The first exhibition of your Drawing Prize outside France opened in Germany on 16 November at the Wilhelm Hack Museum, Ludwigshafen, and will run until 24 February 2019. How was it organised?
We would first like to thank the Centre Pompidou for having hosted the exhibition celebrating the tenth anniversary of our Drawing Prize, in 2017, featuring the works of the thirty nominees. It was a splendid event and our goal is to show the work of these artists every year if possible. For the Prize should not only attract media attention during the week of the Salon du Dessin. This exhibition in Germany thus acknowledged the thirty-three artists selected so far and one of them, Marc Bauer, even designed a Wall Drawing specially for the occasion. Among the one hundred and fifty drawings, some came from our own collection and were completed by loans from different galleries or the prizewinning works donated each year by the Foundation to the Centre Pompidou. The hanging in Germany is totally different from the one in Paris and this new perspective, arranged in thematic chapters, has proved very exciting.
You are also very busy preparing your next exhibitions...
Yes, we are travelling with this Prize, in France and abroad, for we owe it to the artists with whom we have entered into a long-term, amicable relationship. We would be absolutely delighted to exhibit them in a French museum, too. In tandem, the donation of our collection, comprising one thousand, two hundred drawings, is also on the move. A selection of these works will be shown at the Albertina, Vienna, in autumn 2019, and then at the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, in spring 2020. Without making it a provision of the donation, this is what we hoped for when we gave these works to the Centre Pompidou and we are very happy that this is being done with such brio.
The Prize and the donation are at once independent and interrelated, for the day on which we decided to restore prestige to drawing, we steered our collection even further in this direction. What's more, when travelling to other places to prepare exhibitions, we discover new artists whom we later go and visit in their studios. We find that fascinating.
How did you select this year's three nominees, Friedrich Kunath, Claire Morgan and Jerome Zonder?
Friedrich Kunath, who lives in Los Angeles, first came to our attention when we saw his very graphic painting at the home of some friends and fellow collectors. We had known about Claire Morgan for several years, because we collect her works and we finally got to meet her when we were preparing the Prize. As for Jerome Zonder, his exhibition at La Maison Rouge made a big impact, while the one at the Château de Chambord convinced us that he was an exceptional draughtsman. This year we have welcomed Camille Morineau, Lucia Pesapane and Annabelle Teneze as new members of the selection committee. They have brought their own vision to this twelfth edition of our Drawing Prize.
By Marie Maertens
Through his works - not only drawings, but also paintings and sculptures - Friedrich Kunath raises questions about distance and perception. Born in East Germany, he constantly reinterprets the tradition of Romanticism, landscape and human passions... in the land of California, his present home.
Kunath had always wanted to explore the Far West. As a child, he was a huge fan of American films, music and skateboard culture. California was in the realm of dreams for someone trained midway between the legacy of German Expressionism and the omnipresence of Joseph Beuys. Nowadays, in Los Angeles, he seeks to preserve a balance between his own images and some of his fully-assumed reappropriations. Fascinated by American sterotypes, he mixes memories of cartoons and kitsch references (idyllic beaches and rainbows) with landscapes recalling Caspar David Friedrich and Albrecht Diirer. He unashamedly combines Venice Beach with Albrecht Altdorfer. He nevertheless dads his conceptual approach to art in a quasi-mystical aura, judging that successful works have the power to "console" and the capacity to connect with their spectator. They could even be said to border on an intimate relationship.
Thus to tackle essential themes such as life, death, love and loss, Kunath allows his works to gain autonomy, accepting accidents that happen and devising several pieces at the same time. "Not infusing too much of one's ego into a work is a problem artists are very familiar with. So you leave open the possibility of the work escaping from your control and becoming greater than you!" Despite this apparent act of letting go, he remains an obsessive worker, as can be seen from the landscapes with meticulous gradation and precise details, inspired by the lyrics of the songs he listens to non-stop in his studio. There's a mix of genres, here again, allowing him a breathing space, in a world that does not enjoy that much freedom, while his pastel tones and sunsets embrace his existential questions. Friedrich Kunath shows that one sometimes becomes what one is when a long way from home. He rereads Nietzsche, analysing the difference of interpretation between East Berlin and Santa Monica... Distance transforms things, but subtracts none of the contents.
