Paul Maenz: ‘Art keeps the power of imagination alive’

On 4 October, three works from the collection of the influential German gallerist will be offered at Christie’s in London. Here, Maenz discusses working with Haring, Oehlen and Kiefer

Across a long and successful career, Paul Maenz stressed that the real purpose of an art gallery should be to serve art in the purest form possible. ‘Its nature is related to the nature of art itself, and that means change,’ he would explain. 

Born in 1939 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Maenz would become an important gallerist, introducing new waves of avant-garde artists to European and American audiences in the 1970s and ’80s. Operating during a time of rapid change in the art world, his Cologne gallery was instrumental in establishing the city as a centre of cultural innovation. Working closely with artists, curators and critics, Maenz gave voice to pioneering movements of the time, such as Conceptualism, Italian Transavanguardia and Neo-Expressionism.

In 1958 Maenz enrolled at the Folkwangschule für Gestaltung (the Folkwang School of Design), in Essen, where he studied graphic design. By 1965 he was working in the New York office of advertising agency Young & Rubicam. It was around this time that Maenz bought his first artwork — a piece by Sol LeWitt, purchased directly from the artist’s studio. ‘Given that I only owned $200, the price of $100 seemed rather adventurous,’ he would recall.

Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945), Midgard, executed in 1983–1985. Mixed media and straw on canvas in two parts. 106⅛ x 110⅞ in (269.4 x 281.5 cm). Estimate £1,200,000-1,800,000. This lot is offered in Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 4 October 2018 at Christie’s in London

Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945), Midgard, executed in 1983–1985. Mixed media and straw on canvas in two parts. 106⅛ x 110⅞ in (269.4 x 281.5 cm). Estimate: £1,200,000-1,800,000. This lot is offered in Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 4 October 2018 at Christie’s in London

In 1967 Maenz returned to Frankfurt where he organised his first exhibition, Serial Formations, which featured artists such as Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd and Agnes Martin. Many of these artists had never been shown in Germany before, and this coup set the tone for the rest of Maenz’s career.

By 1970 the idea of working with artists was beginning to seem more appealing. Maenz moved to Cologne and, with his friend Gerd de Vries, set about establishing a gallery. Together they began to contact artists who had rarely been shown in Germany; their first exhibition was held in January 1971. 

‘The first show was about systems — social and physical systems, and it was politically critical,’ says Maenz. ‘We were all convinced that we were writing art history.’ 

Anselm Kiefer would show many times with Maenz, who represented the artist for ten years until closing his gallery in 1990. ‘To work with him was absolutely fascinating,’ explains Maenz, who points to Kiefer’s willingness to tackle the most difficult subjects in Germany, such as the German-Jewish drama of the 20th century. ‘To find a language to deal with that was not easy,’ he says.


‘Together with the artists, jointly, we created the space in which their ideas would materialise for the first time’ — Paul Maenz

The gallery’s backyard location was decidedly modest. ‘Today people might think of it as a sacrifice, but in fact we felt this condition contributed to a style,’ he has said. ‘It wasn’t only that the spare and monkish existence had something purifying, or cleansing about it; around 1970, a whole new kind of gallery emerged all over Europe, a kind that had never been seen before. And the tension between the modesty of their appearances and their ambitions (which were anything but modest) was the actual climate of this new form of gallery.’

Over the next six years Maenz enjoyed a great deal of success, opening a second gallery in Brussels and moving his Cologne gallery to a series of bigger and better locations. ‘Together with the artists, jointly, we created the space in which their ideas would materialize for the first time … everything happened through the artists,’ he has said.

Albert Oehlen (b. 1954), Stier mit loch (Bull with hole), executed in 1986. Oil and resin on canvas in two parts. Overall 73⅞ x 148 ¼ in (187.6 x 376.6 cm). Estimate £800,000-1,200,000. This lot is offered in Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 4 October 2018 at Christie’s in London

Albert Oehlen (b. 1954), Stier mit loch (Bull with hole), executed in 1986. Oil and resin on canvas in two parts. Overall: 73⅞ x 148 ¼ in (187.6 x 376.6 cm). Estimate: £800,000-1,200,000. This lot is offered in Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 4 October 2018 at Christie’s in London

In November 1980 Maenz mounted a pivotal exhibition, Mülheimer Freiheit & Interessante Bilder aus Deutschland, which introduced artists such as Georg Dokoupil, Werner Büttner and Georg Herold to the public. ‘[Oehlen], to my mind, was one of the most promising artists,’ says Maenz. 

The gallerist reveals he loves Oehlen’s Stier mit Loch (Bull with Hole), painted in 1986, because ‘it has all the power of a grown up but it also has all the craziness of a young artist. Who would paint a bull with a hole in it, and make it so huge?’

Keith Haring (1958-1990), Untitled, executed in April 1984. Acrylic on canvas in four parts. Overall 120 x 120 in (304.8 x 304.8 cm). Estimate £3,000,000-5,000,000. This lot is offered in Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 4 October 2018 at Christie’s in London

Keith Haring (1958-1990), Untitled, executed in April 1984. Acrylic on canvas in four parts. Overall: 120 x 120 in (304.8 x 304.8 cm). Estimate: £3,000,000-5,000,000. This lot is offered in Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 4 October 2018 at Christie’s in London

The late 1970s, Maenz believes, marked the end of the avant-garde. ‘We had the post-modern age. It was like a firework, an inspiring firework. It was something alternative, something extraordinary.’ In the 1980s Maenz turned his gaze across the Atlantic, hosting Keith Haring’s first solo exhibition in Germany in 1984. ‘I'd never seen anything like it,’ he recalls. 

For the opening, which coincided with Haring's 25th birthday, Maenz created a kind of performance space in a gay disco that reflected the artist’s theatrical impulses, which saw belly dancers and the artist drawing his snaking graphic patterns onto the body of a man who posed in front of the paintings on display. Like Haring, Maenz believed that art offered something of a clean slate for humanity, allowing mankind to envisage alternative modes of existence.

Maenz’s contributions to the Cologne art scene went far beyond the art that he chose to exhibit at the gallery. He cultivated a wide network of clients, nurturing and advising collectors as well as forging relationships with museum directors and curators. In preparation for exhibitions, he frequently exchanged works with other gallerists, including Leo Castelli, Ileana Sonnabend and Marian Goodman, establishing important international dialogues between the European and American art scenes. He was a frequent participant in art fairs and forums, exhibiting his artists at Art Basel, Art Cologne and Documenta.

After making the decision to close his gallery in 1990, Maenz continued to cultivate links with the wider art world, donating many pieces from his private collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings to the Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar. Those works that he decided to keep represented, he claimed, ‘my own biography’.

On 4 October, three key works by Haring, Kiefer and Oehlen from the Maenz Collection will be offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction  at Christie’s in London.