Since 2015, the art collection "Pelz Collection” has been led by the German artist Jan-Hendrik Pelz.
The Swiss art historian Stéphanie Stamm talked to him about his career as an art collector, his connection to the artists he collected and the mysterious common thread that holds everything together.
Stéphanie Stamm: Mr. Pelz, how does one change from an artist into an art collector?
This happened slowly and over a period of years. Actually, I stumbled into becoming a collector, there was never a plan to go from A to B. In the past, I was regularly given artworks by artist friends. There have also been situations in which I have been commissioned by other artists who ended up “paying” me with their art. I have always accepted their art because, as is well known, it is the most beautiful currency."
"Art is the most beautiful currency."
Stéphanie Stamm: What was the first art work that you deliberately bought as a collector? When do you call a collection a collection?
I met Gregor Schneider in 2015 and soon fell in love with two of his works. I have always felt that certain works of art appeal to me in a powerful way. Every collector will be able to tell you about this experience when you stand in front of a picture and know: "I have to have this work of art, this and nothing else. I will not and cannot leave this room without this work!" Then you feel this brief moment of destiny, the artwork connects with you and you know that you are fated for each other, that it will result in a lifelong connection. After living with Schneider's art for a few weeks, I felt that living with art provided me with such a sense of fulfilment that I could get something out of it for myself as an artist. At this point, the idea was born to start an art collection. It was more than an idea; a real need.
Stéphanie Stamm: What are the criteria according to which you collect art? How much has your own art influenced the kind of works you collect?
As an artist, so I assume, one perceives the work of one’s colleagues very differently. My collection has no criteria based on styles, epochs or medium. The common thread is my passion. My passion for a work of art, a project or an artist. A work has to draw me in, have an effect on me. The artist has to be a good match for me, my vision, and my idea of a whole. It does not matter at that moment whether the picture is by Gerhard Richter or the drawing by Albrecht Dürer. All the works have in common is that I have a particular connection to them and that gives my collection a distinctive touch.
Since I myself am an artist, there is this very intimate moment, a feeling that collecting is very closely related to creating a work of art or that ultimately these two activities are not very different from each other. When artists are collecting art, I believe that the act of collecting can almost be described as a kind of artistic project. After all, with each purchase, you make a statement. And the sum of these individual statements establishes a trend, a direction. In so doing, one also places oneself with one’s own work in a context.
"The artist has to be a good match for me, my vision, and my idea of a whole."
Stéphanie Stamm: Does your own art making shift into the background now?
Not yet, on the contrary. Of course, overseeing and creating an art collection takes a lot of time. Associated with it is ongoing research on artists and works of art, conversations with other collectors as well as with the artists themselves, inspection of art works and much more. One aspect that is important to me when making a purchase is the contact with the artists, the interaction. The person who stands behind the artwork. I want to get to know him/her, to promote him/her, to make his/her work accessible to others. If you are not on the same wavelength, usually no purchase will take place. And I am absolutely sure that my own artistic work benefits from it. All of what I gain from my collection and my exchange with other artists, I believe, flows into my own art, shaping it.
Stéphanie Stamm: Are you still in contact with the artists after the purchases?
As far as this is possible, yes, with some! And that's wonderful. I am in close contact with many of them. Again and again, I visit newly created works of art. But it is also about the interchange, about developing a sympathetic intimacy. I cannot understand the attitude of a collector who is only interested in making a quick purchase, who only feels the need to possess, is only interested in the artwork itself. I wrote to Carsten Höller last week and Urs Fischer just sent me some kind words the day before yesterday...
Stéphanie Stamm: Why do you make your collection publicly available and visible? This is, after all, a decision, a declaration... I mean, one could also savour all of these moments of happiness you talked about in private...
