One element of Carsten Höller’s ‘Giant Triple Mushroom’ (2009) at the Pool show in Zurich
One element of Carsten Höller’s ‘Giant Triple Mushroom’ (2009) at the Pool show in Zurich

“Inviting somebody else to delve into your art collection could be uncomfortable. But young curators can reactivate and re-energise how you see your art,” says Maja Hoffmann, the Swiss pharmaceutical heiress. Hoffmann, one of Europe’s most high-profile and prolific contemporary art collectors, is a key player in a guinea pig project that could change people’s perceptions about private collectors, and how they accumulate art.

The new “Pool” initiative allows emerging curators to organise shows at Luma Westbau in the Löwenbräu Art Complex in Zurich, drawing pieces from the collections of international patrons. The first exhibition in the series (Some a Little Sooner, Some a Little Later, until August 18) includes works from the holdings of Hoffmann and the Zurich-based media magnate Michael Ringier.

The first curatorial fellow of “Pool” is Gabi Ngcobo, an independent curator based in Johannesburg. In 2010 she co-founded the Center for Historical Re-enactments, a Johannesburg-based collaborative art platform for research and discussion. She explained to The Art Newspaper why the “Pool” scheme is weighty, emphasising that her “practice has thus gained a layer in that I have been in close contact with perhaps two of the most formidable collections of art primarily from the West”.

Reaction to the initiative has been positive in the main. “I don’t see a problem with it, although of course the pool of what is collected and hence available to curate from depends on the genuine eye of the collectors, and not purchasing trends,” says the Turner-prize nominated artist Dexter Dalwood.

The works on show throw some light on Ringier and Hoffmann’s eclectic taste, and, at times, astute approaches to buying art. Hoffmann’s works stand out: Carsten Höller’s “Giant Triple Mushroom”, 2009, is a show-stopper. Gallows humour abounds in Urs Fischer’s “abC”, 2007, another engrossing work, which shows a fragile bird suspended on a rock, its head placed in a chain as if awaiting execution in a hangman’s noose.

Whenever private collectors exhibit their works, they almost always face the charge that showcasing their works in a formal gallery setting may raise the value of their stock in both a critical and commercial sense. Hoffmann’s agenda though is clearly defined. “If you have a private collection, you need to be generous. It’s not just a question of ownership. I’m interested in creating a public discussion around the works,” she stresses.

Maja Hoffmann
Maja Hoffmann

Her non-profit cultural organisation, the Luma Foundation, is very much driving the “Pool” scheme by hosting and producing the exhibition in its new space at Luma Westbau. After various glitches, including delays over planning permission, the foundation is also moving ahead with plans to open a Frank Gehry-designed art and research centre in the Parc des Ateliers in Arles, southern France.

Artists represented in Ringier’s collection include Fiona Banner, Rosemarie Trockel, Mike Kelley and Sean Landers. The collector is also keen on Wolfgang Tillmans, with at least two works on show in Zurich by the German photographer including “Gold (c)” (2002). The art market darling Cindy Sherman also features prominently: “Untitled #219” (1990), is on view in Zurich, while Ringier also owns “Untitled #75”, (1980). Significantly, he states on his company website: “Getting involved with art is a kind of training for making decisions in business.”

“There is a poetic ping-pong between the two collections,” says Beatrix Ruf, the director of the Kunsthalle Zurich, who devised the “Pool” blueprint (often bedecked in black, Ruf looks stern and fiercely intellectual; in reality, she is warm and very funny). When asked whether “Pool” validates private collections (public museum collections still represent for many the pinnacle of art world respectability), she says: “The relationship between the private and public fields has been reconfigured in the past 20 years. Curators need role models to help re-evaluate the contract that has to be continually negotiated with the public.”

The most over-used word? Emma Flake’s take on curating from the New Yorker, October 2012

Andrew Renton, professor of curating at Goldsmiths College, University of London, describes how the dynamic is changing, as patrons become more prominent in the art world ecosystem: “There has been an erosion of hierarchy between the public and private sectors with regards to collecting. However, private collectors are less impeded by obligations to a broader public.”

Influential European private collectors are finding new ways to make their mark in the art world, with some muscling into the curatorial domain. The Neon Curatorial Exchange and Award, operated in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery, London, invites fledgling curators to draw from the collection of the Greek collector Dimitris Daskalopoulos. Meanwhile, the Turin-based collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo has founded her own Young Curators’ Residency Programme. Other collectors are also being lined up to participate in “Pool”.

Renton, who is also director of Marlborough Contemporary gallery in London, underlines why “Pool” matters, pinpointing why the term “curating” can be a turn-off. “We are living in an age of curating, which seems to be the most overused word in our vocabulary,” he comments, clearly impassioned. “We may ask who benefits most from this initiative, but I’m most interested in the possibilities that emerge from it. What is new is the recognition that curators should be supported.”


‘Some a Little Sooner, Some a Little Later’, Luma Westbau, Zurich, until August 18.

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