Art News

ARTE Generali


Blenheim Palace is one of the UKs most beautiful country houses. Built in 1702, it has been home to nobles and political leaders. Its even the birthplace of Winston Churchill. And now, after all that history, its home to world class contemporary art exhibitions, and Michael Frahm is the man in charge. Hes overseen major exhibitions of work by Yves Klein, Jenny Holzer and Maurizio Cattelan, all to major international acclaim. The Cattelan show was also an integral part of the launch of Arte Generali. Somehow, Michael also has time to be a leading art advisor as one of the founders of Frahm & Frahm. How does he do it? We asked the questions to find out.


So to start, could you tell us what you do? All the roles you take on and all the hats you wear?

I would say that what I do is twofold. Since 2014 I have been the director of Blenheim Art Foundation, overseeing a large-scale contemporary art exhibitions programme at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. We produce a major solo exhibition every year, inviting who we consider to be the most significant and influential artists of our time to Blenheim and giving them carte blanche to present their work in the Palace and its grounds. I also work with important private collections worldwide, advising my clients on acquisitions that are tailored to their ambitions, offering market expertise and strategic advice, as well as facilitating displays at private foundations and securing loans to international museum exhibitions. No two days are the same!

How did you first get into art, what was your art journey?

I have always been drawn to art since a young age. It feels like part of my DNA. I come from a family of art lovers, and I spent much of my childhood in Denmark visiting the Louisiana just outside of Copenhagen, which remains one of my favourite museums. However, my professional entry to art came later through China and the Asian contemporary art scene, which significantly impacted me in the early 2000s. I was incredibly excited by what I saw happening in Asia at the time. My focus has since broadened to a more international perspective, but I still have strong ties and contacts from that period of my journey.

How did you get into art advisory, and what does being an art advisor actually involve? 

As an advisory, we facilitate an A to Z service when it comes to collection building. A tremendous amount of work goes on behind the scenes for every artwork bought. It starts with identifying, researching and sourcing the perfect works for our clients. The most challenging thing for a collector is to get access to major pieces. This industry is driven by supply and demand, and with the increased attention that the art world has received over last decade and the dramatic growth of its market, gaining access to major artworks has become increasingly difficult. The art world is a jungle and can be challenging to navigate. We give our clients access to the best works and put a big emphasis on education and learning opportunities to enable them to make informed and discerning acquisitions. As well as shaping these collections, we of course look after every logistical aspect, from shipping, insurance and installation, to storage, framing, and conservation. It can turn into a full-time job if you are collecting ambitiously and do not have an advisor. Our job is to save time and money for our clients. They enjoy the fun part, and we take care of the rest. 

Tell me about Frahm & Frahm, how it came about, what the company does.

Frahm & Frahm is a company I founded with my brother Nicolai Frahm. We wanted to champion the enjoyment of great art by bridging private collecting and public-facing institutional exhibitions. Today we are proud to be leaders in the fields of art advising and exhibition production, two sides of the company which Nicolai and I head up, respectively. We feel very fortunate to work with some of the world's most exciting collections and produce exhibitions by artists we consider among today's greats.

Tell me about your role with the Blenheim Art Foundation.

Blenheim Art Foundation was started in 2014 by Edward Spencer-Churchill, son of the 11th Duke of Marlborough. He brought me on as director to launch a programme of annual contemporary art exhibitions at Blenheim Palace, an eighteenth-century stately home and UNESCO World Heritage site in Oxfordshire, UK. We started the Foundation with the desire to challenge the conventional “white cube” presentation of contemporary art by integrating artworks directly into the Baroque interiors and surrounding grounds, creating some pretty extraordinary dialogues between the past and the present. My role is to invite artists whose vision I believe will bring something exciting and profound to the setting, and oversee the realisation of their project from start to finish. Our programming is very considered, in particular with regards to its impact on Blenheim. Showing contemporary art in such a space is challenging but also thrilling, rewarding and still radical. With eight shows now under our belt, I think we have done a good job. 

You've curated shows all over the world. Do you have a favourite show you've curated? 

