What’s new, Artur Walther? Interview by Nadine Dinter

This month, it was my pleasure to interview the German-American collector Artur Walther, a real powerhouse within the fields of images and artwork. For a while I’ve been following the actions and exhibitions of the recipient of the 2021 Tradition Award of the German Photographic Society (DGPh Kulturpreis) and was thrilled to have this chance to talk with him about what’s new.


Nadine Dinter: Mr. Walther, you had been simply awarded the Kulturpreis 2021 by the German Society for Pictures (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie). Congratulations! What does this prize imply to you?

Artur Walther: Thanks. It was very humbling to be the recipient of the DGPh Tradition Prize, which prior to now has been awarded to many individuals I like enormously. After residing in the USA for greater than 40 years, it was a particular honor to have acquired this prize within the nation I used to be born and grew up in. It’s notably touching to obtain the award in Düsseldorf, which is intently linked to my unique curiosity in images, and reference to the influential artist duo Bernd and Hilla Becher. However as I mentioned in my acceptance speech, I really feel I’m simply the bodily recipient of the prize; the honour is shared with all of the curators, students, and your complete staff working tirelessly with me on the Assortment’s actions. The prize can also be for all of the artists whose work we have now collected and exhibited over time: it’s a recognition of the excellent works created in several cultures that had been largely uncared for till the final twenty years.

Let’s bounce again in time. When did you purchase your first {photograph}, and who was it by? When did you understand or determine that you simply wished to construct up such a formidable images assortment and dedicate your time to rising it?

AW: I spent a lot of my skilled profession on Wall Road in worldwide funding banking. Though I discovered the sphere very thrilling and difficult, it was additionally parochial on the similar time. So I made a decision to pursue a extra various life — to journey, to check structure and design, and to be extra concerned within the arts. This journey started on the Worldwide Heart of Pictures (ICP) in New York, the place I attended quite a few programs as an grownup scholar. I took workshops with nice photographers reminiscent of Joel Meyerowitz, Mary Ellen Mark, Bruce Davidson, Stephen Shore, and related with the Bechers. Though I solely made pictures for a comparatively quick interval myself, the medium had a robust impression on me. I grew to become a trustee at ICP and had joined the Pictures Committee of the Whitney Museum. I spotted I wished to have interaction in several methods, and have become very enthusiastic about all points of researching, accumulating, curating, exhibiting and publishing. Over time, this new form of engagement led to an growing curiosity in constructing a group.

My first buy was a typology of grain elevators from the American Midwest, adopted by a collection of iconic black and white pictures of coal bunkers, fuel tanks, and blast furnaces by Bernd and Hilla Becher. They influenced me enormously; it was the start of a long-term friendship. Their investigation of commercial typologies intently mirrored my very own manner of seeing and looking out on the world… simply final month, The Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in New York opened the superbly executed retrospective exhibition Bernd & Hilla Becher which incorporates a key work from the Assortment.


A few of Germany’s most iconic pictures type the spine of your assortment: works from the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) and Bauhaus actions and photographers like August Sander and Karl Blossfeldt. And you lately began targeted on African and Asian images as effectively. What motivated you to develop the gathering on this path?

AW: There was no grand plan or particular thematic path with my preliminary accumulating. It developed regularly, beginning with the Bechers and the work of their college students, and later expanded with works by August Sander and Karl Blossfeldt, amongst different European and American photographers. Shifting past Neue Sachlichkeit, I began to give attention to artists who introduced new views and narratives that challenged the Western canon. It grew to become more and more essential for me as I continued to develop the Assortment additional to broaden my data via studying extra concerning the work of latest artists from totally different cultural backgrounds, and the social, private, and political environments they had been working inside – and to see the place there is likely to be similarities between them, and current works within the Assortment: thematically, conceptually, aesthetically, et cetera.

I’ve been enthusiastic about images and lens-based media artwork from China and Japan for the reason that mid Nineties. The historical past of Chinese language images is intensive, and interesting: the tip of the Cultural Revolution and the financial opening of China beneath Deng Xiaoping ushered within the beginnings of a brand new inventive freedom, offering a era of artists with alternatives for publicity, mobility, and engagement past the nation’s geographical borders. The vital mass of latest artists lively within the Eighties and 90s represented an essential turning level – it was this very second that marked my first encounter with China, whereas a dramatic shift in inventive manufacturing was happening.

