The EPO art collection comprises around 1 000 works of contemporary art, including 40 site-specific commissions. Artists from most of the 39 EPO member states are represented, reflecting the diversity and richness of contemporary European culture. Initiated in 1980, the collection is continuously expanding through the acquisition of new artworks, including those created by next-generation artists, whose visionary spirit and ideas can help make the world a smarter and more sustainable place.
- 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 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.
- How it all started
The EPO's art collection has its origins in the relationship between contemporary art and the world of work. Since the beginning, in 1978, its focus has always been on international contemporary art. For the EPO, which now employs staff from 39 European countries, its collection is also an apt response to the European polity that has developed over the decades. Unlike those started by some German-based firms in the 1960s and 1970s, it has not gradually acquired an international character as business has become increasingly globalised. It has always been that way: even in the EPO's earliest public art competition for its Munich headquarters, initiated by the Federal Ministry of Regional Planning, Building and Urban Development and conducted by the Free State of Bavaria and Munich's regional tax office, the artists selected came from all over the world.
In this way, over the decades, art has become central to the look and feel of the EPO's formal function rooms and communication areas at all its sites. In total, 7 buildings and their green spaces in four European cities (Munich, The Hague, Vienna and Berlin) display art that defines the EPO's cultural status and aspirations. Art can be encountered there at any moment, creating a stimulating working environment for visitors and staff alike. It is found in foyers and conference rooms, canteens and management offices, repurposed telephone booths, on patios, in stairwells and even in the gymnasium. Frequent rotations of the artworks between the various buildings, and regular updates to the curatorial approach, help to keep perceptions fresh.
Machine-based aesthetics of the 1960s, kinetic light installations, op art and larger constructions by international artists were among the collection's first pieces, acquired by inviting all the EPO member states at the time to make suitable proposals. That's how the collection came to include important works by established artists such as Nicolas Schöffer (CH), Bernhard Luginbühl (CH), Bridget Riley (GB), André Volten (NL), Philip King (GB), Fausto Melotti (IT), Günther Haese (DE) and Panamarenko (BE). These artists are not only important historically because they have broadened contemporary concepts of art. They also stand for specific standpoints that can greatly enhance the viewer's intellectual engagement with art and illustrate, in a corporate environment, the significance of those artistic directions and their connection to the avant-garde.
Following the 2008-2012 renovation of its Munich headquarters, the EPO has implemented a new curatorial concept, with older works from the collection now on show alongside more recent acquisitions. The idea was to illustrate the links that have grown between the collection then and now, and to show how lively its development over the years has been. Since 2013, the ten-story steel frame construction designed in the late 1970s by the architects firm Gerkan, Marg and Partners has seen entire floors given over to artists such as Jan van der Ploeg (NL), José Loureiro (PT), Ekrem Yalçindağ (TK), Heimo Zobernig (AT), Malene Landgreen (DK), Esther Stocker (IT), Jaroslaw Fliciński (PL), Yves Oppenheim (FR), in a striking demonstration of how art and architecture can blend symbiotically and at the same time enhance the viewer's awareness of space.
In recent years, the focus has been on acquiring the work of young, emerging artists who address cutting-edge topics of our time, including those surrounding artificial intelligence, net art, sustainability and the data economy. Young artists now featured in the collection as a result include Afra Eisma (NL), Klemens Schillinger (AT), Superflux (GB), Lilly Lulay (DE), Rozbeh Asmani (IR), Harm van den Dorpel (NL), Gardar Eide Einarsson (NO), Kristi Kongi (EE), Rafaël Rozendaal (NL) and Arjan Shehaj (AL). Their works can be seen in both our Isar headquarters and PschorrHöfe buildings in Munich. Thus, curatorial work imbues the collection with social relevance, transforming discrete artworks into a unique aesthetic experience. The result is a space that people are happy to work in; it is, after all, becoming increasingly clear in this digital age just how much the workplace is enhanced by encounters with original ideas.
- Sponsorship of the arts as a prime responsibility
In deciding to start an art collection the EPO member states were consciously trying to give this new European institution a cultural side too. Since ratifying the European Patent Convention of 1973 the contracting states have played a major role in building up an international organisation which was one of a kind in Germany at the time. This exceptional commitment was also behind the EPO's arts-sponsorship initiatives, which were strongly promoted by its first president, a Dutchman named Johannes Bob van Benthem (1921-2006). He saw sponsorship of the arts as a prime responsibility of the member states, thus laying the foundations for the EPO's collection. To this day, the EPO's cultural work is about building on those foundations, in the pioneering spirit of our early years, and then presenting the resulting collection to the public.
Now, at a time when for many people the symbolic significance of the European idea seems to have become an abstraction, it is especially important to reflect on what European unity has achieved in terms of progress, economic growth, prosperity and peace. The creation of the EPO has been part of that process. For that reason, the EPO bears a social responsibility to promote contemporary art, thus raising awareness of the continent's rich cultural roots and showing that today, more than ever, European society needs art and culture.