Independent Collectors

Art is a Window – Christian Kaspar Schwarm

Una Meistere in conversation in Berlin with IC founder Christian Kaspar Schwarm.

Christian Kaspar Schwarm, Berlin 2019. Photo: Jana Gerberding
Christian Kaspar Schwarm, Berlin 2019. Photo: Jana Gerberding director Una Meistere spoke to IC’s Christian Kaspar Schwarm in Berlin as part of “Arterritory Conversations with Collectors, vol 6”.

The publication is released annually, this year at the Giardini della Biennale, Venice on May 9 and includes 12 dynamic conversations with collectors from all over the world. The aim of the publication is to document relevant conversations on both the situation of art today and the possible paths of future development in the art world. Focused in general on art and culture from the Baltic, Russian and Scandinavian territories, Arterritory follows these manifestations wherever in the world they may end up. Following next is the conversation that unfolded between Una and Christian:

Christian Kaspar Schwarm is the founder of Independent Collectors, a community for contemporary art collectors. The online platform connects nearly 7,000 collectors from 100 countries.

In 2008 – four years after the still “teenage” Facebook and two years prior to the birth of Instagram – Berlin based strategic consultant Christian Kaspar Schwarm founded Independent Collectors, the internet platform for art collectors. The idea came about rather logically: having begun collecting in 2005, he tried to find like-minded people on the World Wide Web, hoping for a platform to meet and share experiences with other collectors. Having found nothing of the like, he instead decided to create that space himself.

In its beginnings, Independent Collectors was a closed internet environment in which registered members could virtually meet, discuss, exchange information, show each other their collections and talk about various aspects of collecting. The club, so to say, adhered to no specific definition of a “collection” – it welcomed both the so-called influential collectors and the beginners, as well as people who were only just thinking about collecting. Therefore, it confirmed the belief that collectors are as different as the works of art they collect. The only rule that existed, was that none of its members were allowed to use the platform for commercial purposes.

At the end of last year, Independent Collectors shut down its private-member section and became a fully open internet environment with edited content – it includes interviews with collectors, visual glimpses into private collections and information about a variety of current art events. As Schwarm told me, “We started as a 100 percent closed community and ten years later we’ve completely changed. We’re now a 100 percent public website that no longer has a closed members’ area. This is something that has happened to private collecting in general, because when we started, we really had a lot of people who didn’t dare to declare themselves collectors and to go public with that label, but now it’s the total opposite.” For this reason, he believes that a space dedicated to talking about: the essence of collecting; the eventual stereotypes about it; and the increasingly significant role of collectors in the cultural space is even more important today.

In 2012, Independent Collectors published its first BMW Art Guide in collaboration with its sole global partner BMW. The guide has since become an annual publication presenting almost 300 publicly accessible private art collections worldwide.

Schwarm’s own collection is known for distinctly reflecting the current era, for being saturated with politically and socially active intellectual discourse, and for not having a single work of art made in the 20th century. It includes works by artists such as Slavs and Tatars, Michael E. Smith and David Horvitz as well as Karin Sander and Jonathan Monk. The collection was shown publicly for the first time in 2017 in the exhibition Vague Space, at Weserburg in Bremen – Europe’s first “collector’s museum”.

Christian Kaspar Schwarm is also a passionate book lover and began another unusual project in 2015. This initiative, called 8 Books A Year, is described as a curated international and interdisciplinary subscription for rare and dynamic non-fiction books. Over the course of one year, subscribers receive eight books from the extensive library in Schwarm’s Berlin office. The books cover a wide range of themes and disciplines and are meant to inspire and challenge their readers, thus opening doors to new experiences and ideas. Schwarm curates the book list, and subscribers have no idea in advance what they will receive. The only thing they can be sure of, is the quality of the books – they truly are valuable and rare publications, produced for the most part by small, independent publishers.

My conversation with Schwarm took place in the library room of his office. Bookshelves take up one whole wall, but that same wall also masterfully integrates the drama of the surrounding environment, in particular, the horizon (a window) and social life (the coffee machine).

Right before the interview was published, we learned that Schwarm was awarded the Art Cologne Prize 2019 in recognition of his success in networking an international community of collectors of contemporary art. The 10,000-euro prize honours exceptional service in the communication of art and is awarded jointly each year by the Association of German Galleries and Fine Art Dealers (BVDG) and Koelnmesse on the occasion of the Art Cologne art fair. “I regard this award as one which is for our whole team, including all former and current colleagues,” Schwarm wrote to me in an email shortly after the announcement.

