Collector interview: Berlin poor but crucial

Erika and Rolf Hoffmann open their collection in Berlin


Erika and Rolf Hoffmann moved to Berlin in March 1997 with their collection of contemporary art and hung it in part of their home, a former factory in the centre of Berlin. Their move and decision to open Sammlung Hoffmann to the public on Saturdays, was integral in the building of confidence with the Berlin contemporary scene. The Art Newspaper talked to Erika Hoffmann the month before the fourth Art Forum and the tenth anniversary of reunification.

Erika Hoffman: I think there will not be a sudden change of atmosphere or market with the return of parliament to Berlin because politicians are never interested in art.

Yet the appointment of Michael Naumann, federal government commissioner for cultural affairs and the media as the patron of Art Forum shows an interest in visual art?

This is a positive move, although it remains to be seen how much power he wields. Until now it was the regions, not the federal government, which had this cultural sovereignty, there has never been a minister for culture before. Mr Naumann has to cooperate closely with the senator for science, research and culture in Berlin, Peter Radunski.

There is also a sizeable financial commitment from the government.

The DM70 million from the federal government to fund the art collections in the Reichstag and other buildings was pledged long before Mr Naumann was in position. The DM130,000 from the city of Berlin almost seems small in comparison but the city of Berlin is poor. There is nearly no industry left here and Berlin was subsidised throughout the forty-five years of the Cold War. Now the city must become more independent and so the regions have cut their subsidies.

There has been a great deal of urban regeneration.

Many young people are moving here, this is most encouraging and this is what makes Berlin the most interesting city in Germany to live in at the moment. However, these young people are not collectors. The tradition of collectors and galleries in Berlin came to an abrupt halt when the Jews left. Even today, literature and music play a greater role in cultural values than the visual arts, according to a Protestant and Prussian tradition. Public money is spent mostly on opera.

Is there a new generation of collectors?

Yes, these are the young entrepreneurs, really driven by a desire to make something happen in Berlin. These new collectors probably all come from western Germany, a young generation settling here, succeeding in business and therefore having money to buy art. The normal people around here are much poorer than in western Germany. They have different priorities.

Do you think Art Forum is achieving its goal of being a specialised contemporary art fair?

Art Forum will have to struggle for many more years to establish itself as an important fair with its own identity—as Cologne and Frankfurt had to as well. Cologne has more Modern Master galleries whilst the oldest work of art at Art Forum is not more than thirty years old.

Can you tell me about the rehanging of your own collection this year?

We were conscious of the tenth anniversary of the Berlin wall coming down—which was a major factor in our move to the city two and a half years ago. We have put works dealing with Germany history, some referring to the period well before reunification and some referring to that seminal time of political change. We live in the very centre of Berlin where east and west entwine, and the reason why we decided to move here and open our collection was to share our experiences through art. We would be happy to think that we were taking part in the discussions of the basic spiritual values of our society.

What are you looking for at Art Forum this year?

Last year we found four major works, all in non-German galleries. This was astonishing; we certainly weren’t looking for them. We don’t have a wish list, although we are not completely spontaneous, we do think for three or four days before buying works.

o Sammlung Hoffmann, Sophie-Gips-Höfe Berlin, Sophienstrasse 21, 10178 Berlin, Tel: +49 30 284 991 21. Open by appointment