Ronald Harder & Michael Kaufmann | art collectors

It was natural for the director of the viennese gallery Ernst Hilger Michael Kaufmann to start collecting art, as he was fascinated by it since he was a student. Together with his fiancée Ronald Harder they started the exhibition project “Spielzimmer” and show young artists in the basement of their apartment and I visited them to find out more about the project and their passion for art.

Michael when did you start buying art? You are working in the gallery, did you study art as well?
No, I studied spatial planning and spatial research, but I was maintaining one of the big collections in Vienna during my studies. Through this collection I started to get the groove and be interested. When I finished my studies, I started working in a gallery by accident. It was a plan for one year, to take a break between my Master and my PhD – this is now ten years ago (laughs). I really got caught by the art and the people… I really enjoy working in this industry. I think another job wouldn’t give me this satisfaction of creating something with the artists, of meeting interesting people.

What was the first piece you bought for yourself?
A sculpture by Oskar Bottoli which I saw in the gallery Ernst Hilger. It is a really nice sculpture in bronze — a deconstructed body of a woman. I saw it and fell in love, and I paid my boss in installments – that was my first self-bought piece.

Is there a plan you follow when buying new pieces, or is it more impulsive?
In general, we try to buy from young artists. I am generating my income out of this community, and I really want to give something back. I think when you give a young artist 500 Euro, 1000 Euro, the multiplier effect is way bigger than wiring 10.000 Euro to an established artist. Acquiring a piece is very impulsive. Recently, we started to talk about it more. Before I saw it, I bought it, I found a way to finance it – sometimes in instalments of 200 Euros a month. Now we only buy if we’re both a hundred percent into the piece.

So how does the conversation go, who makes the decision?
It’s always the question, ‘Do we really need it?’, and I say ‘Yes!!!’ (laughs). Our walls are now full, and we already have some pieces standing around, so we are trying to find a new way to support the community. It’s not always by buying, there’s so much more you can do for young artists. Our project is really more about networking…

Tell me more about the project. How did it start?
The first exhibition we did was with Asgar/Gabriel, because we have been collecting them since the beginning, we have pieces from all periods. We invited some friends for a cookie evening before Christmas.  We have this 60 square meters“Spielzimmer” with a pool table in our basement which we’re not really using, since we’re both bad pool players and bad losers. The people who had been to this evening were so happy, we started to think about how we can do this on a regular basis. Now we do it every three months and invite curators, art-critics and journalists as well. The second show was a presentation of Jakob Kirchmayer and Asunta Abdel Assim Mohammed, who we got to know via the project room of  Ernst Hilger in the 10th district. Both of them were doing drawings and trying to find a psychogram of young society, so it fit together. It was also featured by Vienna Art Week last year, who invited us to be part of their program. This year we presented Mario Lipus, who did a documentary series about the KZ in which his Carinthian/Slovenian grandmother was murdered as well as Julia Fuchs, a young artist who just graduated from the academy. She’s working on a queer topic, about power in naked portraits. In the history of nude portraits, the power was always with the painter or the photographer. She made a series where she tried to give back the power to the models, about how they want to be presented. She has a big mirror in the studio, they get naked or half-naked, she is in the picture – but the model is the person who completely rules the image. In my studies I was researching Queer Theories a lot. Queerness – even interpreted as being gay – is something very important to me. But the theory has a bigger, more open idea about queer. It’s not only about sexuality. Queerness can also be like our relationship, we are queer age-wise. It can be about race, ethnics, everything which doesn’t fit into the classic heteronormative gaze and or is subversive. For me, queer art doesn’t have to be related to sexuality. We have some paintings which are really showing the subversion of painting – that’s queer for me. We went through it last week and thought, yeah, it’s kind of a queer collection.

What else touches you in an artwork and triggers you to buy it?
Sometimes we are fascinated by the technique, sometimes by the image, or by the concept behind it. We don’t want to put ourselves in a box. I know some collectors are very strict. We have some minimal art, we have some super kitschy stuff – it’s more about emotion. It has to catch us.

What does your collection tell about you? Does it reflect you as a person, as a couple?
We would say yes. We both are very different but open-minded, very emotional – and we think the collection is reflecting our emotions. This is also the most important thing about collecting, about buying art, we think. It’s the emotion you get, which a Prada or Louis Vuitton handbag doesn’t give you. It also becomes more and more important to build up a connection with the artists. Those who are based in Vienna or Europe are finally becoming friends. We’re catching up with them, just asking ‘How are you, what’s your next project?’ It’s about this relationship, about following the artist.

Let’s talk about Vienna. I feel there are more and more young people getting involved in the art scene. What is your take on this?
We agree. Just yesterday we were at a birthday of an artist we met. He’s also doing a project in his private apartment. He is a bit more rigid, because he’s completely emptying his living room for the show – that’s commitment (laughs). He also said he needs to live with art, and we think if you are in the industry, you must have this passion.

Michael has Vienna’s art scene and its mood changed in the last years?
I think it changed in a very good way. These private initiatives and off-spaces give artists a chance which they wouldn’t get in a commercial gallery. To show a young artist fresh from the academy is a risky gamble for a gallery – you don’t know how the art world will react, and you produce a catalogue and give away the space of the gallery for the exhibition etc. I have this discussion from time to time, why it is so difficult – people don’t understand how much a gallery has to invest to make a sale of an emerging artist… especially in the last years, when the market is really going towards investment-only, big names and high prices. It’s good to have these small initiatives, because they also give the galleries a chance to go to the opening and see the reactions, and to get to know artists they wouldn’t get to know otherwise.

Vienna was selected to be the best place to live for eight years in a row, why do you think that is?
There are many reasons. We’re still in a safe place, public transport and social security are perfect. We read the analysis, and for example that you can drink our tap water is also one of the reasons. We have an amazing cultural program – not only art, but theater, music, everything.

Where do you take your art-lover visitors in Vienna?
We take the classic tour through the first district – Opera, Kärntnerstrasse, Stephansdom, Graben, and the Kunsthistorische Museum which we both love… If they are here for the second time, we ask them what kind of art they’re interested in and look for an exhibition at Albertina, Kunsthalle, mumok – we have so many institutions presenting such a wide variety of art, we can decide person by person. We love taking tourists to Loos Bar, it’s our after work drink-living room. We also like Future Garden. We love to cook at home, and we get our stuff at Brunnenmarkt – we pay half than what you would pay at the touristy and overcrowded Naschmarkt. But we are also critical of the development at Brunnenmarkt, it became very hipster – so we’ll see.

During viennacontemporary they will present works by Patrick Roman Scherer at their private space.  Thursday 21.09.17 | 19.00-22.00 (drinks) and Saturday 23.09.17 | 10.30-13.00 (brunch). Please contact:

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Save the Date
21 – 24 September 2017
Marx Halle Vienna


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