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Impassioned collector and founder of Baden Baden's celebrated contemporary art museum, Frieder Burda shares his prized collection and a love for art.

Frieder Burda is an art collector motivated solely by his love for art. The second son of a father who was a publisher, printing house proprietor and senator, Burda entered the printing business and turned his commercial savvy towards creating a flourishing business and, in turn, began collecting art on a serious scale. Almost 800 works later, the Museum Frieder Burda was opened in Baden-Baden in 2004 in a Richard Meier-designed building. The inspiring and wide-ranging collection of Frieder Burda spans the 20th century right up to our day, with a primary focus on Germanic art, but with major works by Picasso, Pollock and Miró among others adding to the modernist mix, it is not afraid to embrace other genres and eras. A recent exhibition, The Emperors' Artists – From Dürer to Titian, from Rubens to Velázquez, with this year’s special exhibitions including a Georg Baselitz retrospective and another on Der Blaue Reiter art movement, attest to the diversity and power of one man’s personal passion.


What was the first piece of art that you personally bought? What attracted you to it?
The starting point of my passion for paintings was the Documenta in 1968. I stumbled upon a red painting by Lucio Fontana with three slits. Its title was “Concetto Spaziale”. I was so fascinated by this painting that I absolutely had to buy it. This was the beginning of my collection. My first acquisition was an unbelievable experience. The purchase of a minimalist and iconoclastic work like the Fontana painting was, to a certain degree, my individual revolution. I wanted to provoke my father. I failed to do so, however.

What attracts you to acquiring art?
One is not born an art collector. It is a passion that develops over the years. In fact, many of my acquisitions are still made with a pounding heart. This is hard to explain. Collecting is a passion. That is why initiating children into the world of art is an absolute necessity for me. Teaching art, music and theatre at an early age provides the basis for developing a stable, creative and open-minded personality, for appreciating culture as enrichment of one’s life. It was for this reason that I founded the Children’s Art Factory, a kind of art workshop for children. The teaching method is based on the typical learning habits of children, which takes advantage of the imitative instinct and natural use of all the senses, as well as the child’s curiosity and the urge to discover. Playful teaching counteracts passive behavior. It strengthens the children’s self-confidence, imagination and capacity to communicate. I want to introduce as many people as possible to the world of art, but children are particularly close to my heart.

How do you explain your passion for collecting to people who don’t understand?
Culture needs personal commitment, art needs passion. Nothing would really work without passion. Several years ago, I saw an interview with the German tennis player Steffi Graf on TV. It was on a beach in California, on a wonderful sunny day. Gazing at this wonderful spot, with the waves breaking on the beach, the journalist asked her if she couldn’t imagine building a house here. Steffi Graf answered without hesitation: “ No, not a house but a tennis court.” This is passion!

Has it always been your ambition to share your passion with the public in form of a museum?
At a certain point in my life I realized that my collection had become too large and too comprehensive to keep it for my own personal enjoyment. I entered a difficult stage in which I had to consider what to do with my paintings. Selling was impossible, not after having collected them for over 30 years. Besides, it is very difficult for a collector to part with his or her paintings. Nearly all my paintings have their own individual history and setting in my life. It was approximately 12 years ago that a plan to build my own museum to house the collection began to take on definite shape.

Who is your ultimate art hero, or at least your favorite artist?
I have no ultimate art hero or favorite artist. Artists are similar to children in this respect: I don’t like to play favorites with them. Though Gerhard Richter, a friend of mine for many years, is undoubtedly one of the really great artists of our time.

What contemporary artist is arousing your interest right now?
I could certainly name such outstanding painters as Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz or Sigmar Polke. However, for the last three years I have been devoting myself more and more to purchasing works by the younger painter generation. I am very enthusiastic about the German art scene. I recently bought a great painting by the Berlin artist Corinne Wasmuht. Or works by Heribert Ottersbach, Tim Eitel, Karin Kneffel and some others.

Have the evolution of the art market, the exponential increase in prices, and the increasing rarity of good works, made collecting more difficult to maintain?
Personally, I think the art market hype is unhealthy. How is it possible that a piece of painted canvas is sold for 70, 80 or 100 million dollars? That doesn’t make sense and I try not to get caught up in that sort of thing. People buy art thinking they can make a lot of money in a short amount of time. And every single day, the media tell us about another painting that was purchased for 1,000 euros and then resold for one million. This is seductive, but it very seldom works out that way. I am wary about buying art merely as an object of speculation. This trend won’t last forever. Already, we are seeing signs of a correction in the market.

If you could own any work of art, what would that dream piece be?
My museum in Baden-Baden is my dream. And it is a dream that has already come true. I can say, in all honesty, that art has made me a happy man.

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