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Gaby and Wilhelm Schürmann – ART COLOGNE prize winners 2020

Koelnmesse and the Bundesverband Deutscher Galerien und Kunsthändler (German association of galleries and art dealers) are very pleased to announce Gaby and Wilhelm Schürmann as the recipients of the ART COLOGNE Prize 2020.

With this year's ART COLOGNE Prize, a collector couple is being honoured who've had an active interest in the medium of photography dating back to the 1970s. Wilhelm Schürmann, a self-taught photographer, has been active as a a dealer, curator and photographer. From 1981 to 2011, he taught as a professor for visual communication and photography at the Aachen University of Applied Sciences. Gaby Schürmann worked as a teacher for chemistry, biology and mathematics in Herzogenrath. With the sale of a collection of Czech photography in 1984 to the Getty Museum in the USA, the couple was able to establish the financial basis for the acquisition of an art collection across media that is today one of the most important worldwide.

Together with Rudolf Kicken, Wilhelm Schürmann founded the Galerie Schürmann und Kicken in Aachen in 1974; one of the very first photography galleries in Europe. In addition to young photographers, the gallery exhibited many classics of photography with vintage prints that are legendary today. Schürmann left the gallery in 1978 because he wanted to work as a photographer in his own right again.

Award winners ART COLOGNE 2020 Gaby and Wilhem Schuermann

Gaby and Wilhelm Schürmann have been active at the centre of the contemporary art world

The transformation to an intensified aesthetic perception of photography began, whereas up to that point photography was primarily considered from a technical-documentary perspective. Wilhelm Schürmann advanced this process in 1979 as a young co-curator of one of the first major photography exhibitions in Germany, under the patronage of Klaus Honnef in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn. The exhibition became the beacon for the institutional recognition of the at that time young photo scene and, with works by Thomas Struth, Axel Hütte and Candida Höfer, presented the luminaries of the present.

Gaby and Wilhelm Schürmann have been active at the centre of the contemporary art world for more than 45 years and are considered pioneering collectors. They are primarily present in Cologne, Vienna and Berlin, but also in the American gallery scene. The couple is characterised as much by worldliness and openness as by an affinity with their own origins in Dortmund, Bochum and in the region around Aachen near the border with the Netherlands.

The objects of desire must be reflective, light-footed, succinct and modest. These criteria were mentioned in an interview with Wilhelm Schürmann, whose own artistic work consisted of sober photo portraits of settlements, traffic and street scenes in North Rhine-Westphalia into the 1980s. His works of photography, the prosaic appearance of which is surpassed by visual and linguistic cleverness when looked at again more carefully, could last be seen in 2013 in the Sprengel Museum in Hannover and in 2016 in the Galerie Hetzler in Berlin.

Martin Kippenberger, who. like Wilhelm Schürmann, comes from Dortmund, is one of the artists who was collected from an early date. This also applies to his preoccupation with the highly political Hans Haacke, for whom he contributed the photos for the "Pralinenmeister" (praline master) in 1981.
From the very start, the collector couple focused on female artists: Valie Export, Joelle Tuerlinckx, Nairy Baghramian, Zoe Leonhard, Fiona Banner, Anna Oppermann, Miriam Cahn, Nina Canell, Rita McBride, Alice Creischer or Laurie Parsons, to name but a few.
Painting, sculpture, drawings, installations and photography: the collection is characterised not only by media, but also by intellectual tension and encompasses, among others, works by Albert Oehlen, Christopher Williams, Robert Frank, Mike Kelley, Walter Swennen, Heimo Zobernig, Franz West, Heinrich Dunst, Jason Rhoades, Peter Saul and Michael E. Smith. The collection is never static, but instead remains in motion thanks to loans, exhibitions and new acquisitions.

Wilhelm Schürmann's influence on the younger generation of collectors

The principle of dialogue and a harking back to the importance of collecting are at the core of the Schürmann's art experience. The question of private art ownership in the public institution was raised in 2009 with the exhibition entitled "Das Gespinst“ (the weave) in the Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach with the collection there. This was also the case in the exhibition "Le Souffleur – Schürmann trifft (meets) Ludwig" in the Ludwig Forum (2016) in Aachen, where around 200 works from the Schürmann collection came together with the collection of Peter and Irene Ludwig.

At their second residence in Berlin, Gaby and Wilhelm Schürmann hosted a publicly accessible showroom for a time and founded the Schürmann Foundation. They still continue their curatorial activities intensively. Parts of the collection have been exhibited multiple times in various institutions. For example, in the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, in the Kunstsammlung NRW in Düsseldorf, in the Museum Ostwall in Dortmund ("Superman in Bed" 2011) or recently in the Mumok – Museum Moderner Kunst in Vienna ("Klassentreffen" [Class reunion] in 2018). Since 1992, many endowments have been made without conditions, to, among others, the MOCA L.A., the Museum Ostwall, the Ludwig Museum Cologne, the Mumok Vienna or the Museum Abteiberg. The collector couple has loaned well over 1,000 works of art in the last 15 years at no charge and without tax benefits for exhibitions.

Wilhelm Schürmann's influence on the younger generation of collectors was made clear when he held the laudatory speech for the ART COLOGNE prize-winner Christian Kaspar Schwarm in the past year. Schwarm had encouraged him to design his art collection to be "radically personal": "As a collector, one can't make mistakes when one is acting as an investor. If one is there early on, money initially plays no role. The prices are low, the joy in discovery is great, uncertainty is certain.

The ART COLOGNE Prize for exceptional performance in the communication of art is presented annually by Koelnmesse and the German association of galleries and art dealers (BVDG). With Wilhelm Schürmann, a personality is being honoured for the first time who unites the roles of artist, curator, collector and (former) gallery owner in one person.

All previously honoured art collectors have made their mark with regard to the perception of contemporary visual arts through a variety of activities. For them, collecting art is no mere private matter, but instead a striving for public discourse and participation through visibility, exhibitions and loans. These collectors have included Ingvild Goetz (2001), Frieder Burda (2002), Harald Falckenberg (2009), and Julia Stoschek (2018), all of whom have received the ART COLOGNE prize endowed with €10,000.

The award ceremony for this year's ART COLOGNE Prize will take place on Thursday, 23 April 2020 at 10:00 a.m. in the Historic Town Hall in Cologne.
The publicist and former General Secretary of the Kunststiftung NRW, Regina Wyrwoll, will give the laudatory speech for Wilhelm Schürmann.