"Everything makes sense in hindsight."
In 2016, art collector Gil Bronner’s private museum will open in the run-down Düsseldorf district of Flingern in what used to be a glass factory. Since Bronner began planning his museum, Flingern has emerged as the city’s most exciting art district, which is surprisingly fitting considering Bronner’s collection itself was assembled without a master plan.
Photo: Stadt Düsseldorf
Gesine Borcherdt: Mr. Bronner, you buy artworks by Matthias Bitzer, Björn Dahlem, Paule Hammer, Gregor Hildebrandt, Alicja Kwade, Kris Martin, Tal R, Daniel Richter, Thomas Saraceno, David Shrigley, Johannes Wohnseifer: a colorful mix. Are you not a fan of collecting according to a certain concept?
Gil Bronner: I used to think sometimes that I was doing something wrong if I didn’t pursue a strategic path as would befit a collector. But I’m just not one to deliberate over my purchases. My main concern isn’t whether an artist will continue climbing a career ladder so that a work of art will later allow me to retire. Nor do I think that this line of reasoning is true to the spirit of art. If you took that to an extreme, art would be regarded purely as a commodity, as is the case today when artworks are flipped at auction. I consider this practice to be completely reprehensible. However, I do of course think it’s good when art that I bought at an early stage later increases in value. It’s certainly disingenuous for other collectors to act as if this aspect does not interest them at all.
In 2016 you will open your own museum in Düsseldorf: 1,700 square meters in a former glass factory in the Flingern district, within walking distance to new galleries and independent spaces. What will be shown there?
The idea is to showcase a continually changing permanent exhibition with works from my collection. A number of artists will work on-site: Thomas Kiesewetter is currently creating a sculpture for the roof terrace. Andreas Schmitten, who recently designed a bar for the Schmela Haus in Düsseldorf, is designing a site-specific work for the café. And the artist duo Justin Lower and Jonah Freeman are reconstructing their room installation “Artichoke Underground”, which was shown at Art Unlimited in 2013…
As a real estate developer, you’ve also opened up art sites for the city in the past—for instance an old factory and a bunker…
Yes, in 2006 I purchased the former Leitz Werke factory building, where office file folders used to be manufactured, in the Düsseldorf district of Reisholz. I installed ateliers for approximately 70 artists there, which are now inexpensively rented out via the city of Düsseldorf. I also have my own exhibition space there, Philara, which hosts approximately six shows a year, usually including artists from my collection, as well as new works, which I often buy after the exhibition. Just recently we showed a wonderful series of collages by Johannes Wohnseifer. The Youth Symphony Orchestra is relocating in the near future to the attic of the refurbished air-raid bunker on Gather Weg—the lower floors contain almost 100 rehearsal studios, which the city rents out to rock bands.
Johannes Wohnseifer – Das 20. Jahrhundert, 2014 (exhibition view). Courtesy Sammlung Philara, photo: Maria Litwa
Was property development the reason why you became involved in art?
No, my parents also collected art, albeit mostly classic modernist works, in particular Georg Grosz’s works on paper. So I grew up around art, but without any master plan. Hence I was a bit scattered when I later acquired my first artworks: a gouache by Erich Heckel here, an oil painting by Miguel Angel Campano there: I was 35 years old when I first began to engage with contemporary art. In comparison, [Martin] Kippenberger, for example, was streets ahead of me.
Your family history might at first encourage a grappling with the past.
Yes, my father was born in the Czech Republic in 1931. He spent the war in various hiding places there and in Poland. Afterwards he moved to Israel to study, where he met my mother, who herself was born there. She first went to Berlin at the end of the 1950s, in order to settle reparations for my father—he joined her later, and both decided to remain in Germany. Then the Wall was built and my father found a position in Düsseldorf. He is an architect—and architects are often, well, art aficionados.
Now you yourself work with houses—though you studied business in Cologne.
Yes, I was in East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall and I learned about renovating old buildings. At that point, of course, I also came into contact with the fields of art and creativity, chiefly because I was living in Leipzig in the 1990s. At that time, a great deal of new things were happening in art, which fascinated me. It’s a cliché, but the first painting I bought in 1998 as a collector of contemporary art was by Neo Rauch.
In Düsseldorf you’ll open your museum in a neighborhood that’s somewhat run-down, which is precisely why new galleries and art spaces find it so attractive.
That is correct. When I bought the old glass factory, however, that was not yet the case. It was coincidental that it was located there of all places, whereas today the location appears sensible. Also, I originally had no plans to construct a museum. When I finally decided to do it, I wanted to demolish everything and build anew. But then I stood in these wonderful rooms and I resolved to preserve them to a greater extent. This decision will probably lead to my ruin—but then, everyone has to go somehow. Then Linn Lühn moved her gallery to a neighboring building, and Kadel Willborn, Max Mayer, as well as Van Horn opened around the corner. In the interim, Flingern has become Düsseldorf’s most exciting art district. Though I approached all of this with no real strategy in place, everything makes sense in hindsight.
Translation: Sylee Gore