Longing (sehn sucht)

Michael Horbach is widely recognised as the initiator of an art and cultural centre, where he awards a well-endowed, biennial prize for photography, as well as residency grants for young artists, especially from Latin America. It is, however, less known that Michael Horbach is also a collector who, in this role, supports especially young, socially engaged photographic artists. Michael Horbach has been collecting photography for more than one and a half decades; and, in doing so, he consciously collects ‘against the grain’. He is not interested in the latest trends, highly touted names, catchy isms, or even ‘safe investments’. Michael Horbach is passionate about artistic positions that could be described – in the broadest sense – in terms of a modern-day ‘photographie humaniste’. Horbach is especially passionate about black-and-white images, about works that maintain a balance between formal and aesthetic excellence and a humanist message – in short, about pictures that deal with both the grand and the quotidian questions of human existence and, at the same time, convince the viewer as ‘great silent images’ (Nobert Bolz), as important, surprising, well-seen pictures.

Now, for the first time, a comprehensive exhibition in the galleries of the Michael Horbach Foundation in Cologne provides insight into this aspect of Horbach’s private collection. Since the 1st of May 2017, the Art Spaces at Wormser Str. are presenting approximately 150 works by 24 artists, including highly renowned photographers such as Albert Korda, Sebastião Salgado, Christina García Rodero, and Flor Garduño, as well as younger artists practically unknown in Europe, including Juan Carlos Alom, Raúl Cañibano Ercilla, Arien Chang Castán, and Alfredo Sarabia. The common denominator among these artists is their curiosity, a marked interest in social phenomena, an empathetic point of view, and a highly unique but suggestive visual language. With Beat Presser (Switzerland), Pep Bonet (Spain), Jan Grarup (Denmark), Thomas Dorn and Frank Gaudlitz (Germany), European photographers with an eye on Africa and/or Latin America are also represented. At the same time, the primary focus of the show is directed towards the photographic cultures of Cuba and Latin America, towards artists whose particular view of the world had already drawn the attention of the legendary Swiss curator Erika Billeter. Pictures from Latin America are – in the words of Billeter – always straightforward ‘documents of humanity’. It is no coincidence that her anthology of Latin American photographers, published in 1994, bears the title ‘Canto a la Realidad’. Latin American photographers do not experiment, Billeter argues, ‘they see’.

With his exhibitions and collecting activity, Michael Horbach expressly pursues a cultural and social objective. There is also an educational aspect: ‘Many photographers arouse a sense of longing in me’, he describes in reference to his affinity to certain images. ‘A longing for far-away places and the people who live there. For the colours, the light, and the scents that are actually not so different. For a simple and normal life – but also a longing for social justice. With my collection, I strive to give expression to an attitude, to get a message across: Let’s think out of the box – which is more necessary than ever before. Let’s learn from other cultures. Let’s perceive their wealth – despite their material poverty!’

Hans-Michael Koetzle