Independent Collectors

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.

David Horvitz, Give Us Back Our Stars, 2014. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens, Courtesy of the artist, ChertLüdde and Private Collection, Berlin
David Horvitz, Give Us Back Our Stars, 2014. Installation view at the Weserburg Museum, Bremen. Photo: Björn Behrens, Courtesy of the artist, ChertLüdde and Private Collection, Berlin

A Letter by Laurie Rojas

I address you, dear patrons of tomorrow, inspired by the art critic Clement Greenberg, who famously wrote that avantgarde art is tied to the bourgeoisie by an »umbilical cord of gold.« At a time when modern global society is experiencing war on the doorstep of Europe, an endless global pandemic, and rising inflation and unemployment, it should come as no surprise that this unprecedented uncertainty overwhelms all creative minds­—those who are the most vulnerable in times of crisis. That is why, if it is to survive, your unique assets are of utmost importance for the future of artistic production.

I will not supply rules of ethics and codes of conduct, as has become fashionable in collecting discourse; I will leave it to other experts to monopolize the advice of the business of collecting. I will rather engage in nurturing your enthusiasm in supporting good art, your worldly sensibility, curiosity, and connoisseurship, just as I would do for any aspiring art critic.

When the image of the next five years is obscure, when the market confidence in emerging artists is faltering, what is to be done? Seek out the expression of the imagination and support practices with a sense of artistic possibility and the determination to express it as forcefully and distinctly as possible. Only a few dozen artists fit this bill at any given moment—this is perhaps the biggest minority to be found—but nourishing a strong aesthetic sensibility in times of tumultuous transformation is necessary, for when art appears the least relevant, it might be the most needed. Patrons and critics need to support the art ecosystem as it evolves: to encourage independent and critical thinking, to promote freedom, and to champion ambitious works with aesthetic power, as well as the resources that grant artists and critics free time and autonomy.

Where to begin?

Patronage models are slow in evolving and sometimes last a century or more. The first major world-historical change in patronage was during the Renaissance, which granted ­artists freedom from having to produce propaganda or decoration for the Church and State, their only patrons for centuries. The crisis of old institutions in the late Middle Ages paved the way for the emergence of a new class of wealthy, educated individuals who became patrons of artists and thinkers, epito­mized by the Medici in Florence. It was a world-historic crisis that opened-up the possibility for artists to emancipate themselves from the guilds, therefore allowing them to become more autonomous and yet more meaningfully entrenched in society as a whole.

The autonomy of art, aesthetically and in terms of its subject matter, was founded on a new social situation for artists and intellectuals. After the modernization of the world, the French and American Revolutions, this autonomy became more vigorous. The art historian and critic TJ Clark treats Jacques Louis David’s Death of Marat (1793) as the exemplification of a master­piece that became unhinged from aristocratic patronage and joined the masses in the streets during the French Revolution. The painting epitomizes the further development of freedom and autonomy of art in modernity, while also becoming a new form of public address.

The social condition of art in modernity is that art must continu­ally remake itself in a world that is constantly changing. This is why the new is rarely new, but the old in distress, because art is the most affected in a world that is constantly changing, it wants to continually remake and rethink itself. But this is also why the 19th-century German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller would call art the daughter of freedom, and Theodor Adorno would call art the ambassador of freedom in the late 1960s.

How does art patronage help to gradually move towards more artistic freedom? By granting artists and thinkers autonomy and access to a sustainable ecosystem. For example, the Knight Foundation, which operates in American cities such as Detroit and Miami, supports not only big institutions but grassroots organization and individual projects on the quality of the idea and allows for those who are already active in the community to do more, for gallery and non-gallery affiliated artists to create artworks, but freely, without political agendas. Beyond artworks and art commissions, the Knight Foundation supports a wide range of initiatives: from staff positions and operating support to technology-driven projects, from sustainability of artists residencies to digital commissions, and everything in between.

A major vanguard of holistic patronage models has formed around Latin American art collections, which have diversified their support of the art ecosystem. The New York based Vene­zuelan philanthropist Patricia Phelps de Cisneros not only sits on the board of major American and European museums and donated works to their collections, but has been experimenting with ways of creating a bilingual (Spanish and English) and profoundly inclusive patronage model. The foundation supports conservation initiatives for Latin American modern masters, while also hosts online debates and public conversations that engage intellectually rigorous topics with artists, curators, and critics.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian collector Pedro Barbosa in São Paulo, beyond supporting individual artists and a decades-long effort to create a major archive on ephemeral media, artists’ books and performance art, the coleção moraes-barbosa has fostered transatlantic artistic and curatorial initiatives, created artist and curator/critic residencies and exhibition spaces focused on performance art, which welcome curators, artists and critics to experiment and continually remake its collection displays.

The art patrons of tomorrow can, just like critics, reflect on how art can herald a time of new humans that are self-determining, have freedom of the imagination and spontaneity, and are thus open to possibilities that in the present seem foreclosed.

About the author:
Laurie Rojas is an independent art critic and lecturer based in Berlin and Miami. In addition to her writing on criticism, museums, art market, and exhibitions, she has also lectured on the history of art and its relationship to politics. She is the former senior editor of Spike Art Magazine, where she organized and moderated a panel on Cancel Culture. She founded the new art and criticism publication, Caesura, a non-academic publication dedicated to art, poetry, and criticism. Her writing has been featured in The Art Newspaper, Artsy, Artnet, Artforum, Chicago Art Criticism, Time Out Chicago, The Nation, The New Yorker, Sotheby’s Magazine, Arts of the Working Class, Kunst und Auktionen, among others.

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.

Art is a Window – Christian Kaspar Schwarm

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

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

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.