Affinities – Curating a Game of Chance

by Ben Lewis

13 July, 2011

in Affinities


by Ben Lewis

13 July, 2011

in Affinities


In 2006 Ben Lewis was comissioned to produce a limited edition Art Safari DVD for the Deutsche Bank / Berlin Guggenheim as part of their Anniversary AFFINITIES Exhibition featuring new acquisitions in pairings with the prestigious Deutsche Bank collection.  The exhibition was curated into pairings of Artists. This intrigued Ben.  He was paired with the renouned German Artist, Tobias Rehberger who had been comissioned to a limited edition customized DVD player to house Ben’s DVD. . . . . .

Dear Ben Lewis, 

This year, the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin is celebrating its 10th anniversary with the exhibition “Affinities.”  Starting in late April, the show juxtaposes new acquisitions to the Deutsche Bank Collection with works from the Collection that have never before been shown publicly as well as masterpieces from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Deste Foundation in Athens, and the Musée Modern in Paris. The show is curated by Dr. Ariane Grigoteit, global head of Deutsche Bank Art and responsible for the corporate collection, and will take place at the Deutsche Guggenheim from April 18 – June 24, 2007. Fascinated by your fabulous TV series “Art Safari” we would love to commission you to prepare portraits of the involved artists for us, which we would like to publish on a DVD as an exclusive edition on the occasion of this exhibition. The DVD is meant to accompany a specially designed DVD-player by Tobias Rehberger. The artists’ parings on view in this exhibition are:  

Erwin Wurm / Clegg & Guttmann, Deutsche Bank Collection  

Louise Bourgeois, Deutsche Bank Collection / Sylvie Fleury, Deutsche Bank Collection  

Andreas Slominski, Deutsche Bank Collection / Francis Picabia, Guggenheim Foundation  

William N. Copley, Deutsche Bank Collection / Henri Matisse, Loan Request Hermitage  

Isa Genzken, Deutsche Bank Collection / Kurt Schwitters, Deutsche Bank Collection  

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Deutsche Bank Collection / James Turrell, Guggenheim Foundation (Staircase/Corner)  

James Rosenquist, Deutsche Bank Collection / Fernand Léger, n.n.  

Kai Althoff, Deutsche Bank Collection / Jörg Immendorff, Deutsche Bank Collection  

Laura Owens, Deutsche Bank Collection / Vasily Kandinsky, n.n.  

Sigmar Polke, Deutsche Bank Collection / Inci Eviner, Deutsche Bank Collection  

Diamantes Sotiropoulos, Deutsche Bank Collection / Robert Delaunay, Deutsche Bank Collection  

Yan Pei-Ming, Deutsche Bank Collection / Jeff Koons, Emil Nolde, Guggenheim Foundation

We would be very happy if we could arouse your interest to portrait a couple of the artists. Looking forward to hearing from you and all the best from Frankfurt,

Deutsche Bank,  Affinities



London, February 2007

Dear Deutsche Bank Affinities,

I’ve never made an Art Safari for a DVD player. And I’ve never made a film that goes inside somebody else’s work of art. And I’ve certainly never been inside a Tobias Rehberger. What shall I do? In this film I am going to find out what to put inside a Rehberger. One thing I do know: it’s very important what goes inside a Tobias Rehberger. Sometimes he’s put a Maserati inside one of his works of art; at other times the keys to a luxury car. But often you can’t see what’s inside – this time you will!

I am used to making television programmes, now I am making a real work of art. I feel the tremendous responsibility weighing down on me. In order to find out what to put inside Rehberger’s DVD player, I will need to explore the artist, his artwork, and the principles behind the exhibition “Affinities”. I will need to study the theory and practice of the exhibition “Affinities”: what constitutes an affinity between ‘artists’ work. I will need to speak to curators, and other artists in the show, to find out how they go together and why. I will need to find out: what are the affinities between me and Tobias Rehberger? Other artists in the show are paired with a really important genius from art history – Laura Owens gets Kandinsky. But Rehberger gets Ben Lewis. I have to make something that will make me worthy of him. What will it be? I have a few ideas, but I’m not giving them away yet.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Lewis


THIS was a tough job to figure out. I had to have a damn good think to devise a cunning PLAN.First I wanted to meet the Deutsche Bank curator Ariane Grigoteit and ask her about the pairings decisions.

