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Eyjafjallajökull, (2010) oil on canvas, 78.7 x 55.1 inch, 200 x 140 cm

Eyjafjallajökull, (2010) oil on canvas, 78.7 x 55.1 inch, 200 x 140 cm

Dr. Eckhard Besuden, an artist from Konstanz, is Dr. Barbara Aust-Wegemund's interview partner today. From a first fleeting contact in November 2013, an intensive dialogue between the art historian and the artist has developed half a year later. Dr. Barbara Aust-Wegemund, owner of Art History Consulting (AHC) is a freelance curator/art journalist and publishes, among others, for the department „Art in Germany” at the Goethe Institut Inter Nationes.

AHC: Dear Dr. Besuden, you describe yourself as a representative of anti-determinism . What exactly do you mean by that?

Eckhard Besuden:
We can omit the Ph.D. Jur.. That is part of my other world, the activity as a lawyer. I don't feel uncomfortable with this split personality. Regarding art I am an amateur - as a lawyer it may be different, but today I am not here as a lawyer.
So - Anti-determinism – that is a long story but I'll try to be brief (laughs). Let's get into the the supreme discipline of art, painting, and in this case - modern painting. Anti-determinism means that the viewer can and must concentrate only on the pure power of painting. No rules, no tricks, no history – let’s clear our mind.

AHC: Good - Mr. Besuden. When we talk about anti-determinism we should also mention determinism.

Eckhard Besuden:
Determinism is an absolute determination of the quality requirements of the 1st art market regarding the artistic result - in our case painting. If the painting does not meet the set quality requirements, it is not „good”„ art. Stefanie Lucci proved this empirically in her doctoral thesis in 2008. (Note AHC: Stefanie Lucci, Um die Ecke denken, Zur Konstruktion von Qualitätsmerkmalen und Funktionen zeitgenössischer Kunst. Dissertation, 2008).

AHC: You quote Paul Durand-Ruel, the Impressionist gallery owner, in the context of deterministic features. What quality characteristics did Paul Durand-Ruel expect from his artist protégés?

Eckhard Besuden:
1. it must be „new“ – don’t paint anything that is already there. Go to the museums and look up what you are not allowed to paint. It should even be scandalously new, a scandal is an excellent sales catalyst for art. 2. it must be „authentic“ - people must immediately recognize you as the painter if possible. An artistic brand name increases the value of the art 3. It must be „technically perfect“. 4. it must be „non-decorative“ - serious art is not decorative 5. the artists should have a „purely artistic vita“, as Gauguin had already demonstrated to the artist community, he was initially a stockbroker, gave up his bourgeois secure existence to the chagrin of his family and became a penniless painter. This created a characteristic for the scarcity of excellence – similar to the marketing strategy of Rolex.

Durand-Ruel wanted to create a distinction from salon painting, not assimilable to the prevailing taste. But he incidentally created the prevailing art dogmatics of the 20th century - determinism. The unbroken validity of the deterministic quality characteristics for modern art, „new“, „authentic“, „anti-decorative“, „pure artistic vita“ was proven in the empirical doctoral thesis of Stefanie Lucci also for today. So, the quality characteristics in modern art are rather simple.

AHC: What is the problem?

The problem is degeneration. If you always have to create something new, you inevitably end up punching out „new styles“ in an ever faster succession - from Impressionism, to Symbolism, Expressionism, Art Nouveau, Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, New Objectivity, and so on and so forth. But Beuys rightly predicted that the linear understanding of art would eventually come to an grinding halt. And the speed is enormous. The 1st generation of expressionists still became famous. Already the 2nd wave like Campedonk had to do without recognition to a large extent. While the era of the Renaissance still lasted 250 years, Pop Art just covered the period from 1956-1969. And after well over 100 years of deterministic quality characteristics, there is basically nothing authentically „new“ left. Every aspect of painting was already there, you can find it on the Internet. How to paint scandalously new when every kind of painting has been done already? The artists have tried everything in the book. Huge explanatory texts on the paintings, cutting up the canvas, the pompous proclamation of the arch-state of art, in Germany perhaps still combined with the inevitable Hitler salute – (oldies but goldies), the shredding of the master piece when the auction is still in full swing; but short-lived acclamation and equally short-lived auto-suggestion of relevance always cumulates in a bored yawn of a spoiled public, probably noticing the striking similarity to „The Emperor's New Clothes“.
Art dogmatics also constantly have been inventing new tricks. In the 80s, they tried neo-expressionism, neo-surrealism, neo-pop art, in other words, instead of the linear understanding of art, they tried the cyclic conception of art. But it was all in vain. Determinism leads to degenerated art, the deterministic characteristics for quality are no longer contemporary, they have become obsolete.

