November 30, 2013
When art critic, dealer and collector Rik Reinking showed a sprayed canvas to an auctioneer friend of his ten years ago, he received nothing but a disparaging smile before being waved aside. Reinking was one of the first to estimate the value of stencils, graffiti, stickers and pastings at a time when street art was not yet defined as art and when Banksy was regarded more as a pubertal vandal than an artist. “Whereas today, these exact people who amused themselves back then, kneel in front of artworks from, for example Banksy,” says Reinking. “And yet, the artwork hasn’t changed – just its image.”
Reinking writes books about art and buys art for others, especially for himself. His collection is composed of too many works to count, though it’s more than enough to fill several exhibitions. We met him at his office in his home in Hamburg. The shelf behind his desk is filled with books and catalogs. A quick overview suggests Reinking does not separate high and low art. He values the scrimshaw before him on the desk as much as the OS-Gêmeos guitar leaning against the corner. We spoke to Reinking about his collection and about a unique piece of art he purchased in 2008 called TIM, probably the only one in the world that has its own needs.
Wertical: You really don’t know how many pieces of art are in your collection?
Rik Reinking: No, I really don`t have a clue. There are so many attempts to define or at least explain at which point a collection is a collection, but actually it doesn’t matter to me how what I have bought together is defined. That’s why I gave the name Call It What You Like to one of my exhibitions. What does this magic number do for me, that estimates a collection? It is only a relative size. For instance, there is an artist whose photo I buy every day.
WE: Every day?
RR: Yes, and I’ve been doing this for at least 15 years. Which means, with an average of 365 days a year, there are over 12,000 photos I have by him now. How do I arrange these into a collection? Is it a single work because it belongs to a concept? Or does every single picture count as its own?
WE: That is a good question. Most people would probably count the single works instead of summarizing it as a single piece. This must be a very prolific artist.
RR: Yes, the work is made by the German artist Till F.E. Haupt and it belongs to a concept. He wears a “Lochbildkamera” around his neck and every day he takes one picture by bundling all the light and impressions of that day. But two pictures emerge – he takes another one of himself.
WE: And you are the only person that gets these pictures?
RR: In this consequence, I think yes. But of course, the artist rather knows this.
WE: Has he got an interesting life that is worth being captured visually?
RR: Yes, definitely.
WE: Remarkable – people who take pictures of themselves again and again.
RR: Yes, especially the directness. It is a very intensive project.
WE: How did you integrate this work?
RR: As a single piece of work.
WE: Your collection includes old masters, conceptual art, as well as current works. If you call it street or urban art, do think that it is a serious art movement?
RR: Yes, and it is the one of the big opportunities of our time. Since Fluxus graffiti, street or urban art is the only art movement that has been established internationally. And now, slowly, the importance of the artists are emerging. I am only skeptical about the prices that are being named for this very young art direction. Of course, money can measure the momentum, but assuredly it can’t measure the quality of the work. Nowadays, a commercial context is being sold through the price on the art market, but that doesn’t mean it’s brilliant work.
WE: Are you still interested in art at all, the art that is on the market at the present day?
RR: Often, I can’t afford present day art. But I already have the works that I want to grow old with. And these are worth the same at any time. Certainly, I pay the price that is called for, but I also forget it instantly. The only thing that interests me about the price is what my account looks like and if I can afford it.
WE: Is your collection complete or are you still hunting down new artists and works that you can collect?
RR: In 2008, I wanted to call my collection complete and bought a final piece of art. But I have purchased quite a few works since then.
WE: Why did you want to call it quits?
RR: I thought that it was enough and that I had found the ultimate work to complete my collection.
WE: What kind of work was it?
RR: TIM – a work of Wim Delvoye. It is a tattoo on the back.
WE: Do you have it here?
RR: No, that is not possible. The person whose back it is on is a young man from Switzerland who still lives there.
WE: How did this happen, that he advertised his back as a piece of art and you noticed it?
RR: I visited a gallery in Zurich and there it was.