DAVID HORVITZ, Give Us Back Our Stars, 2014. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens
DAVID HORVITZ, Give Us Back Our Stars, 2014. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens


In 2017 you exhibited your collection at Bremen’s Weserburg. At which moment did you as a collector understand that your collection was ready to be shown to others in the context of a museum?


It’s funny, because I wasn’t ready to do that. I declined when they first asked me, because I didn’t think I had enough works of art to make an exhibition. Of course I recognised it as an honour that they asked me, but it didn’t seem like a reasonable idea to me. They really had to convince me and I was not playing along. Now I’m pretty glad that I did it, because it really changed a lot in my mind. It was like intensively seeing an artwork again and other things that I hadn’t looked at for a long time. It mimicked a timeline, because lots of things are interconnected – for example, when you see a specific work of art, you remember the moment when you bought it, which city you were in, you remember the dinner you had with artist friends, and so on.


How involved were you with the actual creation of the exhibition, or did the curator more or less choose the concept?


Weserburg calls itself a “collector’s museum”, but that’s the interesting thing. Nowadays, if somebody says a “collector’s museum”, it’s usually a private initiative, but the ‘Weserburg Museum für moderne Kunst’ is a public institution and has been so for around 25 years. Back when the museum was established, to my knowledge they had a social-democratic government and (therefore) approach to making art more public and accessible – even the art that was in private hands.

Nowadays, considering the market situation, it’s totally turned around and they sometimes have to fight a lot of critics, who claim they are actually being quite neoliberal, specifically, accelerating things for collectors, etc. They really have to convince people that that was not the original idea of the museum. This situation is interesting, because very much I like the initial idea behind the museum and the fact that it’s public means that it has never done a paid collaboration with a collector. So, you can’t buy your way into the museum; it chooses the collectors it wants to work with.

My exhibition was part of the series called Young Collections. I told them I’m not that young anymore – I was born in 1972 – but it’s not really about the biological age of the collector. It’s more about the museum’s approach, in that the collections they show are usually being shown for the very first time. Maybe a few works of art from the collection have been shown in museums already, but not the whole collection.

The way the museum works with collectors is a kind of co-curating. It really digs deep into your collection and your conceptual thoughts about what you’re doing as a collector. The museum really wants to know what’s important for you, what brought you to the point of bringing this or that work of art into your life. I think I wouldn’t have been able to set up this exhibition by myself, because there is some curatorial experience that I don’t have. I’m not saying that collectors are artists or curators; it’s a total different journey. But the way Weserburg curators work with collectors is potentially comparable to what curators usually do with artists.

MICHAEL E.SMITH, Untitled, 2009. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens
MICHAEL E.SMITH, Untitled, 2009. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens


Did this process also help you in some way to see your collection from a completely different angle?


Yes, definitely. Simply, because a collection is always limited by various factors. One of those factors is space, another is money. What can you afford. What would you like to afford. The various dimensions of time. The time you’re able to spend finding, discovering, viewing art, going to museums and reading about art. Also, the whole timeline of your life somehow limits your collection.

I have quite limited space for art in my apartment and seeing as I do not have a storage facility, the rest of my collection is located in my guest room. But I often have guests, so I always have to give them a kind of introduction on how to deal with those packages and things like that, because some of the guests of course, are not into art very much. Some of those works of art I hadn’t seen for almost ten years before this exhibition – since the moment I bought them. And yes, to see my collection all together in one place was like opening up a time capsule and having almost everything here again in a second. That was super interesting.


You were born in 1972, but it’s interesting that you do not have a single work in your collection from the 20th century… At least that’s what was mentioned in one of your previous interviews. Is it true? Was that a conceptual decision, or did it just somehow happen?


It was definitely not a specific decision. And it’s funny that you mention it, because I never realised that before the exhibition in Bremen. But then I walked through these rooms and I thought, “Oh my God, there’s nothing here older than a work from 2002 by Karin Sander!” So maybe it would sound even more impressive if I were to say I only collect art from after 9/11, because actually her work Word Search was somehow initiated by 9/11.