I hold our exhibitions at Blenheim, in particular close to my heart. Each has been so different from the next, and each has stayed with me long after it closes, it would be impossible for me to choose a favourite. 

I also understand you're a collector - how do you choose the pieces you buy?

I look for pieces that will stand the test of time. You see many market trends come and go so fast these days, but I acquire pieces that I believe have a timeless quality and will stay impactful, regardless of what is popular at a given time. I often find myself standing behind works that carry a message. Art shouldn't be afraid of being political, and I admire artists who do bold, fearless work and seek to change the world. Every piece I own inspires me or triggers some kind of emotion.

What's a single piece of advice you'd give to every art collector if you could?

Buy one great work rather than ten mediocre ones. 


Interviewed by: Eddy Frankel, author of ARTE Generali

By Alessandra Donati

ARTE Generali


What does it mean to create and distribute a digital art piece associated with an NFT from a legal standpoint? Which legal framework is used for the creation, circulation, exhibition and management of financial usage rights for digital creations associated with NFTs?


In order to better understand this innovative identification system for digital art creations, it is necessary both to examine the instruments and strategies adopted by conceptual artists to survive in the art market and the identification systems used so far in the sphere of digital art creations.


Classical art has led to the creation of “traditional” categories to qualify and evaluate it such as: uniqueness, authenticity, traceability, property and provenance. Throughout their careers, conceptual artists have challenged these categories. They have subverted the reference system for these values, by creating easily replicable art pieces where the concepts of property, uniqueness and exclusivity are represented by the certificate and not the art piece itself. In the case of digital art, where the lack of a physical and tangible support and the ease with which it may be reproduced are intrinsic characteristics, applying traditional artistic categories is even more complex. Therefore, over time, digital art has developed ways to protect itself by leveraging on alternative solutions, such as certificates with multiple watermarks for a single art piece. Nowadays, applying the NFT technology to easily reproducible art works is a solution gives the opportunity to replace traditional certificates by recording the artwork’s information on the blockchain, while simultaneously conferring uniqueness, exclusivity and non-modifiability to the uploaded artwork.


As the conceptual art world created its own system of rules, the same is progressively happening in the movement of NFT artworks. In the latter, rules are not imposed by the artist on collectors and the art world, but instead by intermediaries who manage NFT platforms on their users. In order to upload their artworks on such platforms, creators have to adhere to the rules. Although at first sight it may seem a non-regulated system, it is actually highly self-regulated and it includes the protection of artists’ rights. All aspects on these platforms are highly contracted and detailed rules support these platforms’ functioning.


Currently, everything is based on self-certifications as described below:

  • Uniqueness: determined by the attribution of a distinctive code for the artwork once it is uploaded on the platform. In the case of platforms where the artwork is uploaded directly by the artists, artists have the responsibility not to create two tokens for the same art piece. In this way, an easily reproducible artwork becomes non fungible.


  • Originality:  the artist declares and explicitly guarantees that the art pieces uploaded on a platform (e.g. Super Rare) only contain original artistic contents or that the artist is entitled to their use. Should rights be violated, the artwork is removed from the platform. In the case of artworks with illicit provenance, the artist’s account may be suspended and removed from the platform with the consequent deletion of all his or her tabs and concealment of personal resources. However, it should be underlined that not all platforms monitor uploaded and traded contents.


  • Authenticity: if the art piece was created by the artist himself, who then uploads it on the platform and recognizes it as his own artwork, the creation of the NFT in itself represents the artist’s signature and proof of authenticity. On the platform Superrare, only artists can upload artworks. If the artwork is uploaded by a third party (e.g. a gallerist), the artwork’s owner must possess the copyright rights for the artwork’s utilization in order to so do.


  • Provenance: all transactions are recorded on a public blockchain. At present, these are published on Ethereum but more sustainable alternatives are under development. As all forms of technology, also the blockchain is subject to a rapid evolution with the risk of it becoming obsolete in the future. Should this technology become obsolescent, many artists would lose their artworks with the consequent impossibility of transferring them to more up-to-date solutions. To protect themselves from this risk, artists save copies of their artworks in an Interplanetary File System (IPFS), a decentralized archiving system capable of creating exclusive HASHes, to transfer artworks in high resolution directly to the collector.


