‘I was fortunate to discover Gerhard Richter very early on’

Triptych from Sigmar Polke shown in Baden-Baden for the 10th anniversary of the Museum  Frieder Burda. Source: DPA
A triptych from Sigmar Polke shown in Baden-Baden for the 10th anniversary of the Museum Frieder Burda in 2014.

Handelsblatt: Mr. Burda, you opened the Museum Frieder Burda in 2004. How are things going after 10 years?

Frieder Burda: First of all, I’m extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to build this museum in Baden-Baden. It’s located in Germany’s most beautiful park. We have had 36 major exhibitions and have had seen more than two million visitors to date. That’s an unbelievable number in this small city. I’d have to say that I am rather proud of my life’s work, the result of 40 years of collecting art.

What were the most popular exhibitions?

Marc Chagall brought in 192,000 visitors, The Blue Rider attracted 185,000 and (Emil) Nolde 155,000. Blockbusters like that are important to us.

Have all exhibitions been that successful? 

I was admittedly somewhat disappointed by the sculpture exhibitions. Sculptures, even those by (Alberto) Giacometti, I find generally less appealing to visitors than beautiful paintings, which are a completely different story.

Do you still have palpitations today, as you did before your first art purchase in 196, the slit painting by Lucio Fontana, which is in the anniversary exhibition?

I’ve become older, calmer and more levelheaded. I’m also more critical of painting in general. But even today, I still get very excited when I see a painting that I like. I was fortunate enough to discover Gerhard Richter very early on.

What does your luck consist of?

I immediately liked his painting style. We even became friends. It isn’t easy to make friends with artists. I was always very careful not to get too close to him, or to influence him in any way, as a collector.

Which paintings get your pulse going?

Many years ago, I saw Richter’s three-part townscape in the Abteiberg Museum in Mönchengladbach. I was so excited that my heart was racing, and it led to my attempt to buy the work.

Why do you feel that Richter’s “Townscape TR” is such a great painting?

You have to feel it. There’s no point in looking through catalogs to find the best painting. I have always been extremely enthusiastic about the paintings, and it gave me great satisfaction to be able to buy them.

When did you buy your first painting by Richter?

In the late 1970s. One of my art consultants suggested I invite the fabulous painter Gerhard Richter to dinner. Gerhard turned up with his then wife, Isa Genzken. I confess that I was still a little naïve at the time. I asked him if he’d be interested in painting the high-rise building and the printing plant in Offenburg for us (Burda laughs).

A commission!

Of course, Richter was annoyed and threatened to leave. He said: If that’s what you want, go to an art dealer. I don’t do commissions. I was sufficiently charming and eloquent to convince him to stay. We drank a few more glasses of wine, and the whole thing was forgotten.


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