What Sander did, is she went to New York and sent her team out to find as many people from different ethnicities as they were able to find. And whenever they found someone from another different ethnic background, they asked him/her to write down the most important word to them. In the end, they found 250 people, each speaking a different language (including languages as far apart as Patois, Malayalam, Chickasaw, Efik, etc.) and each one of their important words was translated into every one of the other 249 languages. As a result, a total of 62,500 words were generated and as part of the project Sander collaborated with The New York Times. At that time, the business section of the newspaper had many pages of stock market listings every day, and so Sander made a special edition with the newspaper – like a work of art work similar to the stock market listings. It was a strong symbol for exchange and diversity. In the end Karin Sander produced facsimiles of every single word. Since I couldn’t purchase all 250 pieces I finally chose nine words – including the German contribution (“Solidarity”) and one sheet where the person who was asked couldn’t decide whether “Allah” or “Gold” would be his most important word.

MICHAEL E. SMITH, Untitled, 2009; Untitled, 2010. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens
MICHAEL E. SMITH, Untitled, 2009; Untitled, 2010. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens


Was that the first piece you bought?


No, it’s not the first one I bought. It all started with an edition from Fiona Banner. In 2004 she did a book called All the World’s Fighter Planes. It was based on her gigantic research to find a photo of every single military flying object that’s still in use somewhere in the world. She then published this book, and there were proof prints as well. I was in New York at that time, and I went to a bookstore and saw the prints. They really touched me, because I’ve worked with text for most of my life. The way she listed the names of these “weapons” revealed how much their inventors wanted to relate to nature – just think of fighter planes named as e.g. Eagle, Tornado, Jaguar. Fiona Banner referred to them as a kind of “anti-nature”.

But there was also another connection: I grew up in the countryside in Germany and my parents’ house is at the edge of a village. There is no forest on the other side of the street, instead, there’s a meadow and when I was a child, the American military always did manoeuvres there. So, once in a while, we literally had tanks in front of our house. We moved to that house in 1975. So it wasn’t the Second World War and yet we had soldiers in front of our house and we always had these very low-flying fighter jets, making this supersonic sound. That was part of my childhood.

Later on I found out that that was part of Fiona’s childhood too. She grew up in the UK, but the situation was exactly the same. We have a parallel, because for her as a child this was on one hand frightening, but on the other hand it was very fascinating. And to be completely honest, when I was six or seven years old, I thought these things were amazing. It was like, you know, other boys just play with tanks and planes and sand castles, but I had the real things in front of me. When I got to be around eleven or twelve years old, I realised what it was all about. It’s the military; these things are literally built to be violent tools. So from a political perspective, I totally changed.

I read interviews with Fiona and I got to know her later and it was the same for her. But there was still this kind of fascination – a fascination with the technology, with the design, but on the other hand, you’re totally aware that these are horrible inventions. And this creates tension – these are two interesting poles, and the space in between is very interesting to explore.

So, when I visited this bookstore, I had no plan to buy any artwork. I’d never done it before. But I bought the book and somehow I had to have these prints as well. That’s how it started. Half a year later I went to Art Basel for the very first time, and discovered the work of Peter Piller. It all started with these two artists and both Fiona’s and Peter’s perspectives on the world are still very important for me.


What do you search for in art? Do you search for connections based in your own personal background? Or do you search for intellectual challenge? What does art mean to you?


It’s changed over time. Or rather, over time more and more things have been added to what I’m searching for. It started as a kind of very personal thing. Back then I didn’t even know what collecting means in the way of perhaps, social context. Take Fiona Banner’s work again: I had the impression that she took something from my own childhood, pulled it out of me and put it on paper. Therefore her work functioned like a mirror for me. In terms of collecting, I don’t think I’m searching for something specific. But in terms of living with art, I’ve always searched for these kind of mirrors. I was so lucky to quite early meet an older, experienced collector who kind of became a mentor for me. His name is Wilhelm Schürmann. I met him in 2007 when we were brought together by Barbara Thumm, a gallerist who became a close friend as well. She somehow had the feeling that we had to get to know each other – and she was right.

