The Bayer Collection is one of the longest-standing company collections and comprises some 2,000 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures. Although the original intention was not to systematically build a “corporate collection”, the early and consistent acquisition of works by major artists means the art of the 20th and 21st centuries is well represented.
Focal points include German expressionism, international Art Informel, paintings of the 1980s and contemporary positions – and the collection is growing all the time. As an example, highlights ranging from Max Liebermann (1909) through to Johanna Reich (2019) are presented here. You can find out more about the artists and their works in the “Bayer Kultur im Ohr” podcasts (available in German only).
In her works Johanna Reich combines new visual media with painting or sculpture. Her video works are characterised by a strongly media-reflexive component. In terms of content, she questions social and existential themes such as identity, negation, dematerialisation or truth.
The video work "Virgins Land" shows the artist on an empty beach. She holds a golden life blanket like a flag in the wind. The reduction of the pictorial components creates space for various associations. The rescue blanket can make the difference between life and death for refugees; as a golden surface in the picture it traditionally refers to material treasure as well as to a supernatural reality. While in some of her earlier videos Johanna Reich appears intentionally androgynous through neutral clothing with hooded tops, here she is consciously recognizable as a female protagonist - a feminine look into the past, present and future.
Johanna Reich (* 1977) lives and works in Cologne. After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Münster, she went on to study with Wim Wenders at the Hamburg Academy of Fine Arts and completed postgraduate studies at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne. Her works are shown in international solo and group exhibitions. Among many other awards, she received the Women's Culture Prize of the LVR in 2017.
Julian Opie has been one of the most important representatives of contemporary English art for almost three decades. Characteristic for Opie's art are thick black outlines, monochrome colour areas and clear forms. In his portraits he reduces facial features to a minimum with a few black lines and thus manages to reproduce the essential characteristics of a person. This reduction to the essentials runs through Opie's work and represents a symbolic nature reminiscent of pictograms that can be understood worldwide - a universal language of images. Although his works visually approach Pop Art, Opie is less interested in topics of mass communication than in the manifold possibilities of representation offered by new media and media technologies - this also reflects the diversity of his mainly computer-based artistic methods.
Opie's LED wall installation "People 28", shows a computer animation which initially simply shows people who are easily recognisable as types as passers-by. The animation loop gives the impression of endless movement and inspires in the sense of a perpetuum mobile, because the power behind it remains hidden for us, as so often in everyday life. It remains the work that deals with human individuality and knows how to preserve its essence despite a strong simplification. A parallel world of pixels as a mirror of reality.
Silke Leverkühne's large-format landscape painting "Salzlager" belongs to the group of industrial pictures created in 1999 during her artist-in-residence fellowship at the Bayer site in Leverkusen. Contrary to what is expected of industrial pictures, Leverkühne concentrates on a light colorfulness, on the structures of the salt dumps and the industrial tower against a blue sky, and on the composition of the picture area. This skillful evasion of symbolic or historical references is characteristic of Leverkühne's landscapes. She is interested in the point at which the color detaches itself from the motif, no longer describes a specific object, and becomes pure painting.
When Silke Leverkühne studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy in the 1970s, painting as an artistic medium was under scrutiny before the so-called 'Neue Wilde' became known for their fierce gestures and punk attitude in the 1980s. Leverkühne, however, did not belong to any of these groups, but independently worked out a very individual style of painting. Her “Treppen” (staircase), “Wolken” (clouds) or industrial paintings are not expressive or spontaneous but reflected. The artist mixes the egg tempera colors herself from pigments almost in the manner of an old master. In her series of paintings, Silke Leverkühne persistently explores the possibilities of painting again and again and consistently develops the question of the reality of the images.
Martin Kippenberger's career as an artist was extraordinarily multifaceted, his creativity boundless. The extraordinary artist, who is assigned to the circle of the so-called Neue Wilden, a group of young painters who revived the tradition of German Expressionist painters in the 1970s, worked in a wide variety of media and allowed these to intertwine.
In his works the artist weaves a web of references and connections between the everyday culture of the punk generation and postmodernism. His themes always originated from everyday life. Above all, however, he critically questioned the art business. The undermining of the traditional concept of art was the programme. It is in this context that the mocking pictorial invention of the 1987 4th Prize painting should be seen. The eternal quest for the first prize is here taken ad absurdum as a cliché, the winning of the fourth prize is celebrated with the painting! But who is interested in the fourth or even the twelfth prize? Here the artist ironically ironizes the wrangling for the best, i.e. first position in the many competitions - including art competitions - that accompany our lives, and satirizes the unacknowledged struggle between winners and losers by setting a monument to the fourth (undesirable) prize.
