The Collection’s Concept

The Flick Collection contains around 2000 works by 150 artists from the 20th and 21st century. The art from the second half of the century forms the starting and focal points of the Collection with some historically significant stances from the classical moderns. Whilst the Collection is mostly complete in this domain, the its ongoing engagement concentrates primarily on contemporary art focussing mainly on the 21st century.
The private collection has been accumulated over the past twenty years. Not only is its scale geared towards public use; the Collection is distinguished by a stringent intellectual concept of collecting accentuated by large work blocks. Alongside representative main works of all genres – painting, sculpture, photography, video, installations – an abundance of drawings, graphics and models substantiates the quality of the museum collection.

Concept Art and Minimal Art

Concept Art and Minimal Art

The chronological and conceptual starting-point is the mid 1960’s – one of the most important turning points for the tradition of modern art. Conceptual and minimalist perspectives in art are created from the fundamental doubt in traditional ideas of creativity and the avant-garde belief in progress; these are what give the Flick Collection its specific character. The systematic analysis of the conditions under which art is created was looked at by artists from the American Concept Art Movement that was already considered to be classic; these include Joseph Kosuth (*1938), Sol Lewitt (*1928), Lawrence Weiner (*1940), Robert Ryman (*1930), Dan Graham (*1942) und On Kawara (*1933). The last two in particular are very well represented in the Collection by large work blocks. Simultaneously and closely linked to Concept Art, artists such as Carl Andre (*1935), Donald Judd (*1928), John McCracken (*1934), Dan Flavin (1933) developed the plastic works belonging to Minimal-Art, partly through the reduction to a minimalist repertoire of forms.

Someone who paved the way for an art trend seeking to define and reflect upon its own existence is Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). With his radical invention of the ready-made he opened a portal that has proven pioneering in the most diverse ways. The three renowned ready-mades (Bottle Dryer, Bicycle Wheel and Snow Shovel) consequently form the intellectual starting-point for a path of development in the 20th century whose peaks and focal points are evident in the Collection – before then branching out into diverse spheres.
The second classical focal point is the work of Francis Picabia (1879-1953), which is opulently represented by five early drawings from the 1920’s, 13 paintings of pinup girls of the so-called kitsch period and his abstract late-work in conceptual pluralism of style. It was not until the 1980’s that the controversial “Master of Surprises” (A. Breton) underwent a fundamental review that made him the forerunner for following generations of conceptual painters.
A third classic of early modern art is Alberto Giacometti (1901-66), whose tomb-style figures perhaps reflect the most immediate personal state of the collector: The inner turmoil and anonymity of people in the 20th century.

The Heartpiece: Bruce Nauman

The Heartpiece: Bruce Nauman

Taking the existential questioning of Giacometti’s as a starting-point, the Heartpiece accesses the Collection by way of its moral and political dimensions: Bruce Nauman’s (*1941) comprehensive work block is arranged using the complete expanse of its technical and formal diversity. In spite of their divergence his works possess a rawness that conceals a process of ‘doing’ behind a formal finish, radiating a directly physical presence. With the collected editions, further 25 paper works, eight early videos, eleven room installations and 29 sculptural pieces the work of one the most important artists of the second half of the 20th century is presented in its entirety.

The Dadaistic Root: Text and Image

Within the historic field of tension between Duchamp and Picabia the conceptual line can be continued from various angles. Starting from the common influence of Dadaism and its typographical experiments, the combination of text and image forms a central point of departure: Two collaged Merz drawings by Kurt Schwitter (1887-1948), the scriptural Notate by Cy Twombly (*1928) or the poetic bricolages by the poet-artist Marcel Broodthaers (1924-76). Under the influence of Wittgenstein and the French structuralists and post-structuralists, the orientation towards logos is continued with Carl Andre, Joseph Kosuth, Robert Barrys (*1936) and frequently Bruce Nauman, with the fluxus language of John Cage (*1912), Nam June Paik (*1932) and Dieter Roth (1930-1998) or the comic-like drawings by Mike Kelley (*1954), Karen Kilimnik (*1955), Paul McCarthy (*1945) or Raymond Pettibon (*1957).

