Art Collector and Investor Benedict Rodenstock: The Story Behind his Collection

A Conversation Between the Collector Benedict Rodenstock and Artquisite Founder Daniela Ilieva

Benedict Rodenstock’s passion for art began in the cradle, influenced by the passion for collecting of his mother, Inge Rodenstock. The Munich-based collector developed his own taste for art, and in particular for young contemporary art. Today, Benedict Rodenstock is known for his extraordinary eye for quality. His collection is among the most exciting and unusual in Germany.

 

Daniela Ilieva: You co-founded Kunstclub13 and UNPAINTED. Tell me about them and your role there.

Benedict Rodenstock: At the end of 2001, my growing interest in art led me to Kunstclub13. Before that I had lived in New York for a while and got to know Dr. Christian Schön there. When I returned to Munich I encountered lothringer13 through him. Back then, Dr. Schön was the artistic head of this municipal exhibition space in the Haidhausen district of Munich. Because of the economic crisis, the place was under threat of closure. The city wanted to cut back on the high rent that it was paying for the place. So Christian Schön had the idea of fighting to retain this wonderful complex, which is unique in Munich, in order to continue using it for art. Other supporters soon joined in, and this group developed initially into the lothringer13/freundeskreis. I was a founding member, but not yet the chair. For professional reasons, when the original chair left Munich a year later it fell to me to continue running the association. And even if we can’t take all the credit, we were successful in the end because the lothringer13 still exists … (laughs). Eventually closure was no longer an issue and we had to consider how we were going to continue as an association. So we set up a program with monthly guided tours and other events. Eventually however we no longer wanted to continue the close collaboration with the lothringer13, because expectations differed too widely. Since the amicable split in 2009 we’ve continued the association independently, and this involved the change of name to Kunstclub13. Since then, we have the distinction of being an independent association for art lovers. The “13” has historic roots, and there’s a charm to that, I think.

 

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©Kunstclub13, Guided tour through the exhibition “Spuren” at ADAC headquarters in Munich with Annette Vogel
 

How many members does the Kunstclub13 association have now?

Benedict Rodenstock: Currently we have around 230 members. The association has grown strongly in recent years. We have a few sponsors who contribute even more, and that does us good, allowing us to continually expand our program.

 

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©Kunstclub13, Guided tour through the exhibition FAVORITEN III – NEW ARTS FROM MUNICH with co-curator Stephanie Weber

 

Besides regular art education events we have a lecture series, the “Montagsrunde”, once a quarter, which has already had positive feedback in the press. In addition, we award an annual art prize – five times now already. That has now become our key single project. We also have a very strong cooperation with Platform in the Sendling district of Munich.

How did you come to the idea of setting up UNPAINTED – a trade fair for digital art? It isn’t exactly a standard idea.

Benedict Rodenstock: I came up with UNPAINTED in 2013. There had been repeated efforts to set up a contemporary art fair in Munich. Of course, we have many art fairs for Fine Arts and even antiques, for instance the HIGHLIGHTS art and antiques fair … But it is remarkable in a city like Munich that there is no contemporary art fair. And then there was the collaboration with Wolf Krey, who had previously taken charge of the Kunstmesse München. He had initially tried to set up something similar with Munich Contempo in the Postpalast, but after two attempts it was evident that it wasn’t working out. Through my mother, who was acting as patron, I finally met Wolf Krey and he asked me if I wouldn’t like to develop something new with him. And so – together with another acquaintance,  Dr. Annette Doms, whose support I won – the idea of creating a fair for digital art was conceived.

 

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©UNPAINTED, Manuela Hartel performing “No Weapon Formed Against Me Shall Prosper”

 

This format didn’t exist before, it’s something unique.

Benedict Rodenstock: Yes, there’s no comparable trade fair, and that was the point of it. It had to stand out from the roughly 200 contemporary art fairs around the world, taking place all year round. We looked for a niche, an additional specialization in order to achieve a special positioning.

Your idea is distinctive in another way too, specifically that the fair is not just intended for galleries but artists can also apply independently, without a gallery. Isn’t that right?

Benedict Rodenstock: Yes, we offer openings both for galleries as well as one for artists without a gallery, the lab 3.0, because we found that in this innovative field there are a lot of artists, especially from abroad, who don’t work with galleries. And we wanted to offer them a platform too.

Isn’t it the case that artists don’t always like working together with galleries?

Benedict Rodenstock: In China in particular but also in other countries there aren’t as many galleries or the model that is usual for us where artists share the proceeds with a dealer. There are specific “grand masters” who have their own studios or even own stores where they sell pictures to visitors themselves.

You come from an art collector family and were surely influenced by this, but this doesn’t automatically make someone an art collector. When did your passion for art collecting begin and how did it come about? Was there a formative experience?

Benedict Rodenstock: For me, the passion basically began in the cradle. My mother collected art from the early 1960s. She also became involved in the Dusseldorf art gallery of Alfred Schmela, who was one of the top gallerists in Germany at that time and started dealing in contemporary art early on. Eventually she also came into contact with the Guggenheim Museum and was appointed to the board. She flew to New York twice a year, and this gave her access to the New York scene, which boosted her collection and made the whole thing much more international. I grew up in the middle of the whole business, but as a child I didn’t really take it in or value it. But with time a little bit did sink in, you could say … Anyway, by the time I was a student I started to be interested myself. In order to deepen my theoretical understanding I studied history, including a little art history … I also browsed my mother’s library, in order to gain a little expertise so as finally to buy one picture or another myself.

 

“… even if I don’t really like to admit it, but I think that, in the end, I and every collector hopes to get a good deal with it, at least for later … The difference to an equity, for instance, is that if they do badly then of course you are disappointed. But with paintings I nevertheless always have the pleasure of looking at them.”

