INTERVIEW Thomas olbricht
BERLIN, october 2017
Over the past 30 years, Thomas Olbricht, born in 1948, chemist, doctor of medicine and endocrinologist, has put together one of the most extensive private collections in Europe. The Olbricht Collection and other international private art collections have found in me Collectors Room Berlin a permanent exhibition space in which to showcase their works ever since it opened in May 2010.
"I am not set on a particular focus so that the collection is diverse, concerning media but also genre and epochs.
I love works that transport into a realm of astonishment and wonder and elicit new ways of looking at the world."
Your inspiration for collecting art came from your great uncle, Karl Ströher - at what moment did you first realize this passion?
I always collected things that fascinated me, it started with the age of 4 years when stamps and little toy cars got my attention. Later on, in the 80s when being 35 years, I more and more focused on contemporary art. My great uncle Karl Ströher, who had an extensive collection of art, definitely awakened the interest in collecting art. He among others brought the American Pop Art to Europe and supported the work of Joseph Beuys. My key experience was the opening of the “Beuys-Block” in the Hessen State Museum. I went through the exhibition, without understanding anything. Not until 15 years later I realized the feat of the collector, who brought this extent of Beuys in a museum for the first time.
What kind of artworks did you initially start collecting? - Has your opinion of your early acquired works changed?
I started with works of local artists, then post-’45 German art, and for the last 20 years also international art in all forms and media. Additionally to contemporary art, I started collecting “Wunderkammer” objects about 15 years ago. Collecting is part of my life cycle. As my focus in life changes, I am sometimes more into one category of my collection, sometimes less, and then I turn my interest to something else.
" Collecting is part of my life cycle. As my focus in life changes, I am sometimes more into one category of my collection, sometimes less, and then I turn my interest to something else."
In what ways has your professional life and career path influenced the way you look at art and collect art?
Many people think that my professional background as chemist, doctor of medicine and endocrinologist has influenced my collecting habit, but I don’t think so. At least not in my practice of collecting contemporary art. Various anatomical figures and skulls my appear in the “Wunderkammer” collection… well, maybe. But I think that has been simply influenced by my age, when one starts to think more about death. I’m attracted to the “memento mori” which is featured in baroque art – the pointing out of the fact that we don’t live forever. But greater workgroups of for instance Gerhard Richter and Cindy Sherman or Thomas Schütte belong to my collection, too.
The collection is shown to the public in exhibitions at the me Collectors Room - what spurred the decision to display your collection to the public?
During the years I received more and more inquiries about loans and I realized that there is a public interest to get in touch with the works I own. Of course, I was very happy about this development and that is why I got the idea to make the whole collection visible. But I also wanted to create a space not only for my own private collection, but also for other international private collectors with whom we have collaborations and exchange exhibitions. I choose Berlin as it is the most international city in Germany and the city to reach most people.
What have been the most memorable/unexpected/valuable reactions to your collection or specific pieces in your collection?
There are different things to enumerate. The “Young woman with rose” (1938) by Emil Nolde, a water colour on paper that I had the chance to inherit. Or Gerhard Richters “Student” (1967), a work that is often requested to be loaned for exhibitions. Or my Cindy Sherman collection with 60 works of the artist, which is currently on show in Silkeborg, Denmark.
The collection encompasses works that range from historical artworks to contemporary art - has curating such diverse objects proven to be challenging at times?
My collection is followed by passion and intuition. I am not set on a particular focus so that the collection is diverse, concerning media but also genre and epochs. I love works that transport into a realm of astonishment and wonder and elicit new ways of looking at the world. Curating such divers objects is a possibility to create all sorts of combinations and realizing new and unexpected perspectives and ways of seeing. I hope that the show which I curate sometimes by myself strengthen the feeling of an adventure tour.
What are some contemporary artists that you find especially inspiring at the moment?
Contemporary art is a wide field. There are some successful artists as Thomas Schütte or Katharina Grosse on whome I’m always keeping an eye on. But there are also young artists fascinating me like Caroline Kryzecki from Berlin or the Afghan artist Jeanno Gaussi, but also the Düsseldorf-based artist Andreas Schmitten as well as international artist as Brent Wadden, amongst others.
The Olbricht Foundation aims to immerse the daily lives of children with art - in what ways do you find art benefits people in their day-to-day lives?
The goal of our children workshops is to stimulate imagination and creative thinking by practical work. It’s not only about accumulating knowledge but we try to communicate with all the senses and connect knowledge interdisciplinary. To reach this aim or let’s say goal, we invite every working day children to our house, but our foundation has also a ship with an implemented Wunderkammer that travels the waterways of Berlin and Brandenburg to reach as many schools and children as possible.
"Could it be, that after progression of digitalisation, people are satisfied with “flat screen art” and museums will degenerate to storage rooms? Horrible, but thinkable!"
The art world and market is slowly modernizing and embracing digitalization - where do you think the art world is heading, and what developments do you hope to see?
I could imagine that one day any oil painting or watercolour work can be seen at home on the flat screen. But I think that the real collectors of the next two to three generations will still prefer the real works. But I’m really not sure about the feeling and cultural sense of the generations afterwards. Could it be, that after progression of digitalisation, people are satisfied with “flat screen art” and museums will degenerate to storage rooms? Horrible, but thinkable!
Finally, do you have any advice for young collectors, or anyone who is interested in art?
Every single one is different and so every collector must find to his individual concept for representing the collection in agreement with his own philosophy. But before starting buying, it’s absolutely necessary to widen your knowledge for contemporary art by visiting museums, fairs, galleries. You have time to buy your first artwork, if not today or tomorrow, the next chance to buy comes automatically.