Private Art Collections in Germany

Museums and Private Art Collections – A Question of Relationships?

Rineke Dijkstra: “The Buzzclub, Liverpool, UK / Mysteryworld, Zaandam”, NL | Courtesy Sammlung Goetz
Rineke Dijkstra: “The Buzzclub, Liverpool, UK / Mysteryworld, Zaandam”, NL, 1996/97, still, 1-channel video installation (color, sound), 26‘ 40“ | Courtesy Sammlung Goetz

Although for some years now not a few private art collectors have preferred to present their holdings in keeping with their own ideas and in their own spaces and buildings, current examples show that their interest on cooperation with state or municipal museum is growing.

“For me it’s about partnership – and that has something to do with equality and mutual respect. In this regard, some museum directors still have something to learn”, says the Berlin art collector Axel Haubrok, and explains his transfer last year of 13 permanent loans to the National Gallery in Berlin thus: “We’ve placed the most important works in the collection under the auspices of a foundation so as to preserve the ‘core’ for the future. These works are also physically large works that can be better presented in a museum. All works must be displayed at least once within the space of ten years. If they’re not being shown elsewhere, I can borrow them for my own exhibitions. The loan-taker stores and takes care of the works. The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, with its various prominent museums, is for us an ideal partner. From conversations, I know it’s also good for the artists that their works are part of our foundation and now too of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation”.

It is the good museums that bestow the accolade

Since 2011 Ingvild Goetz has been presenting her much-lauded video collection in the Munich House of Art. “I considered showing the collection outside my museum for a long time”, explains the grande dame of the German art scene. As the Bavarian Ministry of Art is interested in keeping the works in Munich, and the planned renovation of the west wing of the House of Art has been postponed, the former Director of the House of Art Chris Dercon, who initiated the collaboration, proposed using instead the museum’s former air-raid shelter.

“A new concept was born – both for the House of Art and for the Goetz Collection”, says Goetz, who lives in Munich and already opened her own museum in 1993. “The cooperation will initially run for four years, with exhibitions changing every six months. I’ll be the curator of the first two exhibitions, the House of Art the next one, and so on alternately. There aren’t any specific stipulations; the curators will select and present the works according to different criteria. The running costs will be shared; the revenues go to the House of Art. It pleases me to have been able to enter into a long-term partnership with so distinguished an institution.”

The long-time art collector, who in her own museum can show video art only on a limited scale, also hopes in this way to reach a different public. In 2012 parts of the collection, which with 480 works of about 170 artists is one of the most important in Europe, will be shown at the Nordstern Video Art Center in Gelsenkirchen, while the Arte Povera works will be shown at the Basel Art Museum. The Villa Stuck in Munich has also shown photographs from the collection. The esteemed patroness of the arts is convinced that it is still the good museums that bestow upon an artist the accolade.

Manipulation and hype

If asked, Goetz will confirm that private art collectors generally want to exercise too great an influence on museums. German collectors, she thinks, are mostly restrained, but “others act very manipulatively, currying favor with museums by making loans, but only if the museums promise to have a big exhibition with their artists in the near future. Art works and artists that are displayed in museums can get quickly hyped when money is involved”.

Through cooperation with private art collectors, art institutions without their own collections are banking on being able to offer a more interesting program, gain a better international reputation and advantages in the global lending traffic. The Hamburg Deichtorhallen has had an entire series of exhibitions of works drawn from private collections. Since 2005, the museum has worked closely together with the FC Gundlach Photograph Collection. This year the Deichtorhallen has taken over on loan not only the works but also the rooms of the Falckenberg Collection in the Hamburg-Harburg Phoenix-Hallen. Thus, says Deichtorhallen Director Dirk Luckow, the museum, which was opened twenty years ago “as a gateway to the international art world”, can regain its symmetry. The city of Hamburg has put € 500,000 annually at its disposal, plus subsidies for a curator and a trainee. The private collector, who focuses vigorously on “counter culture”, and the municipal institution, which must in the end justify itself in terms of percentages, have until 2023 to test their solidarity.

Robert Lucander: “Man muss Gutes in Frage stellen, um Perfektes zu schaffen” (You have to question the good in order to create the perfect) | Courtesy Sammlung Falckenberg
Robert Lucander: “Man muss Gutes in Frage stellen, um Perfektes zu schaffen” (You have to question the good in order to create the perfect), 1999. 100 x 140 cm. From the exhibition “Psycho” at the Falckenberg Collection (December 2011 until March 2012) | Courtesy Sammlung Falckenberg

Art market and museum are not parallel worlds

Historically, many contemporary state and municipal museums emerged from the private art collections of both aristocrats and members of the middle classes. The works that they now call their own and display in exhibitions reflect interests and power relations. This is often lost sight of.

That since the 1980s very many private art collectors have been active internationally, but also in Germany, has to do not least with the relationship between (art) politics and the financial market. In times of scare public funds, there has long been no question that financially powerful art lovers and investors exercise influence.

It is a precarious and little known circumstance that the term “museum” is not protected in Germany and that the mandate and duties of this institution – collecting, preserving, researching, documenting, exhibition and communicating – are not anchored in law. So the questions arise – Why does even a local savings bank have a bigger art budget than a municipal museum? And what belongs in a museum’s holdings and why?
Sigrun Hellmich
is an art historian, journalist and writer. She lives in Leipzig.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
December 2011

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