Deutsche Bank first conferred its ›Artist of the Year‹ award in 2010; the winner back then was artist Wangechi Mutu. Mutu showed her elaborate collages in the Deutsche Bank space in Berlin, which at that time was still run jointly with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Although that particular cooperation may be history and the name of the space has long since changed—it is now called PalaisPopulaire—Deutsche Bank’s commitment to emerging artists is alive and well. Hence, its ›Artist of the Year‹ award.
What’s more: this year, for the first time, the award will be given to three young artists at the same time. They will all be showing their works in a joint exhibition in Berlin. And as varied as their working methods may be, no matter how different and far-flung their places of origin, this year they all have one thing in common: all took rather a roundabout route into the classical (Western) contemporary art world.
There is Conny Maier, who first made a name for herself in fashion before switching to painting. Now Maier, who splits her time between Berlin and Portugal, ranks among the shooting stars of contemporary painting discourse with her grotesque depictions of human figures with wide eyes and circular mouths. The content of her work often revolves around the relationship between man and nature.
Next to his installations, Maxwell Alexandre, the second ›Artist of the Year‹, likewise focuses on the presumed most classical of all art genres, painting. Often, Alexandre uses brown paper or other materials instead of the classical canvas to apply his paints. Having grown up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, where he still runs his studio, Alexandre’s paintings often address the social situation and problems of Brazil’s Black population. His tableau-like works frequently show direct, unsparing scenes of violence and police brutality.
The work of Zhang Xu Zhan, the last of the three award-winning artists, is characterised by a unique combination of paper techniques, stop-motion, digital technology, sculpture, and installation. For several generations, the artist’s family has been producing paper and making paper sculptures for festivals and religious rites in Taiwan. By contrast, Zhang Xu Zhan uses his paper animal figures to tell fanciful stories and develops narratives that engage with folk tales and animal fables as well as with Taiwanese traditions. In content and form, he manages to both connect with the familiar and the established and translate it in such a way that it maintains its relevance for the present and the future.