GEORG DIEZ: You do not seem like a collector.
FRITZ RADDATZ: How do collectors seem?
They carry masses of luggage, for one, and you look like someone who likes to travel light.
I am more of a sensual collector – not a rich heir or a screw manufacturer who buys art with his inheritance. “Collection” is almost too lofty a word for the things that I have carted together.
Max Beckmann, Miró … a watercolor by Henry Miller …
FR: Those are all things that have come out of my work and friendships with artists. They thrive from a dialectic, even fetishistic relationship. I have written about artists and worked with them; they have given me something back in return. It’s that exchange that makes their energy magnetic.
Does your collection relate to your experience of war and the division of East and West Germany, and how fleeting it can all be?
No doubt. Retaining things is an attempt to outsmart death, in the same way that creating things is. The sculptor Alfred Hrdlicka, who I was friends with for a long time, once told me that every day spent in front of his marble was an attempt to defy death. Every artist wants to leave behind something of himself. Perhaps we deceive ourselves, but when acid eventually corrodes all the papers I have stored in the Marbach Literature Archive – my journals, manuscripts and so on – I should like a shadow of my life to remain.
And yet you always seem to be on the go – on the run, even.
I’ve had a very unsettled life, it’s true. But collecting is not a reaction to this. Collecting is an attempt to caress and to be caressed, to protect things and to be protected by things.
To have something watch over you.
Like my marvelous Lynn Chadwick sculpture of a wolf, which stood for years in the apartment of the writer Joseph Breitbach, with whom I was highly argumentative, but also quite friendly. It now stands over my fireplace.
What about that Porsche you used to drive – surely that was a thing you enjoyed purely as a thing?
I haven’t driven a Porsche in decades – that would be ridiculous at my age. I would sooner wear a pair of shorts. But whether it’s a Porsche, a Bentley or the Jaguar I currently drive – which is also a nice car – it is indeed just an object. Once I drove the Jaguar to see the sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro and he said right off the bat, “Bella macchina!” He just understood the beauty of this object!
You are a true aesthete, then.
Do you know the quote from Oscar Wilde, “Appearances reveal our true insides”? Still with a pair of custom-made shoes, or an 18th century Venetian glass, or a Jaguar, I maintain that it is someone’s creation that someone has made. Gottfried Benn has a wonderful poem called “Reality” that expresses precisely this thought: “When he felt dread, a fetish he made/ when he suffered, the pietà he completed/the tea table he painted while he played/but by then the tea had been depleted”…
So it is a spiritual, totemic thing?
There is a creator behind every work of beauty – or as the artist Paul Wunderlich once told me, “That which stands or hangs here did not previously exist in the world.” This thought is somehow enormously exciting to me.
So there is creation on the one hand, and nothingness on the other – as Benn says, fetish is born of dread.
Well an artist is always vis- à- vis de rien, always naked in the face of nothingness, always at “zero.” You have an empty page or a lump of clay and then someone comes – be they genius orfaiseur, as the French say – and transforms it into something that didn’t exist before. The desire to create something beautiful on top of that is all the more fascinating.
Is art the beauty of saying “me”?
Art is the courage to say “me.” The beauty is a side-effect.