Harald Falckenberg

Category: Collectors Published: Monday, 03 February 2014 03:45 Hits: 1604

BY LISA STAHL

Harald Falckenberg’s latest art acquisitions are quite the buzz.
In fact, he gets more fanfare in the press than some of the artists he collects. That’s because Falckenberg’s collections (and understanding) continue to expand to museum proportions and are a kind of barometer of art camp and the avant garde. His taste is also a subject of discourse; his collection has been described as “a celebration of the subversive, grotesque or marginal.”

Despite Falckenberg’s devotion, he denies being passionate about the art he collects. “I never get excited about art. The works just fit well into my conception of my collection.” His collection resides in a 62,000-square-foot loft that was converted from a rubber goods factory in a working-class suburb some 20 minutes from Hamburg. The more than 2,000 pieces that make up his private collection—the Phoenix Art Foundation Falckenberg collection—comprise what has been called one of Europe’s most important contemporary collections.

Sometimes thought of as the “enfant terrible” of the art collecting world, Falckenberg has
a preference for artists who challenge and mock the mores of the art world and society. They’ve included contemporary German painters like Martin Kippenberger, Werner Büttner, Albert Oehlen, and American artists Richard Prince, John Baldessari, and Paul McCarthy, and playful artists like Dieter Roth, Franz West, and Öyvind Fahlström.

But he’s also been known to champion not just the art of
the outsider, but the art of the downright extreme. A few years ago, he mounted an exhibition of Vienna actionist Otto Mühl,whose documentary-style videos of S&M, ritualistic beatings and bodies smeared with blood and food, shocked the art world. Mühl’s dark past included spending years in an Austrian prison in the 1990s for statutory rape of adolescent girls at a commune he ran decades ago.

Falckenberg’s newest acquisitions include contemporary up-and-coming conceptual artist Sven Johne (Germany) and Fiona Banner (Great Britain). Banner’s sketches with India ink and multimedia installations have been exhibited in London
as well as internationally. He’s also acquired Little Screens by American photographer and artist Lee Friedlander who, in the 1960s and ’70s, worked with 35mm cameras and black-and-white film to evolve a visual language
 of an urban landscape dominated by store-front reflections, posters and street signs. Recent art shows he’s run have featured the works of Marilyn Mintner, Dieter Meier/YELLO and “Atlas” (Aby Warburg).

Falckenberg, a native resident of Hamburg, Germany, began collecting in the mid-1990s. A former lawyer who trained in Hamburg and Berlin, always at the top of his class, he left law to run a family business that manufactured equipment for the aviation industry.

Falckenberg, a native resident of Hamburg, Germany, began collecting in the mid-1990s. A former lawyer who trained in Hamburg and Berlin, always at the top of his class, he left law to run a family business that manufactured equipment for the aviation industry.

Art keeps him self-aware and intellectually active. While he con- siders it challenging to decipher art’s arcane meanings, he also maintains that art must be interpreted in its historical and cultural context—and in the context of psychoanalysis.

In 2008, he was appointed professor for art theory at the Academy of Art in Hamburg. He has published numerous essays on art as well as two anthologies.

One way to keep a finger on the pulse of the contemporary art world—and find new pieces for his collection—is by attending art fairs. He regularly attends Art Basel (Europe and Miami), Frieze, Art Cologne, and the Armory Show.

“When it comes to collecting, you need a method and philosophy,” Falckenberg says. His has been acquired organically with the help of advice from art world figures like curator Zdenek Felix, artist Werner Büttner, and art dealers Hans Mayer and David Zwirner. “Good collectors collect in their own time,” he says. “It does not make much sense, for example, to start collecting Warhol today. The good works are all gone.”