Walter Graskamp: Rivals and Partners
The Art Association and the Art Academy in Munich

“...we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight,
into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.”

T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

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Kunstverein München is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in Germany. With its spaces located in the historical arcades of the Hofgarten, it is not only an essential part of the Munich art scene since its founding in 1823, but way beyond the city's limits, it is also internationally recognised as an innovative and discursive platform for contemporary art and its discourse.

Originally created to compete with the “Königlichen Akademie der Bildenden Künste,” the Kunstverein, in accordance with its founding notion, initially served as a form of and forum for self-organisation of a newly emerging civic public, which in the early 19th century explored new territories not only politically but also culturally.

Kunstvereins [art associations] were thus not only spaces for presenting contemporary art but primarily also spaces for social exchange, where through active contemplation of current art the critical consciousness of a temporary collective could develop. It is precisely this central notion of a vital and social exchange on uncertain cultural terrain that, up until today, defines the Kunstverein's work as an indispensable force in the network of cultural institutions - even though, naturally, the political and societal conditions have changed significantly.

As a privately sponsored association and with nearly 1.000 members, the Kunstverein Munich operates relatively independently in terms of its immediate economical as well as (cultural) political interests. This twofold autonomy predestines the Kunstverein to be a space for artistic experimentation, where innovative curatorial work can be accomplished without spurious consideration for political duties or mercantile calculations. In addition, its slender organisational form allows it to react flexibly, quickly and non-bureaucratically to current artistic developments and to actively engage in these. In recent years the Kunstverein particularly pursued this active engagement in contemporary artistic developments on an international scale through co-operations with the Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh), the Emily Carr Institute (Vancouver), White Columns (New York), tranzit.sk (Bratislava), CASCO (Utrecht), ICA (London) and the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York) amongst others.

In doing so, Kunstverein München ensues its conviction that, in view of the increased domination of visuality acting as a vehicle for information and value within the globalized economies, the medium of art reflexively and in a crystallising way reflects actual societal developments and can function as an ideal catalyst for a critical temporary collective. Oriented internationally and with consideration of the local context, the Kunstverein argues for its programmatic line in the most varied of formats: through regular exhibitions, lectures, artist’s talks, conferences, film screenings and publications, Kunstverein München creates a vital and discursive space for presenting and mediating contemporary art.