It was that first evening we met, when Wilhelm told me: “Dare to listen completely to yourself, dare not to focus on what other people tell you. You can’t make any mistakes. Just search for those things that really resonate with you.” And that really empowered me to follow this path. If I look at the works of art in my collection, I always get the feeling that certain aspects – or sometimes maybe just a single aspect – are somehow just pulled out of me and placed on a pedestal or on the wall. All the things that probably led to the founding of Independent Collectors – which had me travelling around the world, visiting art fairs, visiting shows and even finding new friends, all that was triggered by art as well.


How do you see the role and responsibility of the collector in the ecosystem of art today? Undeniably, that ecosystem has changed quite dramatically since you began collecting.


That’s true, but I’m always sceptical to discuss “the role” of “the collector”. There’s a reason why we called our platform Independent Collectors. Collecting is a very individual thing and I look at it as a kind of privilege. Every individual collector has to define his or her own way of how they want to deal with art, how they want to live with art. Having that said, I’m convinced that the picture we have of collectors is not a correct one, because in most cases it’s so focused on these so-called “top collectors”. These people might be prominent and powerful and a lot of them do a lot of important and relevant things. But they also know how to use their power in the market. By always focusing only on them (and this is what the art magazines, blogs and news outlets often do), we forget too easily that this is just the super-small top of the pyramid. And this is what we wanted to show and to prove with Independent Collectors, that there are so many people out there who support artists by buying artworks from time to time. A lot of them wouldn’t even call themselves collectors. It’s just a question of how we’d like to define them – and I prefer not to do it at all.

There was a gallerist who once gave a very arbitrary definition of a collector, which, of course, was meant to be provocative. He said that a collector is somebody who spends more than 50,000 euros per year on buying art. That’s quite stupid of course – why should anybody define collecting by numbers? The market perspective should never be the only valid perspective. I would even say that often it’s actually a confusing and misleading one. As you mentioned, a lot of things have changed since I became part of the art world. One of these things is that some parts of the art world began acting like day trading. This is absurd. But I even tolerate that, of course. This is what I meant when I said that it’s a kind of privilege that every collector is independently free to choose what to make of his or her passion.


Your platform, Independent Collectors, has also changed very much over the past ten years. It began as a kind of social network, a meeting place for collectors.


Definitely. Facebook was founded in 2004 and it was still small when we started. Instagram didn’t exist. The reason for founding Independent Collectors was that I was so excited about discovering this new universe of creativity. I didn’t know anything about the so-called art world before I was 25. I was the second child in our family and I was born fairly late. My parents were born in 1934 and 1935 and they still experienced the Second World War as children. Later they were self-employed; together they built a very small distribution agency for sweets and liquors and for their whole working life they ran the business as a couple, just the two of them. They had absolutely no background in which art played any role. My parents’ biographies just didn’t allow them any space for discovering art. And when I went to school, art lessons were the most boring, horrible thing. We had to do potato prints and from time to time, maybe once every two years, we visited a local museum. There were absolutely no teachers who built a bridge to art for us. Of course, we went to see some old masters, but nobody taught us that even the classic art was contemporary at one point and had a power like Rock’n roll, Techno or Hip Hop music has had for the different generations in the last century. So, it took me ten more years to get another chance to discover this universe.

There were two situations, which I still remember quite vividly. In 1996 we founded an online advertising agency and one day I got an invoice from a freelance worker. In her letter there was a postcard on which she had written some greetings. This card showed a painting by Sigmar Polke, the famous one with a black triangle in the upper right corner and a German sentence in typewriter font: “Höhere Wesen befahlen: rechte obere Ecke schwarz malen!” (Higher beings commanded: paint the upper right corner black!). Jonathan Monk later made a cover version with an orange corner, which I have in my collection now. In German it sounds so super funny, because it’s written in kind of governmental language, but at the same time it’s absurd and multilayered. I remember I looked at this postcard and wondered: Who did that? I did not know much about Polke at that time, but I thought of this is art, then art can be entertaining and substantial at the same time. Up to this point I had always thought that art is heavily serious, weighty, full of all kinds of codes – and here suddenly, it turns out that it can also be light-hearted, cheerful and ironic. I decided to learn more about art at that very moment.

A short time later was the first Charles Saatchi exhibition in London, titled Sensation. I was in London then and I went to see it. When the Polke postcard prepared everything, this show really closed the deal for me. I was positively shocked. I just thought “wow, wow, wow”. Imagine: I had no background in art, I had never really seen young contemporary art before, and here was Damien Hirst’s shark, Tracey Emin’s tent, Sarah Lucas, Jake & Dinos Chapman … it was like listening to Heavy Metal for the very first time. For me, that was a fantastic moment.

