“Artists Anonymous is an idea – not a collaborative or an art group,” states Maya van Malden, speaking from her Berlin studio. “We [van Malden and two colleagues] founded it because we believe that when you look at an artwork, you are usually seeing the work of a group of people rather than an individual artist, so there can be no such thing as a single ownership of art.”
As the name suggests, this German-British artistic phenomenon also believes in anonymity. Its success has meant that van Malden has had to reveal herself as a spokesperson, but the identities of the other members remain secret and none of the works is attributed to a specific person. “Personal anonymity is not what’s important,” says van Malden. “What matters is that the piece is anonymous because then the viewer sees the artwork rather than a name or its market value.”
It’s hard to pinpoint a house style but AA paintings (from £10,000) are often based on photographic sources and photo-real diptychs, in which “all is not quite what it seems” is a recurring theme. A commission for Deutsch Bank, for example, included a series of hyper-real paintings of orchids with centres that appear to be flying bats (fourth picture).
Immersive installations are another speciality. One of their most recent – and most ambitious – commissions was for senior City-insurance director Paul Smith, whose apartment needed something of a makeover. “It was a beautiful 1930s mansion flat with a very bad case of ‘growing-old disease’,” Smith says. “Having been enthused into action by one of the AA members, I realised I had the perfect opportunity to use their work to enhance the architecture of the space, rather than ‘just’ putting up pictures.”
Artists Anonymous has turned the entire apartment into a work of art. As well as the eight high-octane baroque and Renaissance-style compositions, there are also painted glass inserts for the skylights, kitchen and bathroom doors and a wallpaper version of an existing AA painting that has turned this central London breakfast room into a slice of Central America. (The project cost in the region of £60,000; first, second and third pictures.)
Both Smith and Artists Anonymous are delighted with the apartment but van Malden is keen to make clear that they are more than happy to take on smaller, more conventional commissions. “We have a broad range of styles,” she says, “and we’re open to ideas from clients. We like to meet face to face and then just take it from there.”