The rights tied to NFT artworks should be managed as follows:

Exploitation rights- Copyright: Based on what established by platforms specialized in the trade of NFT artworks, exploitation rights are kept by the artist who only grants the collector (buyer) a very limited set of rights such as the rights to buy, to exchange, to transfer and to use the purchased item. On the contrary, the General Terms and Conditions of these platforms prohibit collectors from using the purchased artworks for commercial purposes or from creating and distributing copies of it.


The General Terms and Conditions are very articulated and include a detailed regulation concerning artists’ moral rights ex lege. It is forbidden for collectors to edit, distort and mutilate the artworks in ways that may damage the artist’s reputation; to hide or misrepresent the artwork’s paternity; to use the artwork’s image for any kind of commercial purposes, to incorporate it in a movie or video and lastly to further tokenize the artwork or to create additional cryptographic tokens which represent the art piece.


Resale right- the payment of royalties is required in the secondary market. The amount of royalties to be paid, which is often improperly labeled as “resale rights” may be decided directly by the artist and it is generally higher than those established in the resale right legislation which in Italy poses a maximum limit of € 12.500,00. In countries where the resale right legislation is in place, the seller is still obliged to pay resale rights to artists in addition to the royalties established by the artists related to their digital artworks.


Commissions and GAS: transaction fees must be payed to cover for the cost of production, for the energy consumed and for the consequent CO2 emissions.


Fiscal aspects: all platforms encourage the payment of taxes. If artists or collectors face issues or are convicted of tax evasion, their personal profiles on these platforms are blocked.


Lastly, whether a collector purchases conceptual art, Cattelan’s banana or the NFT artwork “Stay Free” by Snowden, in the end he or she is buying a certificate. The latter has traditionally been the true protagonist but in the case of NFTs there are actually two protagonists: the certificate and those who manage the art NFT platforms. The conditions with which transactions take place vary from platform to platform and it is fundamental to always consider this.


By Alessandra Donati

The lawyer Alessandra Donati is a Professor of Comparative Law at Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca, teaches Art Law at NABA’s Master in Art Markets and is a lecturer at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure di Firenze’s Master in Restoration of Contemporary art. She works as an Art Law expert at the NCTM Legal Firm and her main areas of competence are contemporary art and all legal aspects tied to it.



ARTE Generali


The Haus der Kunst in Munich just closed a major retrospective of the British artist Phyllida Barlow, who has risen to international recognition with her participation in the Venice Biennial in 2017, where she represented the United Kingdom.


The artist is only one of several female artists in the later stages of life who have had stellar rises in their careers at a time when other people are thinking of retirement and slowing down. This recent phenomena is worth looking at, not only because it reshapes the canon of art history of the 21st Century, but also because the critical and institutional acclaim comes with an increase of value of these works through art market validation, often driven by large commercial galleries.


As Barlow is a point in case, she is an excellent example to analyse more closely. For most of her life, she was what is often referred to as an artist’s artist. The sculptor was recognised as an inspirational teacher for a whole generation of sculptors in her tenure at the Slade School of Art in London. After retirement, an exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in 2010 propelled her into the public’s eye – and the eye of Iwan and Manuela Wirth, who began representing her shortly after; and have since been instrumental in exposing her work to private and public audiences internationally. Finally, having more time for work (and not teaching), allowed the artist to take on ever larger and bigger commissions in institutions such as Tate Britain and most recently a temporary installation at the entrance of famous Highgate Cemetery in, as well as the above-mentioned Venice showcase. Numerous solo exhibitions, of which the exhibition in Munich is a culmination, have added to the international recognition. The Munich show featured work in her typical manner of constructing large scale installations which, due to the often flimsical nature of the materials used, feel fragile and robust at the same time. Tarpaulins, pallet boards and other industrial and waste materials denote an experience which isn’t often compatible with the status of high art. Often called “exuberant”, navigating them feels like navigating an obstacle course. For this exhibition, the artist who previously recycled works of art into new works – before her installation carried any monetary value - restages early works, while also adding new structures as well as drawings. These often-vibrant coloured pencil drawings date back to the 1960s and are especially attractive for private collectors who can only dream of finding a home for an installation which feels more like a construction site than a sculpture. Since being taken on by Hauser & Wirth, it is unlikely that the artist recycles old work and sketches have become a precious commodity. In work owned by Tate London, lines on the floor mark the distance to the work, another signifier of price – in this case insurance values.


