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ARTE Generali and Jan Kuck: On burning questions and art as a mirror of society

Conceptual artist Jan Kuck and ARTE Generali got to the bottom of the burning questions of motivation, drive and passion with the artwork "The Burning River". At the beginning of March, the light installation on the Isar in Munich was broadcasted worldwide via livestream. In the interview, he gives insights into the creation of the installation and talks about mutual relationships between art and business. Kuck also explains why it is our job to make art accessible and to protect it for everyone. With this ambition, Generali Deutschland supports national and international art projects, exhibitions and artists with its art insurer, ARTE Generali.

“The Burning River” project emerged with the support of ARTE Generali. What is the idea behind it and what does it mean for you?

I've been thinking for a long time about how to use light in the city for art installations. Most of the time, light is projected onto houses or bridges, but I wanted to illuminate the water because the rivers are like the main arteries of cities for me. Nowadays everything changes faster, is short-lived and I asked myself what is the basis on which we make decisions? It should be what you're passionate about. With the question "What are you burning for?" we made a lot of people think about that in a playful way.

"Art is always a mirror of society" - Jan Kuck

What role does technological innovation play in art?

Art moves with time, therefore technology will play an increasingly important role in the future. However, technology should only be supportive and never take over the main part and thus cannot replace art. Nevertheless, as the example of the Arte Generali app shows, it can assist art collectors with assistance services.

ARTE Generali launched the campaign "Great artists steal" with Maurizio Cattelan and Oliviero Toscani last year. What do you associate with this sentence?

Yes, of course that's very provocative and a successful campaign. As an artist, you should always be inspired by everything and create something new from what you see. With the campaign, the two artists set an important example: the high value of art must be protected.

In 2015 your exhibition “Who Cares? Social Responsibility in Contemporary Art” dealt with social responsibility - a topic of great importance in the Generali.

Social responsibility is also very important in art. On the one hand, because art always mirrors the time and on the other hand artists now have more opportunities and freedoms to express themselves critically to society than they had in the past. They can draw attention to grievances, conflicts or resistances and thus stimulate people to reflect on their actions. In my opinion, art should be a kind of dialogue between the artist and the viewer.

To what extent is it important that companies support art and what can art and culture bring to a company in return?

I find symbioses of this kind very important. Everyone can learn from the mutual relationship, both artists and companies. Art is there for everyone and should be a kind of basic value for all people. At the same time, the change of perspective opens up new methods, non-professional approaches, aspects and gives food for thought. Artists benefit equally from a strong partnership: without Arte Generali, for example, it would not have been possible to implement a project like “The Burning River”.

"For me, art is philosophy that starts where words alone are no longer sufficient to ask the really disruptive, burning and important questions" - Jan Kuck

Jan Kuck is currently advocating "Art Thinking". In this concept art is combined with science and business and serves as a creative engine and accelerator of innovation. Progress and clever ideas succeed much faster if you work together in an interdisciplinary manner. In this way, Generali also keeps getting new thought-provoking impulses through partnerships like these and remains open to creative ways.

  1. © Jan Kuck and impressions "The Burning River" 2020, Felix Rodewaldt

    © Jan Kuck and impressions "The Burning River" 2020, Felix Rodewaldt

  2. © Jan Kuck and impressions "The Burning River" 2020, Felix Rodewaldt

    © Jan Kuck and impressions "The Burning River" 2020, Felix Rodewaldt

  3. © Jan Kuck and impressions "The Burning River" 2020, Felix Rodewaldt

    © Jan Kuck and impressions "The Burning River" 2020, Felix Rodewaldt

By Dr. Sonja Lechner, art historian and Managing Director of Kunstkonnex Artconsulting (www.kunstkonnex.com).

