The collection

© Panamarenko

The avant-garde and the idea of progress in art and science

The EPO's task is to protect inventions by granting patents. It thus plays a pivotal political, economic and societal role for innovation, competitiveness and economic growth in Europe. Industrial society and its technological euphoria have long been supplanted by the knowledge-based society of the 21st century, where ever-shorter innovation cycles are increasing the pace of technological development, and where digitisation and globalisation are vital for economic success. As intangible business assets, patent exemplify this shift.

Patent databases provide access to rapidly developing technical knowledge, and signpost the innovations of tomorrow. Being open to what is new, willing to take risks, and persistent in R&D work - all this is reflected in the volume of patent filings and acts as a gauge for an economy's innovative potential. Being ahead of the curve and demonstrating that by displaying contemporary art - that is the idea underpinning art collection to this day.

Key themes: science, technology and the environment

The avant-garde traditions of contemporary art and the idea of progress as embodied by technical inventions are mutually enriching and lead to the discovery of new knowledge. Many of the artists whose works have been added to the collection over the decades have engaged with the EPO and questions of a scientific or technological nature or have adopted various methods from scientific practice. Questioning, analysing, discussing - the vast range of global technological knowledge offers ample opportunities for positioning the collection at the interface between art and science - whether these be associative, ironic, playful, consumerist, pop-cultural or purely aesthetic.

Machine-based aesthetics, kinetic light installations and constructive works

© Maurizio Nannucci; Detail

Machine-based aesthetics of the 1960s, kinetic light installations, op art and constructive works by international artists form the backbone of the collection. The predominance, in today's collection, of concrete, kinetic and constructive works and their later incarnations is by no means an accident. Since Theo van Doesburg and Max Bill, the purpose of non-representational art has been to symbolise the vision of a new, sophisticated, science-based world order through exact and calculable techniques. This is achieved through simple pictorial compositions based on geometric forms such as circles, triangles, cuboids or orthogonal grid patterns and using carefully selected colour tones. The progressive mind essentially sees the world in terms of numbers and mathematical proportions and therefore needs science-based art to represent this idea of progress. Affinity to science and technology is reflected in the conceptual and post-minimalist art movements of today, which take up avant-garde ideas of intellectualising artistic thought and express them in a wide variety of forms.

Looking forward to the developments of tomorrow

Artists seismographically anticipate change in society, and develop new ways of looking at the world. Having engaged with the world of commerce and economics, they enjoy showcasing industrial processes in the works they produce; teamwork replaces artistic genius and the resulting creations resonate with references to commodity aesthetics, consumption, design or architecture. The ambiguities that may arise in the spatial context selected are the results of deliberate curatorial decisions, and sometimes endow the works with an entirely new semantic syntax. Their presentation in the workplace provides a special kind of stimulation. Alongside established names that lend prestige to the collection, the EPO also supports up-and-coming artists who are particularly adept at expressing avant-garde ideas, a forward-looking mindset, curiosity about the new and openness to change and transformation. It is also fascinating to see how the design and functions of the EPO buildings influence the curatorial approach, and provide a source of creative stimulation.

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