Private Art Collections in Germany

Between Private Tastes and Public Influence – Private Art Collections in Germany

Olafur Eliasson: Berlin Colour Sphere, 2006, in the Boros Collection | Photo: © Noshe

Never before have there been so many private collectors making extensive acquisitions of contemporary art. They are sought after by galleries, auction houses and museums. This has brought them wide media coverage and international attention. Artists owe them their reputations and income. Are they the real key figures of a global art business?


“I think it’s great that the public discusses our exhibitions. Interest has increased markedly in recent years”, says Ingvild Goetz, the grande dame of the contemporary art collectors scene. Her unerring eye for quality and her openness to new ideas are legendary. In 1933 she opened on her estate in Munich one of the first private museums. The early, meditatively simple masterpiece of the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron has become a place of pilgrimage for art lovers.

No one knows exactly how many there are

The museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden | © Museum Frieder BurdaInternationally, too, word has got around that in the last two decades astonishingly many new private collections have been created especially in Germany – not a few with their own spectacular exhibition rooms.

In Hamburg-Harburg, the lawyer and businessman Harald Falckenberg, who first took up collecting in the 1990s, restored a 6,000 square meter industrial building in order to show not only parts of his own extensive collection of approximately 2,000 works, but also other private collections, one-man shows and thematic exhibitions. He loves the grotesque, banal, provocative. He writes on and discusses the problems of the art business.

In Baden-Baden, the publisher’s son Frieder Burda opened in 2004 an award-winning museum – designed by the American architect Richard Meier, a friend of Burda. The idea of the collection is to makes accessible well-known positions in twentieth and twenty-first century painting “not just for a limited time” but on the long term. In the art event of 2007, Siegfried Weishaupt inaugurated his art museum in the center of Ulm and openly declared that his collection is the creation of gut feelings. The director is his daughter, who is a trained art historian.

Also in 2007, after less than four years as an art collector, the thirty-two year-old entrepreneur and graduate in business administration Julia Stoschek moved into a converted industrial building in Düsseldorf, Oberkassel, re-designed by the Berlin architects Kühn Malvezzi. In the 3,500 square meters space, she presents media art, film and photography, and also makes her home. She has networked swiftly and influentially, and is also active in Berlin and New York.

In the capital and in places off the beaten track

Julia Stoschek | Photo: Yun LeeBerlin appears to be a promising metropolis not only for artists and ever more art galleries, but also increasingly for collectors. The numerous inventive privately financed art spaces have made people almost forget the conflicts over the permanent loan of the Marx Collection and the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection in the Museum for Contemporary Art in the Hamburger Bahnhof.

For example, in 1997 the Cologne collector couple Hoffmann moved to a lovingly renovated factory building in the center of Berlin. Not far away, one can even view art in a bunker. The conversion of this historically charged property by the Wuppertal advertising agency boss Christian Boros and his wife offers unusual spatial challenges for both artists and visitors and guarantees a unique selling point and continuing visitor turnout. Like most private museums, however, it can be visited only by appointment. But it is now setting up an outreach program for children and young people.

The Aachen Schürmann Collection is also on the spot in Berlin, as are the Haubrok, About Change, Maenz and Evergreen Collections, and soon too the Olbricht Collection. But there are also private museums in out-of-the way places – particularly in Baden-Württemberg. The Würth Collection can be seen at several company locations and has a picture gallery in Schwäbisch Hall and a museum in Künzelsau. The Grässlin Art Space opened in St. Georgen in 2006. In Karlsruhe, the Museum of Contemporary Art, which was founded as a collectors museum, is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary with a mammoth exhibition of thirty collections from Baden-Württemberg.

The Udo and Anette Brandhorst Foundation in Munich pulled off the most spectacular entrance – not only because of the fascinating and ecologically sophisticated structure designed by the Berlin architects office of Sauerbruch Hutton, but also because of the public financing of the building by the state of Bavaria.

Not under public obligation, but highly influential

Andreas Hofer: “Trans Time“ from the exhibition “Andy Hope“ in the Goetz Collection| Photo: Sammlung GoetzThe motives of private collectors are as different as the ways in which they treat their collections – and historically speaking, by no means new. Between hobby, patronage and professionalism, there is broad scope for tastes and passions, for the need for attention, recognition and display. We buy what we like, say some. Others want to come to grips with what bemuses them, what they don’t understand immediately. This can include seeking advice, getting to know artists personally, or maintaining a disinterested assessment of works. In recent years, art hype, star cult, price rises and manipulation have attracted speculators. Despite the financial crisis, or perhaps because of it, art can serve as an apparently sound investment and chic setting for the rich and beautiful.

No Museum of Contemporary Art today can manage without collectors. They now essentially co-determine what is presented to the public as contemporary art. They own thousands of art works that no state or municipal museum could afford.

Subjective and not under public obligation, they can over years bring together whole work complexes, provide long-term accompaniment for exciting artistic positions or buy art spontaneously. They are faster and more flexible, can afford to make mistakes, to give works away or to sell them again, when this doesn’t violate legal boundaries. The future of many private collections is open. That they may someday again be on the art market is not taboo.
Sigrun Hellmich
The author is an art historian, journalist and writer. She lives in Leipzig.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
March 2010

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