I first encountered African images in 1996, within the exhibition In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Current on the Guggenheim Museum. The pictures of David Goldblatt, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Seydou Keïta, and Malick Sidibé affected me profoundly. They had been so totally different from the dominant representations of Africa—the documentary and photojournalist pictures of struggle and famine, displacement, and genocide. I quickly grew to become shut buddies with the good curator Okwui Enwezor, who was accountable for the present. In 2004, we started to analysis modern positions from Africa, with the thought to dedicate an exhibition to the theme. Okwui and I traveled all through the continent for 4 weeks: from Tangier to Cape City through Dakar and again to Cairo through Nairobi and Addis Ababa. The consequence was the exhibition Snap Judgments: New Positions in Modern African Pictures, which opened at ICP in 2006 and was subsequently proven in Europe. This analysis journey, and the 2 exhibitions, drew my consideration to African images, which over the following 15 years would grow to be the nook stone of The Walther Assortment.

Lately, the Assortment has additionally targeted on vernacular images in a variety of stylistic types, archival purposes, and bodily codecs—specifically, an in-depth exploration of the serial and multi-faceted nature of vernacular images. Among the broad classes represented inside the Assortment embody household images and snapshots, albums and photograph books, ethnographic and scientific images, mug pictures and identification pictures, studio and road portraiture, in addition to architectural, and industrial images. We additionally maintain a number of transferring picture, video and blended media set up works.


How do you develop your assortment? Do you analysis thrilling new artists your self, or do you might have an artwork guide to help you in new acquisitions, and that are your favourite galleries to work with?

AW: I’ve been very lucky to encompass myself with an excellent constituency of writers, curators, artists, and teachers, all of whom proceed to deeply affect my mind-set about images whereas additionally introducing me to new developments and artists. Once I acquire artists’ work, I have a tendency to gather in-depth — I’m enthusiastic about buying multiples, reasonably than single pictures. I don’t take a look at particular person photos; I at all times take a look at our bodies of labor. I’m very a lot pushed by collection, tableaux, typologies, and taxonomies. Once I help artists via acquisitions, I like to take care of the likelihood to collaborate with them sooner or later, on devoted tasks with the Assortment – publications, exhibitions, commissions or occasions.


Would you grant us a sneak peek into your “scorching listing”? Whose work has just lately caught your eye? How lengthy does it normally take till you determine to amass a picture? Are you extra of a spontaneous collector who acquires artwork whereas looking at a good like Paris Picture, or are you extra cautious, basing your selections on in-depth analysis of artists’ market worth after which figuring out a technique to put money into their works?

AW: The Basis’s method to images is instructional: to assemble, to analysis, to publish, and to exhibit images as a vital file of social change. A key side since opening the museum campus in Neu-Ulm in 2010 has been to current the works of artists from Africa and Asia in dialogue with Western artists. On this regard, the Assortment has revealed a number of visible research on current images from Asia, in addition to quite a few books on historic and modern African images. One other purpose of the Assortment lately has been to develop the visibility of vernacular images with a view to recast current histories of images, and to insert into these narratives objects and questions which have typically been ignored or erased. In doing so, we goal to discover what the historical past of images may seem like with on a regular basis pictures inserted, but additionally to think about what these ‘abnormal’ pictures may inform us about social patterns and human conduct? To gather international vernacular images was a logical development from our funding in African, Asian, and Western images and an space we’re nonetheless eager to develop additional.

Therefore my accumulating methods are at all times deeply linked to the conceptualization of forthcoming exhibitions and publications in improvement, with the view to increasing and deepening a thematic exploration, and likewise in relation to current works within the Assortment. In most cases artists’ work is researched rigorously previous to buying, but sometimes auctions or artwork festivals provide works that mirror the Assortment’s focus and match completely – for instance, I purchased Yinka Shonibare’s first performative photographic self-portraiture works from 1996/7 at public sale in 2017. These will likely be on public show at a serious museum exhibition for the first-time subsequent 12 months. We’re at the moment within the means of reviewing gaps within the Assortment and are actively researching essential additions to additional develop the illustration of latest artists from Africa and its diaspora.


One of many present reveals on show is a large retrospective by the African artist Samuel Fosso. When did you begin accumulating his work, and what about his work makes it so particular to you?

AW: Through the years I’ve typically returned to the wealthy catalogue that accompanied the Guggenheim’s In/sight exhibition, and have lengthy been captivated by Fosso’s work. I used to be first launched to Okwui [Enwezor] in 2003, who by then had organized each the twond Johannesburg Biennale in addition to Documenta 11 in Kassel, and as talked about earlier his steering and recommendation had a long-lasting affect on my accumulating: he not solely inspired my curiosity in African images, but additionally knowledgeable my excited about non-European approaches to the medium. He was additionally instrumental in my resolution to construct a museum campus in Neu-Ulm, Germany – on the street the place I grew up. By the point I formally established The Walther Assortment in 2010, Fosso’s pictures had been already represented with a number of our bodies of labor—typically at Okwui’s suggestion—starting along with his early Nineteen Seventies-era black and white studio self-portraits and his performative coloration collection “Tati,”. I later added “African Spirits” and alternatives from different key tasks made between the early 2000s and the current. Fosso was a central determine within the Assortment’s first exhibition Occasions of the Self: Portraiture and Social Id curated by Okwui in 2010. His works had been positioned in dialogue with different celebrated West African studio portrait photographers reminiscent of Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé, in addition to modern artists contemplating efficiency, illustration and id, together with Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboyé, Candice Breitz, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Zanele Muholi, Grace Ndiritu, and Nontsikelelo “Lolo” Veleko, to call however a couple of.

