Hans Grothe

Tycoon Proposes Art Museum for Trier

Trier.Dieter Jacobs
Trier is proud of its antique history. The site of the city's Roman thermal baths is where Hans Grothe has proposed building a new museum to combine antique and contemporary art.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Hans Grothe’s idea comes as the city in western Germany is attempting to deal with pressing financial concerns.

  • Facts


    • Mr. Grothe wants to build an art hall on a site owned by the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, give the gallery to the city of Trier and then rent it back.
    • The museum would house both exhibits from late Roman antiquity as well as 10-15 contemporary artworks from Mr. Grothe’s collection.
    • The plan, in preliminary stages of development, would include another building, for condominiums or a hotel that could earn money and help support the gallery’s upkeep.
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Without passion and business acumen, Hans Grothe would have become neither an art collector nor a building tycoon.

The importance of combining these two traits is something that the contractor has shown a handful of art institutions in recent years, most recently at the Kunstmuseum Bonn. In the same spirit, he’s now made an offer to the southwestern German city of Trier that proposes a new art museum to house works on permanent loan.

Mr. Grothe wants to build a 1,500-square-meter (16,100-square-foot) art gallery, give it to the city and then rent it back, providing Trier, so richly endowed with antique art treasures, a place for contemporary art.

“Naturally, an art gallery with modern art would fit in well with us. ”

Wolfram Leibe, Mayor of Trier

“My idea is that Trier combines 10 exhibits from late Roman antiquity with 10 to 15 selected permanent loans from my collection,” Mr. Grothe told Handelsblatt.

He is also considering a gallery in Düsseldorf, complete with 20 works by German painter-sculptor Anselm Kiefer. But Mr. Grothe’s idea of mixing contemporary and Roman art is special for Trier.

Although he sold a major part of his art collection that had long been in the custody of the modern art museum in Bonn in 2005, he still has a small portfolio for Trier, including works by the German contemporary painters Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz, Jörg Immendorff and A.R. Penck.

The gallery in Trier would cost between €3 million and €3.5 million ($3.4 million-$4 million). Mr. Grothe also envisions another building with condominiums or a hotel that could earn additional money. The net proceeds, minus the customary costs, would go to the gallery’s upkeep. The works from his collection would be on loan for a period of 25 to 30 years.

Mayor Wolfram Leibe says he is open to the idea of a new art museum for Trier.

“Trier is not only a former Roman imperial city with historical monuments from a glorious epoch. We are also a vibrant and modern university city with 20,000 students, and we enjoy an attractive art and cultural scene,” he said. “Naturally, an art gallery with modern art would fit in well with us.”

Plans recently disclosed in the local media, however, show that there hasn’t been much progress yet. Mr. Grothe hasn’t yet spoken to the current mayor, though he did speak to his predecessor.

The museum idea could get complicated for Trier because Mr. Grothe has his eye on a “fantastic prime location” directly across from the imperial thermal baths, said Hans-Günther Lanfer, the city’s media officer.

The site is owned by the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and is being used by the police. Moreover, the parcel is being considered as the location of the fire department’s main station. Mr. Grothe apparently would need to speak to the state about a possible deal and price for the property.

“I am not a patron,” Mr. Grothe said. “It’s simple mathematics.”

The payment for the property, he says, would be the gallery.

If the deal with the state is too succeed, Trier will have to determine whether Mr. Grothe’s plan is viable. The highly-indebted city has 110,000 inhabitants, including 3-4,000 refugees at the moment.

Other medium-sized cities suffering under precarious financial situations are seriously considering closing down their art museums. A dramatic example is Leverkusen in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In the same state, Bergisch-Gladbach is also trying to cut costs at its chronically-underfinanced Museum Villa Zanders. The liberal Free Democratic Party recently demanded that it be sold. The Left party has called it the “euro-pit Villa Zanders.”

So is the timing right for Mr. Grothe’s museum idea in Trier? Perhaps not, if the situation remains anything like it was in 1987. Back then, the city was bequeathed the Martin Schunk art collection, with the proviso that it be put on display. But Trier wasn’t in a position to put the modern art permanently on display, and the city subsequently gave back that portion of the collection.


Christiane Fricke writes about art and business for Handelsblatt. To contact: fricke@handelsblatt.com

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