Private Access
A guide to Europe's top private art galleries

Schloss Kummerow in northern Germany
Schloss Kummerow in northern Germany | © Skadi Heckmüller

A newly-translated book opens the doors on nearly 100 private art galleries from across German-speaking Europe. Author Skadi Heckmüller has combined her passion for art and travel to craft a highly informative book.

By André Leslie

Private Access bookcover
"Privatzugang" has been translated into English for the first time | supplied
When you think of the great art on display in Europe, your mind probably wanders to the Louvre, the Tate Modern, or maybe the Uffizi in Florence. But what about all the pieces held in private collections?

Most of the time this art escapes the attention of even the most informed tourists – not just because of quirky opening hours and out of the way locations, but also due to a lack of information. Australian-based German author Skadi Heckmüller wants to change all that.

“I think big galleries are for learning about art. Smaller galleries can often be more moving though, for me personally.”

A new edition of Heckmüller’s book “Private Access” has now been translated from German into English and includes 30 new locations. The handy-sized guide aims to make visiting private art galleries across Germany, Austria and Switzerland easier and is driven by the author’s enduring passion for art.

But, the former finance industry expert has kept the book practical too. Among artistic and historical context about the gallery collections, the book is packed with tips on nearby restaurants and sights and even public transport services.

“I have travelled the world a lot and I always bought a Lonely Planet guide. That’s how I wanted to do it this time. That’s the format that works best for me.”
Museum Kunst der Westküste befindet sich auf der nordfriesische Insel Föhr
Museum Kunst der Westküste is located on the North Sea island of Föhr | © Skadi Heckmüller

Business meets art

Most private galleries in Germany, Austria and Switzerland are owned by ex-business heavyweights that have either sold their companies or simply earn enough already to enjoy the finer things in life. Despite coming from very diverse backgrounds and industries they all know their art, Heckmüller says.

“It’s a lot of work, of course. You have to really love art and you have to have the money to do it, no doubt about that.”

“But they could use the money for something else. All of the gallery owners I met, love interacting with the artists.”

For the majority of private gallery owners Heckmüller met on her travels through Germany, Switzerland and Austria, being a guardian of the art is more important than actually owning it or boasting about it.

“People like to share art in Germany - more so than here in Australia,” she says. “Sometimes the problem is that they just don’t know what to do with it all. Once you start collecting, it can be hard to stop.”

The 90 collections featured in “Private Access” vary greatly and the architecture of the buildings is often just as impressive as the works themselves. According to Heckmüller, the way the gallery owners collect their art can also be surprising too. While some seek to refresh their collections by selling off older pieces regularly, others have special interests in one particular area - like the author Lothar-Günther Buchheim whose gallery beside Lake Starnberg in southern Germany houses one of the world’s largest private collections of rare paperweights. 
Fluentum in Berlin
Fluentum is a gallery set up in a former Nazi building in Berlin | © Skadi Heckmüller

A varied list

When pushed to name her favourite galleries, Heckmüller has a hard time picking her top three, but says there are some galleries that she loves to revisit whenever possible. The Feuerle Collection in Berlin is at the top of the list, with its collection of Asian art and sculptures displayed in a former World War II bunker. Then there’s the Hall Art Foundation collection in Lower Saxony - the largest private museum in northern Germany, set in the former fortified castle Schloss Derneburg.

Heckmüller says one of the “crown jewels” of private collections worldwide though is in Switzerland, at the Fondation Beyeler. Some 400 works are on display in an elegant building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. From Cézanne to Picasso, Kandinsky to Klee: the big names are all well represented here.

But if you are looking for a book to help you tick famous art off your bucket list, you may be disappointed. Instead, “Private Access” aims to take readers on a journey to unique places and experiences, often well away from Europe’s main cities. Heckmüller says it is also about shining a light on the gallery owners who play a big role in their community.

“Most of these people do a lot in the cultural space and a lot for young people, especially in the more remote areas,” she says. “They give a lot, but still, no-one really knows who they are.”

The English edition of Skadi Heckmüller’s book “Private Access: Private art collections in Germany, Austria and Switzerland” can be purchased from Dominik Mersch Gallery in Rushcutters Bay in Sydney. The German edition “Privatzugang” (Neuauflage) can be ordered through Amazon.