Wherein lies the famous, frequently invoked quality of an artwork? Are there objective criteria for judging art, and, if yes, which are they?
Surely, awards or prizes, fame in the art scene or price tags, particularly under the current market conditions, are no criteria for the quality of an artwork.
With each purchase of a work of art for the Daros Latinamerica Collection, I carefully considered if it would be able to hold its ground without any effort on my part. Would it assert itself in an unknown future, without my explanations of today, in an unforeseeable exhibition context, at a location, perhaps, in Sydney, Lagos, Lima, Shanghai, or Hamburg?
I always made it a task to analyze in detail the context of its creation, at least as far as this was possible, as well as to juxtapose it against the filter of parallel, contemporary art production in other places of the world; and of course I wanted to understand the artist and his or her biography in order to gauge the work in the context of the entire oeuvre and to arrive at meaningful assessments of the work in question. Clearly, the benchmarks that applied to contemporary Latin American art were the same as those that applied to art in general. It therefore came to me as a shock when colleagues both in Switzerland and at the Tate Modern directed “well-meant” inquiries to me. For when it dawned on them, in the beginning of this century, that art from Latin America was to be introduced into their collections and exhibitions, many of them turned to me for orientation: “Hans, do you have any suggestions how to exhibit art from Latin America?”…!
The dramaturgy of exhibitions
So, with each purchase, I simultaneously envisaged a potential exhibition situation. To me, an exhibition is always a deliberate staging, much like a theater play, and dramaturgical issues are therefore highly relevant. No wonder I welcomed the so-called “void” or “nothingness”, too—just think of the fascination and suspense that lie in Beckett’s dramas! All in all, however, I was on the lookout for discursive (not gossipy!) art works that have something to say, a story to tell. I wanted to include multidimensional works in the collection, works that were open to interpretation and to being experienced on many levels, works that were unlike others I had already seen, works that avoided the local and the anecdotal, and works that didn’t require long-winded explanations. Content and media were supposed to merge in a meaningful manner, ideally pointing to deeper social and human issues and capable of successfully transcending them in aesthetic terms!
Encyclopedic completeness is something I have never strived for; neither possible nor desirable, I have always regarded it as a doomed venture. I rather intended the artworks to unfold their meaning in each particular context and interaction of their presentation—something that will simply not happen while flipping through the lifeless, stamp-like images in a catalogue raisonné. By contrast, I wanted the collection to work like a quick-witted discourse at the highest artistic level. Artwork A and artwork Z were randomly assigned as beginning and end (almost all works in the collection are shown on the Daros website: daros-latinamerica.net). By inference, all works in the collection are of equal value to me, entirely regardless of their purchase price, instead according to the motto: Valor sin precio! There are no favorites; each individual work has its own specific quality that it puts on display within the discourse of an exhibition. It became evident over the years that the works in the collection are so varied that we could cater to any exhibition theme.
The intention was that the works in themselves completely reflect the underlying concept of the collection. Their display, in turn, was not simply intended as an aesthetic event, but rather possessed an intrinsic, educational quality that became apparent in their mutual interaction and in the sequence of their presentation. The individual exhibitions, each in their own terms, thus became effortlessly accessible to the open-minded visitor!