In 1996, the art market was reeling after a single collector bought $22 million worth of artwork at a Sotheby’s auction in London.
The buyer, who called on a Viennese specialist in the house, was a “mysterious German-speaking collector”, the New York Times reported at the time, and she had bought pieces by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee and others all at once, causing a sensation almost overnight.
This collector, Time revealed, was none other than Heidi Göess-Horten, the ex-wife of Helmut Horten, owner of a Viennese department store with whom she started buying art. (She has since remarried twice.) A few years after Helmut’s death in 1987, a new passion for art collecting ignited in Heidi, who currently owns 700 pieces and ranks in the ART news List of the top 200 collectors.
Today, in addition to these hundreds of works of art, it also has a museum, the Heidi Horten Collection, which opened in Vienna earlier this month.
In a sense, Göess-Horten even came full circle by appointing Agnes Husslein-Arco, the Viennese Sotheby’s specialist who made an offer for her in 1996, as director of the museum.
It’s not the first time that Göess-Horten’s collection has been seen in Vienna – it would be in 2018, when an investigation was opened at the Leopold Museum. But this exhibition has come and gone in the space of six months, and the aim of the Heidi Horten collection is to provide a permanent view of one of the richest private collections in the country, which has rarely been seen. publicly.
“I knew after the first public presentation of my collection that I wanted to preserve the works for posterity and share a treasure with people who have accompanied me in my private life for many years and who have given me such a happiness,” said Göess-Horten. ART news in an email.
“That’s why I see my museum as a place of discovery, of sensual experience, of the joy of art, because that’s what art has been and still is for me: a vital source of joy! “
So far, according to those involved with the museum, Viennese people have indeed enjoyed visiting the museum, which has 16,145 square feet of exhibition space. The museum’s self-reported data indicates that at least 800 people visited each day during the first week in space, and by Thursday there were already crowds pouring in just 15 minutes after opening.
In some ways, this public fervor is a bit surprising, as Vienna is already teeming with museums, including the Albertina, mumok, Kunsthalle Wien, and many more, all within walking distance of the Heidi Horten collection. But Husslein-Arco didn’t seem shocked that the museum already has such a large following.
“People love it,” she says.
Some coming to the exhibition will likely arrive expecting some of the iconic works from Göess Horten’s collection, including paintings by Bacon and Roy Lichtenstein. However, these paintings, as well as some of the most famous belonging to Göess-Horten, are still in his house. Instead, the spare opening hung in the museum, spread over three immaculate floors, is mainly devoted to emerging and mid-career artists, many of whom are Austrian.
“I did it on purpose,” Husslein-Arco said. “I wanted to show two things: that the collection is constantly growing and that there is younger art” in the Göess-Horten collections. She also wanted to highlight the architecture, from the architectural firm ENTERprise based in Vienna.
The Heidi Horten Collection building looks small from the outside, but inside it looks big. (The admission price, at 15 euros per adult visitor, is also not minimal.) Two staircases seem to float above the heads of the spectators, and there are large airy parts in which one can see up ‘at the roof.
This scale allows the museum to show great works, including that of Constantin Luser Vibrosauria (2022), a 20-foot tall sculpture of a female dinosaur that is made from copper instruments twisted together to form something like an armature. The sculpture can be played by up to 24 musicians at once. Meanwhile, the museum’s tea room is itself a work of art by Markus Schinwald, who covered its walls with paintings of an old-school tea room. However, Schinwald photoshopped all of the people appearing in his source images, and anyone who inhabits the room is meant to effectively figure in their place.
More minimal pieces also shine. A sculpture by Dan Flavin consisting of a tube of fluorescent lighting leaning against an angle makes a gallery, as does the video by Lili Reynaud-Dewar fox lady (2018), in which the artist, painted entirely in red and wearing only a pair of white sneakers, twirls around in the middle of a herd of sheep. This work stems from Göess-Horten’s lifelong love of animals, which also motivated his decision to purchase works by Claude Lalanne, Lena Henke and Ulrike Müller.
There’s enough top-notch art to sharpen the palette of those who want bigger names. Among the offerings are two paintings resulting from a collaborative effort between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat (plus a drawing by the latter working solo), two of the six paintings by Lucio Fontana that Göess-Horten owns, a painting by Robert Rauschenberg period of the 60s, and a painting made with dead butterflies by Damien Hirst.
Other works by stars like Franz Marc, Georg Baselitz and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner are likely to feature in future shows, but it’s these lesser-known artists that speak to the depth of its collection. After all, the opening move is only 50 works, or around 7% of his holdings.
“I am convinced that my collection contains treasures unmatched in Vienna, Austria, or even Europe,” said Göess-Horten.