Barlow is by far not the only female artists whose prices have gone up when the artists were themselves in their 70s, 80s or even older. Until the end of September, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, Japan, pays homage to 16 of them in an exhibition with the apt title “another energy”. Amongst them, of course, Phyllida Barlow. Barlow herself was born in 1944. Cuban born, Carmen Herrera, who is now 104, is probably one of the oldest living female artists of stardom. She is represented by Lisson Gallery. She outlived the French American sculptor Louise Bourgeois who died in 2010 at the age of 99. Bourgeois is equally shown by Hauser & Wirth. Similarly, Etel Adnan, Rose Wylie, Carol Rama or Geta Brătescu come to mind. They all share late international fame, institutional recognition at the highest level and blue-chip gallery representation – either of their work or their estate. The interest is easily explained: Wishing to expand Western and non-Western canons at still a fraction of the prize of a male artist of similar calibre, but of equal if not better quality, with decades of work documented and a highly developed and refined practice, these artists are just too good to miss. The art market research company Wondeur ranks most of them in the highest category of recognition – both in regard to museum exposure but also institutional acquisitions at top museums worldwide. With prices having risen exponentially in the past five years, their value – in more than one category - is likely to rise for a long time – often beyond their death.


Written by: Stephanie Dieckvoss, author of ARTE Generali

Image by: Gilber Franco, Unsplash




David Ulrichs - Art Gallery PR agent


Public Relations is an essential part of any art business, and David Ulrichs knows that better than most. For almost 12 years, he has been in charge of the public image of some of the most important galleries in Europe. Esther Schipper, Lisson Gallery, Galerie Judin and many more have come to him to make sure the great and good of the art world know about their projects, exhibitions and artists. Here, he tells us how PR is the lifeblood of any good gallery.


So first of all, what exactly is art PR?

It’s all about securing the best possible media attention for one's clients. In the art world, PR mostly focuses on adapting and shaping narratives and stories about exhibitions, events, artists or artistic productions to make them worth re-telling. Since the 2000s the number of art PR agencies has grown quickly and each company has its own strengths and focus. I believe in long-term partnerships and prefer a tailor-made approach with each client receiving a bespoke strategy, wherein I also lay out the challenges as well as the aims of each campaign. It’s up to me to be as honest as possible in projecting the possible success of whatever it is that the client is offering. The more solidly I fulfill my projections, the more trust my client puts in me, which fosters long-term collaborations. Obviously, I can only speak for myself and my own approach, which I have adapted through practice, since I never studied communications or marketing or even art history!


How important is PR to an established gallery or artist?

It’s hugely important. A lot of contemporary art has a relatively low production value. The actual profit margins can be extremely high - the price is determined by the name - and name or brand management is at the heart of every PR. Shaping or re-shaping the brand of an established artist or gallery might not be as exciting as creating a different logo every day, or discovering an exciting new art trend every two seconds, but it’s very rewarding to see clients become opinion leaders. 


What makes a good art PR?

A good PR is measured in the attention given to projects, not money. Success is to only represent clients and products that you believe in; to have the courage and luxury to choose, the product in which you have faith. It's neither about the number or size of the clients. It’s about having the best product. You choose the clients, don’t let the clients choose you!


How did you get into the PR business, and who do you mainly work with?

By chance. I was a doctoral candidate of philosophy and wrote about art on the side in magazines like Art in America and ArtReview. I was offered a temping job at an art comms agency in Berlin, but realized after about two weeks that secretarial work requires a certain knack for organization that was beyond me. So I was given a small account to manage. I went at my tasks with the skills of a natural-born salesman, since already at an early age I often ended up manning my family’s wooden toyshop in Galway, Ireland. My approach proved successful, and I worked on exhibitions by Mona Hatoum and Douglas Gordon. Both artists almost simultaneously encouraged me to continue in PR.

