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
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.
In 1967 Maenz returned to Frankfurt where he organised his
first exhibition, Serial Formations, which featured
artists such as
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.
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?’
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
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
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.