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1 February 2013  |  Contemporary Art   |  Article

Ingvild Goetz in Conversation with Chris Dercon

Christie’s is honoured to present a selection of artworks from the celebrated collection of Mrs. Ingvild Goetz. A distinguished collector and the owner of Germany’s largest private collection of Contemporary Art, her collection of almost 5,000 objects dates from the late 1950s to today and spans a vast range of media. Mrs Goetz passion for art is only rivalled by her devotion to philanthropy. Having just completed an extensive project to support children in Nepal, Mrs. Goetz has now dedicated her time and energy to raise awareness of under-represented charitable causes, including support for those battling anorexia, and the improvement of the conditions for asylum seekers, a cause that she has embraced for many years. Mindful of the fact that artists are so often asked to donate their own works to charity for the greater good, Mrs. Goetz was inspired to offer a selection of artworks from her own esteemed collection at Christie’s, with the proceeds going to advance her long-term philanthropic projects. The selection of 130 artworks from Mrs. Goetz’s collection ilustrates the quality and comprehensiveness of her collection. Spread across three auctions, two in February 2013, with a further to follow in April, Christie’s is delighted to offer works from this acclaimed collection by 63 different artists including Matthias Weischer, Christopher Wool, Wade Guyton, Mike Kelley, Toba Khedoori, and Richard Prince. Many of these artists Mrs. Goetz has collected in depth over nearly three decades.

During his ten-year tenure as director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich Chris Dercon, now director of Tate Modern, and Ingvild Goetz, collector and founder of the Goetz Collection, had many conversations, both public and private, about collecting. The conversation published here distils Mrs. Goetz’s views on caring for art and sharing it, while exploring new avenues of philanthropy related to art and collecting.

Chris Dercon: I think it’s very good that we’re having this discussion now. You started as a publisher then you opened a gallery where you really engaged with Arte Povera, and then there came the collecting, your life as a collector, and then your real effort to put the collection into the public realm. You commissioned Herzog and De Meuron, who produced a kind of prototype art space, which I think wasn’t just a model for a private museum but became important for recent museum architecture as a whole. I think the different stages of your career are really important: publisher, gallerist… you were always looking for confrontation, to some extent.

Ingvild Goetz: Yes, my collaboration with Nordstern Videokunstzentrum in Gelsenkirchen has opened now, again with difficult art, with film and video art, which is not easy for a lot of people. And that of course is a field with which I’m very much engaged. And as I can’t really do it in my own building, it’s wonderful that I can realise such projects, purely focused on video in the ongoing collaboration with the Haus der Kunst, which you initiated. And then in Gelsenkirchen as well

CD: With the Goetz Collection there’s the running of the archive, there’s research, there’s restoration, there’s the management of all the works on loan. Then there are the publications, there’s the collaboration with other institutions. What does it mean, then, when you say that of course they have something to do with your character, because you strive for perfection? What does perfection mean to you?

IG: Perfection for me means not just collecting but also conserving these works and going deeper, to find out not only why they were made but also what is behind the work, the references to other works of art, the context in which they have been shown. We have documented all the exhibitions as far as we can, putting them into context. The other thing is, how can we ensure that these works remain available to us in the long term? How can they be restored? There are all the completely new materials being used that we often don’t know how to deal with, so our restorer straight away gets in touch with the artist: ‘If such and such happens, what do I do, might it be damaged?’

CD: Now of course you’re getting to the real point. A point, many of your colleagues, many private collectors who are not such perfectionists have also come to; namely the problem of durability.

IG: Durability is something that’s very important to me. I want to conserve the works in one way or another, my only question is, does it have to be this way or that? The act of collecting by itself is insignificant, but you want to preserve the work for posterity, you want to know its context. So you need to do historical research, in a way, on the works of art. And that’s precisely what is interesting about it. It’s not interesting just to hang a piece and that’s it, done and dusted. There’s everything that lies behind it, in terms of the technique and the content.

