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about artists and their activities



The warm summer days of 2023 are passing. Several exhibitions are running, several exhibitions are planned and in preparation. ARTSURPRISE is a constant companion, in the exhibitions, in everyday life.

Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let’s everyone else decide, if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or they hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.

Andy Warhol, Artist

Whoever pulls one of the boxes out of a vending machine or buys them in a set from Saatchi does not automatically look behind the scenes. There are hours of preparation and follow-up that go well beyond the actual production of the art. Some colleagues shy away from this work. But they miss an important moment, the moment of contemplation in monotonous manual activity.


It not only relaxes, it also focuses. He creates a reality in which thoughts form, in a strong current, driven by the tactile sensation of folding this box, folding and readying the printed inserts, inserting the artwork, adding the business cards, locking the boxes and the affix labels.

There are days with 500 boxes.


What is noticed first is the mountain of work. Folding boxes is an easy, often very poorly paid, home job. Humans have often been, and still are, exploited in such menial activities. In some months there are around 1000 boxes, in others just a few. It’s probably averaged about 200 a month… for the past 12 years… every month.

The haptic experience in the work of wrapping is, so to speak, the creation of a commitment to the project, to the artist, to the work of art, to the circumstances of its creation. Something digs deep into the memory, often supported by the smell of fresh paint or the smell of olive wood.
It will certainly be a privilege to unpack these works of art later. It is certainly a joy when an expectation meets a real object, when art is discovered, when an accompanying text then creates a connection between the new owner and the maker of this work.


But it is also a privilege to pack these works of art. You’re the last person to see them all lying together as a series on a table, you’re the last person to pick them up, often for a long time. One is the bearer of the artist’s message. And it is only through this achievement that the magical moment of this art becomes possible.

In the assemblage, art celebrates the fact that the composition of the objects is often more than their sum. Sometimes that final moment before sealing is captured in a few photographs.
The Artsurprise boxes now go to over 100 locations: vending machine locations, museum shops, galleries. Some artists also sell their own art via the boxes directly at their exhibitions and fairs.


The box filled together on the packing table, so this is also the last moment of being together. How likely is it that a later collector will be able to put all the boxes in a series back together? What effort will this represent? How expensive will the last missing box be? At the moment at the packing table it’s all still speculation, but it’s also clear how the art market works. As always, it’s a matter of time.

The box has to be in the right place at the right time, in the hands of the person who temporarily holds one of the central positions in the art market. From then on there is no holding back. Now nothing is more difficult for many contemporary artists than to identify this person and then to reach them with their own message. Too many are in the way, too many have already worked out better positions. The path is rocky. And yet, those who work create reality. And reality is non-negotiable.


The ARTSURPRISE project brought together and distributed over 30,000 unique works of art in the first 12 years. It has reached every continent. It has captured art from all sorts of contemporary currents, bringing them all together under one simple, social, sustainable idea. Over 1000 boxes have been stolen over the years, from public museums, from galleries, from warehouses. Nobody knows what happened to this art. They are probably waiting for the right time to bring them back to the art market. Yet it is not so far. But the clock is ticking.


In August 2023, box number 31,000 will be packed and shipped. With this box, the scope of the site will grow and new features will be added, especially those that will make it easier for collectors to safely assemble their own collection. These art lovers will then very carefully open the boxes and bring the works of art back into the light of day. And that closes a circle that begins at a packing table in CASAdelDRAGON in eastern Spain. And a new circle begins that public life of the work of art as an expression of a way of life and an expression of an appreciation for contemporary art.

The art of logistics

artsurprise repackaging - the artsurprise vending machine close to one of the most important museums in cologne
artsurprise repackaging – the artsurprise vending machine close to one of the most important museums in cologne

What do the box numbers 3321, 5128, 6615 and 17003 have in common? Why did these boxes have to be reassembled and new labels printed with the old serial numbers? This is the story of hope and loss, of robbery, of informatics and the need to repackage one-of-a-kind art.

When we started ARTSURPRISE in 2011, the declared goal was to break new ground in art production, art mediation and distribution. Many years before, FLUXUS artists had used cigarette vending machines in art events. But they were always snapshots, singular actions and no workflow could emerge. Now, after more than 10 years, we are about to complete box number 30,000.

