Bringing Art to the Public

Interview with Gerhard Müller-Rischart

Ute Heim: High Noon, 2016

Foto: © Rischart

Art is actually part of the Rischart Bakery name. It derives from the whimsical signature poster created by object artist and Nouveau Realisme co-founder Daniel Spoerri for the first RischArt Prize in honor of the Munich bakery’s centenary in 1983. Since then, the name RischArt has become synonymous with time-bound public art installations and a model of cultural engagement for the benefit of the community. Baking and art are two passions to which the owner of the traditional Bavarian bakery is devoted. The brand Rischart evokes food for the senses and the mind, and while the famous pretzels and cakes are still the daily bread of the mid-sized company, the works of art on display in the bakery, offices and  stores create windows into other worlds for customers and employees alike and show the commitment of Rischart Bakery and its owner to corporate social responsibility, to being a responsible citizen, while also bringing added value to his business and the city of Munich.

Interview: Gerhard Müller-Rischart, Owner Rischart Bakery, Munich, Germany

 

 

EAS: How did you become interested in art and why did you start the RischArt program?

 

GMR: Well, on the one hand there were the roots, and on the other there was an opportunity - our 100 year anniversary celebration. So we thought, as we were already holding several events, “Why not create an event around art?” And we decided to award an art prize. That was the opportunity. And that was thirty years ago!

 

As for the “roots,” my mother had inherited some very nice paintings, which my grandfather had collected. Perhaps this tendency to collecting art extended into the next generation, because there is certainly this affinity for art in the family today; but really you can only engage with art if it also moves you.

 

So for me, our art effort is not only a commercial project; it has two sides. On the one hand, as it is classified as a promotional aspect of the business, we are allowed some tax advantages which offset the costs of our art initiatives. It is also a very subtle, very sophisticated way of advertising. But it is more than this, because if you see it only from an advertising point of view, you could spend this money more efficiently.

 

In fact, it was the artist Daniel Spoerri back in 1983 who discovered the “Art” in  RischArt and made it into the title of  the art projects. We never made the connection before then. And for me the wordplay was also a kind of “sign” that it was the right project for me, and so it became a part of my life.

 

Franziska & Sophia Hoffmann: Zeitfenster; Foto: © Rischart

 

EAS: What were the first steps in the art program?

 

GMR: Ah yes, I wanted to tell you about the centennial celebration party. We had moved into new premises in the Buttermelcherstrasse in Munich. And so we thought, while standing in the doorway, “We can use this space as a  showroom for art! We can even display some pieces in the bakery!” At that time the premises were not as crowded as they are now -  there was a lot more space -  and  so we said, “Let’s do it.”

And that’s how we created a showroom in the bakery with great stuff.

 

 

I see in art a form of free space which opens new perspectives, insights and values.

 

 

Displaying art  in a bakery was  something very new at the time. Art had never before been displayed in a public, working place. But many, many people came to the celebrations and saw the exhibit and that created quite a bit of goodwill and a good deal of resonance and recognition. And so I thought: “I'll do this again!”

 

EAS: So the prize was awarded biannually?

 

GMR: Well, every two or three years.

 

EAS: And art is still on display in the bakery today?

 

Yes, and some pieces are added from time to time.

 

EAS: How do you choose the art you display?

 

Well, I am not a fan of the kind of art that needs to be explained, because I believe art must be self-explanatory. In principle I do not want heady or sophisticated art – it should resonate immediately. Also, you cannot hang anything depressing in a working atmosphere – it has to be positive. That gives people energy.

 

Andres Seehusen im Gespräch mit Gerhard Müller-RIschart; Foto: © Julian Stalter

 

Here in the  corridor of our office, you can see these red marks. We renovated the building about 10 years ago and thought we needed an artistic element in the design. The architect suggested an artist in Prague, Czech Republic, who painted the stairway and one wall with red and white symbols.- and so we have these marks in the hallway.

I also received this painting next to my desk from the artist. I would not have chosen this painting spontaneously myself, but I have now been looking at this painting for ten years and I still see something in it. And after years the impact of the painting is the same and as strong as on the first day I saw it. I would not give the painting a grade A, but it is invincible.

 

EAS: Did you lead the art program from the beginning?

 

GMR: Yes. At first the ideas came from me, and then the curator, Catherine Keller developed the program. Honestly, at the start the project was more exciting than it is now, because now it is all a bit “established.” When we started, public art (art in public spaces) was a whole new word.

 

Personally, I was fascinated by the idea of showing art in a place where advertisements of luxury products and a consumer oriented lifestyle were promoted.

 

 

For the first RischArt Prize, awarded in 1983, we had billboards painted by commissioned artists. This came about because I knew the artist Michael Heinlein. We rented two billboards, and asked artists to paint something on them featuring strawberries (because our event theme was strawberries). That was great. And then we had the idea to paint on all kinds of surfaces. And then we were able to rent all the billboards on the Marienplatz in front of the Munich Town Hall - which would not be so easy today! - and there it was: public art! This was something new: having art on public view in such a prominent place, right in the center, the subway hub where thousands of people pass daily - I found this quite a strong statement for art. That was 30 years ago, during our centenary celebration.

 

Dörthe Bäumer: Warten auf Gleis 11, 2015; Foto: © Rischart

 

EAS: How did you get the employees to buy into the goals and purposes of the art program?

 

GMR: Well actually they were quite skeptical. Sometimes even now there is an accountant or an employee who comments: “Cost restraints take place in every area of the work, but for art money is available.” They were not really touched personally by the program. The public thought it was great, but internally it was criticized. But now, since the program has been going on for so long and we have received a lot of recognition and awards, the employees are coming to realize that the art program is not all that bad and it does bring some advantages to the business, such as recognition and appreciation.

