Visual Arts

The Friedrich Christian Flick Collection

Since September, 2004, one of the world’s most significant collections of contemporary art has been on public display in Berlin. Friedrich Christian Flick has been showing his collection in the Museum Ham-burger Bahnhof and the adjacent Rieck-Hallen within an area measuring around 13,000 sq. meters. Flick aims to show the 2000 pieces of art in Berlin over the next seven years. If any doubt remained, the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection has definitively confirmed Berlin’s place among Europe’s most important art metropolises.

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After extensive refection on the matter, a firm decision was made. Friedrich Christian Flick, one of the world’s most important collectors of contemporary modern art brought his collection to Berlin. According to Flick’s wishes, more than 2000 works of art will be on show to the pub-lic for an initial period of seven years. The multimillionaire has put his collection on display in the Museum Hamburger Bahnhof and the adjacent Rieck-Hallen with a total exhibition area of around 13,000 sq. meters. The reconstruction necessary to convert the former warehouse space into a museum was paid for by Flick out of his own pocket. The costs amounted to an estimated total of 7.5 million euros.

The collection, consisting of pictures, objects and installations, is con-centrated on the period since 1960. Flick is considered one of the main collectors of the American artist Bruce Nauman, whose work centers on the theme of the human being - human fears, human violence and human powerlessness. Flick discovered Nauman, so say the experts, at a time when he found himself was in a severe crises in his personal life, and for that reason was so moved by the existential work of the American artist. To quote Flick: "I’m interested in the human being, with all his weaknesses, fears and imperfections. That is the thematic thread running through my collection".

Flick took it upon himself to establish a personal contact to Nauman. Many renowned masters of modernity have their place in the Flick collection. Conceptual art from Sol Lewitt; minimalism from Donald Judd; the paintings of Baselitz, Richter, Kippenberger, Warhol, Giacometti; video installations from Pipilotti Rist, photographs by Andreas Gursky and Wolfgang Tilmans.

Flick’s activities in Berlin were and remain highly controversial. A storm of indignation was aroused particularly by Flick’s decision not to contribute some of the fortune he inherited from his grandfather to the reparations fund for former forced laborers under the Nazi regime. Flick countered that survivors would not receive more money were he to contribute, as the Deutsche Bank had already guaranteed a fixed total sum. Instead, he established a foundation against xenophobia with a capital investment of 10 million euros.

Advocates of the Berlin exhibition emphasize Flick’s role as a social philanthropist, making the artwork in his possession available to the general public; works that during the Nazi era would have been branded “degenerate” and perhaps even destroyed. The major collector Heinz Berggruen spoke up on Flick’s behalf - a significant gesture given that the Berlin native Berggruen is the son of Jewish parents and as such above any suspicion of trying to minimize the events of modern German history. The exhibition was officially opened by German chancellor Gerhard Schröder in the presence of Berlin’s governing mayor Klaus Wowereit.

Flick arrived at modern art over a circuitous route. He had first invested in classical paintings. "I gave up collecting the old masters", Flick told the Süddeutschen Zeitung, "because many of these works have nothing to do with me, with our times or our problems, and because I wanted to interact with the artists.”

In the mid-eighties, Flick turned his attention to modern art and acquired his first drawing by Sigmar Polke. That became the cornerstone of a collection that is now estimated to be worth at least 300 million euros. Many a work of contemporary art fetches more on the art market nowadays than a painting by one of the old masters. Flick maintains unfettered access to the artwork shown in the exhibition: He may, at any time, remove a piece of art from the museum to sell it on to someone else. The Berlin exhibition has also enabled the collector to fulfill a personal dream: For the first time he can see all his art in a broader context that allows the works to compliment one another. Until now, much of these artworks where kept in storage, seldom seen and, as a result, not highly regarded. With this initiative, Flick has also enabled scholars and researchers the opportunity to make a closer analysis of contemporary art.
Goethe-Institut e. V. 2005
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