‘I like to buy works that bug me’
Four Berlin-based collectors discuss their collections, featuring contemporary artists such as Joe Bradley and Rebecca Warren, but also including miniature furniture and a remarkable, museum-quality range of vintage toasters
The director of The Scharpff Collection on the challenge of adding to a collection established by her parents in the Sixties
‘I’m a second-generation collector. When I took over the directorship of my parents’ collection, I thought I’d change the focus. But I realised that my heart beats for the same things: brush, canvas and colour.
‘I like to buy works that bug me. The Joe Bradley on the right (below) keeps me busiest. Does the combination of red and brown work? Is it a good composition? A figurative work like Gillian Carnegie’s flowers raises different questions, because I’m looking at something that the artist expressly wants me to see: the fading petals, the cut-down plastic bottle, that smudge in the corner.
‘The statues by Rebecca Warren belong to my parents’ collection. They were the starting point for me to add more sculptures, like works from Rachel Harrison and Carol Bove. The drawings were a housewarming gift from Thomas Arnolds. And everyone who supported the premiere of Jonathan Meese’s Parsifal received a prop: I got that bat, a little larger than the kind used for table tennis. It’s a mask, too — you could use it at Halloween.’
Friedrich Wilhelm Prinz von Sachsen-Gessaphe
The interior designer discusses his fascination with miniature furniture, from little desks to tiny commodes
‘I love all things small. There is something human in that, I think. This is furniture that you can hold, turn over in your hand. I bought my first model commode when I was a student. I saw it at an auction and paid a scary price. It is the one you can see with glass doors and a Meissen figure inside.
‘There are three theories about these items. The first is that they are maquettes, intended to show a client what a finished commode would look like. Or they may have been made by apprentices, who would not have been able to afford materials for something bigger. The third theory is that they are toys — but I don’t think this can be so, given their condition. You know how children play: they aren’t very careful.
‘The smallest commode is 24 cm wide. It is there on the floor, next to the little Louis XV desk. I only buy very small models, because they are the most rare. A dealer once told me that miniatures can be more valuable than the full-size version of the same object. Imagine that!’
The collector muses on pieces ranging from a Warhol portrait of her mother to Picasso jugs given to her by her grandmother
‘I only collect works by living artists, that’s my maxim. When I began, I concentrated on American Pop art, but later my focus shifted to Germany and Austria. There’s a difference. The Americans deal with daily life, commerce, politics. The German work, due to our history, is heavier. The artists are nachdenklich, ernsthaft — more thoughtful and serious.
‘The Warhol is a portrait of my mother. Warhol’s gallerist in Germany, Hans Mayer, was a friend of hers and asked her if she would like to pose. So Andy came to our home to take pictures. Even if it were not my mother, I would still think the picture beautiful.
‘The sculpture on the left is by Franz West. I like the fact that it is amorphous, not clearly defined: it could be a rock, it could be a monster. The painting next to it is a Lucio Fontana, and the Picasso jugs were a gift from my grandmother. But not all the things you see are by famous artists. Those feet belong to my youngest son: a friend made a cast so I would always have the memory of him as a newborn.’
The designer talks about his love for vintage toasters
‘I have no idea why so many engineers have been fascinated by toasters, why they came up with such crazy ways to turn the bread over, and why they were designed in so many styles. The rarest pieces, going back to the early days of domestic electricity, consist of just a heating element and a cage; you couldn’t get at the toast without burning your fingers.
‘My collection (toastermuseum.com) is mostly pre-war. Among the exceptions is a unique American piece called the Toast-o-Lator — bottom shelf, far right. The toast moves through it like a car through a carwash; the peephole is there so you can watch it go by. The one that looks a bit like a metal handbag is a Siemens, designed to toast oval slices of Graubrot, the “grey bread” that we have in Germany.
‘I like the ones that are raw. I have two ugly pieces that were put together from scrap metal during the Second World War. I have to wonder: didn’t people in bombed-out cities have more pressing things to do than construct a toaster from aeroplane parts?’
This April, Christie’s invites you to a series of special events in Berlin celebrating the very best of making and collecting art in German