Why Polke and Eviner?

Why Laura Owens and Kandinsky?

Why Chagall and Kruger?

Why me and Tobias?

Did she ask Tobias first?

I go to her to try to get a sense of what she might like to be inside his DVD player. In the course of the meeting, I discover that Tobias doesn’t know who he’s been paired with and that he would most like to be paired with Kandinsky, Picabia or Isa Genzken. But these three artists are paired with three different artists Laura Owens, Andreas Slominski and Kurt Schwitters.

I decide that my contribution to the exhibition is going to be to attempt to create an alternative rearrangement of the pairings in the exhibition, to realise Tobias’ dream. I plan to bring the suggested reorganisation of the exhibition to the curator of the “Affinities” show and see if I can persuade her to change the pairings. It’s a long shot, but it’s worth it. If I can make Tobias happier, than that will be my work of art in the Affinities exhibition.

I have a pack of cards with me – like a extra-large set of playing cards – on each card is one of the works from the Affinities exhibition. I am going to play different card games with my different interviewees, to see if they can guess the pairings in the exhibition, and as way of talking about what artists have in common. Among the card games I can play are ….Guess which artists are paired with each other?….SNAP – ‘snap’ works by the same artists….Rummey (create groups of artists works and pair artists correctly)… and poker (pairings of artists, ranked according to estimated combined market worth of works of art). I will be playing different Affinities card games with different interviewees over the course of the film as a way of discussing what artists have in common and how the could be reassigned to different partners.

I go to New York (or it might be Berlin in early April. This is tricky – Owens is based in LA but travelling in the US in March. From April 1st she is in Berlin). The young American painter Laura Owens is paired with Kandinsky – one of Tobias’ choices. We talk about her paintings and the relationship to early twentieth century ideas of beauty. I ask if she’ll swap with me. She doesn’t seem very keen.

I go to visit Andreas Slominski. He is a very strange artist known for building traps. Now I want to trap him into parting with Picabia. He refuses to talk on camera, but he agrees to perform an activity with me which relates to his polystyrene works in the ‘Affinities’ exhibition. I try to get him to pick his favourite cards from my pack. Perhaps he’ll swap Picabia for someone else….

I got to visit Inci Eviner in her studio in Istanbul. She shows me works of art from the same group as the work to be shown in Affinities. I show her my cards. Can she guess she is with Polke? Are there other artists she would consider being with? I try to develop some permutations of her partners. 

I visit the editorial offices of leading German art magazine “Texte Zur Kunst” What do they think of the pairings? Could they do it better? Do the pairings reflect art history in the making of an investment strategy.


In the course of filming I evolve an elaborate system of swapping artist with artist, so that if only Erwin Wurm will agree to be paired with me, then I can get Tobias hooked up with Picabia [or Genzken or Kandinsky]. I think Erwin Wurm and I have got something in common – but would he agree…

In Vienna I introduce Erwin Wurm to his Affinities-mates Clegg and Guttmann. C&G visit Wurm’s studio – they talk about each others artworks and what they might have in common. I ask them if in theory they might swap with me.

I visit the Frankfurt curator Udo Kittelmann. I ask him to look at my pack of cards and see if he can guess the pairings and triplings in the exhibition. I challenge him to a game of poker with the cards.

I have finally created an alternative set of pairings for the exhibition. All I have to do is convince Ms Grigoteit, curator of one of Germany’s most important art collections, to change her whole show on the basis of the ideas of an unimportant film-maker: me. Ariane explains to me why my suggestions of pairings aren’t as good as her suggestions of pairings. In Desparation I challenge her to a game of Rummey. If I win, then she has to do what I ask… but I lose. Anyway, she consoles me, it’s not important if Tobias wants to be with me – he is already an established artist. What’s important is if I want to be paired with Tobias. Of course I am very happy about that!