In an oeuvre comprising works on paper, paintings and installations, Claire Morgan combines geometry and lyricism - two notions that may appear to contradict one another but which correspond to her determination to reconcile a certain radicalness and the vitality she observes in nature and the animal kingdom. In each work, Morgan bears witness to this ambiguity, composed of an apparent gentleness, while the subject is deeply rooted in the issues at stake in today's world. Some have compared her work to mythology, recalling the wanderings of Icarus, for instance, in relation to the numerous birds that she puts on display. Yet here it is more a question of observing the energy of animals moving in nature and of succeeding in "capturing a fleeting moment:' a somewhat Titanesque project... She admits that she is constantly caught in the paradox between following up a process that she has imposed on herself and the loss of this control that leads her in such exciting directions. Her notes and sketches, for example, are meant to nourish a work but, in the end, it is often the least obvious connections that emerge. She thus snatches up her graphite pencil to make lively sketches that will later be completed with minute details. Recently, she has left her own footprint in works, suggesting that human beings intrude into even the tiniest area of the globe. With this ever-growing bestiary, immobilised in her sculptures by taxidermy, Morgan reflects on current ecological and political issues. "We too are animals, but we behave as if we are the dominant species, causing much harm to others. We are great manipulators and it is true that I do encourage a form of responsibility." Though she claims she has no affiliation with the numerous paintings which, in art history, have given a specific, occasionally anthropomorphic, character to animal species, she concedes that she has looked at both the paintings and writings of people such as Francis Bacon, Anselm Kiefer and Cy Twombly. Proof again of this immanent energy and epidermic awareness of what humankind is. Fearing overly evident narratives, Morgan herself likes to be surprised by the "connections" in her work, a word she frequently uses to allow a new meaning to emerge. "In order to really experiment, one has to know how to let go of one's subject."
Apart from potential fashion phenomena and debates on technique or virtuosity, since the early 2000s Jerome Zonder has proclaimed his passion for drawing and the infinite effects that he may lavish upon this genre. Making no compromises, his dexterity pulls the spectator into the heart of his narrative.
The large hyperrealist self-portrait of his early career had, incidentally, warned this spectator. In the accompanying comic-strip speech bubble, the artist had written that he'd never manage to do everything that he wanted... He then went on to explore a dark world of organic materials and children acting out some of the worst periods in history. Using graphite pencil or charcoal, he delved into what makes human beings, examining their brutality as much as their stupefying beauty. While history plays a dominant role in his work, especially World War II, which bears witness to paroxysms of horror, he reminds us that he also belongs to a generation unable to ignore the conflicts of the 1990s. Having tackled different aspects of past history directly, he now positions himself on a path somewhere between reality and the way in which it is recounted. While developing the narrative structures of his works, he enriches his technique, particularly with charcoal powder which he can apply with his finger.
For in addition to the scenes that he portrays for us, Zonder analyses the problems related to his medium, characterised by line or mass. "These two approaches enable me to question, in different ways, what a subject is. When I was very young, I even did a drawing about these two symbolistic expressions of humankind which I define through impression and line." As for knowing whether drawing is actually more a question of line, the artist replies that limits only exist to be overstepped, as he demonstrates through his perfect contours, increasingly juxtaposed with blurred effects, shading and shifting spaces. Which he sums up as "pulverised elements" that steer the gaze towards different possible interpretations. He may also add scraps of fabric, which allude to different geographies, or a flashback to his own drawings, a token of maturity and this rhizome logic, ever feeding on its vital force. An energy he hopes will be communicative, ceaselessly seeking to "feel" the drawing and to see how far it may lead us.