A razor-slim, dark-haired woman who speaks with an uncommon mix of focused precision and friendly zeal about her vision for Emdash, Dibelius is using her foundation and its award to support art that couples aesthetic wonder and a political edge—work that imagines bringing about a difference in society, particularly beyond the borders of Western Europe and the United States. The first winner’s project, to be unveiled at Frieze, comes from the half-Iranian, half-German Stuttgart-based artist Anahita Razmi, who has revisited choreographer Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece, a 1971 performance sited stories above the streets of Manhattan and scattered atop several buildings. Now Razmi, with the support of Dibelius and Emdash, has restaged Brown’s concept a world away in both time and place—in contemporary Tehran—and documented the production on video.
Dibelius plans for her foundation to eventually reach across disciplines to support creative projects in the sciences as well as the visual arts—a goal suggested by its very moniker. (Perhaps a murky term for those who aren’t copy editors, the em-dash—I’m using two of them to cordon off this thought from the rest of the passage—introduces an interruption in a sentence to offer a new statement or idea.) At present, though, the focus is on artists who provide an unexpected angle on the news of the world. “Anahita, Ai Weiwei, Rashid Rana—these are artists I collect and like,” Dibelius says. “Their contribution is a different one: It’s in the art world, but they criticize their countries through their art. Like other creative people in science and the social sciences, they have really helped people to have a fresh perspective on things; they have helped to make the world a better one.”
Inside the imposing white house not far from the Isar River, the artwork on view bears scant resemblance to the transnational, engagé vision of Emdash. Dibelius has dabbled in collecting a variety of contemporary artworks for most of her adult life, modestly purchasing pieces here and there since her days in Berlin, when a painter friend’s enthusiasm began to rub off on her. She is as reserved in talking up her collection as she is reticent about the details of her personal life. Though a quick walk-through shows that in addition to a handful of pieces by contemporary artists like Sylvie Fleury (a violet wall sculpture that appears to puddle on the floor below) and Gedi Sibony (a skeleton of a picture frame made out of repurposed packing material), a good deal of the art on view relates to Mann’s life and work, much of it installed as part of a 2006 exhibition celebrating the reconstruction of the villa (which Mann was forced to surrender to the Nazis in 1933).