 About 13 years ago, when I moved towards PR, the art world in Berlin was becoming more and more professional and hiring any kind of consultant as a museum or gallery was definitely not the norm. Press releases were still largely being sent out by post - or even fax. It was the advent of communication by email, cellphone and I bought my first Blackberry. Fast response times became more and more important and working 'on the go' was a relatively new concept: both I wholeheartedly embraced. With the energy of an entrepreneur, I started my own shop working with Douglas Gordon and two contemporary art galleries (both of which have since closed). In 2011, I started working with Esther Schipper and my business really took off from there. I still work closely with her and about a dozen other clients from the studio of the artist Xu Zhen in Shanghai to the art fair EXPO Chicago or Zeno X Gallery in Antwerp. On larger projects, I work with other PRs and most of my longstanding clients have dedicated personnel to liaise with me, for which I am very grateful. 


What was your journey into art, is it something you loved since you were young or something you came to later?

Since my teenage years, I have been interested in art and I even wanted to attend art school. I had prepared a very elaborate application folder and remember my open-day visit to the National College of Art and Design in Dublin back in the 1990s. All the students had hidden away their artworks for fear of the open day visitors stealing their ideas. The students all looked like members of Oasis and the atmosphere felt a little hostile. But apart from that I also never had the firm belief in my own artistic genius to take the leap of faith necessary to become an artist. At university, I decided to study philosophy and one of the first courses was on aesthetics, taught by a Franciscan monk. I remember lengthy arguments with him about art and beauty - and of course, about the sublime.


How has the pandemic impacted you?

Since I had to significantly reduce my billable hours, it gave me the opportunity to accept projects that I usually would not have had the time and capacity to take on. Covid-19 travel and venue capacity restrictions, actually forced the art world to slow down and re-think its formats. Video conference calls became viable modes of working together in the art world, reducing travel stress. Art fairs went outdoor or online and became more carbon-friendly; vernissages became less crowded - so visitors could actually see the art; and one artist even opened up a temporary nightclub - allowing entry to one person at a time. And there was Clubhouse. But many regular projects, like indoor in-person exhibitions or art fairs were postponed or even cancelled. Welcome, financial aid came from the national and regional governments and thankfully all of my clients continued to be supportive of my work, as best they could. Recently, the situation has improved and more and more the art world is realizing the importance of art being experienced in person.


What would your advice be to someone looking to hire a PR?

The relationship between a client and their PR is determined by honesty and trust, which takes time to build. Sticking with a PR for a longer period, is more rewarding - there is no quick fix. You shouldn’t need to try too hard to convince a PR of your product. If the PR isn’t truly convinced, ask another agency. In the art world, there is very little difference in how PR agencies work, we all have the same tools. And PR is not magic, it’s hard work.


What would your advice be to someone looking to become a PR? What's the path into the industry?

Soft skills, like communication, manners and the ability to empathize are hugely important. And being able to put oneself in a good mood in difficult situations is a huge plus. Obviously, sales skills are required, because you will need to ’sell’ stories to the media; and, if you are in client acquisition, you will need to convince your skill set is what the new client needs to tap into, to be successful. Be informed, communicative and patient. Be good at making connections. Sell the stories, not yourself. I don’t think there is one definitive path into the industry, although starting at an existing art PR agency is definitely one way.


Do you yourself collect any art? Do you have a favourite piece?

I don’t really collect art, but have received a few works from clients. My highlight is a work from Douglas Gordon, which the artist made for me in 2013. My favourite work ever is Barnett Newman's Onement I from 1948. One of my contemporary highlights is a work by Pierre Huyghe entitled C.C. Spider, 2011, which was part of the first exhibition of his that I worked on. I recently moved to a new apartment on the banks of the Spree river in the centre of Berlin, for which I became interested in Danish and German furniture design from the mid-century era along with fitting wall-ceramics; a widespread West-German craft at the time.


What do you think is the future for PR in the art world?