AHC: The Transitory Gallery London provoked in 2007 with the slogan „We need more dilettantes“. Was that a watershed?

Eckhard Besuden:
The anti-determinists, such as the Transition Gallery in London under the slogan „We need more dilettantes“ and from 2012 in the Baumwollspinnerei in Leipzig under the motto „On Dilettantism,“ are trying to do the opposite in terms of art dogma. In my opinion, one can no longer move the art world by „scandalously new“ paintings. It requires new dogmatic ideas - and they must be radical.

Bauwollspinnerei Leipzig, 2012

Bauwollspinnerei Leipzig, 2012

AHC: How does a dilettante paint?

Eckhard Besuden:
We do not paint in a new way, we do not paint authentically, we do not paint antidecoratively. Our vita is autodidactic dilettantism, we copy, we paint what has „already been there“, we paint decoratively, we paint totally arbitrary subjects and styles, so even the recognizability of the painter, that is, the characteristic „authenticity“ is denied. We do not care about the deterministic quality characteristics. There’s only one requirement - „perfect technique“ – Period! We free the act of painting from dogmatic knowledge, from prejudices in the artist's head. The only important thing in the work of an artist is the painting. Each painting tells a story.

AHC: So your goal is to subvert the marketing mechanisms?

Eckhard Besuden:
I've often been told that it is, but I disagree. The creation of an painting is simply no longer based on 150-year-old quality characteristics. In my opinion, however, this should by no means render the painting worthless or unsellable. All it takes is the protagonists of the 1st art market, curators, gallery owners, auctioneers, etc., rethinking their standards a tiny bit. The painting itself should be more important than the ado surrounding it.

AHC: But doesn't anti-determinist art have quality characteristics? How do you recognize a „good“ painting?

Eckhard Besuden:
In my opinion, the most important point is the painting being capable of arousing the interest of the viewer. Only the actual reception honors the work.

AHC: Is anti-determinism also a critique of the conditions of the art market?

Eckhard Besuden:
I can’t help agreeing to that. The conditions of the 1st art market should be subject to criticism since the source of these conditions can be found within deterministic quality parameters.

AHC: And that would be?

Eckhard Besuden:
Seeger (note AHC: Ulli Seeger, Handbuch Kunstmarkt, 2014 (transcipt Verlag Bielefeld)) put it nicely in a nutshell: „The art market does not function like the music industry, but is an elitist business that is largely determined by a small but powerful circle of players who decide on great artists' careers.“ They determine what is „new“ and en vogue. The admissions committees of the important art fairs also mainly consist of successful gallery owners, resulting in further „inbreeding“ ( - in this context the „principle of mutual assignment“). This impoverishes taste even more. According to „Art Newspaper“, between 2007 and 2013, 33% of all solo exhibitions in 68 renowned US museums went to artists represented by just 5 private galleries (note AHC: so also Kopitzki, Südkurier, Culture 29.11.2017 p. 13). This also means that the taste of the public visiting US museums is significantly influenced by just 5 private galleries. They determine what is art and what is not. Hence the following excerpt in the Time magazine dating from 2017: „The art business ticks differently than other businesses, it is considered by many to be undemocratic, authoritarian and corrupt“. I quote Nicole Zepter herself curator (note AHC: Zepter, Kunst hassen, 2013, p. 90): „The public, which has a say in literature, the theater world, in music, has no say in art, painting and sculpture. It is confronted with fixed facts, selected by the cultural world of a very small circle. They determine the artistic taste of our grandchildren.“ Worldwide, only 10,000 people determine the artistic taste of the rest of humanity. Of these, 3,000, and they are the most influential, are in New York City (Zepter, ibid, p.90). I was most impressed by the study by Fraiberger, Sinatra, Resch and others in Science (note AHC: Samuel P. Fraiberger Roberta Sinatra Magnus Resch Christoph Riedl Albert-László Barabási, Quantifying reputation and success in art, Science 11/2018). They come to the conclusion that it is almost impossible to move up from the 3rd to the 1st art market if you don't have connections. The art market is deeply undemocratic. The chance for an artist of the 3rd art market without contacts to advance into the 1st art market is zero (Markus Renz, Monopol Magazine, 14.11.2018). So, with only a few protagonists still holding the most important asset - the address list of super-rich collectors – art is in a state of feudalism and a development of massive impoverishment of art taste. The 1st art market suggests new diversity through trends such as female art, decolonization or the supposed discovery of Africa as an art continent.
But as a matter of fact the taste and success in the 1st art market is determined by a few individuals.

