Artist Collectives:
Resist the path of the world together?

Mirjam Elburn

In 2005, Angelika Nollert, curator of the exhibition Kollektive Kreativität (Eng. Collective Creativity) at the Fridercianum Museum in Kassel, described collectives as a strongly East European and Latin American phenomenon. Fifteen years later, they are sprouting up like weeds. Nollert described this as a “phenomenon that allows collective structures where they exist as a political requirement to be reinterpreted as structures that allow the imposed collectivity to be eluded.”1

According to Jochen Stöckmann on DLF Kultur Radio2, the Kassel Review failed to analyse this phenomenon. KUNSTFORUM managed to approach this with its theme Künstlergruppen: Von der Utopie einer Kollektiven Kunst3 (Eng. Artist groups: From the Utopia of a Collective Art).

What is the cause of this fascination for creating groups focused on the benefit of the group rather than the mission of the “me artist”4? Where is the seemingly indispensable necessity? Why does the “myth of the lonely genius crumble”5 and clear the path for art collectives at all major exhibitions?

In 2015, the architecture collective Assemble won the prestigious Turner Prize. In 2018, the collective Forensic Architecture was nominated for the award. In 2019, the finalists unceremoniously merged together to form a collective to subvert the principle of competition. In 2021, it was directly decided to nominate five artist collectives for the final round.6 The lone genius is no longer being celebrated; rather, the boundaries between science, activism, and art are becoming indistinct; social and political questions are coming to the forefront. The genuine stroke of the brush is divorced from the action; authorship is secondary. Or perhaps not?

Although Silke Hohmann7 dubbed 2018 the year of activist collectives, the current show Gruppendynamik: Kollektive der Moderne (Eng. Group Dynamics: Collectives of Modernity) (March 23, 2021 to April 24, 2022) at the Lenbachhaus in Munich shows that the formation of groups is in fact a characteristic of modernity. The long list of communities describes the development from personality cults all the way to collectives. Whether it’s Der Blaue Reiter with their global perspective, the artist colony Worpswede, Die Brücke, NO!art, Guerilla Girls, or Pussy Riot, the motivations, shape, and artistic forms are as manifold as the individuals who form a collective. They all share the idea that people are stronger together and can find their voice and (exhibition) space.

Wasn’t Modernity primarily the time when alliances were formed to protect aesthetic concepts and to protest academic dogmas that were considered obsolete or the “pure compulsion to integrate art and life”8, just as desire for political perspectives prevails today?

Collectives experienced a new peak with the documenta fifteen. Invited by ruangrupa, an Indonesian collective founded in 2000, collectives, initiatives, and organisations made their mark on the exhibition scene.

Although philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) was of the opinion that the great, creative individual of the 19th century had a higher aptitude for wisdom and virtue than that of the collective man, since the dawn of modernity, artists seem to have developed a strengthened need for collective action against a background of increasing social uncertainty and increased (art) market-forced competitive conditions. Artistic action is a counter-project. Action replaces the work, and questions of form are superseded by a value debate regarding the fetishization of wares and social and political justice. What sounds like a continuation of the cultural revolutionary movement of the New Left of the 1960’s allows for questions regarding the relationship of art, reality, and politics to arise. Here, ambitious suggestions are just as multifaceted as collective approaches. Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979)9 postulates that art is critical in its substance, contrary to cultural industry. Art could never become a component of revolutionary practice due to the irrevocable tension between art and reality.10

In contrast to the studio collectives that often emerge due to monetary need or the workshops of successful artists who employ a legion of workers in order to master the implementation of inhouse concepts, a collective is a programmatic merging of individuals who want to systematically withstand the attribution of egotistical individualism and the singular and subjective work. They evade the market through rejection of appointing authors and through negation of an eternal oeuvre. The collective forms through naming, formulating guiding principles, or writing a manifesto.

But even in Modernity, it can be seen that sociality is especially susceptible to conflict. Despite every shared visionary conception and goal, the collective requires unstinting compromise.11 The forces of the collective, an ever-present consensus building, not only just lead to internal conflicts, sometimes even dissolvement of the group; they also allow the margins of art to become blurred, its form arbitrary, and art itself unspecific.

Can artistic participation12 and the formation of collectives contribute to the criticism of the political present? And if so, how? What consequences would this have for art?

“Art is not the emphasis of alternatives but rather, through nothing more than its form, the resistance of the path of the world that incessantly points its gun at the chest of man13,” says Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969).

  1. Angelika Nollert, quoted by Jochen Stöckmann: Kunst in der Gruppe. DLF Kultur 02.05.2005.
  2. Jochen Stöckmann: Kunst in der Gruppe. DLF Kultur 02.05.2005.
  3. Florian Rötzer (Pub.) in cooperation with Sara Rogenhofer: Künstlergruppen: Von der Utopie einer Kollektiven, Kunstforum, Vol116/1991. Cologne 1991.
  4. Hanno Rauterberg: Kunstkollektive: Wir!Wir!Wir! on: ZEIT ONLINE, 20 Oct. 2021 (DIE ZEIT No. 43/2021, 21 October 2021).
  5. Hanno Rauterberg: Kunstkollektive: Wir!Wir!Wir! auf: ZEIT ONLINE, 20 Oct. 2021 (DIE ZEIT No. 43/2021, 21 October 2021).
  6. Cf. Miriam Stein: Let’s stick together: Kollektive fordern das Genieprinzip heraus. Harpers Magazine, 13 Feb. 2021.
  7. Silke Hohmann: Jahresrückblick: Einsatzkommando Kunst, in: MONOPOL, 23.12.2018.
  8. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, quoted in: Expressionism, a German Intuition, 1905–1920. Ausstellungskatalog der Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation 1980–81, pub. by Paul Vogt, Horst Keller, Martin Urban, Wolf-Dieter Dube, and Eberhard Roters. New York 1980, P. 7.
  9. Herbert Marcuse: Konterrevolution und Revolte. Frankfurt am Main 1973, P.127.
  10. Herbert Marcuse: Konterrevolution und Revolte. Frankfurt am Main 1973, P.127.
  11. Cf. Hans Peter Thurn: Die Sozialität des Solitären. Gruppen und Netzwerke in der Bildenden Kunst, in: Ders.: Bildmacht und Sozialanspruch. Studien zur Kunstsoziologie, Opladen 1997, P. 81–123.
  12. Further: Silke Feldhoff: Zwischen Spiel und Politik. Partizipation als Strategie und Praxis in der bildenden Kunst. Berlin 2009 (Diss.).
  13. Theodor W. Adorno: Gesammelte Schriften: Noten zur Literatur. 3. Ed. Frankfurt am Main 1990, P. 413.
Lektorat: Anne Pitz
VOILÀ ist ein Kooperationsprojekt von MM, M und der Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken. Das Projekt wird gefördert von der Stiftung Kunstfonds (NEUSTART KULTUR, Projektförderung für kunstvermittelnde Akteur*innen) und Saarland-Sporttoto GmbH.

VOILÀ is a collabarotive project by MM, M and the Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken. The project is funded by the Stiftung Kunstfond (NEUSTART KULTUR, project funding for art-mediating actors) and Saarland-Sporttoto GmbH. 
VOILÀ est un projet de coopération entre MM, M et la Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken. Le projet est soutenu par la fondation Stiftung Kunstfonds (NEUSTART KULTUR, Projektförderung für kunstvermittelnde Akteur*innen) et Saarland-Sporttoto GmbH.