As the Founder of the art foundation, Spiegelberger Stiftung Foundation, René S. Spiegelberger believes it takes a combination of "passion, creativity and concept" to set oneself up for success when it comes to building a real art collection. We’re so excited to share our interview with René where he advises first time art buyers to take their time, trust their instincts and research as much as possible before taking a leap on a the perfect piece.
MEET THE COLLECTOR: RENE S. SPIEGELBERGER
Can you tell us about an artist that inspires you?
Currently I have the possibility of working on a book-project for Franz Erhard Walther and for me he is one of the most inspiring artists of our time. He is already very internationally established and his current show at Haus der Kunst in Munich called Shifting Perspectives is one of the most amazing shows I had seen in the last few years. He shows works from the last six decades and most of it feels absolutely contemporary.
Walther’s work is very up to date, because his interactive art focuses on the viewer. Everybody can become part of his amazing and colourful textile sculptures by activating them. When he started this concept in the early sixties nobody understood this work as art, but at the Biennale in 2017 he was honored with the Golden Lion for his lifework. Today, he is a world star, but you can still buy his amazing drawings for a reasonable price.
How do you think the art market has changed in recent years? Has the demographic of a typical art collector changed?
All markets are changing rapidly these days and certainly the art market is no exception. People are critical of how few special rules exist for regulation, especially when it comes to transparency, but I think that when you know how it works, you can play within the bounds. Another development is the digitalization of the auction market, which makes it more difficult to find undiscovered treasures in hidden places. Expertise and background information on artists are becoming more and more important.
Also, you are right, that the collectors are changing. They are getting much younger than, for instance, a generation earlier. I can remember when I started, I was always the youngest guy in the art scene, but today you meet so many young people and collectors especially at place like fairs.
INTRODUCING NEWBIES TO THE ART WORLD
What advice would you give to a first-time buyer, trying to decide what art to buy?
My advice for a first-time buyer is to follow the lead of somebody you really are willing to trust when you like what they recommend. Otherwise, take your time before you do your first deal and try to see and learn as much as you can. The most important and unfortunately not the easiest thing, is to become trusting of your instincts and develop a feeling for quality.
Can you talk about limited edition prints and what they might mean to an art buying audience? Do you also collect limited edition prints?
Multiples are especially interesting for the beginning of a collection. They are the best way for a young collector to buy a work by an established artist for an affordable price. Personally, I love the idea of multiples because the trendsetter for them and for a lot of other important developments in art was Joseph Beuys, whom I really adore. In his body of work of over 500 multiples you can find some of the best works he ever made and nearly everybody is able to buy one. It is an amazing field for a collector. But you can also find nice silkscreen prints in Pop Art from Warhol or Lichtenstein or also in Contemporary Art for example from the street-art scene like XOOOOX, Faile or Banksy.
What impact do social media channels, like Instagram, have on the art market and what do they mean to artists and collectors?
For me, social media is an important additional channel of communication. These platforms offer good service and are comfortable to use to keep in touch with emerging artists and stay updated on art world happenings. When I know the style and work of an artist I like, I can explore it further through their Instagram profile and scroll through their latest work at shows I am unable to attend. But this definitely doesn’t replace studios visits, fair and exhibitions as I try to avoid buying art that I haven’t seen in person, especially from auctions.
How should new art buyers should approach galleries? Are there questions they should ask?
The most important question when you enter a well-known gallery or fair booth is…May I get a glass of champagne?... Honestly, there are no ‘right’ questions, just ask what you want to know! More or less you can follow the same rules like in a bookshop or a bakery.
What I really like to do when I enter a gallery space and recognize that I am lost, I ask whether anybody can give me or my group a short introduction to the work and concept of the artist. This opens all opportunities for the gallerist to inspire me and to show me how passionate they are for this work.
On your website there is a quotation “The collection of art, is art itself” – a new collector can purchase the collector‘s package. Can you talk about how true you think this statement is and why? Plus, what is in the new collector’s package?
‘The collection of art, is art itself’ just means that collecting is not just about spending money, it is passion, creativity, patience and power. This is definitely true, and this is also the reason why many well-known collectors curated excellent exhibitions and I will give you a proof for that. There is a very important movement in contemporary art called Concept Art. The advantage of a concept artist in comparison with a scientist is, that the artist can define their own rules for their concept. For a scientist, this may cost them their life.
A collector is a bit like a Concept artist, without a concept for a collection they are lost. With our foundation we have worked for over ten years with emerging artists and our jury thinks that their work, technique and approach is extraordinary. For the funding of the artist and the work of the foundation we publish small series of unique works. Most of them are already sold out. In our collector’s package, we offer the very last of these early series to enable young collectors to start on a solid foundation. I think this is a very exciting opportunity.