So, I started reading books and going to see exhibitions on a regular basis. My interest developed, but at that point I still had no idea that I would maybe want to purchase anything. Most people don’t ever think about really buying a work of art and that’s totally ok. Either you feel that you have to live with something, in which case you should really think about buying it (at least if you can afford it), or it might be enough for you to see it in a museum or to buy a book about it. That also transports a lot of the energy and should be as legitimate as the other way – especially from a collector’s perspective. You can’t always get what you want!

PETER PILLER, In Löcher blicken, 2000 - 2005. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens
PETER PILLER, In Löcher blicken, 2000 - 2005. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens


Continuing with Independent Collectors, it seems that nowadays the world no longer needs a tool, or platform, for collectors to meet and talk. Social media fulfils that role very well. In a way, the concept of “collector” also gets devalued. Maybe the job of Independent Collectors is to give this concept new significance, new relevance?


At Independent Collectors we’ve always had the goal of opening up perspectives by showing as many different sides of collecting as we can. You’re totally right: We started as a closed community and then all these social media channels appeared. In the beginning we almost had no public section, but now, just a few months ago, we closed our last members’ section, because even our members are so much more interested in the public part of the website. Obviously the closed members area became irrelevant for them.

We started as a fully closed – or in other words “protected” – community and eleven years later we’ve completely changed. We’re now a 100 percent public website that no longer has any members area. This is something that has happened to private collecting in general, because when we started, we really had a lot of people who didn’t dare to declare themselves collectors and go public with that label, but now it’s the total opposite. That’s interesting. And eleven years is not a very long time.


Do you know why you have this need to own something?


I’m not very much interested in the process of “owning” any art – I’m obsessed with what art can do for me. My apartment has windows. But I regard all the artworks in it as additional windows. And these windows are there for looking out onto something. I’m the kind of guy who heavily reads about the artists, about their background, about their ideas and concepts. If I start to integrate something into my collection I always try to choose a specific piece to kind of represent the artist’s whole oeuvre. Not necessarily in an art-historical context but more in the sense that it has to work as an inspiring bookmark for myself – capable and willing to always remind me about all the different layers and meanings of the artist’s work in general. Even afterwards, when the artist develops and goes on and does other things. I might follow all of his or her work, but still this single work of art is my personal connection, my representation. Or, in other words: my window. Therefore living with art just doubles or triples the number of windows I have in my life.

(l–r) SLAVS AND TATARS, Dig the booty, 2012; Triangulation (Not Moscow Not Mecca), 2011. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens
(l–r) SLAVS AND TATARS, Dig the booty, 2012; Triangulation (Not Moscow Not Mecca), 2011. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens


Slavs and Tatars, whose works are in your collection, once said that for them the medium of art is “a language, a tool, a vehicle to educate ourselves and those who want to be with us.”


Slavs and Tatars are a great example of what can happen when you really let art into your life. I discovered their work for the first time in 2012 at “abc” (art berlin contemporary) and imagine: It all started with their books! I discovered some of those at a gallery booth and started to talk about them with Amadeo Kraupa-Tuskany and Nadine Zeidler, who just had founded their own gallery a few months before. So I looked at these books – eclectic melting pots which bring together the most diverse topics in a genius way, like some kind of a supermodern, printed “Wunderkammer” (cabinet of curiosities) – and really thought: whoever created these … they have to be crazy! To say that I was excited is not enough, I was speechless. After regaining my ability to articulate, Amadeo and I had the most inspiring dialogue about art in general and about Slavs and Tatars specifically.

A few weeks later I met Payam Sharifi (one of the co-founders of Slavs and Tatars) for the very first time. That happened in a conference room next to the gallery. There was a wooden table, maybe six metres long, and it was almost completely covered with books. Payam was sitting there and working. He told me that this was the moving library of Slavs and Tatars and that he had always been an intense book lover. He showed me some of the books and just by listening to him I realized that he was able to speak different languages very fluently: Persian, Russian, French, just to name a few. I confess that I’m still a bit jealous about this – a guy like him can walk into any antique bookstore around the world and will always be able to find something interesting and worth reading. A lot of things Payam and his partner Kasia found in countries like Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan finally found its way into their work … and so into my life too. Maybe it was this shared love for books which finally led to friendship.