The development of logistics, in particular the investment in the creation of an own merchandise management system adapted to the needs of an art business, was foreseeable from the start. The need to build a workflow for repackaging was not so obvious.

artsurprise - repackaging - award 2014
artsurprise – repackaging – award 2014

In 2014, the ARTSURPRISE project was recognized as an innovative project in Bonn. The exhibition made the Kreissparkasse Köln aware of the project and we were invited to set up one of our art vending machines in the Neumarkt Passage in Cologne, right next to the elevator to the Käthe Kollwitz Museum.

An offer like this is very important for a project like ours. More than three hundred artists are now involved in the project. For many artists in the Orient, in Latin America or in low-income areas of Europe, the income from this project is vital. We could rightly assume that this new location would be attractive, attention-grabbing and helpful for the economy of our project.

In 2015 we installed the first Artsurprise machine at our location in downtown Cologne. In 2018 we had to replace the machine. At over 800 euros, the new (used) machine was one of our most expensive purchases. Not counting the conversion of the machine, transport and service, we were able to generate around 70% of this sum in the following time. But sure, this income was paid out to the participating artists without any deductions. They should not bear the risk of this loss. The damage remained with the initiator of this project.

The attention of visitors of the museum and of the shopping mall was very high. We received many mails and also inquiries from gallery owners who noticed the project in the passage. All of this gave us hope that the location would continue to develop well.

Unfortunately, the machine was stolen by two thieves on a sunny shopping day in 2019. The two criminals dragged the machine on foot through the city center from Neumarkt almost to the cathedral. Their action was recorded by numerous surveillance cameras and smartphones by passers-by.

The comment from the police commissioner: „I have never had such a well-documented theft in my career!“

artsurprise - repackaging - securing protocol 2019
artsurprise – repackaging – securing protocol 2019

The machine was secured and the thieves were identified. Still, it was a total loss. The machine had suffered greatly from attempts to break into it. It was no longer usable. In addition, the boxes in the shafts had suffered greatly, too. Some had to be destroyed because the art they contained was damaged.

artsurprise - repackaging - damaged boxes 2022
artsurprise – repackaging – damaged boxes 2022

At that moment, the question arose what to do with the remaining damaged boxes, which contained untouched artworks. In order to put the art back on the market, the art had to be repackaged. With the new packaging, it was also necessary to subsequently print out the selected labels again.

artsurprise - repackaging - coding 2020
artsurprise – repackaging – coding 2020

Boxes from the Artsurprise project are unique. It wasn’t actually intended to reprint a label. Technically, it was not even possible to assign serial numbers twice in the workflow. The art in the box is unique, also the box as part of the overall work of art. In this case, however, it made sense to make the remaining works of art salable again. The proprietary merchandise management system has been expanded to include a function (rePrint Label).

With the new function, the labels could be reprinted.

artsurprise - repackaging - renewed boxes 2022
artsurprise – repackaging – renewed boxes 2022

If ARTSURPRISE were a for-profit company, this would certainly be the end of the story. But ARTSURPRISE is different. ARTSURPRISE is a social sculpture. It focuses on the long-term well-being of the artists involved, and it wants to innovatively stimulate the art market and expand it with a new form of art. That’s why we don’t give up.

Especially in these times it is important to promote culture. Right now it is important to show artists perspectives. Right now it is important to encourage and face the new challenges of this time. So the story continues.

artsurprise repackaging - some prototypes
artsurprise repackaging – some prototypes

We will write to the owners of the Neumarktpassage, we will talk to those responsible for the Käthe-Kollwitz Museum. We would like to set up a new machine in the Neumarkt-Passage. We will report here how it goes on.

If you would like to support us with this project, you can easily help us. In order to finance a new (used) machine, we exclusively offer four ARTSURPSE COLLECTORS SETs with 25 boxes.

Write a email to o f f i c e (at) a r t s u r p r i s e . e u with the subject „collectors set 25 repack“ and you will receive a personal offer.

Each set will receive one of the boxes that survived what is probably the biggest art robbery in the Neumarktpassage in Cologne till now.

