Light Blue, 1997. Argon tubes, 1250 cm. Installed at Daimler Financial Services AG, Potsdamer Platz, Berlin.

The Daimler Art Collection: A Conversation with Renate Wiehager

Originally formed in 1977, the Daimler Art Collection includes about 1,800 works by approximately 600 German and international artists, focusing on abstract and geometrical painting. In the 1980s, the collection also began acquiring sculpture by internationally recognized modern and contemporary artists, including Jeff Koons, Heinz Mack, Keith Haring, Nam June Paik, Robert Rauschenberg, and Mark di Suvero. In 1989–90, Daimler-Benz acquired a group of 10 large sculptures for its new headquarters in Stuttgart-Möhringen, including works by Walter de Maria, Ulrich Rückriem, Bernar Venet, and George Rickey. Additional large-scale works by Tony Cragg and Bernhard Heiliger were acquired for the Mercedes-Benz plant in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim.

From 1996 to 2001, the Daimler Art Collection was in charge of locating and commissioning eight sculptural works for Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, formerly a no man’s land between an East and West Berlin divided by the Berlin Wall. The site was redeveloped in 1994–98 to include 19 buildings and 10 streets, and it now symbolizes a unified Germany. Potsdamer Platz is also home to Daimler Contemporary, a 500-square-meter exhibition space at the historical Haus Huth that features abstract and media art from the Daimler Art Collection. To learn more about the organization, I spoke to Renate Wiehager, the DAC’s director since 2001.

Robert Preece: Why did Daimler form a corporate art collection, and why does the organization continue with the initiative?
Renate Wiehager: When the collection started in 1977, the first intention was to bring the art and culture of Mercedes-Benz’s home territory—Stuttgart and South Germany—into the company. At first, collecting concentrated on classical Modernism in this region, with works by Adolf Hölzel, Oskar Schlemmer, Willi Baumeister, and Johannes Itten. When the collection started to look further afield in the 1980s, the need to educate internally became more important, in other words, making art accessible to employees.

From 2000 on, outside exhibition activity was added to our internal education program in the form of temporary exhibitions and guided tours in public places inside the company. Since then, about 40 exhibitions from the collection’s holdings have been shown at Daimler Contemporary in Berlin, with about 250,000 visitors from all over the world. In addition, about 300,000 visitors worldwide have seen our exhibitions in museums in South Africa, Brazil, Japan, Spain, and Singapore. Today, the collection contributes to internal and external cultural education and promotes new art through acquisitions, exhibitions, and publications.

RP: Looking back at the collection’s 31-year history, what do you identify as the key events?
RW: First, there was the decision that the collection should operate at museum standards, and that high-quality works, and series of works, should be acquired. Second, working with Andy Warhol in 1986 for the 100th anniversary of Mercedes-Benz was an important event. The resulting “Cars” series was shown in international museums and brought contemporary American art into the collection. Third, the DAC acquired about 30 public sculptures between 1989 and 2001 for Stuttgart and Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. Fourth, since 2001, we have widened the collection’s remit to include contemporary photography, video, and object art from Asia, Australia, South Africa, and South America. And finally, in 2003, the DAC began a world tour in Karlsruhe and Detroit, which then traveled to important museums in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Tokyo, São Paulo, Palma de Mallorca, Madrid, and, most recently, Singapore in autumn 2008.