This is another dimension that art opened up in my life, because friendship is priceless. Whatever you spend on buying artwork is not important compared to the experiences and maybe friends you find. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the kind of guy who would expect a personal relationship with an artist or with a gallerist after I bought something. But sometimes friendship emerges even though it started out as a professional connection – isn’t that wonderful?


You once said in an interview that only through Slavs and Tatars did you become aware of the relative narrowness of your Western orientation.


The most understandable example of that is a very easy one. Slavs and Tatars base their work on the three main narratives of the 20th century: capitalism, communism and Islam. I’ve always been a person who’s very interested in politics and international relations. I grew up during the Cold War, therefore I already knew something about capitalism and communism. And maybe since 1979, since the Iranian Revolution, also a little bit about Islam. But I never questioned my personal perspective as somebody who grew up in the West and I always looked on communism and Islam from this Western perspective.

Slavs and Tatars just draw this triangle between these three narratives. And I immediately became aware that I had absolutely no idea what happened between communism and Islam. How do people who grew up in Russia or in the former Soviet Union look at Islam? What did they think about the Iranian Revolution? What kind of relationships were going on? I had no idea. And this was a kind of epiphany again: It took not more than a simple triangle to make me become aware that I had completely missed out on one angle of it. That does something to a person and of course, it hopefully becomes an analogy for everything else in your life afterwards.

(l-r) DAVID HORVITZ, Mail Nothing to the Tate Modern, 2010; JONATHAN MONK, Contractual Piece 2008 - ongoing. 8th work (Nine posters of wall painting pasted onto nine paintings of walls), 2016. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens
(l-r) DAVID HORVITZ, Mail Nothing to the Tate Modern, 2010; JONATHAN MONK, Contractual Piece 2008 - ongoing. 8th work (Nine posters of wall painting pasted onto nine paintings of walls), 2016. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens


If someone were to look at your collection a hundred years from now, do you think they might be able to know what you thought about and what was important to you?


Oh, that’s a very hard question. Let me answer with another question: Would it be important to find out what I had thought about something?


… but maybe it would help someone make a more complete picture, because all of history is very fragmented, too.


That’s true. If I were an art-archeologist in the year 2119 and found this or any other collection, I would be first of all interested to look at these artworks, in order to find out whether they tell me anything about these former times that I didn’t already know. Let’s face it – probably the last thing I’d think about would be the collector him- or herself. But if it would have been an interesting collection it might help me to contextualize the art. Maybe that’s the greatest task of any collector: To create an interesting fragment (you could also say a snapshot) of time and space and then to become unimportant again. You know what I mean? Because if it’s a good fragment, it will explain itself.

What I love about private collections and what I love about Independent Collectors is this vast variety of very individual perspectives. I also love public museums – they do an indispensable job, but that’s a different world. There’s a German saying that you can’t compare apples with pears, because it’s a different kind of fruit. Private collections are a different thing because they’re based on this privilege we talked about already. But you’re totally right, private collections become fragments in time and space because of their curation.


Do you agree that all good art should end up in a museum?


No, why? Why should it? I would definitely say that all public museums should possess and protect relevant art. That I would underline as super important. The problem is that we don’t have enough museums to store all of this art. I forgot the exact numbers, but I recently read an interesting study that I found very astonishing: It said that in our Western societies approximately 95% of all public spendings that we invest in art goes into the preservation of old art. Something like that has never happened before in the history of mankind! On the contrary: over centuries most of the money went into the production of new art. Michelangelo was the new, contemporary art in his time, and it was pretty expensive to do the Sistine Chapel and projects like that. When you look at our museums today, most of them care for older works of art, old cultural artefacts and they have very, very little money for contemporary culture. Normally you wouldn’t talk about art from this point of view, and I find that interesting.

On the other hand: When I visit a big art fair such as Art Basel, I always think: oh my God, where will all of this art will end up? There are so many artworks and when we talk about Art Basel we’re already talking about the cream of the crop. I don’t have any numbers, but I’m guessing that we might be living in times where more art is produced than ever before. That might be a good thing but I also think that history will sort out a lot of things.

