Issue 205, Summer 2013
The nineteenth century saw a number of artworks in which people read newspapers to themselves or, supposedly out loud, to a small audience, sometimes a family. Then the Cubists—Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris—started collaging daily newspapers into their works. These artists undertook a new style of painting, one that would explore synthetic abstraction and, equally, society’s relationship with technology. They took the newspaper as an advanced technical means of modernity and an expression of continuous change: news of the day—every day. With my wife, Annette, I discovered that, for the past century, a majority of artists had—at a certain time or for a specific occasion—painted, collaged, drawn, or played with printed material.
The Russian postrevolutionary collages, such as those by Varvara Stepanova, tried to show a new world. Fernando Botero reflected on the whole misery of Colombia through a painting with an oversize violin on a table together with pork sausages and a newspaper: la patria. The Dadaists saw their world torn apart by World War I and recognized that a new clash was imminent. Kurt Schwitters made a superb collage in 1930 with an article about Hitler wherein he says, “I am a writer and live from my income”; Schwitters gave his collage the title Man soll nicht asen mit Phrasen (You Should Beware of Hot Air). Pop art then became the delusion and illusion of modern times, its artists working with printed material, painting newspaper articles, and making photographs with new techniques.
It is no coincidence that Andy Warhol’s magazine Interview became a piece of art as soon as he signed the cover. A remarkable print on newspaper by Joseph Beuys and Hans Hermann says that new things can only come out of chaos. Willem de Kooning liked to paint on newspaper, whereas Richard Prince is fonder of (pornographic) magazines. The list is endless and touches all continents.
The name “Press Art” was, to my knowledge, first used in 1972, when a Swiss newspaper—National-Zeitung of Basel—began publishing a Saturday page with artwork specially made for the paper; one could also subscribe to and receive a detached, signed copy of this page. Series such as this are still in vogue today. The German Die Welt publishes one in which a well-known artist changes all the photos in the print edition, and it even publishes a separate, signed copy of the newspaper’s front page.
Our collection comprises more than a thousand works of art by 485 artists. Going through an exhibition of the collection is always a great joy for me. For certain pieces, we had to wait quite a long time. I chased a painting by Sigmar Polke, for instance, for several years—a large piece he had done in Zurich on Swiss newspapers and sprayed with the slogan “Gegen die zwei Supermächte für eine rote Schweiz” (Against the two superpowers for a red Switzerland). We are still far away from such perspectives, but the painting is superb.