About a decade ago, Deutsche Bank initiated the “Artist of the Year” program. On the occasion of its 10th anniversary, and on the recommendation of the advisory curators Victoria Noorthoorn, Hou Hanru, and Udo Kittelmann, it is now for the first time awarding three artists at the same time: Maxwell Alexandre (Brazil), Conny Maier (Germany), and Zhang Xu Zhan (Taiwan). What all three have in common is that they came to contemporary art via unusual paths and bring very specific life experiences and cultural influences with them.
What all three have in common is that they came to contemporary art via unusual paths and bring very specific life experiences and cultural influences with them.
Maxwell Alexandre was born in 1990 in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela, where he still lives today. The paintings and installations of the artist of African descent revolve around community and violence, hip-hop and spirituality. His 17-part work Forbes Under 30 from the 500 Year Party series explores Brazilian media imagery. Alexandre repeatedly repainted the 2019 cover motif of the Brazilian edition of Forbes magazine, which ranked him as one of the 90 most successful Brazilians under 30, changing the shades of the protagonists’ skin colors—a serial meditation on systemic racism, the Brazilian elite, and class.
Conny Maier is one of the most important discoveries in the current German painting scene. The Berlin-born artist is the first German artist to receive the “Artist of the Year” award. Maier’s figurative, colorfully luminous paintings draw on very different influences: the expressionism of the “Brücke,” Picasso and Gauguin, as well as the current discourses on painting that have been held since the “new figuration” of the 1980s. Maier’s art reflects a world shaped by representation and materialism, in which people seem to lose control. A central motif of her work is the relationship between culture and nature, which in modern societies is always defined by the struggle for dominance and by subjugation.
Zhang Xu Zhan was born in 1988 into a family that has been making and trading in traditional paper figurines for over a century. These figures, used in religious ceremonies and funeral rituals in Taiwan, are made of papier-mâché and elaborately decorated. His stop-motion films, staged in immersive installations, take us into the realm of nature spirits and demons. In doing so, they touch on universal themes such as death, transience, and the quest for community. Zhang Xu, who has a keen interest in spirituality, folklore, and anthropology, transfers his family’s traditional handicrafts into the global art world of the twenty-first century. His work addresses the idea of a universal art of the “in-between”: the spaces that open up between cultures, traditions, and new technologies.
Deutsche Bank's 'Artist of Year' program series and the current presentation are curated by Britta Färber, Chief Curator of the Deutsche Bank Collection.