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Art is the drug

LAST CHANCE. Pharmaceutical giant Bayer boasts a sparkling collection of modern art – is it enough to shine up their less-than-gleaming image? Check out this roll-call of artistic innovation and decide for yourself before June 9.

Image for Art is the drug
Roberto Cordone

Behind the façade of the Bayer corporation lies a hidden treasure: an abounding modern art collection. In light of the company’s 150th anniversary, the pharmaceutical giant is showcasing its most prized works in Berlin for the first time at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in “From Beckmann to Warhol”.

One might question the motives behind the exhibition, and there’s certainly no shortage of Bayer propaganda. Still, with 240 works from 89 artists including household names such as Chagall, Picasso, Hockney, Kippenberger, LeWitt and Warhol, this is a comprehensive collection. It is organised into four art periods – Expressionism, Ecole de Paris, post-war, and the 1970s to today – that “parallel Bayer’s life as a company”. Under the category “new objectives” is a small but memorable pair of Roberto Cordone sculptures based on shapes of carbon atoms, which Cordone made using Bayer’s plastics application technology, coinciding with an artistic exchange between chemists, technicians, and tradesmen. Notable impressionist works include an expansive collection of delicate Kirchner sketches. Another shining star is the radiant colour-blocked Figure 24 (1986) by Imi Knoebel.

However, the collection is not only limited to big-name artists. Starting in the 1970s, when art began to openly cross the classical material boundaries, Bayer began to promote unknown names by investing in scholarships and other opportunities for young emerging artists. Today this idea is still reinforced by the Bayer arts and culture stART programme, which promotes young talent in the spheres of music, dance, drama, and visual arts. Walking through the exhibition tells a story of artistic trailblazing. Experimental art forms are embraced, from Manolo Millares’ creative canvas manipulation from the 1960s to Marven Graf’s pragmatic, neo-feminist photo series from 2012 in which women stand gaping at the camera with tape-covered mouths. Yes, the exhibition may only be an attempt by the corporation to put a friendly, colourful spin on its ‘evil empire’ image, but one has to admit: they’ve got good taste.

From Beckmann to Warhol, Mar 22-Jun 9 | Martin-Gropius-Bau

Originally published in Issue #116, May 2013