A window on the world

40 years of ifa exhibition funding - With more than four decades of experience and over 2,000 artistic positions abroad, ifa supports artists worldwide. How has ifa's exhibtion funding changed throughout the years? A retrospective view.

"It was really important for us", says Sylvia Winkler about the exhibition grant that she and Stephan Köperl received from ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen in 2007 to fund the Lijiang Studio in the mountains of Yunnan Province, China. Two years earlier, they had met Jay Brown, the founder of Lijian Studio, at the Media Art Festival in Bangkok. Brown invited the two artists to his studio. Contemporary European art was still quite a novelty in Lijiang at that time. In China, it was almost exclusively limited to one or two galleries in Beijing and Shanghai. With their video and performances, Winkler and Köperl provided visitors to the exhibition with an outsider's view of what was happening in their province. According to Sylvia Winkler, ifa's funding opens a window on the world. She believes the programme is particularly important because it is not restricted to institutions for major projects, but also provides low-threshold access to funding for artists with "self-organised projects where there is no money".

Support for 2,000 projects

Over the 40 years of its existence, the programme has supported more than 2,000 artistic projects around the world. This period has seen many changes in the art world. 1982 was the year of Documenta 7, which turned its focus back to painting after excursions into new media such as video and photography. It was the time of the Neue Wilden and Transavantgarde – art movements dominated by men. And the projects supported by ifa were no exception. In the first year, it funded six projects, which included a major solo exhibition by Anselm Kiefer at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. 

Bouchra Khalili: Hôtel El Safir, Ex-Aletti, Algiers city center. Residence of the Black Panther Party delegation during the 1969 Pan-African Festival of Algiers. Fig. 1: Entrance of the former Casino From Foreign Office, mixed media installation, 2015. C-Print. Courtesy of the artist and Mor Charpentier Gallery, Paris.

Günther C. Kirchberger exhibited at the Künstlerhaus Wien. By contrast, the work of Jürgen Klauke, who exhibited in Graz, was a mix of performance and photography, while Peter and Ritzi Jacobi, an artist duo from Transylvania, showed their textile works in Aalborg, Denmark. Georg Baselitz exhibited in Paris in 1985, and Albert Oehlen in Graz two years later. Women artists who were instrumental in shaping the decade gradually became more visible in the funding programme, such as Katharina Fritsch, Rebecca Horn, Rosemarie Trockel and Ina Barfuß. The radius also began expanding beyond Europe. In 1983 it included the USA, with an exhibition by Ulrike Rosenbach at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. In 1984, ifa supported an exhibition by Joseph Beuys at the Seibu Art Museum in Tokyo. However, in the 1980s, the number of projects outside the "Western world" remained modest: one in Morocco, one in China, one in Chile, two in Venezuela, and two in the Soviet Union.

Time of "Biennalisation"

This changed with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 when, for the first time, the "Magiciens de la terre" exhibition in Paris drew attention to contemporary art from the southern hemisphere, and pioneering institutions such as the ZKM and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt were established. Although biennials had been running in São Paulo since 1951 and in Havana since 1984, this was the start of the era of "biennialisation", beginning with Istanbul, Dakar and Johannesburg, and culminating in the largest art exhibitions in the world to date in Gwangju, South Korea, in 1995 and 1997. The ever-growing number of biennials all over the world serves as an engine for the globalisation of art, so for international exchange between artists and curators, a forum for discussing concepts, ideas and values. Promoting international biennials is an important part of ifa's work and significantly raises the profile of artistic contributions from Germany. The number of exhibitions sponsored has steadily increased over the years, from the initial six to more than 70 per year. Of exhibitions sponsored over the last decade, 118 were in Asia and 43 in South America. In Africa, the figure has recently increased to 30.

Broad selection of topics and art forms

In recent years, funding has been provided for contributions to the Taipei, Havana, São Paulo, Gwangju, and Manifesta biennials, as well as larger group exhibitions, including "US and THEM" 2021 at the Kapana Gallery in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and "Post-Capital: Art and Economy in the Digital Age" at the MUDAM Contemporary Art Museum in Luxembourg, perhaps the largest and most ambitious exhibition held there to date. In such cases, an application can be made for all participating artists from Germany. Away from the biennials and large museums, support is also regularly provided for smaller projects. For example, in 2016 Andrea Diefenbach showed her impressive photo series "Land ohne Eltern/Country without Parents" at the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts in Portland. The exhibition was about children growing up in Moldova who had to fend for themselves because their parents were forced to seek work in Western Europe. Stine Marie Jacobsen was helped to present her video "Direct Approach" in Beirut in collaboration with the pioneering Ashkal Alwan Association. In this way, she initiated a discourse by using film scenes to ask people about their experiences of violence. This attracted a great deal of interest in a country riven by civil war and ongoing tensions. In Oslo, interdisciplinary artist Bouchra Khalili showed her project on anti-colonial movements in the Global South and North. 

On your marks, apply, go!

Even before 1982, ifa had sponsored exhibitions by German artists in other countries, for example at the São Paulo Biennial. The paper applications that had been the norm since 1982 have now been replaced by an online application system. Artists, curators or exhibiting institutions can apply for funding twice a year, with deadlines of 31 January and 15 August, for artists from Germany. An invitation is required from the exhibiting institution, and information has to be provided about the artists and their works. An independent jury of experts approves or rejects the application. 

Simon Denny: View of installation, © Image: Marion Dessard | Mudam Luxembourg.

Multiplying networks and experiences

Forty years ago, at the start of the programme, it supported well-known artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys, Georg Baselitz, and Rosemarie Trockel who exhibited mainly in European countries. But now the radius and impact of the funding has expanded significantly. By opening a "window on the world" for artists and exhibiting institutions alike, ifa provides opportunities for mutual reflection. Although this is usually limited to a restricted circle of participants, its impact quickly starts to snowball. Artists – and institutions – establish new networks, gather new experiences and develop new ideas, which they then present in other locations. As artists and audiences share and come into contact with different value systems, this raises their awareness of how other people live. The often-critical examination of social and political injustices lifts the lid off issues that would otherwise stay hidden. This contact provides a breeding ground for greater tolerance and a deeper understanding of other people's lives. 

Illustration of the exhibitions funded by ifa since 1982

The interactive table shows all exhibitions funded by ifa by country from 1982 to 2021.