Bernd Hummel is a man of many talents and a founder of many businesses. Living in Pirmasens, the shoe manufacturing capital of the world, one can already expect his ties with the industry. He is the founder of Bernd Hummel Holding GmbH, which holds several companies in the creative and shoe sector as well as real estate . Yet, he is mostly recognised in the shoe industry with his company “Flip Flop”. Hummel is also a wine connoisseur and has been collecting art for a significant amount of years. Ever since his first purchase, he has been enraptured with the act of exhibiting art at one of his owned establishments, which he purchased back in 1990; transforming it into a work and leisure activity centre with sports, cultural events and gastronomic delights.
Larry’s List had the chance to talk to Bernd Hummel while he explained the thrill of his first purchase and how he came to organise numerous art exhibitions ever since.
How long have you been collecting art?
I started 20 years ago.
What made you want to start collecting?
It happened by accident while I was visiting a gallery in Dusseldorf back in 1994. I purchased my very first acquisition from there too. It was a work by A.R. Penck. I was so pleased with the purchase that I decided with the gallery owner to organise an exhibition about the artist. The artist’s band even played for the opening. It took place in a special venue in my office building, which is over 120 years old. It was such a great experience I wanted to continue.
Also, the city itself is a great location for art exhibitions.
What is your focus regarding the artists in your collection?
I like Western artists; and Asian mainly Chinese modern artists.
How extensive is your collection?
Close to 100 pieces from approximately 50 artists.
Where do you hang or display your collection?
I hang the collection in my offices, Exhibition Hall at Neuffer am Park and in my home. I alter the pieces around from time to time between rooms and the warehouse.
Have you ever shown your art collection to the public? If not, will you in the future?
I have only done short term so far, but we intend to have a 20 year Celebration Exhibition this year.
What is the centrepiece of your collection?
I would say a piece by Yue Minjun (see above). It was part of an exhibition titled “Der Rest der Welt”, which I organised with Alexander Ochs Galleries in my building in 2003. This show exhibited only Asian artists featuring Yue Minjun, Cui Guotai, Xao Bing and Fang Lijun. A majority of the artists on display came to the vernissage. It was one of the first really big shows of contemporary Asian art in Germany and I felt very proud of being part of it. And I ended up keeping that one piece by Yue Minjun.
In the many shows that followed this exhibition, we have showcased Lüppertz, Immendorff, Elvira Bach, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, James Ritzi, Mel Ramos.
Do you rely on art advisors? If not, how else do you make your decisions concerning purchases?
I trust my own judgment, by visiting art exhibitions and galleries, talking to gallery-owners, artists and other people. I buy what I like. I never acquire art purely for investment.
What do you look for in an artwork?
I don’t really look for any specific elements. I may tend to prefer new artistic styles, which I have never seen before. Also, if I talk to an artist, I may end up having a special interest in his/her works. But in the end, I don’t search – I find.
Being the owner of numerous companies in the shoe industry and in the real-estate business, your timetable must be demanding. How do you find the time to look at art and inform yourself about it?
It is a relaxing part from my day-to-day work. When I travel, I try to visit exhibitions and galleries. Additionally, having the benefit of owning the Exhibition Hall next to the reception hall of my offices, I have the opportunity to enjoy various artists’ works almost every day.
What motivates you to collect art?
It’s a personal enjoyment. It is also a great feeling to see how much my family and my friends like to see my art, so I want to share this experience.
Do you have a mission in regards to your collection?
No mission, no plan. I just want to share the collection with family and friends for them to enjoy.
Where do you go to discover artists?
I go to international galleries, art shows, and of course through reading magazines.
Have you ever made any collecting mistakes during your collecting career?
Not really! There isn’t one piece I don’t like anymore. I may have sometimes overpaid for certain pieces I have acquired, but this does not change my attitude towards collecting.
What do you think is the most frustrating or enjoyable aspect about art collecting?
The most enjoyable aspect about collecting for me is when you buy a piece of art and then realise in the following years that the artist’s market price has gone up. You then feel proud to have selected this piece at such an early stage.
The most frustrating thing about collecting is when artists reach the peak of their career and their prices are ranked incredible high and you wouldn’t want to buy anything else at such a price. Yet, the amazing thing is to own some of those high-worth pieces and thus possessing the upper hand in deciding whether to sell them or not.
Did you ever orchestrate an art project for your company/ brand?
We do that every year in our Exhibition Hall.
What is your proudest moment in art collecting?
To open the show “ Der Rest der Welt” in 2003 in my building, which exhibited great Asian artists. They all went on to become very famous (and expensive) in the following years.
What is your advice to young and fresh collectors?
Have fun. Follow your heart and instincts. If you want to collect art for investment and profit reasons – I have no advice.
Why did you open the Kunsthalle am Neuffer?
I liked the idea of showing modern art in an ancient building, and since it worked out so well, I did not want to stop.
Was it a space issue at home?
Luckily, we live in a loft which was built in a very old shoe factory with very high ceilings (4 meters high) and big rooms.
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The artists he owns: