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brush vs. camera

March 9, 2009

DIE WELT, 28. February 2009
Well-known German art photographers accuse you, as a rector of the Düsseldorfer academy, of neglecting photography.
Markus Lüpertz
: I do not see the dispute. I see at best a local art-university political history. It concerns how much photography the academy of art requires. We always had an outstanding photographer, who covered this area. We have new media, video, set design and architecture. But those are not the main disciplines. The Dusseldorf Academy places an emphasis on painting and sculpture. And that is how it will be for as long as I am rector.
Nevertheless, the photographer Hilla Belcher accused you regarding photography as “mash.” And Andreas Gursky said that you are backward.
: The fact that I am not a large fan of the photography is well-known. It’s starting to become annoying. But if you talk about Hilla Belcher, who is a very honourable woman who, together with her husband Bernd, has done some great photography, then one must know that their work defined itself beyond the format. Belcher never made a large photo, but created a large work from many small photos. She followed the tradition of Sander. And Belcher literally said to me, “So for a long time you, as rector of the academy of arts, have, in fact, ensured that there is only one photography class. And it is for painting, to employ the medium of photography in order to paint.” That is an attitude, which I accept, and which is also in the tradition of the Düsseldorf Academy as I understand it.
What  does the future of photography look like?
: Photography is becoming more about entertainment, cabaret, circus. It’s moving towards – and I say this with all respect – meretriciousness. It’s going to have to fulfil its vast entertainment potential, but these are all things which distance photography from art. In contrast to painting, photography has no surface, it has only content. It has mood, it has tension, it has perplexity. These are honourable criteria, no question about it. Photography comes in very large formats, but this will be its ruin: its devastating technical potential.
Have you acquired a more conservative attitude with age?
: For me, the highest act is painting pictures. It is much simpler to come up with something to paint using aids than with this terrible isolation of brush and white canvas and the competition of the paintings, which one still notices at all, from its 2000 year history – those are gigantic achievements. Confronted by this students flee. Photographing everyday life is the simplest act in the world. And if I then pimped it up, I might have a beautiful piece; but it still will not have either the depth or the value of painting.
Now, after over two decades as a rector in Dusseldorf, what have you accomplished?
: During the decades that I have been rector time stopped. Art has another time. An artistic work takes 50 years, and so each artist must try to stop the world in order to understand it. And for me the academy was an instrument I used to stop the world.
Now you want to open a private art school. In what ways would it be different? What bothered you in Dusseldorf?
: An academy is not a school for those eager to learn, but a shelter for genius. However the students no longer understand the vocabulary of the academy. The student body is changing, drifting off into modern media, drifting off into the beat, the computer, the mobile world. They do not understand the despair or high personal cost that is extolled by creating art. They want to take part in modern trends. And in this environment you don’t see any real painting anymore. Meanwhile even street painters copy photos, and dilettantes, who paint, paint with computers. For the moment, I see no future there. So I want to make sure that the bohemian atmosphere, which I so love, is maintained at a private academy.
But if you go to an art fair today, painting is nevertheless very present.
: What you see in paintings is an enormous misunderstanding. Pictures by people who paint because they could perhaps still not afford a camera. If they had then perhaps they would be better. For the past 30 years now, generally speaking, what you won’t see is particularly good painting.

translated by Michael Tweed
(original article in German)

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