ARTSURPRISE - Collectors Set 25 Boxes mixed
ARTSURPRISE – Collectors Set 25 Boxes mixed

Edgar Brons is one of the hidden champions in the german comic art scene over the last 50 years. As a multi-discipline author, drawer, photographer and painter he likes to play with all kinds of materials and themes. One of the most important values of his character is his fine and deep humor, in which he is even able to smile about himself: Edgar Brons – Breeze – 2011

Norbert Weise published his series Cut outs in the early years of ARTSURPRISE. His art is special, storytelling and even the little pieces of bigger works are full of humans, stories, dynamics: Norbert Weise – Cut Outs

Sonia Eva Domench lives and work in Valencia. He work was shifting step by step fromm objects to drawings and paintings. The ARTSURPRISE series smiling faces are well-known and a few works are still awailable. Nobody uses them for social network profiles, they are no avatars for anybody. They are not limited in definitions. Nobody labels them or puts them under a headline: student, snob, customer,… Nobody can tie them to customer loyalty systems like credit cards or customer cards. These smiling faces are not restrained by group memberships, they are not limited to closed social networks. They can jump through all groups: Sonia Eva Domenech – Drawings – No ID

Sonja Blattner is known for her stilt houses. Drawn, painted, as an object, these buildings appear again and again in her work and address the house as a place of residence, as possession, as property, and remind of the countless open questions regarding real estate in East Germany. But Blattner also has a very special eye for animals, which sometimes populate her works. Cats attract her in a special way. With a light yet sure stroke, she captures the liveliness and a bit the arrogance of these beings. Cats have accompanied humans for many centuries and, unlike dogs, have always retained their own independence. The power of these self-contained beings literally jumps out at you from Blattner’s work: Sonia Blattner – Paintings – 2013

Portrait : Jo Pellenz – from farmer to gardener

Artsurprise - Jo Pellenz in the Ermita de Sant Sebastia - Cervera del Maestre | Photo Jochen Seelhammer
Artsurprise – Jo Pellenz in the Ermita de Sant Sebastia – Cervera del Maestre | Photo Jochen Seelhammer

Jo Pellenz is an exceptional artist. Pellenz is an artist, teacher, social worker, role model. He works internationally and is still deeply rooted in his city. In 2008 he worked nearly 2 month for his installation in the old Ermita de Sant Sebastia in Cervera del Maestre, Castellon, Spain.

Artsurprise - Jo Pellenz in the Ermita de Sant Sebastia - Cervera del Maestre | Photo Jochen Seelhammer
Artsurprise – Jo Pellenz in the Ermita de Sant Sebastia – Cervera del Maestre | Photo Jochen Seelhammer

As a donation to the village, the inhabitants and the CASAdelDRAGON he worked out one paper sculpture for each citizen of the village.

Artsurprise - Jo Pellenz in the Ermita de Sant Sebastia - Cervera del Maestre | Photo Jochen Seelhammer
Artsurprise – Jo Pellenz in the Ermita de Sant Sebastia – Cervera del Maestre | Photo Jochen Seelhammer

His friend Juan Petry was invited to give an introduction to his installation in the gallery 68 eleven in Cologne (2009).

Jo Pellenz – Düsseldorf – 2008 – installation – stilwerk | Photo Juan Petry

In the sense of the German artist Beuys, Pellenz is a social sculpture by himself. He strives to unite art and science and calls for creative participation in society through art. In my laudatory speech, I would like to go into precisely these social aspects of this artist’s art. That is why this speech is entitled „Jo Pellenz – from farmer to gardener“.

I’ll start with the farmer: Pellenz comes from a Moselan winegrowing family and in his youth learned the hard trade of winegrowing that shaped him. Instead of Moselle romance and wine bliss, the drudgery was in tune with nature.

artsurprise - Jo Pellenz - behind his studio in Cologne - 2007 | Photo Juan Petry
Jo Pellenz – Düsseldorf – 2008 – installation – stilwerk | Photo Juan Petry

Please ask yourself: what energy does a person have to muster to plant a new vine, who knows that he will experience the most productive time of this vine – if at all – as an old elderly person. What strength does a person need in this steep location to work most of the time for the next generation and the one after that. What will drives one to create something whose reward may be far in the future, if there is any at all. What kind of people are those who devote themselves to such a vision?
The imagination to do the right thing, to keep doing it – possibly with pain – the inner security to be on the right path, to set goals, to give things meaning. That drives these people.
Jo Pellenz certainly drew his strength from the yield of the vines that his ancestors planted and tended for him. He who is one with his vineyard has this power. „Creating a space for yourself and others in which a free, self-determined life is possible for yourself and those who follow…“ – I’ll come back to that later.