Gerhard Richter is one of the most important painters of the 20th and 21st centuries. Because of his unpredictable style he is called a "chameleon": He is constantly exploring artistic possibilities and experimenting with innovative approaches. His works cover the entire spectrum of painting. At the beginning of his work he concentrated on representational art. He painted landscapes and still lifes, but also created systematic colour plates and black and white photographs. Around 1976 he began his dazzling, expressive colour games. The Abstract Picture (555) is part of the group of works of the same name, which he started 1980 and still continues.
Richter was born in Dresden in 1932. For nearly nine years he studied and worked at the academy of arts there. 1961 he fled to West Germany and continued his studies at the academy of arts in Düsseldorf. Today the award-winning artist lives in Cologne, where he became an honorary citizen in 2007.
Ulrike Rosenbach is one of the first performance and media artists to work innovatively with photography, video and multimedia installations since the late 1960s. She came into contact with the happening and fluxus scene through her studies at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. In 1969, as a master student of Joseph Beuys, she founded a group of women artists with contacts to the American women's liberation scene. In 1970 she was invited by Lucy Lippard to the first large American art exhibition "1000 miles from here", in which only women artists participated.
Her critical examination of the clichés of the patriarchal pictorial tradition and their trivialisation in the entertainment media was also reflected early on in the iconic photographic work "Art is A Criminal Action", in which the then 26-year-old artist confidently placed herself in the picture together with Andy Warhol's famous full-length cowboy Elvis. In 2019 Rosenbach took up the motif again and digitalised the photographic work and printed it on canvas, making it even more similar to Warhol's silkscreen original. Both in terms of content and media theory, the discourse remains highly topical.
Andy Warhol is one of the best-known artists internationally. His large-format silkscreen images of movie stars and everyday consumer items have become the epitome of Pop Art since the 1960s. Warhol's flair for selecting photo templates or brand logos that could become icons of the 'American way of life' was unerring. He radically challenged the notions of artistic signature or originality that characterize the classical understanding of art: Warhol worked in series, delegated, "painted" using commercial printing techniques, and called his studio "Factory." In the 1970s, this studio developed into the social meeting place of New York's creative scene, and Warhol himself became a sought-after portraitist among the elite.
The two portraits in the Bayer Collection were created in 1984 for the group exhibition "Hommage aux Femmes" in Berlin at the invitation and on behalf of Bayer AG. Andy Warhol chose a double portrait of the young woman in ancient times and in the present. His portrait after Lucas Cranach in pop colors represented the Renaissance. The young woman of the 1980s was represented by Nastassja Kinski. Warhol had met Kinski shortly before as a "rising star" of the cinema and photographed her for his trend magazine "Interview". He used one of the photos as a model for his portrait. Kinski herself encountered her portrait only on the occasion of an exhibition for Warhol's 90th birthday in Leverkusen (see photo).
Sam Francis' painting career began with a personal misfortune: as a pilot in the US Air Force, Francis crashed at the end of the Second World War. He injured himself so badly that he had to live in hospitals for years. During this time he discovered his passion for painting. When Francis had recovered, he switched to art at the University of California instead of continuing his studies in medicine and psychology.
In 1950 Francis moved to Paris, where he soon found contact to artistic circles. Typical for his paintings from this time were colours flowing into each other in trickles. In 1952 a Parisian gallery dedicated its first solo exhibition to him.
In 1957 Sam Francis went on a world tour. When he stopped in Japan, he carried out the commission for a large mural painting. Similar works at the Kunsthalle Basel and the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York followed.
After a creative crisis, Francis underwent a change of style in the 1970s. He became an action painter and became famous in this field. He also turned to techniques like lithography, monotype and etching. During these years he created multi-part picture compositions with partly flowing colours. In his last artistic creative phase he created remarkable commissioned works, especially wall paintings.
Ernst Wilhelm Nay
Ernst Wilhelm Nay's work is versatile and cannot be assigned to any great art movement. The Berlin-born painter made a major contribution to establishing modern art in Germany after the Second World War.
