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Sammlung Unruh

Press release

Sammlung Unruh

Kai Althoff, Jean Arp, Donald Baechler, Joseph Beuys, Hanne Darboven, Thomas Eggerer, Joanne Greenbaum, Channa Horwitz, Annette Kelm, Jannis Kounellis, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jonathan Meese, Bjarne Melgaard, Albert Oehlen, David Salle, Andreas Slominski, Ena Swansea, Philip Taaffe, Paul Thek, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rosemarie Trockel, Cosima von Bonin, Lawrence Weiner, Amelie von Wulffen

Gerda and Hans Unruh discovered their love of art in the 1970s. Their small detached house in Hamburg Övelgönne was just finished when they started to get the feeling that there was something missing in the kitchen – on the left, next to the brand new Liebherr fridge-freezer. They drove into town to try and find a suitable shelf or cupboard, or a wall clock. They looked around in various shops but couldn't find anything that didn’t immediately provoke a serious marital crisis: “Really, THAT’s the sort of thing you like?”

Irritated by having searched so long in vain and surprised by one of those ever-threatening, terribly depressing Hamburg downpours, the Unruhs sought shelter in a small shop that turned out to be a gallery. To this day it is not known whether it was Hans or Gerda who first caught sight of a narrow, tall artwork titled Food for Thought. It was by a certain Joseph Beuys, someone Hans and Gerda Unruh had already heard a little about – not all of it good, they seemed to recall.

Amusingly, the name and reputation of the artist did not play an important role for them at the time. The work, narrow and beautifully framed, seemed perfectly dimensioned to fit next to their Liebherr fridge-freezer. And – hey! – Food for Thought would fit in well in a kitchen; it was, in a way, smart and cheeky and different, like they were at the time, or wanted to be.

From the moment the hammer met the nail on which Food for Thought would hang from now on in the Unruhs’ kitchen, it was clear that this would not be the last artwork the pair would acquire. It was just too perfect next to the Liebherr fridge-freezer, it brought too much joy every morning, the richness it brought to their kitchen and their house was too great.

Art had invaded the Unruhs’ lives and they found so much pleasure in its invasion that, gradually, they surrendered to it all their attention and love. They began to buy other works, first small, discreet ones, then larger, more daring ones. They spent time learning about the artists, gained knowledge and understanding, went to exhibitions and seminars – but when they bought new works, they did it only with their hearts and only for themselves. They always spurned the label of “art collector” and never wanted to hear the word “collection” used for the works they surrounded themselves with.

They were early buyers of works by Kai Althoff, Cosima von Bonin and Wolfgang Tillmans. A spontaneous impulse led to purchases of paintings by Ena Swansea, David Salle and Not Vital. They fearlessly got into Rosemarie Trockel, Jean Arp and Hanne Darboven. They dedicated themselves with enthusiasm to Jannis Kounellis, Albert Oehlen and Paul Thek.

At the start of the year, Gerda and Hans Unruh decided to sell their house in Hamburg Övelgönne and move into a retirement home. They have no children and only a few relatives. Yet they intend to spend a beautiful, enjoyable old age, a type of late new beginning – unencumbered, free, and open for whatever lies ahead. To this end, Gerda and Hans Unruh say they need to say goodbye, not just to the house, not just to the Liebherr fridge-freezer, but indeed to everything, meaning also to the art collection that was never intended to be one.

That is why we will be showing the works that Gerda and Hans Unruh collected in the course of their lives here at Crone Side, presenting them for the last time together, and handing them on to new buyers, who will hopefully love them as much as the Unruhs have done.