Michael Neff, How to collect art, KÖNIG GALERIE

After reflecting for a long time on the question of why I collect art, I arrived at the following conclusion: I don't know. I don't know anything but art. I also can't do anything but art.

Well, I am able to tell a Renault from a Rolls Royce. And I do know where the front and back of a sweater are. After all, that’s why they insert that annoying note on the collar. And when it comes to my husband at home, I also know where the front and back are. But why does someone collect art?

I always fall in love with a work of art quickly. It already starts with the reproduction. Sometimes I even think that a work was made especially for me. Of course, this cannot be true in the case of Pablo Picasso, Claes Oldenburg, or Richard Artschwager. But with regard to a Günther Förg, I sometimes think that the man must have made it for me, and so I must (be able to) buy it. Falling in love with a work can be a problem (Picasso) and cause stress (Cady Noland), but often it is also great fun (Friedel Dzubas).

I cannot imagine a life without collecting art. The question of whether or not I should buy art does not even arise. The only question is when to buy art, where, and how much.

Summer holidays are always the worst time for me. The whole world seems paralyzed. Galleries open only half-heartedly, auction houses sell handbags or beach photos, and collectors are busy inflating their air mattresses or looking for new beach houses abroad. During summer, nobody seems to thinks of art. I almost always die of thirst during this time; for collecting is an addiction, not just for me. Looking around in my warehouse, I’m often amazed that I managed to crack so many tricky deals and could afford so many works of art (while still being able to pay for gas in cash). My amazement is mixed with joy and pride.

I also don't collect strategically. My activities are not determined by what's hot right now, and what’s not. Having your nose in the wind (rather than the ear!) is the prerequisite for a good collection. I always collect up and down in an artist’s life. If I am convinced of an artist, I loot their entire oeuvre. I slip into the artist's life, as it were, and buy (almost) everything that comes my way and that I can afford. I’m pretty certain other collectors feel similarly. 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for what afflicts collectors. None of us has any problems with space, since we all have a warehouse. Should one encourage young people to collect? Absolutely. Should one warn them about it? Absolutely not.

There is only one life, either with or without art. There is no third possibility.


Michael Neff has been for 30 years in the art-dealing business, first as a gallery owner and now as a consultant. He has worked for and helped establish many collections such as the Deutsche Bank Collection. He founded the Frankfurt Fine Art Fair and paved the way for the abc Fair.

In Berlin, he was one of the co-initiators of the city’s Gallery Weekend and worked as creative director at the auction house Grisebach. For many years, he has also managed the artistic estate of Günther Förg on his own, and now he does so in collaboration with Hauser & Wirth.