Nay graduated from the painting class at the Berlin College of Fine Arts in 1928. He was master student of the expressionist Karl Hofer. The influence of his teacher on Nay's early pictures is clearly visible. He mainly painted representational, sometimes surrealistically. During summer stays at the Baltic Sea in Pomerania he created the cycle Dünen- und Fischerbilder.
The National Socialists outlawed Nay's works - in 1937 they showed two of his paintings in the exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art). In the same year Nay travelled to Lofoten, financially supported by the Norwegian painter Edward Munch. On the islands Nay created numerous watercolours and later, in his Berlin studio, the Lofoten pictures, a first highlight of his work. During World War II Nay had to join the German army, among other things he served as a cartographer.
After the end of the war, a new creative phase began for the artist, including the Fugal Paintings and the Rhythmic Paintings. The abstract play of colours and the rhythmic composition of the pictorial elements became characteristic of his style. Red in the centre belongs to the series of Disc Pictures, which Nay created in the 1950s. The representational element almost completely disappeared from his work, appearing at best as ornament - for example in the eye pictures from the 1960s.
Max Beckmann counts among the most important German artists of the 20th century. His early work was influenced by German Impressionism. However, the First World War changed his style significantly towards Expressionism; he now often cubistically divides the room.
Under the National Socialists Beckmann's work was considered "degenerate" and was defamed in propaganda exhibitions. In July 1937 the most notorious of these defamations took place in the Munich Hofarkaden: the exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), which also showed ten of Beckmann's works. The artists vilified there are today considered masters of modernism.
As early as 1933, the Frankfurt Städelschule, which at the time had been brought into line, dismissed Max Beckmann from his professorship without notice. The artist then moved to Berlin, but left Germany for good as early as 1937: first he emigrated to Amsterdam.
Here Beckmann created around 280 oil paintings - a third of his entire painterly oeuvre. The more oppressive the external circumstances were, the brighter and more vivid his paintings became. Examples of this are his still lifes: In total Beckmann created more than 140 such works since the beginning of the 1920s. Flowers - in this case orchids - are at the centre of many still lifes from the Amsterdam period. They are a symbol of blooming joie de vivre. Although the picture sections are tightly cropped throughout and walls limit the motifs, the flowers unfold their full beauty.
Beckmann applied for a visa for the USA as early as 1939 and finally emigrated there in 1947. During the last years of his life in the USA he received highest recognition; numerous exhibitions showed his work.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner originally wanted to be an architect. After completing his studies in Dresden in 1905, however, he decided to concentrate on art. Together with his fellow students Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff he founded the artists' group Die Brücke. It had a lasting influence on German painting of the 20th century.
1911 Kirchner moved to Berlin. Here the autodidact reached his first creative peak with expressionistic works. Two years later a dispute arose between Kirchner and the members of the Brücke - the group broke up.
At the beginning of the First World War, Kirchner volunteered for military service, but suffered so much from the drill that he collapsed nervously. Financially supported by admirers of his art, he withdrew to clinics. But it was not until he moved to Davos, Switzerland, that Kirchner began to recover. A second artistic heyday followed.
In National Socialist Germany, Kirchner's paintings were considered degenerate. The defamations at home and a never completely overcome dependence on medication plunged him into a second great crisis. In 1938 the painter took his own life.
The first Bayer General Director, Dr Carl Duisberg, had himself frequently portrayed. There are two portraits of Duisberg by Max Liebermann: one casually seated, dressed in a light waistcoat, and another standing, with presenting gestures.
Liebermann is regarded as a pioneer of modern German painting and one of the most important representatives of German Impressionism. In the 1880s his works changed from a naturalistic to an impressionistic style. Liebermann was co-founder and for many years president of the Berlin Secession. As an artist he enjoyed highest recognition until Hitler came to power. The National Socialists outlawed his work, defamed him because of his Jewish origins and isolated him socially. In 1934 Liebermann died after a serious illness.
Besides Liebermann's works, Leo Samberger, Fritz Rhein, Oskar Hagemann, Johannes Marx, Fritz Erler and Arthur Fischer also painted oil paintings by Carl Duisberg. Fritz Reusing made coal portraits of him, the medalist Arnold Hartig bronze portraits.
There are also Duisberg busts of Adolf von Hildebrand, Hugo Lederer and Fritz Klimsch.