We just lately revealed – in partnership with Steidl – two main monographs devoted to the work of Samuel Fosso: Autoportrait, the primary complete survey of his self-portraits; and SIXSIXSIX, a collection of 666 large-scale Polaroids made in his Paris studio between October and November 2015. As of late we frequently work in collaboration with different establishments – the exhibition Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces, at the moment on view at our museum campus in Neu-Ulm till November 20, 2022, is a collaborative touring exhibition organized by the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, The Walther Assortment, and Huis Marseille, with the help of Artwork Mentor Basis Lucerne.


How do you juggle planning exhibitions, touring the world, and discovering new works on your assortment? Do you might have a specific schedule that you simply comply with?

AW: All through the previous decade we have now invested appreciable efforts to stability an bold, rotating schedule of exhibitions offered in our personal exhibition areas, whereas additionally organizing travelling reveals that show the Assortment in different areas internationally. For eleven years, we have now curated three exhibitions a 12 months at our former Challenge House in New York – now completely closed – and one large-scale annual exhibition at our museum campus in Neu-Ulm. The Assortment’s staff is small and at the moment based mostly between Neu-Ulm, New York and London and along with visitor curators we proceed to actively develop our exhibition packages in Europe and America, as effectively different locations globally. At instances, these packages are difficult – for instance, in 2018 we concluded three exhibitions in New York; one in Neu Ulm; and 6 touring exhibitions in Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain, and Mali. The schedule for annually is commonly influenced by artwork festivals and festivals reminiscent of Paris Picture, Picture London, Artwork Basel, and AIPAD in New York, in addition to Rencontres d’Arles, the Venice Biennale or Documenta. And as talked about earlier, new acquisitions for the Assortment are at all times pushed by the planning of future exhibitions. There was intensive touring over time, visiting artists of their studios and studying about their observe, which is likely one of the biggest pleasures of my work as a collector. The focus on Asian and African has distinctive challenges for touring exhibitions, however all through the years it has created a sure rhythm and distinctive focus which we’re eager to develop additional.


What’s subsequent for you and your assortment?

AW: We are going to proceed to develop our touring exhibition program globally with a view to carry the works of serious artists which may be unfamiliar in some cultural contexts to a wider viewers, alongside growing our publishing platforms. We at the moment have greater than 500 photographic works from Africa, its diaspora, and Europe on view within the exhibition Shifting Dialogues: Pictures from The Walther Assortment on the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf, Germany. The exhibition, curated completely from the Assortment’s holdings, traces the event of images as a historical past of transnational parallels, from the beginnings of nineteenth-century ethnographic imagery to studio images from the Nineteen Forties onwards to modern visible activism, portraiture and documentary observe. 2023 is an thrilling 12 months for us – a prestigious establishment in Germany will current a serious exhibition which for the primary time will draw on all points of the Assortment in what will likely be our most bold public presentation up to now.


What’s your recommendation for the brand new era of images collectors?

AW: Observe your instinct: acquire artworks that entice you, that talk to you, encourage you, make you assume and mirror deeply, and make you snicker or discover pleasure. Mirror fastidiously on what you want to purchase, and attempt to analyze, conceptualize and articulate why it attracts you, and solely then pursue it. It’s as normal and as particular as that. Strive to have a look at pictures wherever you may, in galleries, museums, studios, and browse concerning the artists’ observe in publications. For me, it’s all about wanting: by taking a look at pictures and books, which I consider remains to be one of the best medium to analysis, one trains and sharpens one’s eye, growing a sense for one’s particular person factors of curiosity and inquiry.



For extra data, please go to: www.walthercollection.com and take a look at its IG account @walthercollect


The exhibitions:

“Shifting Dialogues: Pictures from The Walther Assortment / Dialoge im Wandel. Fotografien aus The Walther Assortment” is on view via 25 September 2022 on the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen

“Samuel Fosso: The Man with a Thousand Faces / Samuel Fosso: Der Mann mit tausend Gesichtern” is on view via 20 November 2022 on the Museum Campus of The Walther Assortment, Neu-Ulm.





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