When did you start collecting art?
I paid attention to art from a young age. I visited many exhibitions and rapidly developed my passion for art. When I was 11 years old I bought an eighteenth-century Italian painting for the price of a new bicycle. New generations were building houses for the first time, were no longer living in their parents’ homes, and without any preliminary research being carried out, a lot of ancient art from these houses that were being emptied was put on the market for a song.
Perhaps you were looking at art differently at the time. How has your view of art changed?
The daily search for art quickly soon led me as a child into the adult world and so I swapped my reading books for art books. I discovered that art would never have been invented without the existence of anarchy! I studied art history, understood the innovators, sought the right to exist of an artist and his or her movement, and so modern art determined my life.
In your opinion, what are some important aspects that should be considered as an art collector?
You have to learn to analyse the word ‘art’! It’s not because someone paints that he or she is an artist. People paint and sculpt, and that is quite a beautiful thing within our culture. But, as an art collector, you don’t buy what you like, you buy what you find exciting. You feel for the language of a new generation and therefore look for the why of an artwork’s content. It is precisely this answer that calculates the chance of survival of the artwork within the taste of a new generation that is never the same as the taste of its predecessor. This is precisely why contemporary art is never beauty or taste. It is a new language to be learned and only later does it need to be given an updated intellectual aesthetic value! The patron investigates the existence of a work at its source and then helps his or her love child to survive! A good collector realizes that an artist doesn’t make what he or she sees, but what he or she thinks!
So a collector does not react to emotional aesthetic values, but he or she is looking for the international or universal character of an artwork. Beauty cannot be defined, nor does it have a history. Only the history of renewal can fasten itself down, and the potential beauty that may be found in this can only find its truth in the individual. That is also the reason why ‘populism’ in art is most transient and has absolutely no value for a conscious collector! Populism is temporary and has at most only a one-generation chance of survival. This is what I then call ‘generation art’!
You don’t buy a good investment with your ears!
You are very passionate about art and enjoy high-quality artworks. You are also an art dealer. How do you see art as an investment? Is investing possible for (younger) people with smaller budgets?
First of all, you must realize that ‘experiencing art’ equals entering into an intellectual dialogue with your time. Art socializes and is in fact a mobile concept that proclaims a universal language worldwide – nothing more! Whoever lives with it guarantees his or her existence; whoever lacks it does not realize what they are missing. There is the art world and there is an all too brisk art trade, and these are two different worlds. For this reason, there is art for every budget, depending on the genuine intellect with which one opens oneself up to it.
You don’t buy a good investment with your ears without having trained your eyes. In other words, it’s much more important to know what you’re not buying than what you are buying! Good art is never the cause of a levelling – eliminating populism is at any rate the best start. There is also the surrender to the ‘unpredictability’ in the choice around art; this has greater value than pretending to ‘know in advance’ because of a function you occupy, for example. A leading collector first learns to adopt a modest attitude as part of something larger – that’s the big secret! Those who do not put their ‘knowledge’ aside for a moment and let the unknown incubate can quickly be mistaken. To discover the correctness behind the art, you have to learn to think naked!
A good art collector avoids populism but listens to his or her time and picks out the artist who represents the language of tomorrow.
Now and then sky-high prices on the art market make the headlines. To what extent are those high prices justified?
There is a big difference between the art world and the art market, and one should make no mistake about that. The art world sets its historical price on the basis of the universal rarity and the art market can manipulate prices. Universal historical art is to be found in museums and among good private collectors. When millions of euros are laid down for a Picasso, then such a sales price can be called quite fair, since it is a market of supply and demand. If you observe the same price for a contemporary artist, then you should not approach it unthinkingly. Never before has the time been so ripe to manipulate the value of contemporary art. There are the many computers on which all kinds of information can be manipulated, as well as social media, press releases, auctions with self-determined ‘low and high estimates’ – our digital world can incite the blind buyer to purchase anything.
It is clear that you pay a lot of attention to art history, but how then do you look at contemporary art? Are there any particular trends or specific artists that draw your attention?
My collection consists for three quarters of modern art and for one quarter of contemporary art. It is in these same proportions that I present art in my gallery. Since 2000 I have been collecting Chinese dissident art, and this even before Xi Jinping made it more difficult to bring such work across the border. After collecting James Ensor, Francis Picabia, René Magritte, Paul Klee, Yves Klein, etc. from the École de Paris, I followed the American school (Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Frank Stella, Sol LeWitt, Keith Haring, etc.). Today China is important as a new world economy and is the third ‘Mecca’ of art history. Xioagang Zhang, Liu Wei, Dali Zhang, the Gao Brothers and Huan Zhang are just some examples. From the moral pain threshold, I never buy what seduces me directly. I prefer to buy that whose very existence I am willing to understand and thus consider indispensable to my collection. In my opinion, the idea surrounding art is unchanging. That is why contemporary art, too, must gain its place in art history by means of innovation. It scores in the same way as a parent who needs to understand the generation of his children in order to move forward together. There is actually nothing difficult about learning to accept ‘contemporary art’ – you do what demands time: you listen.
Do you have a favourite work in your collection? What work is that, and why?
Although I am a big Andy Warhol fan and I help many museums with good work for their exhibitions, my answer to your question still lies with ‘contemporary art’. My favourite is The Execution of Christ by the Gao Brothers. It is a monumental work of art showing an execution squad, consisting of life-sized cloned Maos pointing their guns at Christ. It is perhaps the most anti-Maoist work of art that a Chinese dissident artist has ever dared to make. It was created by the Gao Brothers, whose father was murdered as an activist by the Mao regime. The Chinese government has forbidden the work from being exhibited, but at the same time the Gao Brothers have been invited by many Western countries to exhibit their work in museums because of this picture. Contemporary art and anarchy are inextricably linked, as these works tell us: Liberty Leading the People, 1830 (Eugène Delacroix), The Execution of Maximilian, 1868 (Édouard Manet) and Guernica, 1937 (Pablo Picasso). It is precisely this intellectual progress that makes the art world so fascinating and visionary.
Contemporary art does not stand for the beauty of yesterday’s smoothed-out paths – not at all! A good art collector avoids populism but listens to his or her time and picks out the artist who represents the language of tomorrow.