FLASHBACK: How are the works selected for MISA?

Lena Winter, Director MISA, Flashback Column

In her column FLASHBACK, Lena Winter, director of MISA, looks back at the incubation period and ahead at the art market.

I grew up as a painter's daughter. My father studied painting under Hermann Nitsch at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. I know the Theater of Orgies and Mysteries through photos and my father's stories. He rummaged through tomatoes and grapes and animal stomachs, for Nitsch is about blood, life, and death, about smelling, touching, and tasting. Anything that has to do with intensity has touched me ever since. Disgust, fear, megalomania, ... any and all feelings, really. My father taught me early on to pay attention to the avant-garde. Was a work of art radical at the time of its creation? If so, it is significant.

As a child, I went to all the important exhibitions and biennials with my family. I visited the Documenta and the Venice Biennale, the major European museums, and the two local museums. Nobuyoshi Araki's exhibitions in the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt, Gregor Schneider's Haus in the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2001, and Gerhard Richter's ATLAS at documenta X in 1997 were particularly memorable experiences. It was then that I understood to what extent art can take over the entirety of my being: my body, my mind, and my soul.

For more than 20 years, I visited every single Sunday the Hessian State Museum in my hometown Darmstadt. In 1970, Joseph Beuys installed the BLOCK BEUYS in the museum. Felt and grease were everywhere. Beuys is a good entry-level artist. Through his life and work, I understood that materials have a meaning.

I studied under Antje von Graevenitz, the grande dame of art history in Cologne, who is also a Beuys expert. It was love at the first seminar. She taught me that it is the highest accomplishment when form and content fit together. Before her, I had mostly paid attention to form. With fellow students and mentors, I looked, looked, and looked: we looked at art all day long. At the time, I was close friends with a photographer's daughter. She and I, the painter's daughter, flew and drove to exhibitions together. We went wherever we wanted to see something: Stockholm London, the island of Hombroich, or the Museum Ludwig. No distance was too far for us.

In the auction house where I worked for many years, people always said: from Pop Art to Pop Art. Or they asked: how is Zero doing? Since then, I have also conceived of art in terms of movements and themes. When Johann König asked me whether I would like to oversee MESSE IN ST. AGNES, the platform that he founded during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, the thought of movements and themes immediately crossed my mind. Together we developed a new architecture, created booths, and organized works of art according to topic. Accordingly, I took this conceptual framework as my starting point when I began to acquire art for the platform. Since I knew where the relevant works of art were to be found, I also knew whom to call. It was a matter of making a lot of phone calls – and establishing relationships of trust. Generally speaking, buying art is a very personal matter since the work of art should in many cases reflect the buyer’s identity. For the same reason, selling art is also often a highly personal affair. If you decide to part with a work of art, you want it to go into appreciative hands. Naturally, I have been offered many works in the past few weeks and months. When choosing works for MISA, I always ask myself: was the work in question avant-garde at the time? Were the artists co-founders of a movement? Did the artists shape the canon of their time? Can recently rediscovered artists lead the way for the current generation of young artists??

Regarding relevance and canonicalization, the other side of the coin are prices. If prices do not rise, artists have a different significance in the eye of the public. The idea is that important works fetch important prices. Recently, a red Poured Painting by Hermann Nitsch from the 1960s was sold for more than 600,000 Euros at Ketterer. As a matter of course, the Nitsch Foundation posted about it on Instagram. By achieving such a price, Nitsch had arrived in a different segment.

Indeed, Germany is a very rewarding place for buying and selling art. It is still possible to find real treasures and bring artistic movements from the last century into focus. For example, the Junge Wilde, a movement in Berlin in the early 1980s, is currently experiencing a renaissance. And rightly so. The works of the Junge Wilde are about pure painting as a countermovement to conceptual art. They are figurative paintings with broad brushstrokes that are applied with force and anger – and without fear of the canvas.