Art and the future of the German economy


Recently, I had the opportunity to talk about art and economy at the world market leaders’ summit, organised by Wirtschaftswoche. Below is a summary of the on-stage interview I did with Varinia Bernau and my main takeaways.

First, we talked about my goals for the gallery. I want to give impulses to society and economy, and I believe that art is the perfect vehicle to do so. It can open up our minds to a lot of different things– and at the moment, the most important one is certainly complexity. Proust said: „Thanks to art we have not only one world, but a multitude of worlds.”  At the moment, I am under the impression that people wish for a simplicity that does not exist. And through art, which is interpreted differently by every viewer, we train an understanding for ambiguity. Incidentally, this is a development that is also reflected in technology: the binary computer is developing into the quantum computer, which can perceive several states at once.

We also talked about the first exhibition at my gallery with sculptures by the artist Marcus Meyer. „Industrialized Being“ showed distorted creatures of mass livestock farming, which he built from glued-together industrial wood panels: cow udders that are far too thick, pigs without bellies – because they are economically inferior. I think that the exhibition really drew attention to the issue of sustainability in an economy focused on maximising profits. What fascinates me about Marcus Meyer’s works is that they are very beautiful while at the same time showing the problems of factory farming.

Of course, sustainability isn’t the only current challenge for the German economy. I also talked about how transformation is going to affect our way of thinking, both in economy and society. One challenge will certainly be that we have to switch to other technologies. Regarding the technologies themselves, I am optimistic. Throughout human history, every technology has made people’s lives easier. Transitional phases were nonetheless often accompanied by unrest and worries. We must therefore be careful to not to lose people in the process. We have to proactively deal with and master the transition phase. And again, there is no black or white; we must allow for nuances. And we must work towards taking away people’s fear of change.

At the core of the transformation will be digitization – an aspect that is often perceived as a threat, because it might make a lot of people’s jobs redundant. When talking to people who are afraid of losing their jobs, I would like to focus on what makes us valuable and irreplaceable as humans: Our ability to interact with each other and create meaning. When it comes to caretaking and education, machines will not be able to replace social contacts and human warmth. Lifelong learning, however, will be key in order to keep up with digitization. Companies need to think ahead and enable their employees to perform new tasks right now, thus introducing them to the new world of work – perhaps even in a playful way. And even though I see companies as a main driver in this change, they’re the ones who know best which skills will be required, politics have to play their part as well. They need to create an environment in which lifelong learning is possible and natural.

We also discussed how digitization plays out smaller companies, the so-called hidden champions of the German industry. I think that smaller companies have a leg up on bigger companies as they often have smaller, more agile teams that can adapt faster to change. In terms of what is currently discussed as “platform economies”, I also think that these platforms offer smaller companies opportunities for directly targeting the right audiences and generating growth. Some companies have even built their own B2B platforms. In general, the German industry tends to underestimate itself and its power to innovate: The number of patents is high, as well exports.

Lastly, the interview brought up the question of why the management boards of German companies are still so monotonously staffed: white man, mid 50s, business administrator. I think that when it comes to management boards, we are still shaped by stereotypes. When we fill management positions, we look for people who fit three criteria: ambitious, assertive and goal oriented. We unconsciously associate these attributes with men. At the same time, everyone likes to surround themselves with people who resemble them. It is therefore very important to consciously recognize and overcome these stereotypes when filling positions. One way to go about this is to work with anonymous CVs. And you should consciously look for people who also have different opinions or a different social background than yourself.

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