covers and collages to explore the paradoxes of society’s collective memory.
Radenko Milak and Roman Uranjek focus on the need to recognize the past in the present in order to rise above it. Ciprian Muresan explores the problem of modernity and how for most of the time people are imitating the form without realizing its meaning or, in other words, worshipping without understanding. Vlad Nanca focuses on the uncertainty and irritation, which stem from social change.
Bucharest-based artist Mircea Nicolae examines the effect of historical transition on the city architecture. Genti Korini’s geometric abstractions recall elements of architectural forms and represent visual manifestation of sociopolitical principles. Ioana Nemes approaches the topic of social change by recording daily activities, thoughts and experiences against physical, emotional, intellectual and financial parameters.
Dan Perjovschi describes his approach as journalistic. His cartoons offer a biting political commentary on current issues while Nedko Solakov’s doodles focus on the contradictions of human existence. Marko Tadic tries to bridge the past and the present through the use of various punk, rock and manga motives successfully incorporated with art-historical references, fairytales and quotes from literature.
Vlado Martek is another artist who extensively uses references to literature in his works. Originally a poet, he describes his art forms as ‘pre- and post-poetry’, a discourse on art, philosophy and verse. Geta Bratescu’s art is exclusively focused on the line, while Luka Kedzo fully focuses on the workings of photography and cameras. Paul Neagu believes that art created ‘for the eyes’ has run its course and it is time to make art that could be touched and felt. Alexandra Pirici is a choreographer and performing artist who uses her body to transform artworks originally made in other media.
Tobias Putrih creates sculptures from fugitive materials pointing to the transitory nature of monuments and by extension the values they stand for. Another sculpture artist Cristian Raduta creates objects related to space travels but instead of the heroic tales we are used to associating with space travel he focuses on the failures. Mladen Stilinovic explores the concept of hard work through socialist and capitalist perspective more precisely focusing on the role of laziness in the artistic process. Aleksandra Domanovic’s futuristic sculptures tackle the complicated relationship between the human and the machine, biotechnological humanoids versus the classical Greek statues. Mi Kafchin’s drawings and installations deal with the complex issue of gender change.
The collection features also drawings and doodles by Albanian artist-turned-prime minister Edi Rama which he drew on official government documents as a way to ‘stay sane’ in the mad world of politics.
Speaking about the selection of artists and works Mr Schumacher specifically points out that the art they chose to collect is ‘not for the walls’; it is first and foremost a way to fulfil a social mission and thus intends to carry a meaning more substantial than decoration. Whether a company sees art works as objects for decoration or as an expression of deeper social and cultural processes is an equation with many variables such as the company’s line of work, the image, and the financial standing, amongst others. Both approaches deserve praise and artists from the Balkans have a lot tо offer to both sides. So, let us hope that curators of other corporate collections will follow Deutsche Telekom’s example and keep an eye on contemporary art from the Balkans because it would be beneficial for both the patrons and the artists to invest in preserving the culture and history of the region.