Traveling Through Time
Time Present – Photography from the Deutsche Bank Collection

CURRENTLY CLOSED - To mark the 40th anniversary of the Deutsche Bank Collection, the PalaisPopulaire in Berlin is showing “Time Present,” the largest presentation of international photographic art from the collection to date. The exhibition documents how artists reflect the relationship between time and photography.
The shining white screen of a drive-in movie theater in California, behind it palm trees, and in the night sky the contrails of an airplane: In Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photograph Rosecrans Drive-In, Paramount (1993), the world appears strangely deserted and quiet, as if the Hollywood dream factory has ground to a halt and is frozen for a moment. Indeed, it is a little like that: The huge white screen seems empty. But the opposite is the case. Here, the Japanese photo artist captures in a single picture the 170,000 images of an entire film that runs through the projector of a drive-in theater. Due to the long exposure time, the individual images disappear and are only visible in the photograph as pure white light.

Sugimoto’s image is a meditation on the relationship between photography and time. But it is also about our desire to capture memories, to resist transience. Not only because drive-in movie theaters in the USA had almost disappeared when he shot a whole series about them. Sugimoto demonstrates that our notions of time, of past and future, are completely subjective. The moment has passed, but in photography we find proof of its existence. But the photographed film on the screen tells a different story—that photographic time does not correspond to human perception, but rather reflects it both factually and philosophically.

Precisely this experience, the awareness of the moment and the simultaneous flow of time, is the focus of the exhibition Time Present. After the medium of paper, the second presentation of works from the Deutsche Bank Collection at the PalaisPopulaire is now devoted to photography. The show demonstrates how artists have dedicated themselves to the theme of “time” since the 1970s and how photography has expanded as an artistic medium in connection with performance, film, conceptual art, media theory, and politics. It also commemorates the 40th anniversary of the corporate art collection, which coincides with Deutsche Bank’s 150th anniversary. To date, over 5,000 works have been collected, covering nearly all techniques, formats, and themes of contemporary photography. Encompassing over 60 works by prominent artists such as Bernd and Hilla Becher, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, and Hiroshi Sugimoto, as well as representatives of international contemporary art such as Kader Attia, Yto Barrada, Mohamed Camara, and Amalia UlmanTime Present offers insights into over four decades of the collection’s history.

At the same time, it is the most comprehensive overview of international photography from the Deutsche Bank Collection to date. The spectrum of Time Present ranges from "classics" of the Düsseldorf School, which were already collected in the 1980s and early 1990s, to the collection's current global orientation, with a focus on Great Britain, Italy, the USA, Japan, China, and many African countries. An important aspect of the exhibition is the critical view of non-European artists on the Western-dominated art canon.

The show is divided into four chapters: The first, Time Exposed, is titled after the ambiguous term used by Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto in reference to his work. “Exposed” can indicate the long duration of an exposure, but also the time that is made visible. This section includes the “light paintings” with which the Japanese photographer Tokihiro Sato gives his landscape photographs a mysterious aura, as well as alchemical photographic experiments of Sigmar Polke and the British photographer Susan Derges, who exposed huge sheets of photographic paper in rivers by moonlight.

Photography as a “trace of the real,” as a medium that makes personal and collective history readable, is the theme of Today Is the Past. This chapter is about forensic work, about depicting social and political realities that are fragile, threatened, or marginalized. The spectrum ranges from Bernd and Hilla Becher's strictly analytical photographs of industrial architecture to forms of portraiture that speak in myriad ways of presence and absence, of memory and the loss of cultural identity, such as the works by Yto Barrada, Mohamed Camara, and Adrian Paci.

A Moment of Intense Concentration deals with the phenomenon for which the famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson coined the term “decisive moment”: In this special magical moment, pictures should tell the story of an era, of a life, of human existence, like the photo shot in 2008 by Magnum photographer Zohra Bensemra. Many of the works in this section, however, question the objective character of photography and focus on staging and manipulation, including Andreas Gursky’s digitally reworked image of the Singapore stock exchange and Zhu Jia’s filmic staging of a holiday idyll in an industrial wasteland in Beijing.

My Future Is Not a Dream revolves around the dreams, hopes, and fears of the future of young generations growing up under the banner of digitalization and globalization. For her project Whose Utopia? from 2006, Chinese artist Cao Fei asked workers in a large light bulb factory in the Pearl Delta to present their ideas about the future as a performance on the factory floor. The resulting photographs seem poetic and imaginative. At the same time, however, they critically reflect the process of social and economic transformation in modern China and show how strong the role models are that shape young people’s visions of the future.

Samuel Fosso’s work also plays with cultural models and stereotypes. “In all my work I am both actor and director," he explains. “I borrow an identity.” Since the mid-1970s, the photographer has been staging himself in his improvised studio in Bangui, Central Africa. In his often ironically fractured images, Fosso embodies diverse fictional and historical roles. Whether he presents himself as a chic golfer or disco kid, Malcolm X or “The Chief Who Sold Africa to the Colonialists,” the photographer uses African cultural history like a prop room. In his pictures, Fosso repeatedly refers to collective longings and idols, while at the same time questioning our clichéd images of Africa. Like so many artists featured in Time Present, Fosso shows injuries, ruptures, and traces of time—not only in African colonized countries, but also in Western culture.

And another revolution is also palpable: In her fictional Instagram diary Excellences & Perfections (2015), Argentine artist Amalia Ulman presents herself as a Botox super woman and influencer. Ulman’s work shows how photography has been democratized by digital technologies, but also the extent to which the manipulation and distribution of images determines our daily lives. Over the four decades in which photography has been collected for the Deutsche Bank Collection, not only has the medium changed radically, so has global society. This is also documented in Time Present.

Time Present
Photography from the Deutsche Bank Collection

March 21, 2020 – February 8, 2021
PalaisPopulaire, Berlin