Smaller, flexible PR agencies will do better in the future. They will have a well-curated list of interconnected clients, which offers media the access to an art network larger than the sum of its parts. I think the focus could shift towards a more client-supporting role: functioning as a kind of communications consultant. Small teams of highly-trained specialists will probably be more sought after than a 'big' agency structure with high running-costs.



Interviewed by: Eddy Frankel, author of ARTE Generali

By Serena Tabacchi

Serena Tabacchi

One should start by defining what digital art and cryptoart are and how these differ from each other. “Cryptoart” defines art which is encrypted and tied to the blockchain technology. The latter constitutes an immutable data repository, also known as “ledger”, that gets inserted into a virtual chain capable of preserving it. “Digital Art” is art that was created under digital form. Digital technologies may be deployed as part of the creative process or the exhibitive one. GIFs, JPEG files, 3D animations, 4D cinemas and video art are all examples of digital art.

Cryptoart’s popularity has increased in the past couple of years due to the ease of its distribution. Cryptocurrencies are used to purchase and sell this type of art due to both convenience and technological reasons, which have helped to support its circulation. Since 2018, cryptoart has given many artists the possibility to increase the value and appreciation of their creations, which formerly had rarely been collected and taken into consideration. On the one hand, thanks to cryptocurrencies and some platforms, digital art creators found a successful solution to register directly their works on the blockchain without the need of tying themselves to art galleries. On the other, they have also finally encountered an audience willing to buy and sell their creations.

Moreover, the blockchain technology also allows for the certification of the authenticity and source of art works. For instance, in the case of the emblematic piece by XCOPY entitled “Right click and Save As guy”, anyone can save and download a copy of the image. However, since the art piece has been registered on the blockchain and is thus associated with a unique code, also known as “HASH”, it is always possible to trace the art piece back to the creator and the current owner.

The expression “NFT” stands for “Non Fungible Token” and it refers to non-fungible and exchangeable tokens that are tied to a unique identifying code, which is in turn associated with a work of digital art. In contrast to NFTs, the popular cryptocurrency tokens are both fungible and exchangeable. A token consists of a set of digital data recorded on the blockchain, which entitle an individual to a specific right. For example, a token may be a cryptocurrency unit (e.g. Bitcoin, Ethereum).

The Italian museum MOCDA, also known as “Museum for Contemporary Digital Art” has been one of the first organizations to acknowledge and give value from a museum perspective to digital art. MOCDA’s focus is to educate individuals on the topic of digital art and to promote and distribute digital art at an international level. Alongside with its curatorial team, MOCDA also promotes cultural activities aimed at raising awareness on this theme and making Italian and international digital art known. Amongst these initiatives, one of the most prominent ones is to document and collect digital art from 1960 to present times, with a particular focus on Italian artists who have left a distinctive mark in this artistic movement and its evolution. The goal is to historicize the artistic movement of digital art, also including more recent cyptoart works, especially from 2018 onwards.


By Serena Tabacchi

Serena Tabacchi is a young entrepreneur, curator and author. She has worked at TATE Modern and is cofounder and director of the Museum of Contemporary Digital Art (MOCDA). Currently, she is developing a format to curate digital art exhibitions both online and in person.


The Humbold Forum is 2021’s first major museum opening. It combines original baroque architecture and modern design by Franco Stella for a celebration of non-European art in the heart of Berlin. One of their debut exhibitions is ‘Terrible Beauty. Elephant – Humans – Ivory’, an exploration of humanity’s problematic relationship with ivory. Here, co-curator Alberto Saviello has picked six standout exhibitions from the show to tell us about.


