By JEFFREY GRUNTHANER, JAN. 2020
Based primarily in Augsburg, Germany, it’s not so much the content of the IBEX collection, but its stylistic ambitions that sets it apart. The brainchild of three collectors—Albrecht von Stetten, David Willson, and Willson's wife Kiki Kim—the collection is interested in one thing and one thing only: hyperrealism. Von Stetten, Willson, and Kim tend to dismiss expressionist brushwork and abstraction of every kind. Not that they refuse to acknowledge the importance of painters like De Kooning or Basquiat, they simply want something else, something so plain to see that it’s often overlooked. In a word, they want to cultivate a collection composed exclusively of "master" artists.
One must admire their commitment. Paintings and drawings that render every detail with more than photographic precision often take an exceptionally long time to create. Some painters who work in this way take over a year to complete a single canvas. But this is exactly what von Stetten, Willson, and Kim take pride in: the artworks they've amassed cannot be made by just anyone. Artists supported by the collection—most of whom are painters, along with a few who draw—are celebrated as being the best in the world. On a technical level, to say the least, this is probably true. Some of the artists featured in the collection are known to spend serious time on visually recreating the miniscule nuances of a pore, the singular bend of an eyelash, or the reflective glint of water droplets beaded on a woman’s neck. There’s no way anyone can look at this sort of work and say that it’s amateur.
To date, artists from all over the world have reached out to von Stetten, Willson, and Kim, hoping to become a part of the IBEX collection. Few are selected. If you’re an artist whose work conforms to the highest standards of hyperrealism, then you're probably already on their radar. But this is a serious opportunity: almost all the artists included in the IBEX collection have dedicated their entire careers to the exacting demands of their medium.
There are a number of reasons an artist would want to be included in the collection. Once you’re in, IBEX will help fund your most ambitious projects. This is especially appealing for artists who feel restricted by the gallery-collector system. The various pressures that attend exhibiting with galleries certainly bothered someone like Philipp Weber, one of IBEX’s most representative artists. Rather than make paintings on demand, as it were, for the sake of scheduled exhibitions, IBEX has made it possible for him to take his time and perfect his ideas. Since signing on with IBEX, Weber has been able to realize some of his most ambitious projects—even going so far as to organize high-end photo shoots that capture scenes he can translate into paint on canvas.
Artists supported by IBEX's patronage generally don’t care to work with anyone else. Talk of mistreatment by galleries is a recurring topic among IBEX masters. This is mainly because hyperrealism's techniques are exceptionally time-consuming to implement. Philipp Weber only produces a canvas or two a year—to say nothing of the time he takes to scout out locations and organize photo shoots. Scrolling through his Instagram feed, though, it’s quite revealing to see how much his work has evolved since he began working with IBEX. He always had something of a photorealistic bent, but his subject-matter has become increasingly sublime over the past few years. The facial expression depicted in one of his more recent paintings, Bless Resistance (2019), seems to symbolize the degree of focus he can now apply to his art.
Another standout artist represented by the IBEX collection is the Russian painter Alexander Timofeev. A work like Lost love (2019) is stylistically typical of Timofeev’s work. Death haunts this painting, which allegorically renders the pain of separation. The visage featured in Lost love, as well as the foot touching its forehead, is, in a sense, "abstracted," truncated. As though sundered from any biological purpose, both feel like the appendages of corpses in a morgue. What saves them from being swallowed up by darkness is a soft, Caravaggian light, which illuminates the unsettling scene. While the head might very well be a death mask, the toes on the forehead curl in a way that suggests animation more than rigor mortis. Is this a woman’s foot? The foot of a child? The nimbus-like light turns gloomy in the face of these questions.
The IBEX collection holds a fascinating prospect. There’s something strange and primordial about artworks that seem to preserve the scientific accuracy sought out by painters like Titian or Da Vinci. In light of the resources hyperrealism has at its disposal, one must imagine that the collection will only expand. WM
Jeffrey Grunthaner is an artist-writer-musician-curator currently based in Berlin. Essays, articles, poems, and reviews have appeared via BOMB, artnet News, The Brooklyn Rail, Archinect, Hyperallergic, Heavy Feather Review, Folder, Drag City Books, and other venues. Recent curatorial projects include the reading and discussion series Conversations in Contemporary Poetics at Hauser & Wirth Publishers (NY).view all articles from this author