Hardly any other picture illustrates the paradigm shift the art market has undergone within a few weeks more significantly: Just over a month ago, the Ifema exhibition center in Madrid was filled with both protagonists and recipients of the international art scene – on the occasion of the „Arco" art fair, around 95,000 visitors gathered there from February 29 to March 1. Today, instead of contemporary art, the rooms house hospital beds from the emergency room that was hastily built there. The Tefaf in Maastricht, which in the first week of March opened its doors to 280 exhibitors from 22 countries and thousands of visitors before it closed early again due to the appearance of corona infections, will probably be the last fair for a long time to be accessible in the literal sense of the word, enabling visitors to view art directly: Following the cancellation of Frieze in New York and the postponement of Art Cologne to the same date as Cologne Fine Art and Design in November, this week Art Basel also announced that its fair will now take place in September in lieu of June. Art Basel Hong Kong had already reacted in good time and shifted the fair completely into virtual worlds: instead of showing art in Hong Kong's Convention Center, the collectors were now invited to viewing rooms. In line with the actual schedule, VIP card holders were given access to those rooms first, joined later by the rest of the art collectors. There, art was projected onto a photo of the wall of a fictitious booth, whose bench suggested that one could sit down and contemplate each work.

This format was more or less the starting signal for a new orientation of the art market: the shutdown in almost all countries currently makes neither exhibition openings nor gallery visits or museum tours possible, and is hitting hard the entire international cultural sector. In addition to the emergency aid measures for artists, freelancers and entrepreneurs, there are further calls for help such as the reintroduction of the reduced VAT rate on art in Germany. Additional financial protection will be necessary to prevent numerous insolvencies in the art market, protective umbrellas such as the approval of purchasing budgets for museums specifically dedicated to acquisitions from galleries, or support programs for art fairs, art weeks, gallery weekends and similar formats.

The Roman poet Ovid had already noted that "talent is often awakened by necessity," and indeed, the art market is taking new paths, all of which lead to the Internet. An unprecedented density of digitalization has gripped the actors of the genre. Not only galleries and artists are virtualizing their offerings, museums are also expanding what Google Arts & Culture published even before the pandemic: digital tours through the most important collections worldwide. The spectrum of offers ranges from filming closed exhibitions and recording opening speeches to artist interviews, archive highlights or studio insights. This type of presentation has its advantages: Not only are many images accompanied by information on the artist, work, or price, which lowers the inhibition threshold of those who never dare to ask, but filming close to the surface also enables access that many alarm systems or gallery owner otherwise prevent – immersion in details. Tripping color seems to flow towards the viewer, the eye can perceive painted formations or sculptural microcosms at close range.

"The idea of progress can be founded in the idea of a catastrophe": The citation of this quote by Walter Benjamin in the midst of the global crisis must not be misunderstood cynically in view of the tens of thousands of deaths caused by the pandemic. It must be understood as an appeal, as a call to reposition oneself, to enter new grounds, to initiate progress that implies a progression from familiar paths. While attempts to efficiently set up marketplaces that function independently only on the Internet, such as the "VIP Art Fair," have so far not been crowned with success, the art market will no longer be able to survive without virtual instruments in a future post Corona. It is to be hoped that all the virtual variants of making art experienceable will allow to bridge this state of emergency, and that all these efforts will be preserved in some form of additional offer afterwards, as a supplement to what will nevertheless remain indispensable: To be able to see art in the flesh, to experience and feel it with one's own eyes in situ. From an art historian's point of view, it would be desirable that the worldwide standstill will increase the longing of all art lovers to be able to view originals again, and that this longing will imply a different kind of appreciation. One able to initiate a paradigm shift whereby art is no longer predominantly valued as an object of investment and speculation, but rather as what it actually is – a constant expansion of our perception. "Art does not reproduce visibility, it makes visible", Paul Klee once apostrophized – right now, art is questioning our viewing habits, and is showing us new ways of seeing.

  1. © Felix Rehfeld, Berg 2 (detail), 2018, oil on canvas, 30x40cm

    © Felix Rehfeld, Berg 2 (detail), 2018, oil on canvas, 30x40cm

  2. © Dr. Sonja Lechner

    © Dr. Sonja Lechner

Following its global launch in November 2019, supported by the eye-catching, subversive advertising campaign created by the thought-provoking photographer Oliviero Toscani and the art genius Maurizio Cattelan, Arte Generali decided to endorse unique projects to position as a life-time partner to art collectors, able to offer unique, innovative and personalized solutions and services.
 