AHC: To what extent can anti-determinism help here?

Eckhard Besuden:
I agree with Danto (note AHC: Arthur Danto: The Transfiguration of the Ordinary, 1993 (the original American edition appeared in 1981)), we have to strive again for a „normal“ reception to help us experience art as such. The individualization of reception is an important step for the democratization of the art system. We have to rely only on our eyes and senses. The dogma of determinism distracts us from the real thing. Why shouldn’t a decorative painting be high-quality? The 1st art market degrades the viewer according to the just criticism of Luhmann (note AHC: Niklas Luhmann „The Art of Society“ 1995). Luhmann took it to the next level avoiding monopolizing opinion by not even asking questions of quality, in order to leave the determination of what counts as art back to the audience itself. By the mechanics of the art system ‘normal’ viewers are degraded to lesser observers: „limited to repeating like a prayer wheel the definition of art predefined by the system.“ Art means reshaping and reorganizing the contexts of life. Up to now, on the part of the artists, under the yoke of the new, great importance has been attached to the principle of order through fluctuation. Instead, we must discover for ourselves the principle of multi-stability, indeed of the ambiguity of art. This moves away from the characteristic of the new and opens up new forms. If up to now creativity has been determined as the consciously or subconsciously continuing instability of cognitive processes, as subversion of the need for stability, the new determination belonging to the 21st century is the recognition of multi-stability. This means the inclusion of institutions and their function.

AHC: What can the institutions do?

Eckhard Besuden:
Resch has an interesting idea to democratize art taste again (note AHC: Resch, Der Kunstmarkt ist undemokratisch, Monopol Magazin 11/2018; Fraiberger, Sinatra, Resch, Riedl, Barabasi, Quantifying reputation an success in art, Science, 11/2018) He recommends, for example, a lottery of museum exhibitions. This lottery would undermine the network and make the generation of taste more random. Permeability from the 3rd to the 1st art market would increase again.

AHC: You like to call yourself a German artist. Are you influenced by German post-war art?

Eckhard Besuden:
Absolutely yes. I think it is important to locate one's own painting. The Seehas is a motive from Lake Konstanz, it means home. At the end of the 1960s, the paintings of Günther Uecker and Heinz Mack appealed to me. But the power of painting was missing to me. I’m bored by German idealists like Winfred Gaul, Kuno Gonschior etc. The attempt to bring photography into painting must inevitably fail. At the end of the 60s, with Paik, Leve and Maciunas, German art deviates more and more from my taste. Even a gifted technician like Gehard Richter paints very modestly in this period. It's the time of Beuys, who grants the scandal a more than unnecessary revival. From the painter’s point of view they are uninteresting, but nonetheless very ‘contemporary’. I prefer the „quiet“ ones like Horst Antes. Even the resemblance of his works to Picasso’s cubist works cannot detract from his value. Konrad Klapheck is undoubtedly brilliant. If we compare him with Immendorf, it becomes clear who is ahead. Then come heavyweights like Baselitz, Schönebeck, Lüpertz, and of course the early Richter. It is to their credit that they have reanimated the power of painting in the post-Beuys age. I admire Volker Tannert and Peter Kuckei. Modest, but highly valuable in terms of painting. I simply prefer the modest ones, like Hubertus Giebe or Walter Libuda even if the latter has borrowed heavily from James Ensor. Modesty is the last virtue we learn in this life - and some never will. Of the current, say from 2010, I particularly like Hagen Betzwieser, Anna Gierster, Karl Hans Janke, Per Olaf Schmidt, they all have by far not yet exhausted their potential.

AHC: But given the internationalization of art, doesn't the notion of German art painted from a village like Allensbach imply a certain narrowness?

Eckhard Besuden:
Sometimes narrowness is an asset, because things meant to stand the test of time very often happen in a limited environment. In my opinion, the significant is even committed to the manageable place, presupposes proximity, a topography that can be seen. Only this setting is thus measured, the narrowness allows allusions and makes the understanding of allusions transferable. The large only becomes transparent in the small, the world becomes understandable through exploration of a comparatively tiny aspect. And remoteness is not a flaw. By no means the ‘Big City Lights’ necessarily produce world class art. At the end of the day a painting should have the advantage of being „stimulating“ in a desirable way, that is, in a way that meets the work with critical attention rather than mute acquiescence.

