Growing up in Germany and going on to spend 11 fruitful years in India as an enthusiast and purveyor of art has lent a unique perspective on all things aesthetic to Hartmut Wurster. The aficionado of art, an esteemed jury member of Abir First Take 2021, brings to the table a twin perspective from the two cultures he has embraced. “A long part of my life has been spent in Germany, where I was very involved in art. It is the same here, as it naturally happens. These two viewpoints when looking at art help me see more than just one aspect, to question it more,” Wurster professes enthusiastically.
Wurster was born in Germany and studied architecture both at the University of Dresden and at the Aristoteles-University in Thessaloniki, Greece. He went on to work with Maier + Partners, an architecture office in Heidelberg, where he dabbled in work that was diverse in size and scale, centred around housing, restoration and industrial developments, as well as creating new concepts of shared living.
It was in 2010 that he joined Blocher Partners, an international firm for architecture, interior design and visual communication based in Stuttgart with projects all over the globe. By 2011, he had moved to India to establish the company’s presence in Ahmedabad, and has since gone on to lead a wide range of projects.
Today a true blue resident of Ahmedabad for over a decade (“I find it to be the soul of contemporary art,” he says), Wurster is also the Managing Director of Blocher Partners India — green buildings and all aspects of sustainability are a core point of his interest.
This remarkable experience on how to make spaces beautiful, functional and elevated has also honed his keen eye as a connoisseur of art — it followed naturally then that along the way, Wurster founded ZOCA or the Zone of Contemporary Art, a platform for young and emerging Indian art.
Since a young age, Wurster has had a keen interest in contemporary art and also studied several topics both practical and theoretical in this field during his architectural studies. He also loves discussions with artists and the enriching insights into perspectives and positions of art.
“I am more interested in seeing contemporary art that is clearly rooted in Indian culture and tradition — but not just traditional art. It should also speak of and have the flavour and taste of a global contemporary language. As such, it need to feel contemporary, but with a cultural background embedded in local context,” he shares.
Speaking about his experience as a gallerist, he says, “In my experience of starting a platform for art in India, it has helped me quite a lot to not be an insider from the beginning. I see art from two vantage points. Even the act of bringing art closer to a collector or buyer or art lover helps one gain a different understanding of it. I can also understand how an outsider sees Indian art a little more easily than someone within. Let me frame this better — half of our buyers are from an international background. This is interesting for me, because I feel I can curate art that is admirable for an international visitor or context or collector — it is a bit easier for me.”
This unique way of looking at art leads Wurster to believe that the background of the person is very essential in one’s response. He mulls that familiarity brings nuance, but distance also evokes a more visceral connection. “I would say that in Germany, let’s say from the point of view of language or dialect for instance, I grew up in a city where if someone spoke, I could immediately tell if they were from a northern or southern suburb. This kind of nuance also connects us to art. When you come into a different context or surrounding, you don’t have that deep knowledge. So, in that case, maybe your reaction to art is more emotional than intellectual,” he says, adding, “I grew up in a very artistic context and am familiar with the second half of 20th Century art in Germany and around. It is easier for me to relate to it, more common for me. When I came to India, it was a new world! I did not know the language or details or fine differentiations. I could not instantly relate to local context or personal experience. And yet, art is a medium that allows one to relate to all those things in a different way. If you come from a different distance, the first touch with art is more emotional. That is also what excites me about being in India, and experiencing art.”
But Wurster is also no longer an outsider to Indian culture. “I feel very much at home here now. And yet, that part of growing up in a culture doesn’t come to one’s personality in the manner that the assimilation does when you later move into a place or become part of it. Coming to India also showed me a new perspective to art in general. It has been a very interesting and amazing field for me, that gives me a lot of pleasure, not just about the art but also the interaction with young artists and seeing where their journey moves in a bigger context.”
Interestingly, Wurster is also a trained carpenter, with natural sensitivity for materials and an eye for craft. Asked whether he looks for craft over idea or idea over skill when viewing art, he says, “I would not say either is more important. It depends on the work of the person and if it is authentic. In the West, one is more into conceptual art and ideas. Craft is strongly involved in local art here, which may not always be as appreciated elsewhere in the world. I like a balance between both, with an acceptance of both sides of the spectrum. What amazes me about art is when I see an artwork that somehow gives me a different perspective on life or content or context than what I did not have before on my own. If art has the possibility to twist something in your mind and give you a new perspective, it is really great. The same can happen with very high skill of craft, which I can admire, but probably with less logic and more emotion.”
As for the task at hand, Wurster says, “It has been a challenging time with Covid-19, and we should transfer these challenges to a creative outcome and output. Anyone who is making art is already a winner.”