Linde Salon in Beijing

German art for customers

Germany 8, the most comprehensive exhibition of German contemporary art to be held abroad, has opened in Beijing. As sponsors, the KION Group and Weichai Power have helped to bring this project to fruition.



Gao Gao points to a huge, brightly colored picture behind her that shows, in a slightly abstract style, people climbing over a barrier that resembles the former Berlin Wall. “The distinctive feature of German art is that it repeatedly reflects history, whether it be the Second World War or the division of Germany during the Cold War,” she explains to the attentive visitors, who are customers of Linde China. Gao Gao is assistant to the director of the Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing, where the picture is on display. The German artist Daniel Richter based this painting on a photo of a completely different situation – but one that is consciously reminiscent of the night that the Wall came down.

Richter’s picture is part of the Germany8 – German Art in Beijing exhibition, which is taking place in eight museums in Beijing and runs until October 31. The KION Group and its anchor shareholder, Weichai Power, are among the sponsors that have enabled this large-scale event to take place. Its aim is to promote and develop intercultural dialog between Germany and China. “By contributing to the art exhibition together with our strategic partner Weichai Power, we are building on the strong cultural links between our two companies and demonstrating that our cooperation is based on much more than business interests,” says Gordon Riske, KION Group CEO.

When the exhibition opened, Linde China invited selected customers to the CAFA Museum so that they could share in the experience. “Commentaries, as provided by Gao Gao, are important for us to be able to understand pictures from a different country with a different culture,” says Linde customer Zhang Weibin, who comes from the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. After touring the exhibition, his impression was that “German art is very personal and, above all, tries to convey feelings.”

Jointly organized by the Bonn Foundation for Art and Culture and CAFA, the exhibition features around 320 works by 55 contemporary artists from the 1950s onward. Its curators, chairman of the Bonn foundation Walter Smerling and CAFA president Fan Di’an, want to give Chinese visitors a unique opportunity to experience Germany and its cultural diversity through the prism of art. Germany8 is the response to China8, an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art that was held in eight cities across Germany’s Rhine-Ruhr region in 2015. It featured more than 500 works by 120 artists from China and attracted 120,000 visitors.

"Germany8 is unique, and you won't find a project of this type or scale anywhere else, not even in Germany," explained Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs and Vice Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, at the opening event on September 17 in Tai Miao Temple, the former ancestral temple of Chinese Emperors. The works of art on display there – by Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter and other artists of the first post-war generation – stand in striking contrast to the temple's red pillars, its weighty bronze bells and its ornate and brightly colored ceilings. Curator Smerling described the opening event as an "unbelievable moment shaped by the creative tension between the magnificent history of the Tai Miao Temple and contemporary German art."

China's artists have been familiar with modern German art ever since the 1980s, explains Gao Gao. When China opened itself up again, some of the first material to enter the country was on German painters and sculptors. This exchange between countries and cultures is very important to the event organizers: "Art can act as a catalyst to a better understanding." Ching Pong Quek, President of KION Asia-Pacific and a KION Executive Board member, explains that the company is embracing a unique opportunity to involve its customers in this cultural exchange by presenting the Linde Salon at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) Museum. He added that, during its 24 years in China, Linde had also benefited from both cultures and the interplay between them.

Linde's invited guests are from the world of industry, not art, but Deputy Museum Director Wang Chunsheng reminds them that many industrial inventions have their origins in art. The ideas of industry experts and artists are often brought together and put into practice in industry. Xu Tong, CAFA lecturer on design, explains that industrial design encapsulates this bond between art and industry. Every product needs to have a form, and that has to be designed. Much industrial design of decades past now takes on an artistic quality. For example, the 1960s Linde truck that Quek had brought to CAFA to display in the Linde Salon – alongside a new-generation electric forklift truck that owes its shape to Porsche Design. "So, here we have old and new beauty side by side," says Quek with a smile. Some visitors even get their photo taken with the old truck.

The Linde customers were given an in-depth presentation of the exhibition. The CAFA Museum features works by 17 artists including Daniel Richter, Stephan Balkenhol, Jörg Immendorff, Rosemarie Trockel, Isa Genzken and Martin Kippenberger. The aesthetic language and the meaning behind each picture was initially lost on many visitors, admitted Gao Gao. "But the more pictures they looked at, the more they understood them."