My First Time

About the earliest influence––that galvanizing moment––that led to the most important personal purchase of a work of art.

Florian Illies

Getting irritated can be just as reliable a response to good art as getting excited. When I first saw this small red square painting by Günter Fruhtrunk at Art Cologne in the early 1990s, in the booth of the Milan-based Lorenzelli gallery, it not only irritated me, but quite literally insulted my sense of beauty. I had studied art history in Bonn and consequently loved the rich, abruptly glowing red of Pontormo and Caravaggio, which glows like lava pouring out of the depths of Vesuvius.

The cold red of Fruhtrunk, however, has something harsh and repellent about it, like a traffic sign: do not enter. But I never forgot it. A few years later I found the card for an exhibition at Lorenzelli’s with this exact red painting on it, and I couldn’t help but put it on the windowsill. I read that the picture was called Ursprung (Origin), and that it was painted in 1980, shortly before this great German painter, Günter Fruhtrunk, despairing of his own origins, took his own life. The card was with me for fifteen years, by which point its cold red had long since turned into a matte, almost-beautiful orange in the sun.

And then one day, incredibly, I saw that Ursprung had not only come closer to my sense of aesthetics, but was also closer to me geographically: the painting was in the Fruhtrunk exhibition at the Berinson gallery in Berlin. It was unbelievably expensive, but I had to buy it. I haven’t regretted it for a second, even though it continues to irritate me every day. It is still harsh, and the impact of its unfriendly red color remains sharp. But somehow I feel that this act of irritation quasi-informs its timeless quality, possibly even its origin.

 

Angelika Taschen

There are moments in life that are etched in the brain: like the first kiss or the first work of art you have acquired. I first came into contact with contemporary art in the mid-1980s, after moving to Cologne, having finished my studies in art history. It was certainly the best time to be living in Cologne, in the midst of an art boom. Luckily, I happened to live in an area where some good galleries had popped up (and where many artists lived as well). I didn‘t have any money, but looking doesn‘t cost anything. I saw the first Weltempfänger (World Receiver) by Isa Genzken and was completely electrified by it, but I was living hand to mouth.

A while later, I received my first modest paycheck and went to an exhibition of drawings by Raymond Pettibon. I‘d never heard of him but I was immediately excited by his work. Without giving it a second thought, I bought two ink drawings. I still live with them today, as well as with the Helmut Lang outfit I bought back then (though I am more like Marie Kondo and sort out almost everything), if only because I sensed a great intellectual behind the cut and minimalism. In the years following, I was lucky enough to meet the artists Pettibon, Genzken, and Helmut Lang in person. But it was their geist, their creative spirit, that I sensed in their work and recognized immediately without knowing a thing about them. That‘s the magic of art.

 

Michael Neff

Martin Kippenberger‘s 2 Spiegel (2 Mirrors) (1987) was the original crack that got me addicted to art, to understanding, to enlightenment, to eccentricity—basically to anything larger than my teenage bedroom at the time. 

It has remained so to this day. My teenage den has grown only marginally larger, but my love and appreciation for Kippenberger‘s work has remained at a consistent high. I bought the two-part work at the tender age of nineteen—and in the midst of the terrible struggle of finishing my high school exams—on one of my first visits to Art Basel. 

At the time, the price was 2000 DM. I didn‘t think it was that expensive, but I had to work hard for it in my father‘s factory—and in my eyes, it was totally worth it. It was also the first work of art to which my parents‘ response was to flip me the bird. Everyone in the family liked the Beuys multiples that I had acquired over and over again before that: in their eyes, Beuys was reputable.But it wasn't exactly beneficial to the culture war I wanted to start at that age. 

With the Kippenberger work, the barrier was transgressed—and the avant-garde could march into the Kurpfalz!

 

Lena Winter

When I was still in high school, I went to see art in Vienna with my parents. There we visited a former fellow student of my father in her atelier. Maria Hahnenkamp had

studied art alongside my father and worked as a sculptor. I was familiar with her work from an early age: it was delicate despite its vastness; it was subtly feminist and interdisciplinary in the classical sense, without obeying the rules.

It was the combination of opposites that also attracted me to this small
object, and immediately caught my eye: an imposing, filigree, golden frame enclosing a soft piece of plastic in white, the kind in which perfume bottles are usually embedded. No taller than fifteen centimeters, the artwork was quite literally shining throughout the studio. Maria Hahnenkamp then told me that she was already known in the city‘s drugstores as the artist who always asked the staff to show her the packaging of perfumes.

After basically begging for it, I was able to acquire it from her for 500 DM with an insane discount, using the last of my saved pennies. Since then, this delicate, auratic object is always displayed on the largest wall of my apartment—because it needs space to shine.

After holding positions at the auction houses Ketterer and Grisebach, art historian Lena Winter has been director of Messe in St. Agnes since the beginning of 2021.