artsurprise - Jo Pellenz - behind his studio in Cologne - 2007 | Photo Juan Petry
artsurprise – Jo Pellenz – behind his studio in Cologne – 2007 | Photo Juan Petry

In Pellenz’s CV I can find various professions: acoustician – social worker – model builder … and others are not even listed, but they have influenced this artist in one way or another. I could have given this speech the title, from food to luxury food. And that applies here between the 200 figures of this installation in the Cologne gallery 68elf, just as it applies to all professions from winegrowers to artists: working on and for enjoyment.

At the beginning I was reminded of Beuys and his social sculpture. The social worker is not that far. But when I think of Pellenz, how he strides through the room in a small Spanish church, wide-eyed, walks through this room in big strides and understands and already creates his installation in his thoughts, then I know that someone is taking a big step in the art is on the way. Someone wants to open up spaces, change perspectives, move something. Art should move people, physically and emotionally. Pellenz moves and others.

But that is not an end in itself. If you walk right now through this installation, if you talk to one another, freely express your opinion – also about this speech – you are the followers, who walk through this garden of Kepo, just like the guests in Epicurus‘ garden, invited to a place where free thinking and speaking grows and thrives, just like Jo Pellenz did in his vineyard among the vines of his ancestors.

Jo Pellenz - Ermita de Sant Sebastia - 2008 - Cervera del Maestre - Castellon - Spain
Jo Pellenz – Ermita de Sant Sebastia – 2008 – Cervera del Maestre – Castellon – Spain

Art creates space here. room for you. You are the installation, it is your garden. Make something of it. Talk, discuss. Draw strength from this kepos that Pellenz has dedicated and left to you – without any agreed consideration.
And don’t call me a crisis today! Do you think a vintner thinks of phylloxera when he plants a vine?

„Creating a space for oneself and others, in which a free, self-determined life for oneself and those who follow…“ here I am again… Just as Beuys wanted art to move people, Epicurus wanted his garden to move Movement is a stage on which people can meet in freedom and equality. In Epicurus‘ time, art and science were still arts, united. Now many are longing for this unity again, and Beuys correctly assumed that we can also achieve this with and through art if it reaches out to people again.

Jo Pellenz - CASAdelDRAGON - 2008 - Cervera del Maestre - Castellon - Spain
Jo Pellenz – CASAdelDRAGON – 2008 – Cervera del Maestre – Castellon – Spain | Photo: Jochen Seelhammer

Pellenz helps build many gardens, Heilandart, Usefulart and others are also designed by him. And with this will to design, Pellenz completes the development from farmer to gardener. A garden of the future combines yield (food, science) with aesthetics (enjoyment, art).
There are such slick phrases in the art world: The artist works with space. Sometimes it was perhaps more the space that worked with the artist. I like it a little more concrete: Jo Pellenz gives us space. Thinking, acting … we have to do that ourselves.

343 BC – Epicurus, son of a farmer and teacher, is born on Samos in Greece.
1959 AD – Jo Pellenz is carried to the vineyard for the first time by his sisters. They show him his first garden. This is how history begins. Wonderful.

Series in Artsurprise:

New location in Catalunya

Since 27 of April 2019 artsurprise has a new host for one of our vending machines in Santa Barbara. The machine was inaugurated by town mayor Joan Jordi Boronat Ferre and many representatives of the region.

The inauguration was part of the cultural weeks in Santa Barbara. The new artist Assumpta Arasa Altimira offered us the opportunity to expand our network of vending machines in Catalunya and partizipated with her first series Mediterranean Goddesses inside of the Artsurprise vending machine.

back again

After 4 month the new website of artsurprise is online again. Now based on WordPress and new designed we show more details about the social sculpture project and share background information about exhibitions, series and artists and new locations.

With nearly 300 artists in our group and more than 25.000 delivered boxes we willl expand the project in the next time.

Artsurprise – european social art – we love it!