Can you talk about how you started collecting art?
My collection started during the Swatch boom in the early nineties. I was a school kid and started collecting and dealing these watches, which was my entry to the art world. My favourites were the models of Keith Haring and one of the dealers recognized my interest for those pieces and he offered me editions of Haring and showed me signed vintage screen-print posters of Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg. I was immediately fascinated by them and started shifting a bit of my profits into art. Years later I learned that my father also bought art, but we didn’t live with it like collectors do. He regarded it as a portfolio diversification.
What drew you in?
From my childhood days I recognized art as something very special, like a spiritual or holy thing. Art does not need to fulfill any kind of purpose or function – ‘It is what it is’ and it is the best way to differentiate us from our dogs or a monkey.
Art is so very emotional, it can make us laugh and even cry, which is why I also think it is very important to enable and support talented artist to do their work. Some of my friends are artists so it’s not easy for me as I am afraid that I prevent an important work when I invite them for over for a glass of wine.
What was the first artwork you purchased?
The first artwork I bought was a lithograph of Keith Haring from the Tony Shafrazi Gallery Show in New York in 1984. Haring painted the whole body of the Dancer and Choreographer, Bill T. Jones, and turned him into a living sculpture. Eventually this work inspired him to create one of the most amazing vintage posters of Pop Art history. It is not too expensive, but it is hard to get a signed version. Luckily, I still have mine today.
Describe the types of mediums that seem to be drawn to your collection?
We normally do not buy new media, video or photography, but there are always a few exceptions. Over the past few years, sculpture has become more important to me because it is a totally different feeling to live with sculptures. Signed vintage posters, works on paper and paintings on canvas are important for the collection. I do not think much about the media of an artwork, I just want to feel that it works, and I would love to live with it.
Discuss the benefits you get from collecting art, thinking emotionally about wellbeing and what it means to you in your home?
I look at the world through art. It is by my side throughout the day and that feels very normal to me. I do not have places without art. The works do not simply exist, but I feel them and cherish them, and they inspire me and make me smile on a rainy day. These works are like friends. Every work has its own personality.
In special situations or moods, I want to be with particular works. This might sound a bit crazy for some people, but I can easily spend a relaxing evening with some of these good friends and a bottle of red wine. Art enriches my life every single day.
Tell us about an artwork that you have never regretted purchasing and still gives you as much pleasure today as the day you bought it?
Most of the works of Joseph Beuys in the collection always give me pleasure because they are very challenging for me. I very often try to discover the secrets of one of his works. You can find social, philosophical and religious aspects in it, but very often also a fine sense of humor. That is fantastic. Sometimes I read three different books to further my understanding of one of his works, but you can typically decipher them very easily, when you try to avoid analyzing it and simply feel it. Another good option is to ask a child what they think about it.
There are also a lot of young positions I never regretted buying. Contemporary artists like Simon Schubert with his surreal sculptures or paper foldings, Martin Spengler with his amazing relief-works or Felix Rehfeld, who is one of the most talented painters of his generation are excellent examples.
Can you talk about the Spiegelberger Foundation, when it was established and what its mission is?
We in the foundation are convinced that activities with art are very important for children. They open the minds of the kids and shows them new perspectives on life, therefore in my opinion it is helpful not only to see art in the museums, but also to get much closer. This is possible within the collection of our foundation and that is one of our pillars. In the last few years many collectors donated artworks to us for the collection, which enabled us to go much deeper into Art History with our exhibits.
Additionally, we enable school kids to get in contact with artists who cooperate with our foundation. They understand that this is a very tough job with many challenges, but also that art is a possibility for life. Most of the students are really fascinated after a workshop or a studio visit with an artist.
For more than ten years we’ve supplied schools for free with class sets of our publication series Unikat. The teachers embed these monographies of young talented artists into their lessons. We accompanied this project last year with online tutorials. They make it much easier for the teachers because here they find questionnaires and exercises as well as a final test for every unit. To motivate the students, they also find an online gallery where they can exhibit their own artworks which are created in the context of this project.
By the way, for this project we are always looking for art friends who like to become supporters with a sponsorship for the class sets or the tutorials!
We couldn’t agree more with Rene and so we’re so happy the shared his wisdom and advise with us in advance of the inaugural Affordable Online Art Fair!
The Affordable Online Art Fair launches on Friday 6 November 2020 and runs throughout the month, bringing a roster of 50 hand-picked galleries from 15 countries, each with a dedicated viewing room hosted. With artwork prices starting from £50 - £6,000 and featured work from emerging talent through to established names, there will be something to suit every taste, space and spend!
All images of Réne's apartment and personal art collection. Photography credit: Evelyn Nossol