Conceptual Painting

The orientation to language described by Richard Rorty in 1967 as “linguistic turn” is nevertheless faced with a development that reflects painting as a medium; a development whose programme has its roots in the Flick Collection with Francis Picabia. His revocation of the categorical difference between object and abstract painting is continued in the 1960’s and 70’s with the German painters Sigmar Polke (*1942) and Gerhard Richter (*1932). Parallel to this the early work of Georg Baselitz (*1938) distinguishes itself through just as vehement a confession to the object just as Blinky Palermo (1943-77) committed himself to abstraction. With his wall-breaking “Hirten” (“Shepherds”) from 1966 Baselitz not only brings down the wall that had just been erected between East and West but also the ideological norm of international abstraction. Beyond ideological trench battles, On Kawara’s “Date Paintings” are utterly symbolic of the dissolving of script and image, abstraction and object in the continuum of painting. Picabia’s erratic nature and frequent change of style was long seen as an unacceptable blemish; painters such as Martin Kippenberger (1953-97) and Albert Oehlen (*1956) connected to this very tradition of “bad painting” in the 1980’s. What became coined as the “iconic turn” under the influence of the mass media and their immense flood of pictures is encountered sceptically by the Belgian painters Luc Tuymans (*1958) or Raoul de Keyser (*1973) by way of a slow and less erratic style of painting with a sparse palette. Current individual stances such as that of Peter Doig (*1959), Marlene Dumas (*1953), Urs Fischer (*1973), Elisabeth Peyton (*1965) or of Jan Imschoot (*1963) mark the broad spectrum in which “broken mirror” painting is questioned as to its remaining prospects.


The self- examination of painting has developed historically through the invention of photography. In the artistic contest of diverse methods of portrayal, artistic photography, already competing with painting at the beginning of the 20th century, separated from objective photography, which concentrated on its own specific nature. With the precise capturing of pictures aimed at exact reproduction of forms pursued by Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) and the “stylistically documentary” photos of Walter Evans (1903-75) the extensive photographic section of the Flick Collection sets a clear accent in favour of the leading advocates of objective photography from the 1920’s. The rare group of the 21 vintage prints “Equivalents” by Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) or the crucial collection of Bauhaus photography may be seen as pinnacles of this era. The comprehensive group of earlier photo series by Bernd (*1931) and Hilla Becher (*1934) are of this tradition; their systematic industrial photographs of encyclopaedic character linked objective with conceptual photography. Among the conceptual artists of the 1970’s Vito Acconci (*1940), Dan Graham and Gordon Matta-Clark (1948-78) produced significant work in the medium of photography. The next generation of pure photo artists includes the Becher pupils Thomas Ruff (*1958), Thomas Struth (*1954), Candida Höfer (*1944) and Andreas Gursky (*1955); two significant names are Wolgang Tillmanns (*1968), who works between art, fashion and documentary photography, or Cindy Sherman (*1954), who constantly stages herself anew in photographic self-portraits. The auratic Cibachrome light boxes by Jeff Wall (*1946) went beyond the scope of two-dimensional photography. In their technical affinity for moving pictures the photographs of Fischli/Weiss, Christopher Williams (*1956), Rodney Graham (*1949) and Stan Douglas (*1960) take on an important function within their oeuvre.

Video Installations

Video InstallationsThe increasing significance of moving pictures and the new media in contemporary art is given enduring consideration by the Flick Collection; the chronological beginning is marked by Nam June Paik as founder of video art. Paik’s first video objects include “TV Chair” and “TV Bra for Living Sculpture” which was constructed for the cellist Charlotte Moorman: a brassiere with two monitors. For the futuristic vision of the human being between medium and machine Paik’s “Robot K 456” from 1963/64 became an icon of the 1960’s. Bruce Nauman’s work was also pioneering in this field with his early video works that began as recorded performances. Eight of the video volumes created in 1968/69 deal with simple movements ritualised through repetition; a corridor installation from 1970 and four newer video works from the 80’s and 90’s that are integrated into the sculptural work substantiate his ongoing scrutiny of the new medium. The eccentric video installation “Santa Chocolate Shop” by Paul McCarthy (*1945) also arose from the performance; the artist constructs his own focal point in the Collection. Further significant stances were taken by the Canadian artists Rodney Graham and Stan Douglas, the former using his masquerades of clichéd roles and the latter his cinematic examinations of cinematography to refer back to the history of the medium of (video) film. The introduction of moving pictures into the museum is shared by artists such as Elija-Liisa Ahtila (*1959), Pipilotti Rist (*1962), Diana Thater (*1962) or Rachel Khedoori (*1964). These artists use new surfaces and projection techniques, from video to laser beam installations, from real-time transmission to computer-generated simulation and interaction in order to help relieve traditional frontal cinema of its limitations.