In my opinion art has slightly lost it's voice


FIONA BANNER, War Porn, 2004. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens
FIONA BANNER, War Porn, 2004. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens
FIONA BANNER, War Porn (detail), 2004. Courtesy The Weserburg Museum. Photo: Björn Behrens
FIONA BANNER, War Porn (detail), 2004. Courtesy The Weserburg Museum. Photo: Björn Behrens


That’s exactly what my last question is about. Right now, art is everywhere. Social media is full of art, almost everyone is going to museums, exhibition openings, biennials, art fairs, and at least buying a poster. Art is trendy now. But how strong is the voice of art itself in our society?


I actually think that it has become more quiet over the past decades. And let me answer in a bit more of a provocative way: In my opinion art has slightly lost its voice. I think we’ve had times, especially in the last century, in which art played a more important role. But it’s the same with music and it’s the same with films. I think that’s a really interesting phenomenon and right now we live in a time where almost all the creative disciplines have to work at regaining relevance.

I’m the kind of guy who never sees a thing as only good or bad. Everything has a price tag – therefore you always gain and you always lose something. Globalisation, digitalisation and the internet have led to a very open society. We have the chance to discover so much music, so many different kinds of art, so many different films … But, all of mankind is basically in a state of confusion right now. I’m extremely curious to see what’ll happen in maybe 10, 20 or 30 years. I can imagine that some of these art forms will celebrate their comeback, but before that they have to find their relevance again. They might still have a voice in small niches but right now I can’t see any really new, influential and moulding things.

Of course, there are some people who think that our world has become so complex that no form of art or music or creative discipline will ever have the chance again of becoming so important for so many people. But I really doubt that. Nowadays the new emerges out of the intersections of disciplines, where the most diverse disciplines cross and overlap each other. From my perspective the art world isn’t ready for this yet. People are still focussed way too much on the classical definition of what can or should be regarded an “artwork”. The good news is: there are still a lot of creative women and men out there – whether we’d like to call them “artists” or not – who don’t care about a specific niche, known as the “art world”. In a few decades we’ll see things in art museums which are produced today – without all of us being able to recognize them as art already.

Christian Kaspar Schwarm, Berlin 2019. Photo: Jana Gerberding
Christian Kaspar Schwarm, Berlin 2019. Photo: Jana Gerberding

Berlin (52)

You are the Concept

Private sessions with IC founder and strategist Christian Kaspar Schwarm.

Julia Stoschek

Sergej Timofejev in conversation with Julia Stoschek: one of the most active and famous collectors of time-based art.

Boros Bunker #4

This former techno-club has been home to the private collection and residence of Christian and Karen Boros.

haubrok projects

Lollie Barr meets collector Axel Haubrok in Lichtenberg

Wurlitzer Berlin-Pied-à-Terre Collection

Gudrun and Bernd Wurlitzer have created a space where artworks sit comfortably alongside signs of everyday life


Geraldine Michalke provides one of the most dynamic sites for aesthetic exchanges in Berlin

The Feuerle Collection

Désiré Feuerle has turned a site of isolation and paranoia into a place infused with humanity, lightness and sensuality

Ingrid & Thomas Jochheim

The collector couple describes the discovery process, which has led them to around 700 artworks to date, as emotional

ARNDT Collection

Tiffany Wood and Matthias Arndt aim to collect works that create disturbance

PRIOR Art Space

Oliver Elst and Laura del Arco have built significant collections, both individually and together

Elke and Arno Morenz Collection

A collection about seven postwar avant-garde movements

Collection Night

A new twilight initiative takes places in Berlin to bring private collections together in a special programme.

Warhol and Works on Paper

Editions and works on paper from The Dirk Lehr Collection.

Dirk Lehr Collection

A look inside the Berlin-based collection that refuses to follow trends.

Yvonne Roeb

Inside the studio of the artist with the unusual collection.

Christian Kaspar Schwarm “Young Collections”

Inside the constantly growing and unconventional collection of the IC co-founder.

The Vague Space

The continuously contouring art collection from Independent Collectors’ co-founder.

Boros Bunker #3

A look inside the belly of Berlin's most known World War II Bunker.

Gudrun & Bernd Wurlitzer

On the occasion of the sixth edition of Berlin Art Week, Gudrun and Bernd Wurlitzer will be opening up their home and private collection to the public.