Last year, a critic charged that my collection had no guiding orientation, that my concerns were not discernible. What he meant by concerns was probably what I would call, assuming the best, the visualization of a tendency, assuming the worst, and unfortunately that is often the case, a constructed pretext to legitimize one's collection. Let me explain that. Ideally, a collector is driven by a concern, a focus or even a thesis, which he wants to present and substantiate with a collection of diverse works of art. Let's say, just as an example that I believed that the early Alfred Kubin had more influence on the development of modern artists than previously thought. I would then collect all the artists that justify my belief and visually support my argument. The classic formula: thesis, argument, and - if I pull it off – acceptance. According to scientific procedure! For this reason, collections in which such an approach has been explicitly implemented are of high value and are also important for research. Often, however, only one, I usually call it a "pseudo-thesis", is prefixed, or even imposed later on, giving the collection a seemingly scientific touch, in order to place it in a context and to enhance its value. By contrast, when someone says, "Here I am, I collect what I like and here’s the topic: It's about me!" even if this is honest and may even secretly be the motivation for many collectors, it does not sit well with everyone. However, it is certainly also a matter of making art and artists visible. Art is a collective good. How could I withhold these works from my fellow citizens just because I own them?
" It is certainly also a matter of making art and artists visible."
Stéphanie Stamm: Do you see a social value in your work as a collector?
Stéphanie Stamm: What are your future plans for the “Pelz collection”? Would you like to share your plans?
I am thinking about various possibilities. Of course, the implementation of many plans is ultimately set in the stars, but if everything goes as I hope, I will be expanding and broadening the collection in the future in order to be able to present it simultaneously at different locations. Exhibition centres are planned for cities like Rome, Paris or Berlin. Daydreams of the future – but I am getting ahead of myself!
Stéphanie Stamm: From which artist would you like to own a work of art?
Pablo Picasso, but that will be a major challenge. Georg Baselitz would be great, but also Peter Paul Rubens or Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn! Or a work of art by Vincent van Gogh! You see, I'm not exactly modest in my aspirations.
Stéphanie Stamm: Can you give us a tip to pass on to other collectors?
Collecting art should again become more of an affair of the heart and step away from its focus on accumulation. Trading in art, which often equates to stock trading, spoils the arts and the artists themselves. Once such a system has been established, it is difficult to take into account an opposing point of view at all.
Art has always been traded and since art exists, there are people who collect it. However, we live in a time when the maximizing of profits is unfortunately often the number one priority. And I'm not just talking about purely material gains here. Often also a distinctive tendency emerges in the foreground, which in turn, however, in some form results in profit. But, after all, they still exist, those soft and poetic sounds that stimulate wonder when you learn how to listen to them and manage to block out the loud roar of the strategists and speculators - be it on the part of the artists or the profiteers.
"Exhibition centres are planned for cities like Rome, Paris or Berlin. Daydreams of the future – but I am getting ahead of myself! "
Stéphanie Stamm: I can understand that. It also sounds a bit like a criticism of capitalism. Now one could counter: May an art collector even position himself/herself like that?
After all, the art market is not necessarily a side-line of international value transfer ... And a public art collection is also consciously put out there to gain attention.
I am not actually pleading for counter proposal, for a 180 degree turn. I am talking about a shift in interest. There is an ever faster growing market in which the so-called "trophy artworks" often change hands several times within one year. It's all about speculation, growth, maximization. Ultimately, the work of art, by virtue of the value attributed to it - this speculative and elusive attribution that eludes common formulas - is the perfect projection screen for a steady increase in value. I always make a joke about money and art. There are certain similarities between a banknote and a classical work of art: low material and production costs, and at the same time an area on which one can write an unlimited amount of numbers. And that is the danger. That it's not about art anymore, not about passion. And the passion for art should be the common thread that runs through everything. That may sound utopian, but as a collector I should be able to say so. After all, collectors are the new artists, are they not? (Laughs)
Stéphanie Stamm: I thought the curators?
Yes, precisely, the curators as well. But that's why artists are now increasingly curating themselves. (Laughs)
I believe that this is legitimate as long as the love of art is the focal point. Would this not be a good ending?
Stéphanie Stamm: Agreed. Mr. Pelz, thank you for the interview!