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The non-conformist was his favourite thing

He was one of the most renowned collectors in Germany. Now Harald Falckenberg has died shortly after his 80th birthday. ART COLOGNE mourns the loss of a valued partner.

The collector Harald Falckenberg (1943-2023). Foto: Daniel Reinhardt/dpa

What a life: Harald Falckenberg, the great art collector and patron of the arts, sought out contradiction as a lawyer. The controversial, the non-conformist, the subversive: for him, everything was present in art.

From the 1990s to the present day, the long-serving Hamburg constitutional judge acquired over 2,400 works of art and brought them together in the Hanseatic city to form one of the largest private collections in Germany.

It is now his legacy.

Falckenberg, who celebrated his 80th birthday at the beginning of October, died just one month later on 6 November. With his passing, the art scene has lost an emphatic mover who wanted to immerse himself deeply in the thinking of the artists he admired; but who, as an entrepreneur, also always acted with economic intelligence and foresight. For example, he backed Jonathan Meese early on, whom he supported unreservedly in the early years of his career. From other artists who inspired Falckenberg, such as Paul McCarthy or Martin Kippenberger, he collected coherent series of works that consistently accompanied their respective oeuvres.

His death has left "a gap whose extent we can hardly imagine at the moment", explained Hamburg's Senator for Culture Carsten Brosda (SPD). "He was a truly exceptional figure and a great person. Even if his work continues to shine - the art world will be a different place without him.“

The Falckenberg Collection in the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg.

The Falckenberg Collection has been part of the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg since 2011. Foto: Henning Rogge

He appreciated obsessiveness just as much as ironically coloured abysmalness

Harald Falckenberg came to art late in life. He was already fifty and successful as an entrepreneur, but dug deep into the subject matter and was interested in everything that critically and politically reflected the present from the 1980s onwards.

It was also allowed to be funny, he appreciated obsessiveness just as much as ironically coloured abysmalness. No wonder he soon discovered Richard Prince, Hanne Darboven, Albert Oehlen and Mike Kelly alongside Kippenberger. Over 500 names characterise the Falckenberg Collection, which he has been showing in new contexts in the Phoenix Fabrikhallen in Hamburg-Harburg since 1999.

"With great passion, he built up one of the most important collections of contemporary art, shaped the Hamburg art scene and inspired others for art," says Brosda, summarising that time. In fact, this has a lot to do with Falckenberg himself, his passion for conviction, the exuberant temperament of an art enthusiast who was able to cast a spell over others. And it was always about understanding what drove the artists to do their work.

The rooms in the Falckenberg Collection designed by the artist Jonathan Meese.

The rooms in the Falckenberg Collection designed by the artist Jonathan Meese. Foto: Henning Rogge

The magazine "ARTnews" counted him among the 200 most important collectors in the world

His lectures and discussions culminated in a series of talks at the Volksbühne theatre in Berlin in 2012. "From the Engine Room of Art" was the title of that series, and again the aim was to absorb the world of creative thought and debate it publicly. Between 1999 and 2013, the international trade magazine "ARTnews" counted him among the 200 most important collectors in the world more than a dozen times in its annual ranking.

In 2009, the Federal Association of German Galleries and Editions (BVDG) together with Koelnmesse honoured him as one of the most important collectors during the fair with the ART COLOGNE Prize. Two years later, Falckenberg agreed a handover with Hamburg's Deichtorhallen: his collection is now on permanent loan to both the institution and the Phoenix Hallen. A tremendous legacy, inspired by the passion of an individual who has helped shape the art scene of the past decades in a unique way.