1975-1987: Rudi Fuchs

Exhibition- and acquisition policy

Rudi Fuchs (1942) came to the helm on February1, 1975. An art historian and art critic, he had been previously employed as a researcher at the Leidse Kunsthistorisch Instituut. Like De Wilde and Leering, he had never worked in a museum before, yet Fuchs would also develop into one of the leading museum directors of Europe, a position that would be officially recognized by way of his appointment as artistic director of documenta 7 (Kassel, 1982). Leering and Fuchs can be regarded as opposites with respect to their views on the function of the museum. For the latter, the prime concern was the autonomy of the art, and for that reason alone the museum could never be an instrument for social change. With the appointment of Fuchs, the municipality made clear to the outside world that it no longer wished to follow the change of course instigated by Leering. No longer did the emphasis lay with inspired ideas on ‘visual services’ and participation : the museum became a have for ‘pure’art.

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Rudi Fuchs, directeur Van Abbemuseum, 1975 - 1987Rudi Fuchs, directeur Van Abbemuseum 1975 - 1987

While the change of directors in 1964 was accompanied by a shift of focus from Europe to the United States, there now came a shift in the opposite direction. Fuchs became more an more convinced of the wealth of European artistic tradition, which was characterized by countless regional variants. He emphatically made it his task not to confine himself to the dominant ‘international style’, but also to draw on other sources, initially less familiar to him. He found these – for the most part – in the southern and central part of Europe, among artists who were literally and figuratively operating on the fringes of modernism. That idea was the basis for his interest in German painters such as Penck, Lüpertz, Baselitz, Immendorff and Kiefer, the Arte Povera artists Giovanni Anselmo, Mario Merz and Jannis Kounellis and the Austrians Arnulf Rainer, Herman Nitsch and Günter Brus.

Rudi Fuchs with a work by Lawrence Weiner. Photo: Peter Cox.Rudi Fuchs with a work by Lawrence Weiner. Photo: Peter Cox.

The Van Abbemuseum functioned in Fuchs’s view as an ‘arena’ where occasionally antithetical ideas on art, ranging from Minimal Art and Conceptual Art to the expressive German painting, were to confront each other. This was an ambitious venture: a ‘dialogue’ could open up new roads in art. Fuchs’s introduction of German painting was considered controversial, because some saw this as a reactionary tendency from an artistic point of view.

To an even greater extent than Leering, Fuchs concentrated on current art. Initially Fuchs focused on purchases and exhibitions of Conceptual Art, something which was viewed by him as being the leading tendency of that time. Over the years this grew into a respectable series including among others Lawrence Weiner, Daniel Buren, Ian Wilson, Stanley Brouwn, Michael Asher, Jan Dibbets and Joseph Kosuth. The innovative contributions of British artists in the realm of sculpture were reflected in exhibitions and purchases of work by Hamish Fulton, Richard Long and Gilbert & George. In addition to this, the collection of Minimal Art set up by Leering was further developed with acquisitions from Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin and Donald Judd. In 1977 the more Eurocentric vision began to emerge, first with exhibitions and acquisitions of work by the previously mentioned German Painters. The works of the Arte Povera artists followed as of 1980, and in 1983 Fuchs’s interest in Austrian art started to become visible in the collection. The general premise of the collection policy remained consistent with that of his predecessors: the purchase of individual works of very high quality, which could provide an impression – albeit incomplete – of the most significant artistic developments of the twentieth century.

Instalment Donald Judd exhibition, 1970. Photo: v.d. BichelaerInstalment Donald Judd exhibition, 1970. Photo: v.d. Bichelaer

Theme exhibitions

Fuchs’s directorship was marked by a prominent trend involving theme exhibitions, in which artists were dealt with on the basis of their attitudes and not on the basis of style or formal point of departure. Exhibitions such as De Statua (1983), Uit het Noorden (1984), Don Giovanni, Het ijzeren venster (1985) and Regenboog (1987) demonstrated this principle. Fuchs also implemented this idea with presentations of the collection and with documenta 7. This approach was intended as means releasing works from their ‘stylistic security’ and offering an alternative to the linear model of development and presentation that neatly corresponded to the dialectic notion of culture. A ‘collection museum’, which Fuchs preferred, was consistent with his wish for deceleration and introspection. To an increasing degree, the present-day art business, with its ever-changing exhibitions and fondness for ‘new’ and young artists, was regarded by him as being too hectic and fashionable.

Because Fuchs distanced himself more and more from the current scene and displayed unconditional loyalty to ‘his’ artists, his policy gradually received more criticism in the media throughout the course of the eighties. In a certain sense, that was a logical consequence of his way of working: “Partisanship is the issue in the art world. You’re for something or you’re against something. When you’re for something you have to propagate it fervently, and the museum is an instrument for this”, he had said in 1978. That same outlook would also demonstrated by him after 1987 as director of the Haags Gemeentemuseum, a position that he gave up in 1993 to become director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam till 2003.

Exhibition ‘De Verzameling deel II : De keuze van Rudi Fuchs' , 1999. Photo: Peter CoxExhibition ‘De Verzameling deel II : De keuze van Rudi Fuchs' , 1999. Photo: Peter Cox