Collecting over the Decades. The Grässlin Collection
Collecting over the Decades. The Grässlin Collection Within three decades, the Grässlin family in St. Georgen has amassed a remarkable collection of contemporary artworks. Decisions about which works to buy are taken jointly, and for the alternating annual exhibitions of their installations and work-blocks, some of which are far from small, a concept has been devised – in addition to a dedicated building called the “Kunstraum” – that involves the entire local community and uses public, semi-public and private venues.
It all began in the early nineteen seventies. Precision engineer and timer clock specialist Dieter Grässlin and his wife Anna collected, in keeping with local tradition, pocket watches and rustic pottery. Then they set off one day from their home town of St. Georgen to visit the estate of steel sculptor Erich Hauser in nearby Rottweil.
The artist himself was at home, explains Anna Grässlin, telling the story of how this turned out to be a defining moment in their lives. And lo and behold, this master of constructivist plastic was hard at work on a finely carved Alemannic carnival mask, completely engrossed in the task in hand. Modernist sculptures stood ready in front of the door, waiting to face off the international competition, while inside sat an artist, deeply rooted in his homeland and its traditions.„Räume für Kunst“, town hall chamber, St. Georgen, – with works by different artists
In the end, all that was missing was a Wols
The collectors immediately discovered that they got on splendidly with the artist. Erich Hauser, himself a promoter and collector of art, introduced the couple – who had previously been busy setting up a company – to the German Informel movement. Over the next few years, works by Carl Buchheister, Karl Otto Götz, Gerhard Hoehme, Emil Schumacher and others found their way into the home of the industrialists.
The Grässlins soon cultivated personal contact with many of the artists, their four children Bärbel, Thomas, Sabine and Karola always right in the middle of things.
When Dieter Grässlin died unexpectedly in 1976, he was unable to complete the rapidly growing Informel collections with a Wols. His wife fulfilled his wish posthumously, at the same time bringing this initial part of the collection to a conclusion.
Art and Bollenhut
By then, the passion for collecting had already been passed on to the next generation. Bärbel and Thomas, the two older children, were initially fans of Arte Povera and land art, Sabine and Karola joining them later. Together with their mother Anna, they make up the consortium behind the “Grässlin Collection” brand to this day.
At the dawn of the nineteen eighties, the family concentrated on artists exhibited by gallery owner Max Hetzler, that is to say on Werner Büttner, Günther Förg, Albert and Markus Oehlen, Isa Genzken, Meuser, Hubert Kiecol, Georg Herold and others, though particularly on Martin Kippenberger, who also spent some of his time living and working in St. Georgen.
Over the following decade, the collection acquired an international orientation and was expanded to include younger artists such as Mark Dion, Tom Burr, Cosima von Bonin, Tobias Rehberger, Manuel Ocampo, Kai Althoff, Franz West and Heimo Zobernig. Some of the artists worked locally or had an affinity with the local area: over the years, for example, portraits were painted of the Grässlin family by Clegg and Guttmann, while some works featured the Bollenhut, a traditional hat worn by women in this region. Photographed by the American artist Christopher Williams, the hat came to be used as the collection’s logo.
A collection keeps a family together
These days, each member of the family contributes his or her own specialist area to the collection. The second generation of Grässlin family collectors followed different career paths, yet their interest in art has remained a constant factor. Bärbel Grässlin is a gallery owner in Frankfurt, while Thomas Grässlin has found a new occupation in the form of the “Echtwald project”, in which he – with the help of artists – transforms commercial woodland back into natural forest. Sabine Grässlin runs the “Kippys” restaurant in St. Georgen, and Karola Grässlin, whose married name is Kraus, is now the director of the MUMOK museum in Vienna.
The collection keeps the family together. Three or four times a year, they all meet up in their home town, take majority decisions about which works to buy when a gap needs to be filled in their collection of a particular artist’s oeuvre, or decide whether something should be sold. Their collection is devoted to comparatively few artists and always makes a point of purchasing one key work from each of the artist’s creative phases. One particular quality of the collection is the fact that these may be large-scale installations or indeed entire rooms.
Occupying local spaces
In alternating annual exhibitions, parts of the Grässlin Collection are presented all over the town – always from different perspectives and in new constellations. Monumental sculptures in the public domain may not be all that unusual, but the exhibition also takes visitors into the chamber of the local town hall, past vacant business premises which are used as “spaces for art” until new tenants can be found for them, into the foyer of a local bank or into the museum of local history.
Naturally, the Grässlins also make their private homes available for exhibitions in some cases. Ever since it opened in 2006, the starting point for all these local exhibitions and walking tours around the town has been a complex of buildings designed by Cologne architect Lukas Baumewerd – it is home to the Kunstraum Grässlin exhibition hall, the warehouse containing the extensive collection and the “Kippys” restaurant.
In 2010, the Grässlin family was presented with the Art Cologne Prize for their commitment to the communication of contemporary art. Veit Loers, who until his retirement was the director of the Abteiberg Museum in Mönchengladbach, gave a speech in honour of the family, entitled “Bollenhut and Avant-Garde“ – a pretty apt description of the collection’s concept.
works as an art historian and freelance journalist in Karlsruhe.
Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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