Since Wangechi Mutu, who resides in New York and Nairobi, was chosen as the first Artist of the Year in 2010, the art world and the world in general have changed dramatically. Since then, many of the previous award winners, including Yto Barrada, Koki Tanaka, and Kemang Wa Lehulere, have experienced their breakthrough on the international art scene. Which is reason enough to celebrate, but also to introduce a new format: In 2021, the award will be presented for the first time to three artists at the same time, who will exhibit together: Maxwell Alexandre (Brazil), Conny Maier (Germany), and Zhang Xu Zhan (Taiwan) were selected on the recommendation of the Deutsche Bank Global Art Advisory Council, composed of the curators Hou Hanru, Udo Kittelmann, and Victoria Noorthoorn. While the three artistic positions are absolutely independent and unique, there are some similarities. They have all conquered the art world without a university education; they each look at the human condition from a very different, albeit non-academic perspective, and reflect on elementary, global issues: community, spirituality, our relationship to nature.
30-year-old Maxwell Alexandre was born in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela, where he still lives and works today. His paintings, performances, and installations are inspired by everyday life in Rocinha, revolving around racism and police violence, community and spirituality. References to icons of black culture such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nina Simone, and James Brown appear again and again in his work. At the same time, Alexandre’s artistic practice is strongly influenced by the ideas of the Protestant Church, to which he no longer belongs. Alexandre, who comes from the skater scene, founded together with friends A Noiva, a kind of artists’ church which releases its own records, regards works of art as prayers, and views the studio as a temple. He is already a star in Brazil.
Berlin-born Conny Maier, who works in her hometown and in Baleal, Portugal, is also a phenomenon. Over the last few years, the trained fashion designer, who founded a fashion label and the online magazine Lodown, has caused a sensation as a painter. The circular mouths of her figures, which make them seem to cry, have become a kind of trademark. Maier’s paintings combine neo-expressive expression and comic style with a strong sense of color and composition. Her impressive work cycles focus on the existential interrelation between man and nature personified in a variety of animals.
Zhang Xu Zhan was born in 1988 as the son of a family that has been trading for centuries in traditional paper figures used in Taiwan for ritual ceremonies or funerals. He continues this tradition in his animated films, sculptures, and video installations. Zhang Xu Zhan has built models of luxury houses and gigantic paper dolls. His main works include his stop-motion films, for which he makes filigree figures and landscapes out of papier-mâché. In them, Zhang Xu Zhan creates a fantastic cosmos populated by mythical creatures, singing animals and plants, and nature spirits, and dominated by ancient rituals—a world that is at once apocalyptic and fairytale-like.
Exhibition at the PalaisPopulaire, Berlin
opening September 15, 2021