AHC: How do you create your paintings? Do you plan your compositions carefully? Do you make sketches/preliminary drafts or does the picture emerge intuitively and spontaneously on the canvas?

Eckhard Besuden:
There are two ways. First, the concrete pictures: First, I make sketches. If they are worth developing, I look for photo templates with my camera and work out „the picture“ in Adobe Photoshop, which sometimes takes more time than the actual painting. Then - like Gerhard Richter - I use the slide projector or as of late a modern beamer. After 2 - 3 similar subjects it goes also without Beamer, as with the Seehas. The painting then becomes rougher.
The abstract works require a different approach. I just paint them.

AHC: Can you tell us the story behind some of the paintings? For example, the Seehas? What is it all about?

Eckhard Besuden:
The Seehas is a mystical figure of Lake Konstanz, you can find him on every fountain around Lake Konstanz, equally in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The train that I take to work in the morning is also named after him - the „Seehas”. I always wanted my own interpretation of the Seehas. I owe the discovery of Adobe Photoshop to Hannes Krutzler. He came up with the idea of the bunny with diving goggles. One morning I remembered Hannes' subject. Enriched with my local knowledge of Konstanz, it just HAD to be painted. At first it was a simple picture, a simple thought, the colorfulness from Warhol's „Selfportraits“, but with each painted Seehas it got better, moved away from Hanne's template. A primitive, decorative, not new subject, very anti-deterministic (laughs).

Barbaras Seehas klein magenta, (2014) oil on canvas, 27.6 x 31.5 inch, 70 x 80 cm

Seehas – big - ultramarine blue (2 of 10)
(2020) oil on canvas
130 x 140 cm

AHC: Are there other paintings in your oeuvre that you consider, as Neo Rauch puts it, key paintings? Do you solve the beach puzzle?

Eckhard Besuden:
The „Strandrätsel“, („beach riddle?“) An Italian gallery owner, provoked me. „Seascapes - after Gerhard Richter that's no longer art“. So I immediately painted a beach landscape with three flags in it. In the sand in front of the flags is written „NO“, the flags mean according to the flag alphabet „A“ and „R“ and „T“ and behind the three flags you can see in the sand a „!“. „No art!“ just - but only for those who know the flag alphabet - and the gallery owner could not (grins).

Strandrätsel, (2013) oil on canvas, 78.7 x 55.1 inch, 200 x 140 cm

Strandrätsel, (2013) oil on canvas,
78.7 x 55.1 inch, 200 x 140 cm

AHC: What do your chess openings, for example the Leningrad Variation, mean?

Eckhard Besuden:
The chess openings are always an interaction of different elements. The individual elements of the picture remain within the limits of their aesthetic of effect, which can never be sure of becoming more effective, perhaps even through their failure. The whole world design aims at artificiality. I paint Georg Bernhard Müller vom Siel's birch forest, Gigi Hadid in a red robe by Oscar de la Renta that she never wore. And they all meet in the forest and, like vom Siel, will probably end up in the mental hospital if they get the job right. At first, the components seem cobbled together - just like the limbs and features of a doll. But then, hopefully, my brush succeeds in transforming the episodic form into a higher coherent order. The Leningrad variant of the Dutch Defense emerges and it looks easy. Usually art is aggravating; my art is facilitating.

Tate Modern, (2012) oil on canvas, 39.4 x 39.4 inch, 100 x 100 cm

2017 Leningrad Variant Oil on canvas 79x55inch 200x140cm

AHC: Neo Rauch described his “Sucher” („Seeker“) as a key painting. Is that your theme?

Eckhard Besuden:
I was happy to take up the theme. As a fox, my „seeker“ is known to be very clever, but in spite of his recognized shrewdness, he is obviously searching in all the wrong places.

Der Sucher, (2011) oil on canvas, 78.7 x 55.1 inch, 200 x 140 cm

Der Sucher, (2011) oil on canvas,
78.7 x 55.1 inch, 200 x 140 cm

AHC: What are your artistic plans? Where is the journey going?

Eckhard Besuden:
Bruno Ganz always answered this question with, „Well, do I have to imagine everything myself?“

AHC: Thank you very much, Mr. Besuden, for the invitation to talk to us and all the best for your future projects and exhibitions. 

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