CD: You’ve used three very important words that we as public institutions try to subscribe to, i.e. depth, perfection, durability. Does this mean that a private collector who takes his collection seriously, and who acts in this same way, is going to feel at some point that they have to get closer to public institutions, because these public institutions have a long-term strategy?

IG: Well, of course, this is why some collectors think that they should affiliate with an institution, that’s certainly one factor.

CD: Now I’m going to ask a slightly provocative question: aren’t we, both public and private collectors at fault because we accumulate, accumulate and accumulate? Isn’t it to do with the fact that there’s only one thing that’s important to collectors, the condition of being a collector, and that one always continues to collect?

IG: Of course! That’s how it is. A collection can always be tightened up, made more concentrated, more focused. A collection is something that needs to be worked on continuously, meaning that you go to fairs, you buy new things now and again. As a collector, my idea is to focus the collection in some way so that the whole thing is one big work.

CD: What does that mean, one big work?

IG: Well, let’s say that you don’t spread yourself too widely, across too many areas, so you say: ‘I will concentrate on a particular theme or a particular area and I will do it in depth’. I wouldn’t say: ‘I’ll buy a work by this artist, one by that one.’ Rather you say that you want to create an oeuvre that will make sense to a visitor who sees it in its totality.

CD: But it’s very difficult nowadays, with today’s art world, to retain this total picture, because art, of course, is moving in completely different directions.

IG: Of course, but I do think one has to really focus a bit, though, otherwise one has to cover the whole span, which I have done every now and again.But it annoys me, I have to say, when I’ve pushed things too far in different directions. The concept of thematic collecting led to the ongoing creation of exhibitions that relate to each other in some way.

CD: That is very difficult now with this global art world.

IG: Not really, not really. What can I say? With Arte Povea it’s just a question of who you take. You can relate the Arte Povera artists to other schools and times such as Yayoi Kusama or Martin Boyce for example. But you would not randomly mix them, say, with a Chinese figurative or Beijing-school artist. So you can have an emphasis, a focus, and I think that is perhaps more a question of content rather than of nationality.

CD: Are there also times when you’ve said to yourself, ‘OK, I’ve done it, I’m going to focus more tightly now, but I also think, in a way, that the art world has lost its bearings,’ because what is value now? Is it symbolic value, is it financial value or is it humanistic value?

IG: You’re absolutely right. I try and stay very clear about that, about what I personally think very good art is. For me that means being totally unconcerned with market value; there is very good art that is still completely overlooked.

CD: What is good art, for you? Try and tell me in two sentences.

IG: I can only answer this personally. For me, good art has to engage me. It has to have… if I say a certain aesthetic aspect, I don’t mean it in the merely positive sense of aesthetic. It has to speak to me, to speak to me in such a way that I have to think. What interests me in art generally is the social-critical aspect.

CD: Could you give me an example of this? I remember you once told me ‘This artist is a bit too political for me’, though I won’t name names here.

IG: Well, when it’s done with a wagging finger, when it’s foregrounded. If you want an example, off the top of my head, I think of Tillmans as articulating a critique of society.

CD: But not political?

IG: No, I would say social-critical. And perhaps a bit political as well, but he doesn’t do it in a finger-wagging
way: the works are subtle, and you can make of them what you will. Or there’s Thomas Schütte, for example, or Rosemarie Trockel who don’t wave their fingers at you, saying this is good and this is bad, this is right and this is wrong.

CD: Agreed. But when one says ‘political’, then one can also be thinking of a politics that tries to create the conditions so that many people can participate in things. That’s politics too, isn’t it?

IG: OK, of course, obviously, a democratic attitude, absolutely.

CD: You’ve now decided to sell some works… and not just a few, so as to create the conditions for those who do not have the same opportunities.

