Art collectors who turn obstacles into opportunities

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In 2005, art collectors Andrew and Christine Hall purchased the personal treasure of famous German painter Georg Baselitz of around 120 works of art he had acquired over the years, mostly from friends and contemporaries. A year later, at Baselitz’s suggestion, they bought Derneburg Castle, the estate where he had lived and painted for 30 years. The Halls had thought of building a museum. What better place to house the expressionist visions of post-war artists such as Eugen Schönebeck, AR Penck, Markus Lüpertz and Baselitz himself than the vast Derneburg, an almost 1,000-year-old castle that has long served as a monastery?

Last year, with renovations nearing completion, their plan to exhibit German art in a German monument outside the German city of Hanover was suddenly dashed by an unlikely culprit: Germany. The Bundestag and Bundesrat adopted a very restrictive cultural heritage law – in the face of strong protests from the country’s artistic community – which authorized a ban on the export outside the EU of works of art by over 50 years old and worth over € 150,000, and within the EU works over 75 years old and worth over € 300,000. If the Halls kept their collection in Derneburg, it might have to stay there for good.

“We brought in an art truck the week the law was passed, and all those early works were gone,” recalls Andrew, managing director of Astenbeck Capital Management and his name is “Andy”. The Swiss warehouse that received the dozens of works of art, he said, saw a real traffic jam with trucks arriving from Germany. “The law is totally stupid. The idea was to prevent the leakage of works of art from Germany, but it had the opposite effect. Crazy.”

On a cloudy spring afternoon after markets close, Andy and Christine, a British couple in their 60s, sit in their Chelsea pied-à-terre. The walls of the apartment are crisp white and crisp white. The Halls have just completed a three-year renovation and haven’t taken the time to hang any artwork. They were too absorbed in Derneburg.

In addition to dropping an exhibition by Baselitz and early works by his contemporaries, the Halls have stopped an expedition of around 140 of their Warhols bound for the official opening of Derneburg, as the law also applies to born artists. abroad and to entire collections considered important. . Despite verbal assurances from government officials that their art would be allowed out, Andy says the law was so murky that his lawyers were unable to allay the couple’s fears. “I just don’t want to be the guinea pig,” he says. “It’s not a risk I’m willing to take with hundreds of millions of dollars in artwork.”

Since then, The Halls have made efforts to reprogram their museum’s 70,000 square feet of exhibition space, offering an inaugural roster of seven shows. With over 5,000 works in their private collection and 100 more in their foundation to draw on, as Christine says, “we have enough art.” Opening on July 1 of five monographic exhibitions of living artists free to evade the law: Antony Gormley, Malcolm Morley, Barry Le Va, Hermann Nitsch and Julian Schnabel.

Schloss Derneburg, south of Hanover, Germany © Hall Art Foundation

Two group exhibitions will join them and present works that the rooms have deemed to be immune from the law. The first one, For Barbara, is a collection of over 90 works of art by women that includes an ode to the late Berlin merchant Barbara Weiss, curated by her stepson, gallery owner Leo Koenig. Weiss, who was an ardent champion of female artists, gently urged the Halls to buy more art by women. “Let’s buy it for Barbara,” became a mantra, Andy says, when they were on the fence about a work by a female artist. Today, around 20% of the artists in the collection are women, including Carmen Herrera, Barbara Kruger and Judith Bernstein.

Andy designed the second thematic exhibition, focused on the moving image, with works by artists such as Tony Oursler and Omer Fast, as a way to defeat the new law: exhibition videos are often copies, so if one were to be confiscated, it would hardly be a disaster. “It was my original idea, great and inspired,” Andy says with a smile. Andy enlisted the help of Chrissie Iles, a renowned curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, to organize the exhibition.

The Gormley exhibition will be the artist’s largest retrospective in Germany to date and will feature works on paper as well as monumental outdoor sculptures. “They are fearless,” Gormley says of the Halls. The sculptor, who organized the exhibition, said the couple managed to turn an “obstacle into an opportunity”. . . The law seriously compromised their plans, but Andy and Christine quickly regrouped.

While the Halls have long been acquiring art, they picked up the pace dramatically around 15 years ago in response to a mild midlife crisis. “I thought that instead of re-branding my bank account, maybe I should do something interesting with the money I was making,” says Andy. “We’re talking about buying hundreds of works of art a year instead of one or two. Right off the bat, I thought, “There’s no point in buying art just to put it in a warehouse. I had in mind that we were going to exhibit art to the public.

In addition to Derneburg, the couple transformed their farm in Vermont into an exhibition space open by appointment from May through November. One of the shows this summer, Hope and Danger: A Comedy of Eros, was curated by Eric Fischl, an American artist whose anguished figurative works collect the Halls. While trawling the Halls collection, Fischl found a pronounced cross line.

“It’s a very physical thing – a lot of expressive, gestural and very involved work with the body and sexuality,” says Fischl, who himself is known for his sultry nudes and even painted Andy and Christine in the buff. He was flabbergasted by the hundreds of artists represented. “What surprised me was how few artists I knew.”

The Hall Foundation also has an unconventional relationship with the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which arose out of another legal struggle. The Halls had installed an enormous concrete sculpture of Anselm Kiefer on their lawn in Connecticut. The local historical commission considered the piece to be a structure, requiring its authorization, which it was not keen to give. A legal battle ensued and the Halls lost.

Shortly thereafter, Joseph C Thompson, director of Mass MoCA, paid a fundraising tour of the halls and, he recalls, “as I walked out I expressed my admiration for the sculpture.” The following week, Andy called and donated the work to the museum. Since Mass MoCA is not a collecting institution, Thompson declined and explained, “This work, while beautiful, does not constitute an exhibition. A day or two later, he received a Kiefer picture binder from the Hall collection, along with a note from Andy: “See if you can build an exhibit out of that. “

Ultimately, the Hall Foundation agreed to renovate an abandoned structure on the Mass MoCA campus, pay running costs, and make a 15-year revolving loan from Kiefer art. It’s a collaboration, says Andy, that he might consider expanding with more of Kiefer’s works currently on display at the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

A sophisticated market watcher, Andy searches for undervalued artists – Morley, an American painter of hyperrealistic cinematic images, is one – and buys deeply. He is not naive about the impact his collecting habits can have on the art market. “I would like to think we played a role in White Cube’s attack on Kiefer and Baselitz,” he says of the London gallery, which first made a name for itself promoting young British artists. , not the aging Germans.

“Medieval Divided Self” (2016) by Malcolm Morley

The Halls’ tastes ranged from German Expressionism to minimalism and conceptual art. They are, for example, on the right track to acquire one of the multiple Joseph Beuys created; they own about 550 of the 650 products. “It’s just about having the energy to seek out those who are left,” says Andy.

Although their daughter Emma is involved and their daughter-in-law Maryse Brand is the director of the foundation, Andy receives a creative boost in putting the collection together. Said Christine, who seemed happy to let her husband speak most of the time, “No one is advising him.”

hallartfoundation.org

Photographs: Martine Fougeron; Performing Arts Foundation

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