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Art Exhibition at SAP Headquarters Challenges Preconceived Visual Ideals

Feature Article | November 10, 2017 by Kesja Cichowski, Sarah Buerkle Hot Story

Mingling among the guests at the vernissage, a wide range of impressions could be overheard about the artwork currently on display in the foyer of the International Training Center at SAP headquarters in Walldorf.

“They really are incredibly expressive,” said one. Another nodded in agreement, “You can look at the pictures for hours and still find something new.” A third frowned: “It’s shocking to think that this is how the artists perceive their surroundings. All I can see are monster-like figures. I don’t want to be portrayed as a monster.” Yet another observer commented, “Some of the drawings look as if they were done by children.”

Within minutes, the exhibition had achieved what it set out to do: stir up an impassioned discussion about inclusion and the genre of Outsider Art.

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An entire wall on the first floor of the International Training Center is devoted to 19 works by a single artist. They are all highly expressive and complex. The motifs are similar, but each picture is different in its own way. And you can’t help but be struck by the subjects’ large, wide-open eyes.

“The pictures really do stare back at you, challenging you to interact,” says Thomas Röske, director of the Prinzhorn Collection.

The name of one of the works by this artist also inspired the exhibition’s title: “Why Am I Here? Outsider Art Presented as a Medium of Inclusion.”

“All the pictures in this exhibition are highly personal and offer the observer an intimate glimpse into the lives, perceptions, and sentiments of their creators,” says Alexandra Cozgarea, SAP’s exhibition curator.
“Every single one of us is creative, and art is a vehicle for expressing oneself. Art stimulates reflection and gives us the opportunity to discover more about how others see the world. This is why art is also a vital element of inclusion.”

Inclusion is a cause that matters very much to SAP. Because, as SAP Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Anka Wittenberg writes in the exhibition catalog: “People who are considered ‘different’ have a talent for pushing horizons – not just in art, but in the business context as well. They steer away from the well-trodden paths, exploring new terrain and discovering unimagined possibilities as they go.”

Stefanie Nennstiel, director of Diversity and Inclusion, emphasized this point in her welcome speech at the exhibition opening.

“SAP has much to gain from integrating supposed ‘outsiders’ and tapping into the unique skills and abilities they possess,” she said. “We fully believe in these people and their talents, and we want to welcome them to our company as valued and valuable assets.”

Wittenberg’s final thought was this: “We as a company and a society would do well to start by stepping back and questioning whose right it is to define what’s ‘normal’ anyway.”


The artwork is displayed in cooperation with the Psychiatric Center North Baden (PZN) and the Prinzhorn Collection at Heidelberg’s University Hospital. All the works on exhibit were created by patients at the PZN, one of the largest mental health care facilities in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg. Nineteen works by one outstanding artist will go to the Prinzhorn Collection when the exhibition closes. Due to space constraints, these will be the last works to enter the collection for the foreseeable future.

The exhibition runs until February 9, 2018, in Building 5, at SAP headquarters in Walldorf. Opening times are Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. CET.


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