Gudrun & Bernd Wurlitzer 2017

After the German reunion Gudrun and Bernd Wurlitzer witnessed the gallery scene in Berlin change dramatically.

me Collectors Room – Picha/Pictures

"Picha/Pictures – Between Nairobi & Berlin" at Berlin's me Collectors Room features artworks by Berlin-based artists and children that live in Kibera, East Africa’s largest slum.

How to Be Unique

An exploration of the interlacing of textual, structural, and lingual elements and painting with a special emphasis on their material manifestations.

Kuhn Collection

Offering a bright perspective of young contemporary art.

Archivio Conz x KW

Archivio Conz presents “Pause: Broken Sounds/Remote Music. Prepared pianos from the Archivio Conz collection” at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin.

Haus N Collection & ROCCA Stiftung

Two collections joined forces to create a unique cultural experience in an abandoned car dealership in Kiel, Germany.

Kuhn Collection I

This exhibition is the first in a series in which Michael Kuhn and Alexandra Rockelmann share works from the Kuhn Collection on IC.

Recording Memories

Mimi Kolaneci shares parts of his collection

Haus N Collection & Wemhöner Collection

ach, die sind ja heute so unpolitisch

STUDIO BERLIN – Boros Foundation x Berghain

We are here with insight into the seductive new Berlin happening, STUDIO BERLIN, with an interview with Karen Boros and Juliet Kothe, Artistic Directors of the project.

me Collectors Room Berlin/Stiftung Olbricht

My Abstract World

Haupt Collection

Dreissig Silberlinge

Désiré Feuerle

Publicly accessible private collection in an old bunker.

Lapo Simeoni

Collectors who have a special bond with Berlin.

Timo Miettinen

Finnish collector talks about the impossibility of ignoring Berlin’s relevance in today’s art world.

Kai Bender

Collectors who have a special bond with Berlin.

Olaf Schirm

Collectors who have a special bond with Berlin.

From Sponsorship to Authorship

Creative workshops for brands who want to become great story-tellers.

Manfred Herrmann

The Berlin based tax consultant Manfred Herrmann and his wife art historian Burglind-Christin Schulze-Herrmann have been collecting contemporary art for the last 30 years.

me Collectors Room – Private Exposure

For the fifth time, the Olbricht Foundation has invited London Metropolitan University students from the ‘Curating the Contemporary’ Master’s program in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery, to curate and develop an exhibition with works from the extensive art collection of Thomas Olbricht.


From a very early age, Pétur Arason enjoyed visiting artists in their studios with his father. Today, Arason has built up his own collection spanning more than 1 200 works.

Cindy Sherman – Works from the Olbricht Collection

Arguably one of the most important photographers of the late 20th Century, Cindy Sherman is not just a master of disguise but also a master at captivating her audiences.

Gute Kunst? Wollen!

Born into a family of textile merchants that spans over four generations and a long tradition of passionate art collecting Thomas Rusche’s passion for collecting art started early, with his first purchase at the age of 14. Over the years that followed, his passion for collecting has grown into a vast accumulation of 17th century Old Masters, contemporary painting, and sculptures.

Frisch Collection

The Berlin based couple, Harald and Kornelia Frisch, have been collecting idiosyncratic painterly and sculptural positions from different artistic generations free from market-based aesthetics since the 1960s.

Slavs and Tatars: Friendship of Nations

An exhibition from the Berlin-based collector Christian Kaspar Schwarm, featuring work from the art collective, Slavs and Tatars.


Female Artists from the Olbricht Collection at me Collectors Room, Berlin.

Barbara Klemm: Photographs

A new exhibition from the Berlin collector Werner Driller.

I Have Nothing Against Women But…

A look inside the exhibition “I Have Nothing Against Women but Can’t You Ring at Another Person’s Door”

Collection Regard

En Passant

To the patrons of tomorrow

Laurie Rojas on the future of art patronage and how to nurture enthusiasm for good art, worldly sensibility, curiosity, and connoisseurship.

A Travel Companion to access private art

What started off as an ambitious task back in 2012 to gather a world-wide list of the most exciting art collections, resulted in unique book that would radically increase the accessibility of private art to the general public.

The Rediscovery of Wonder

»Good art is rarely simple, but it is hardly ever incomprehensible, « says Christian Kaspar Schwarm, IC founder and avid collector who has never lost his excitement for complexity.