Object – Space – Installation

The growing difficulty in arranging in order of genres is omnipresent, but nowhere as clearly as in the expansion of plastic works into spacious, multimedial ensembles. A starting-point for this lies in Duchamp’s pioneering concept of the ready-made, originally an object in the spatial area, albeit of industrial production. The reception of Duchamp by Pop Art can be appreciated in the Flick Collection in its conceptual variant with works by George Segal (*1924) or Duane Hanson (*1925). With the museum’s staging of everyday objects or their stylised simulation as valuable materials Jeff Koons (*1955) prolongs the issue of how things stand. The work by Peter Fischli (*1952) and David Weiss (*1946) revolves around this question; their everyday objects of rubber and polyurethane are “not so much simulations of things but rather simulations of ready-mades” (B. Groys). The extensive bundle of works of the two Swiss artists shows a preference for humoristic tones and entertaining pirouettes. Spiritually akin artists such as Marcel Broodthaers, Rodney Graham, Martin Kippenberger or Thomas Schütte (*1954) have an imaginative capacity for invention that shimmers between wit, irony and melancholy. These artists provide significant points of focus within the three-dimensional medium. The graphic artist and painter Schütte was exceptional in the way he monumentalised motifs from his world of images into objects, models and sculptures in the public sphere. Each of these caricatured or made an issue of genre-specific function. The criticism of institutions that is associated with ready-mades is likewise pursued in the neo-dadaist spirit of the fluxus movement. The movement produced Dieter Roth’s rampant work that expands on earlier mounds of mould and chocolate sculptures, going as far as spacious installations such as “Flacher Abfall” (“Flat Waste”). The destructive components of the accumulation are augmented by Jason Rhoades (*1965); the abundance of material used in his exuberant installation opens a new dimension to which the Flick Collection devotes a generous amount of room. Within the multitude of media and forms of expression, sculpture in its wide array between autonomy and participation also stands in the centre of the extensive work block of Frank West (*1947). With the Passstücke (Adaptives/adaptation pieces) made of papier-mâché and the metal “furniture” developed from this, the theme is the tactile grasping, mental adaptation and social possession of his sculptures. Joint projects with Heimo Zoberning (*1959) testify a Viennese kindred spirit; his geometric special corpora strictly refuse to be rendered aesthetic in allusion to the self-referential objects of minimal art. Roman Signer pursues a completely different approach with his works that are established between experimental set-up and event sculpture; in part they can only be documented by photos and videos.
Parallel to this line of intellectual materiality derived from Duchamp the Flick Collection has a second theme related to Giacometti, who is committed to a classical concept of sculpture. Governed by plastic presence and bodylines, the relation of body and spatial volume as well as the expression of manual workmanship, the observer experiences being in an immediate bodily relationship to all of these. The feelings of existential angst that is encountered in immediate physical proximity such as isolation, suffering and violence also determine the plastic work of Bruce Nauman that is fully represented throughout all phases – from the first fibreglass sculptures, the figured and textual neon reliefs, animal sculptures and wax heads or spatial sculptures, corridors and outdoor sculptures. The will to create form and meaning of content accomplishes an artistic synthesis, regardless of figurative or abstract development; this synthesis in turn accomplishes a political and moral dimension. The exemplary requirement fulfilled by Bruce Nauman’s work is characteristic of the high standards set by the Flick Collection.
Dorothea Zwirner