WE: As a photo?
RR: No, Tim Steiner, the person whose back it is on, was standing there.
WE: And what is so significant about his back tattoo? Did Wim Delvoye tattoo it personally?
RR: No, he signed it, but the tattoo itself was done by a tattoo artist.
WE: Based on his work?
RR: Exactly. And Tim now has the eponymous work on his back.
WE: How old is Tim?
RR: He is my age. We were born in the same year.
WE: Do you know how much Tim earned on this back tattoo?
RR: I don`t know that. I bought the work from the gallery of Wim Delvoye.
WE: How exactly does this deal work?
RR: After his death, the skin will be taken off his back, tanned and raised.
WE: What is your opinion of the work? Does it fascinate you to have bought a living piece of art?
RR: Let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t have bought this work if I were a 60-, 70-, or 80-year-old collector or if he were that age. The fact that we are approximately the same age is a very exciting and important component. There arises a certain race. And the choice of buying this work wasn’t easy for me. I tortured myself through many nights without sleep. This work rises to a lot of new and different levels, which I haven’t experienced before and I wouldn’t have expected. Just a short while ago, we had a long discussion, and it is very bizarre because you usually never have a discussion with a piece of art. Usually you purchase it if you fancy it, hang it up, and if you don`t want to see it anymore, just put it into your stock. That would be the normal way things should go. But we just had the situation that the piece of art, which has a very good exhibition history by now… after I got it, it went directly to Karlsruhe into the ZKM ….
WE: In other words, Tim stood in that exhibition?
RR: Yes, on some days.
WE: Does Tim support his life like this?
RR: He has just been loaned to the Louvre. I always have to laugh if a museum calls me and asks for this work. I say, yes, please. There is a good and a bad side to this: The good is that you won`t have to pay for delivery and insurance charges. The bad is that you will have to pay for the hotel and catering. But it’s exactly the lively part about this work that makes the beauty. And Tim has enough time in order to do this.
WE: So this means that his full-time job is being a piece of art?
RR: No, actually he is a musician.
WE: What exactly is featured on the tattoo?
RR: For me, the picture itself is secondary. This work is a centerpiece and is important to my collection. All these different ideas of energy fields,values, the attendance and absence of bodies – these are interesting topics according to me. And naturally things like low art – graffiti or street art or tattoos – belong there.
WE: That is exactly what distinguishes you: You bring high art and low art together and confront them.
RR: And it only works through this self-understanding.
WE: So what was the topic of the conversation you just had with Tim?
RR: He approached me and said: “Rik, I want to be sold.” But I didn’t want that. He said I shouldn’t take this the wrong way, but he wants to be auctioned off to see what he’s worth.
WE: Your piece of art wanted to become autonomous.
RR: Correct. But I don`t sell anything from my collection and he is aware of this. We had a long discussion, and at the end, we decided that we wouldn’t do it. I purchased this work and see it as my responsibility to protect it. Who knows who would buy him next, and what would happen to him. We all know about the value of a human life in some cultures.
WE: Is Tim insured as art?
RR: Tim has a contract that is nearly 30 pages.
WE: Which surely will reserve your rights. Why is Tim the ultimate work?
RR: Tim is a clever and critical person, he knows the reason but doesn`like it being mentioned. The work reflects our time fearlessly. It is a time in which our public life has such a colossal value that somebody is willing to strike up such a pact. This is a really interesting component about this work. I think I shocked Tim as property and value aren’t important to me. Of course, things I buy are mine, but I am not interested in that fact. I am not interested in power and thus I am not interested in money either. But when this artwork walks up to me and says: “I want to be sold,” I am suddenly confronted with my power over him. I am allowed to agree or disagree. So the artwork forces me to play my power off and this goes against my moral sense. As such, I told him that I am only responsible for his back. If I take the artwork seriously, in the interest of the artist and of me, I have to consider it without the head that actually belongs to it. Because the head and the body belong to Tim.
Rik Reinking – Image stolen from the Net…