Additionally, the project that we decided to support share with Arte Generali the purpose of fostering the sharing of art and creativity as values for society” commented Ezio Fantuzzi, Head of Communications, and Leonie Mellinghoff, Head of Community Management. “We want to place Arte Generali as something never seen before in the traditionally conservative art insurance market, while preserving our heritage rooted in the almost two centuries of history of the Generali Group, a patron to arts and culture with no equals.”
 
The projects supported by Arte Generali in 2020 include the initiative "Experience in Action - DesignBuild in architectural education". The DesignBuild teaching method will be shown in an exhibition in the Pinakothek der Moderne. Also, students at the Technical University of Munich will build a temporary pavilion next to the museum, which will remain there for several years starting from 2020. This structure will be an experimental space for art and architecture and will house workshops for children, students and adults, discussion groups, exhibitions and other events.
 
Our project combines the importance of learning and the societal role” said prof. Dr. Andres Lepik, curator of the exhibition and director of the Architecture Museum at the Technical University of Munich. “DesignBuild offers students the opportunity to plan concrete projects and build them up in an interdisciplinary manner, acting not only as architects, but also as project developers and social activists. I believe that the mission of DesignBuild is the same as that of Arte Generali as they both try to create positive social impacts through art in any of its forms.”
 
Additionally, Arte Generali has teamed up with The Art Gorgeous, one of the freshest and most successful emerging art news outlets in the world, for the project “Treasures”. “Treasures” is an initiative never seen before, whereby five inspiring ladies in the world of art offer their exclusive views as artists, gallerists, critics and experts in a series of video-interviews.  
 
“Burning River” was an open-space interactive art installation which took place from March 7 to 15 in Munich. The installation, supported by Arte Generali, was created by the German artist Jan Kuck. High-tech lasers immersed the water surface of the Isar – Munich’s river – in red and yellow lights, creating the impression of a burning water surface. Short sentences were projected by lasers, consisting of answers to the question: “What are you burning for?”. Citizens, Generali colleagues and art lovers submitted their passions through a dedicated website. 
 
Last but not least, “Couleurs de la Vie” is an art school for children and teenagers in Saarbrücken, Germany, run by Dima Alrefai and supported by Arte Generali. Dima is a Syrian refugee and an artist with a passion for  teaching. Thanks to the support of The Human Safety Net – Generali Group’s community support program – she acquired the business management skills and became a small entrepreneur.  

  1. © PIN. Freunde

    © PIN. Freunde

  2. © Burning River by Jan Kuck, ARTE Generali

    © Burning River by Jan Kuck, ARTE Generali

  3. © Burning River by Jan Kuck, ARTE Generali

    © Burning River by Jan Kuck, ARTE Generali

1. You bring with yourself an extensive international experience developed in Europe, Japan and LatAm in the fields of art, art insurance and asset management. On the basis of your professional experience, what remarkable sign can Arte Generali leave in its business segment?

In my previous experiences in the field of art insurance I was struck by how heavy the administrative processes were, to the point that sometimes they could even depress the motivation of art specialists and jeopardize the relation with art collectors. Arte Generali allowed me to develop a new operating model, enhanced by a digital platform and fueled by a corporate culture focused on innovation and on the “Life-Time Partnership” concept. The result is something very innovative for this market segment, because it offers art collectors solutions that reduce bureaucracy and enable them to live their passion freely. To the Arte Generali clients, we provide much more than an insurance product: Concierge service and digital tools are essential components of our proposition.

2. Generali invests in this new project also with its technological know-how, betting on innovation and new technologies. Is the future key to safeguard the past?

Of course. Let me explain you how our digital platform works. We will integrate in a single web app remote evaluation service for art pieces, a private virtual gallery where our clients can “store” their collections and share them with friends and family, and 24/7 assistance. Often people ask me how we can prevent frauds by adopting a digital evaluation system. The answer is that our system is better than traditional ones in detecting counterfeits, as today the majority of art insurance policies are issued on the back of self-declarations made by clients. Arte Generali provides remote evaluations performed by a network of selected experts: Clients are requested to submit photos of the art piece as well as additional information such as the certificate of origin, if existing. If any doubt about the authenticity arises or for very pricey items, Arte Generali activates an expert for a physical check. The premium is defined amongst many parameters also by the preservation status and the origin certificates. Last, I’d like to emphasize that our digital platform adopts the most advanced data protection standards in coherence with our approach. 

