The story of the friendship between gallerist Mikael Andersen and the multidisciplinary artist Günther Förg underpins Legacies of Modernism, a selling exhibition on view at Phillips’ London headquarters through September 7, as does their shared regard for iconic Danish sculptor Sonja Ferlov Mancoba.
But let’s pause for those who may not be familiar with Förg’s work, which often draws inspiration from Blinky Palermo and Ernst Wilhelm Nay and at times calls to mind Ellsworth Kelly, Mark Rothko and Cy Twombly. The German artist was prolific and his extensive oeuvre encompassed not only paintings on canvas and metal sheeting but also large-scale sculpture and photography.
“I like to work in different media at the same time,” he told art historian Dorothea Dietrich in a 1989 interview for The Print Collector’s Newsletter. “One has to give oneself the chance to develop and not allow anything to wither.”
Indeed, throughout his career, Förg moved from monochrome painting to wall installations to architectural photography and sculpture before returning to painting with explorations of new styles and materials, and the resultant artworks, in all their diversity, have been shown at Greene Naftali Gallery, Almine Rech Gallery and Galerie Max Hetzler in Berlin, and in several museums, including the Stedelijk Museum, Kunstmuseum Basel, Dallas Museum of Art and Deutsche Guggenheim. His pieces are in the permanent collections of institutions like the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Kunstmuseum Bonn.
Förg’s connection to Andersen can be traced to Vejby Strand, Denmark, and the workspace the latter built in 2000 to provide an environment of unlimited artistic freedom.
“I am lucky that in my life I have had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with many artists in my Studio House designed by Henning Larsen,” Andersen told Observer in a statement. “It was there that Günther Förg and I developed a close bond, spending many summers together.”
As the two got to know one another quite well, Andersen introduced Förg to the work of Danish avant-garde sculptor Sonja Ferlov Mancoba.
“My unwavering admiration for Förg’s work was matched by our shared appreciation for Sonja Ferlov Mancoba, an artist still sadly under-celebrated,” Anderson said. “She was an extraordinary sculptor, a contemporary of Max Ernst and Alberto Giacometti, and her sculptures are entirely unique and fascinating, taking references from across many cultures.”
Förg, who died in 2013, came to admire her work as much as Anderson did, so when Anderson thought of ways he might bring awareness to and commemorate Ferlov Mancoba’s work, it’s unsurprising that he landed on the idea of a posthumous collaboration with his friend.
“For my 50th birthday I organized an exhibition of Förg’s work in my gallery—it was as if spring had filled the space,” Anderson said, “and I envisioned showcasing these works from my collection in a selling exhibition to fund a museum celebrating Ferlov Mancoba.”
The result, Legacies of Modernism, feels natural, according to the gallerist, who is working with award-winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando on the designs for a permanent pavilion dedicated to Ferlov Mancoba’s sculpture, which will be overseen by the Bornholms Kunstmuseum. On view at Phillips’ London headquarters are a decade’s worth of Förg’s paintings, works on paper, monotypes, ceramics, photographs and sculptures that showcase the artist as an icon of abstract art, along with a selection of Ferlov Mancoba’s sculptures.
“I am so excited to give her the platform she deserves, and I think Förg would approve,” Anderson added.