IG: Absolutely. There has always been, in parallel, what you could call philanthropy, alongside my art collecting, which is only partly a social activity. Pure philanthropy is something I pursue with my husband. The other thing I have always been committed to is the cause of the socially powerless, not just in Germany and Europe. I’ve built schools in Mali and Ghana, and schools and a temple in Nepal. But my really big focus, where I see that there is absolutely no lobby, is the subject of anorexia, and the other is the cause of asylum seekers. These are two causes in which I want to get involved, they are now the great focus of my social commitment.

CD: What I find interesting is that you started your philanthropy very early on, with a very good friend, Ulrike Ottinger, who was always very interested in social conditions. Last year you got back in touch with her. Was this somehow, a kind of unconscious gesture? Were you closing the circle somehow?

IG: The circle has been closed. We were always very close; we had many common interests and shared commitments. We organised these happenings together. And then we rather lost sight of each other. I was very happy to find myself in touch with her again through art. She had been more involved in film and then she turned up in the art world, with her photos and films, which she used as the basis for editions.

CD: Yes, it’s interesting, not only has the circle been closed, but Ulrike, unlike many artists, really has no market. She has great value, but very little financial value. Is that right?

IG: Yes, absolutely. This, of course, has to do with the fact that before, she was making straightforward movies that were being shown in cinemas, well, in art-house cinemas, and she was never really represented on the art market. She was very late in gaining the attention of the art world. Before that she was only known to a very small circle of filmmakers.

CD: Apart from Ulrike, are there other artists – you’ve already mentioned Wolfgang Tillmans – whom you would describe as social-critical? Artists who in your opinion have pointed to a way, relevant to the point you’re at now, a way, that is, to further open out your world?

IG: Well there’s Roni Horn, she has something very focused, very… let’s say inner values that come from within herself. Now I’m getting older I’m coming to realise that it’s very important to find certain values within oneself. And that I learnt very much from Roni Horn. Ulrike is someone who still goes out into the world and meets and interacts with people, and that’s one thing I’m interested in, while Roni is the one who says, ‘I don’t need other people, I create out of myself, everything is inside us.’

CD: Are there other artists of whom you can say, ‘They have brought me something, where I think, Wow! There is a point of view, a way of seeing things, in which I find myself reflected?’

IG: Yes, there’s Felix González-Torres for example, who also influenced me profoundly; we spent a great deal of time together when he was here for two weeks doing a show with us. And I have quite an extensive collection of his work. Felix, of course, was someone who engaged so thoroughly with death, knowing as he did that it was approaching inexorably; the discussions I had with him about it took away a great deal of my fear of death and made me think very deeply about the subject, deal with it, which is generally something one doesn’t like to do. I had always done so from a distance. But with that encounter something very special happened in my life.

CD: And Tillmans?

IG: Tillmans is also struggling with life and death, and these are the subjects of his photos. This is again something different, because, it’s very strong…I would say, it’s about looking very closely at people. With him, there are all the very different faces that tell you a great many stories.

CD: Could we say that these four musketeers – Roni Horn, Ulrike Ottinger, Wolfgang Tillmans, Felix González-Torres – also reflect your character, or who you would like to be?

IG: I think a collector, well, a serious collector, who collects not because the market prices are high or low but a collector who collects very personally, does it because it has a great deal to do with their own personality.

Related Sale
Sale 1107
Post-War and Contemporary Art (Day Auction)
14 Feb 2013
London, King Street

Related Departments
Post-War & Contemporary Art

Portrait of Invild Goetz with Gabriel Orozco's Invariant Diagram Red (Samurai Tree), 2005
Photo: Thomas Schmidt, Hamburg
©Goetz Collection

Lot 7, Sale 1106
Urs Fischer (b. 1973)
Mr Toobad
Price Realized: £577,250

Sale 8647
ELMGREEN & DRAGSTE (B. 1961 & B. 1969)
Ball and Chain
Estimate: £3,000-5,000

Ingvild Goetz with Felix Gonzáles-Torres and Roni Horn