‘The Importance of the Past and the Importance of Today’

Ahead of speaking at Frieze this week, Désiré Feuerle reflects on the art of juxtaposition, the role of intution and supporting tranquility

Frieze.com: I understand you collected from an early age – keys as a child, and a Ming terracotta toy horse as a young teenager, and Khmer sculpture after that. Is there one moment when you date your career as a collector to beginning at: when you became not just someone who collects but ‘A Collector’?

Désiré Feuerle: In general in my life I always tried to have things which have been important to me very close, so that I could look at their forms and feel the piece closely, waking up with the piece and going to sleep with the piece. Through that, I think I developed very early a personal connection to what I would call the ‘spirit of the piece’.

Frieze.com: Of course, your collection is equally rich in significant contemporary art as well as historical objects. Did one passion pre-date the other, or did they develop in tandem?

DF: This was really equally developed from my side until today. I think contemporary art enriches my view of antiques or antiquities — but also the other way around, looking at old master paintings, for example, I see similarities in contemporary art. To me this is very interesting.


Installation view of The Feuerle Collection with James Lee Byars, The Perfect Death, 1985 and Nobuyoshi Araki, Cosmosco, 1994/2015. Photograph: def image © The Feuerle Collection

Installation view of The Feuerle Collection with James Lee Byars, The Perfect Death, 1985 and Nobuyoshi Araki, Cosmosco, 1994/2015. Photograph: def image © The Feuerle Collection

Frieze.com: You exhibited contemporary and historical works together as a gallerist in Cologne – with Gilbert & George juxtaposed with antique timepieces, or Chillida and Ming and Song terracotta. What was the inspiration?  Were you already living with these kind of juxtapositions at home, say, or did it begin purely as a curatorial conceit?

DF: Maybe Chillida is a good example. When I proposed him a show with Ming and Song cushions (terracottas) he looked at me with very big eyes and he said: How did you know I was always very much interested in that? I told him in fact I didn’t know, but that I could feel a strong connection between these Chinese works of art and his very sensitive terracotta sculptures and his gravitations.This kind of feeling happened many times: when I looked at contemporary art, and I had these pictures of world art I collected in my head. Naturally, some of these juxtapositions I realized in exhibitions. 

Frieze.com: You said to the Financial Times that when preparing the juxtapositions in the Feuerle Collection in Berlin, you worked by combining pinning images of “things that had nothing to do with each other” in different combinations on the wall. How would you describe what makes things that have ‘nothing to do with each other’ work together in the context of a collection display?

DF: This is a misundardestanting. In the 1970s and ’80s I was pinning things to the wall. I considered these juxtapositons developed after looking at them for a long time — a very long time. I suppose I was a pioneer in juxtapositions. I started doing this already in the ’80s in my apartment. I began making them public at the Jablonka Gallery in 1989: a show with Yves Klein, Joseph Beuys, Georg Baselitz and Brice Marden paired with Madonnas and Pietas from eras spanning Gothich to the Baroque — and a tapestry from the early 16th century of a broken spine. My vision was always to break with the traditional way of showing art and take away the barriers between cultures, different ages. To balance the importance of the past and the importance of today; to lead the spectator to a different way of experiencing art through the senses. In my museum in Berlin, I had a very clear vision from the first moment I saw the building.


Outside view of The Feuerle Incense Room with Khmer sculptures including stone Female Divinity, Khmer, Baphuon style, 11th Century. Photograph: def image © The Feuerle Collection

Outside view of The Feuerle Incense Room with Khmer sculptures including stone Female Divinity, Khmer, Baphuon style, 11th Century. Photograph: def image © The Feuerle Collection

Frieze.com: The display in Berlin is so exquisitely choreographed: has an object’s moving from its former position in your personal collection to this particular presentation changed your understanding or appreciation of them?

DF: I think every art piece can have different lives, one time you make that piece a star in a specific display and another time, like in an orchestra, it’s another instrument that plays the main role.

Frieze.com: How often to you intend to rotate the display? Will it be more important to convey the breadth and variety of a collection, or to make a smaller section of it visible but in the best possible conditions?

DF: I like the idea of smaller selections in the best possible conditions.

Frieze.com: Given the great diversity of your collection, would you say there is nevertheless an aesthetic or principle which runs throughout it? How would you characterize the Feuerle “look” or “ethos”?

DF: The collection develops through my personal interest, and through intuition.

Frieze.com: In Asia – China in particular – the private museum is a very popular model. How do you see the role of private institutions like yours within the overall art landscape? Are there any other collections or patrons who have been influential for you? 

DF: Everybody who has high criteria for quality is influential for me, whatever the collection is about.


Polished stone Harihara, Khmer, Pre-Angkor Style, early 7th Century. Photograph: Nic Tenwiggenhorn ©Nic Tenwiggenhorn / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Polished stone Harihara, Khmer, Pre-Angkor Style, early 7th Century. Photograph: Nic Tenwiggenhorn ©Nic Tenwiggenhorn / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Frieze.com: To me, it was an especially generous move to open the bunker in this way – given that there are many arrangements in place to choreograph experience of the collection – the limit on visitor numbers, the ban on mobile phones etc. Are those measures in response to general currents in art viewing – do you feel some museums are too hectic or selfie-filled?

DF: I think in our own hectic times it is very healthy to offer a place where time stops and you can dream, think and feel the moment in tranquility and calm. I personally do not like very full museums. It’s a luxury today, to be alone: alone in nature, alone in a museum. For this, I support this idea of tranquility.

Frieze.com: Is there anything you are especially looking forward to doing or seeing during your week in London for Frieze?  (this could be a particular gallery/galleries or presentation/presentations in the fair; a museum show around town, or even a favourite restaurant, park, building etc.)

DF: I personally love London. But I always decide very spontaneously.

The Incense Room at the Feuerle Collection, Berlin opens on 11th October, being the first space in any museum devoted to Chinese incense culture. The Feuerle Collection, located in Kreuzberg, is open for visits by appointment only. Enquiries can be made via the The Feuerle Collection website

Désiré Feuerle discusses ‘The Feuerle Collection and Cross Collecting’ with Louisa Buck as part of ‘Conversations on Collecting’ on Saturday 7th October at Frieze London

Désiré Feuerle is owner of The Feuerle Collection in Berlin, Germany

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