3. How does the protection offered by an insurer contribute to – in addition to the preservation – the development and the sharing of art?

I’d like to start answering your question by mentioning Arte Generali’s purpose, i.e. its long-term mission. Our purpose is to promote the sharing of art and creativity as values for society by taking care of the protection of any form of art and of its transmission from one generation to the next. We are convinced that owning an art piece requires that the owner pays a particular care so that the piece is safe, well preserved and restored when needed. I believe that the preservation of an art piece’s integrity is the duty of any art lover, who is a humble custodian for next generations to enjoy. With this philosophy in mind, Arte Generali aims not only to guarantee the compensation in case of claim – thus enabling the restoration when needed – but also to accompany the art collector through different phases of her or his life, advising her or him about the best preservation techniques and therefore preventing potential damages. Arte Generali is not only protection, but also and more importantly prevention, assistance and partnership. Moreover, an insured collector is more prone to lend her or his art piece for the community to enjoy it, for instance to a temporary exhibition. Last, I’d like to underline that choosing Arte Generali means joining an art community with other art lovers who share the same passion for an artist, a style or a period. This community is animated by our staff of experts, for instance through high-standing events and private exhibition tours.

4. Which are the keywords that will accompany Arte Generali’s journey?

They are our differentiating factors: passion, engagement, expertise, service, care, concierge, prevention, partnership, innovation, digitization, simplicity.

5. For Arte Generali’s launch campaign, you chose Oliviero Toscani as the ‘director’ and Maurizio Cattelan as the ‘model’. What do these two ambassadors tell?

Oliviero and Maurizio created an ironic, debunking and destabilizing campaign. This is exactly what we were looking for to generate a strong visual impact while communicating a sense of change in the art insurance business, traditionally quite conservative. Such a change is reflected by the disruption that we believe Arte Generali will bring about in the sector thanks to its unique and unprecedented features, which I have described previously. Personally, I recognize the campaign’s ironic side, as Maurizio pretends to be stealing two of his most famous artworks, including “America” which was actually stolen from a museum in England in September 2019. Cattelan himself said: “Arte Generali’s brand campaign juxtaposes the risk run by art collectors of their art pieces being stolen with the metaphorical act of stealing that every artist commits. My whole career has been based on the non-existence of originality – in other words, the ability to invent by adding to something that has been invented already, or the ability to elicit unexpected emotions by triggering emotions that one felt already before.”

1. Arte Generali was born on the back of the Generali Group’s effort as a patron to art. How does the history of Generali combine with the world of art and culture?

Arte Generali builds on two solid pillars. First, the undiscussed leadership of the Generali Group in terms of technical performance. Second, the unique artistic and cultural heritage, developed since the foundation of Generali in 1831. Throughout decades, this heritage grew thanks to direct investments in art works, which add value to our offices around the world. Also, it grew thanks to our effort in providing insurance coverage, assistance and restoration: for instance, Generali was a protagonist in the reconstruction of the legendary La Fenice theater in Venice after the two fires that destroyed it completely in 1836 and 1996. Last, the support to the world of art and culture is equally important. This support is proven by initiatives such as the partnership between Generali Deutschland and some of the most successful exhibitions in Germany, including the recent exhibition on Tiepolo at the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart.

2. The Group’s ambition is to become Life-Time Partner to art collectors. How is this ambition translated into the evolution of Generali’s brand identity?

Generali aims to become a life-time partner to its customers. It is a true revolution in the insurance sector because, so far, insurers were mainly focused on building off-the-shelf products and managing claims – although they have always played an important role for society. Today, however, customers expect integrated and personalized insurance solutions, able to respond to the complexity of their needs and to the evolution of such needs in time. Today, insurance solutions must be enhanced by the most advanced technologies. Obviously, all of this must coexist with best-in-class quality, with the ‘human touch’ of advisors and with service excellence. Generali wants to be the first and the best insurance company to offer all of this. Clearly, our new approach based on prevention, assistance and partnership applies even to art collectors. For example, we designed an app that provides Arte Generali customers with, among other benefits, continuous assistance and advice on how to prevent damages to their art pieces.