Alberto Saviello:

The first object seen in the exhibition is immediately a special highlight. It is a small mammoth figurine made of mammoth ivory, only 3.7m high (image one). This sculpture is one of the oldest figural representations in the world – about 40,000 years old. It illustrates not only how enormously durable ivory is, but also that the material played an important role in the artistic creativity of the early homo sapiens. One of the oldest musical instruments, a fragment of a flute made of mammoth ivory, will also be on display in the exhibition. The small mammoth figure and the flute were, like numerous other Stone Age objects made of ivory, found in the caves of the Swabian Alb in Germany, which today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Image 1

Image one 


Ivory was a symbol of wealth and sophistication. This was particularly true in the Baroque period. The European courts promoted the art of ivory carving and turning. Masters of this art, such as the "Furienmeister" represented in the exhibition, created objects of extreme virtuosity for the stately table and treasury. But not only professionals worked with the noble and expensive material of elephant tusks, princes and princesses were also skilled in using the material. For example, the young Archduke and later Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I was trained in using the lathe as part of his princely education. He is said to have produced this lidded tankard (image two) himself at the age of 14.


Image 2

Image two


The exhibition moves from small to the large – from the manufactured ivory object and work of art to the tusks and their bearers, the elephants. In the section titled "Local and Global", tusks come into view in their original form. Like hardly any other natural resource, elephant tusks have become a symbol of the exploitation of the people and animals of the African continent. The tusk from Angola, with its frieze of approximately 90 figures spiralling around the tooth, eloquently expresses the local social consequences of European colonialism (image three). The numerous depictions of violence are striking – for example, a troop of elephant hunters armed with rifles, a bound man being abducted, and a man being forced down and threatened with a machete. With such objects, produced specifically for European buyers, the native artists held up a mirror to the colonizers.  


Image 3

Image three


Regardless of the suffering associated with its extraction, ivory still stands for purity and beauty. In prehistoric times, ivory was used for the manufacture of toiletries, and the metaphor of "ivory" beauty has survived into today's advertising for cosmetics, despite the racist idealisation of light skin associated with it. However, the late 18th century toilet mirror (image four), completely covered with ivory veneer, did not only represent the beauty and virtue of its owner at the time. Unlike smaller ivory objects, such as combs and fans, which were by then within reach of a broader European class, such furniture completely encased in ivory was reserved for the elite of the British Empire, especially the leading employees of the English East India Company, which controlled the Indian subcontinent. The toilet mirror was produced in Vizagapatam on India's east coast, combining the 'exotic' ivory with furniture forms of European classicism.    


Image 4

Image four 


The second half of the exhibition focuses on the elephant. The fascination with ivory is also due to its origin from the largest land creature. From a biological point of view, the elephant is a keystone species that decisively shapes entire ecosystems. From the perspective of human culture, it is a symbol of strength and power as well as gentleness and justice. The elephant, therefore, plays a central role in many cultures and religions. This is also the case with this elephant mask (image five), which was worn during performances of the Kuosi Society of the Bamileke in western Cameroon. The mask was part of an elaborate and costly full-body costume with indigo fabrics, red parrot feathers, a leopard skin, and horse tail whips in the hands. Thus, the costume combines various symbols of power and prosperity. The elephant is considered a royal beast. The Fon, the Bamileke king, was said to possess the ability to take on the form of this animal.


Image 5

Image five 


One theme that runs through the exhibition is the much-debated issue of provenance. Many objects in European museums came into their possession illegally as a result of colonial crimes. The provenance of the elephant mask also requires an in-depth investigation. It was given to the Berlin Museum in 1913 by Karl Adametz, a captain of the colonial troops of the German colony of Cameroon. Adametz led a punitive expedition to suppress indigenous peoples in the Cameroon grasslands in the summer of 1912. 


In discussing the interrelations of elephants, humans and ivory, the exhibition also looks at the biology of elephants living today, and the mammoth, and shows the far-reaching significance these species had and have. The model of permafrost can serve as an example of this (image six). As a result of climate change, the permafrost of the Siberian steppes is melting and releasing the tusks of the mammoths that lived there just a few thousand years ago. Since trade in mammoth ivory, unlike that in elephant ivory, is still permitted, these tusks are coveted raw materials that are tracked down by professional “hunters”. What many do not know is that the millions of mammoths wandering the steppes back then contributed to the compaction of the snow and thus to the creation of the “eternal ice” that is permafrost. The disappearance of mammoths, and the dramatically poor situation for elephants today, have profound consequences for the ecological fabric of planet Earth.    


Image 6

Image six


Written by ARTE Generali author Eddy Frankel


For information about the exhibition click HERE