 

EAS: Yes, art spurs dialogues. Did you integrate employees into the discussion on the art program? Did they voice their opinions or make suggestions?

 

GMR: Not really. Honestly, I am happy if I can just bring a small group of employees to look at what we are doing more closely. With a guided tour it is a more intensive experience. As an educated person, when you enter the museum “Haus der Kunst” and a guide explains something about the art, then one really experiences something.

 

EAS: You did projects at the Munich main train station and in the pedestrian zone, for example, how did you obtain the permissions?

 

GMR: We now have a reputation in the city for doing good projects and cleaning up after ourselves! So nothing is damaged, there’s no mess  There is a certain benevolence towards us from the city, which has developed over time. I've even received a prize: “Medaille München leuchtet in Gold“ – a gold medal for community service.

That's a great civic award. Yes, the city knows that it can rely on Rischart:  we ourselves are reliable and the art we choose is of high quaity. It’s not something cheap and easy.

 

EAS: And how do you select the projects and artists?

 

GMR: Initially we contacted the Munich Academy of Arts and did a call for participation with the help of the professors. The brief was:  “The bakery from the point of view of the visual arts.” But this brief and the selection process has changed over the years.

 

Today we choose a theme, and then the curator Catherine Keller tries to find suitable artists. So not just any artist can participate; they must be suitable for the project. Mrs. Keller has a good eye and selects around 15 artists to create an artwork. She must also supervise and motivate and accompany the artists in the creation of their work. But we do not want to impose our views on the artists – we want them to be free to create.

 

EAS: Do you sometimes speak directly with the artists?

 

Yes, I do. The project has become almost an independent entity. Over the thirty years we have been doing this project, Mrs. Keller has become more and more proficient as a curator and project manager, so I am usually involved only when the work is nearing completion.

 

Sometimes, when I see the concept or work, I might say, “that does not fit; we should modify it in this way.” I would not like to offend anyone with our art in public places. Some artists provoke indeed, but I do not want that. This is not my wish. Of course art must contain a bit of a stimulus and also maybe an ambiguity, but no offense.

 

I also do not want to teach anybody. I just want to take him on an interesting journey.

 

Gerhard Müller-Rischart; Foto: © Julian Stalter

 

EAS: In reviewing your art catalogues, I have noticed that your topics started with the art of baking, and have now developed to other human or universal issues. Has the art program changed or formed the Rischart brand over the years? Has the commitment to art made a difference?

 

GMR: This is difficult to say. Because I would say those who love - the art scene - are a rather small group; but on the other hand the art projects bring our brand to a higher level. And it might also introduce some new standards to the employees and motivate them to maintain a high level of performance and output. So there are requirements and standards to the visual appearance of our art and our work. Such things cannot just be copied. That must come from within.

 

EAS: Which program in the art initiative was the most successful and what are you most proud of?

 

GMR:  All the installations were great in some way.  First, the installation on the Marienplatz in Munich, where we painted the billboards. I see myself as a genuine pioneer in this type of public art display.

 

The second was the intervention with the traffic signs ... there is a picture somewhere in which two one-way street signs kissed. It’s actually quite a simple project, but it comes from kind of a quirky idea.

 

Also on the Königsplatz in Munich, where we installed a giant light-box. Or, our exhibit in the Bavarian National Museum. The rooms were newly renovated and we were the first to exhibit in them – the exhibition was titled “Kunstrausch”. I thought that was a sign that our work is recognized in relevant art circles.

 

EAS: How do you communicate about the art program and the public projects?

 

GMR: We got a lot of press from the beginning because what we were doing was completely new. Today it seems that our projects are still of interest to the public. We do not have a PR agency, the coverage and interest results from the quality of our work.

 

 

EAS: Have you repeatedly worked with certain artists? And do you only commission Munich artists?

 

GMR: We have worked with mostly German artists. Most of the time we worked with new artists, but we don’t limit ourselves.  With Munich artists it is a bit easier, because their participation doesn’t incur any costs for  travel or accommodation. We are not yet established enough that we can attract or afford to bring artists from New York or London. Somehow it is also appropriate and fits our circumstances to feature mostly German artists. This is also my philosophy.

 

EAS: Do you think that it is important that companies support art and what would be your advice to companies who want to start an art program?

 

GMR: Well I'm convinced the program is a good idea, otherwise I would not do it. I believe that in the ordinary life of a merchant or in the business world it is necessary to look at the bigger picture. One should not only look at income. There needs to be something else. I see myself as a citizen of Munich: I earn my money here, I pay my taxes. And besides operating my bakery and creating my pastry, I want to bring some kind of added value to the community – that is a big concern of mine.

 

A lot of people do nothing at all. Some  business people admire what I'm doing, but I do not know anyone who is trying to do something like it, and this irritates me sometimes.

 

I think what I'm doing fits who I am,  and my options, and is appropriate for my situation. I can do something of quality for the community without overstretching myself and it gives the artist a boost too! There are indeed companies which spend hundreds of thousands of Euros on art in the public space, because money is no object. We here have to watch our budget, but we cannot only focus on the bottom line. I like to give back something of vaue to  enrich the ideals of the city from time to time. So, I think our RischArt initiative is the right project for me as a Munich citizen.

 

 

Interview: Ellen-Andrea Seehusen

Text: Shellie Karabell, Ellen-Andrea Seehusen

Photos: Julian Stalter, pressphotos Rischart