3. Generali expands its offering through a project that becomes a key component of the Generali 2021 strategic plan. What are your expectations?

We expect a robust growth of the global art insurance market. Worldwide, we estimate that insurance revenues in this segment will rise by 6% on average per year, to reach US$ 2.3 billion in 2022. Furthermore, this segment boasts a significantly higher profitability than insurance business’s average. In this scenario, we are convinced Arte Generali can expand meaningfully and become one of the top-three specialized players in Europe in five years. In the longer term, we believe Arte Generali will become the market leader.

4. What is the startup’s target? Which type of clientele chooses this option?

Arte Generali is primarily targeted at individual customers – private collectors of art pieces with a cumulative value above €500,000. These are customers with sophisticated needs that we meet by offering ‘concierge’ service which goes well beyond the traditional insurance coverage to include, among other things, restoration, transportation and preservation of art works. We are the only insurer in the market able to combine the insurance product, assistance and digital tools.

5. The starting block of the new global unit is Germany. What is the role of art in this geography and which markets will be included in the expansion plan?

According to the most recent estimates, Germany is the second largest market in the world for art insurance, after the United States. This proves the great interest for art among German residents, further demonstrated by many galleries and museums of exceptional value that operate in this country and are supported by associations of ‘friends’ which stand out for their vivacity and creative vision. Arte Generali is up and running in Germany and it will soon be operating in France, Austria and Italy, and other European and global markets afterwards.

Arte Generali was presented on November 25, 2019, at an exclusive event at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. Almost 300 art lovers attended the event. Jean Gazançon, CEO of Arte Generali, Giovanni Liverani, CEO of Generali Deutschland and global sponsor of Arte Generali and Oliviero Toscani, creative director of Arte Generali’s brand were among the speakers of the night. Maurizio Cattelan, the Italian artist considered as the ‘joker’ of the world’s art scene, who serves as testimonial of Arte Generali, also attended the event.
 
Arte Generali not only offers comprehensive insurance protection for art objects, but also unique innovations” said Jean Gazançon. “Complemented by our concierge service and an exclusive app featuring remote evaluations, art collectors receive an optimal protection of their art objects and at the same time become a member of an exclusive art community.”
 
With Arte Generali, art collectors have the chance to feel part of a community who shares the same passion for art and the same mindset on how to handle and protect art pieces with the aim of passing them over to the future generations. Arte Generali commits to nurture this community, for instance by facilitating physical and digital get-togethers such as encounters with inspiring artists. The PIN Freunde – the association of supporters of the Pinakothek der Moderne – is a living proof of the importance of community in the world of art. Most of the 300 attendees at the launch event were members of the PIN Freunde.
 
The event was also the occasion to present an important project that Arte Generali will support in cooperation with the PIN Freunde and the Technical University of Munich: the initiative "Experience in Action - DesignBuild in architecture education". Architecture students have the chance to design a temporary pavilion next to the museum to be built in 2020. The pavilion will become an experimental space for art and architecture and will house workshops for children, students and adults; discussion groups; exhibitions and other events.

  1. German launch event in the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, November 2019 ©Arte Generali and Hannes Rohrer

    German launch event in the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, November 2019 ©Arte Generali and Hannes Rohrer

  2. From left to right: Jean Gazançon, Maurizio CaCelan, Dorothée Wahl (Chair of the Board, PIN. Freunde der Pinakothek der Moderne), Giovanni Liverani, Sven Kielgas (art collector), Oliviero Toscani (photographed at the German launch event in the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, November 2019) ©Arte Generali and Hannes Rohrer

    From left to right: Jean Gazançon, Maurizio CaCelan, Dorothée Wahl (Chair of the Board, PIN. Freunde der Pinakothek der Moderne), Giovanni Liverani, Sven Kielgas (art collector), Oliviero Toscani (photographed at the German launch event in the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, November 2019) ©Arte Generali and Hannes Rohrer

  3. From left to right: Oliviero Toscani, Maurizio CaCelan, Giovanni Liverani ©Arte Generali and Oliviero Toscani Studio

    From left to right: Oliviero Toscani, Maurizio CaCelan, Giovanni Liverani ©Arte Generali and Oliviero Toscani Studio