Benedict Rodenstock

 

img_1096© ARTQUISITE / Benedict Rodenstock, 2017, Artwork of Agnieszka Kaszubowska

 

You studied in Italy. Did you encounter art in Italy?

Benedict Rodenstock: Yes, but basically Italy is dominated by old art from the past two thousand years, and you can see an awful lot of it. Of course there are also some contemporary pieces, but you have to know your way round to know where to find them. But I realized this too to some extent when I was there, for instance Castello di Rivoli near Turin (which has now been closed) or Fattoria Celle near Florence.

What exactly is it that makes ownership of art so compelling?

Benedict Rodenstock: Humans naturally like owning things, and you can collect other things too, cars or stamps, for example. With art you are dealing with an especially beautiful material. You can decorate your home or your office with it, and maybe it conveys prestige too. Finally, there is also a speculative element, because over time it may appreciate.

Do you really also think about that when you buy art?

Benedict Rodenstock: Yes, even if I don’t really like to admit it, but I think that, in the end, I and every collector hopes to get a good deal with it, at least for later … (laughs) The difference to an equity, for instance, is that if they do badly then of course you are disappointed. But with paintings I nevertheless always have the pleasure of looking at them.

A really difficult question: how do you define art?

Benedict Rodenstock: Art is hard to define and I often ask myself what exactly it is. I think it’s basically something that has no purpose, or else it would be applied art. In practical life it’s no good for anything. And that is decisive. Art should basically be there to be looked at and have a message and ought finally to be suited for contemplation and consideration.

What was your first piece of art?

Benedict Rodenstock: My first artwork was by Wolfgang Kessler, an artist from north Germany, who was represented by the Carol Johnssen Gallery. I’ve known and liked them for a long time. I bought my first painting from this painter – it must have been at the turn of the millennium.

What was it about this first piece for you? Why did you decide to buy it?

Benedict Rodenstock: I thought it was good quality and I found the subject really appealing – the image shows – a little blurred – a train passing through a landscape or cityscape, and to me it expressed a certain dynamism and modernity.

Do you have artworks that are your particular favorites?

Benedict Rodenstock: I selected that picture, amongst others, back then, and later I also bought another work by the same artist – something I don’t do very often. I think it’s important that an artist has a coherent oeuvre as a whole. So I don’t just look at one piece by an artist, in the end I am buying a piece from the complete works.

Do you also buy direct from artists?

Benedict Rodenstock: Usually I buy from galleries, because that is the dominant channel here. I buy a little on the secondary market, at auctions – I have done. Now, prices have changed so that you can’t get bargains at auctions any more, that makes it a little less interesting than a few years ago. So it’s better to buy on the primary market. And sometimes I buy directly from the artist.

After you buy an artwork, do you watch to see how the artist develops? Do you have any contact?

Benedict Rodenstock: Basically it’s only possible to build up personal relationships with artists and follow them for a long time locally, here in Munich or maybe in Berlin. Then maybe you also get an artwork direct from the artist.

What criteria have you developed over time? How can you tell if an artist has potential, especially a young artist?

Benedict Rodenstock: You have to develop a certain sense of quality, and it helps if you look at a lot, for years, both young artists and established pieces in museums. And you have to look at less good works as well as good ones, so you can tell the difference. Over time you gradually get a certain feeling for quality.

That brings us to the question of what is “good” art and what is “bad” art? And who decides what is bad art?

Benedict Rodenstock: It’s hard to tie down, up to a point it’s subjective. It is a matter of taste, and there will always be collectors with different preferences – and rightly so. But basically I think the workmanship must be sound, and there should be a fundamental ability. Some people say, “art comes from ability” – but of course that isn’t always the case, think of the ready-mades, for instance. It should have a certain originality, and there should be a concept behind it. The most important thing is whether you can see a certain handwriting of the artist, what’s called the recognition value.

 

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© ARTQUISITE / Benedict Rodenstock, 2017

 

What do you think about the relationship between the artist and his work? How important is the artist’s personality when considering his work?

Benedict Rodenstock: The artwork must be able to speak for itself without you knowing the artist personally. I believe that’s important, because it isn’t always possible to get to know someone personally.

How do you select the galleries from which you acquire the artworks?

Benedict Rodenstock: According to the program. It’s easier of course if you are local, although there are other cities in the world where there are other or more or maybe even better galleries than in Munich. Today, we have the option of exchanging ideas with a lot of galleries from all around the world at art fairs.

Does that mean that the gallery program is more important to you than the advice?

Benedict Rodenstock: Yes, absolutely. I don’t always need advice. Sometimes the works speak for themselves. Sometimes it’s the personal relationship that you build up. Sure, you get on better with some art dealers than others, and of course that’s fine. Some art dealers are maybe also difficult to get on with or as regards their business practices. And of course that can be a reason for deciding not to buy there.

What sort of connections must a young collector have to access good work, or how would they get at good work if they have no connections?

Benedict Rodenstock: Basically every gallery likes it when visitors come in, and I think it’s okay too if you just come to look and don’t buy anything right away. There are gallery weekends where their attention is perhaps a bit more distracted from individual visitors. Or you can go with an acquaintance who knows their way around already. And the Kunstclub13, for example, also offers the option of visiting selected galleries as part of a guided tour. That’s another good starting point.

What differences are there in the art trade in Munich, Berlin, Milan and New York?

Benedict Rodenstock: Art is a global business, and there are a few major global locations such as New York, London and Berlin, where the most is happening. Other cities are more for the local and national markets, that’s one difference. And I think the intellectual climate, which is better or worse for a vibrant art market, is also more or less fertile in various countries.

Or the legislation that gets in the way …

Benedict Rodenstock: That’s sometimes also the case recently, that it damages the market here and there.

How do you choose your artworks?

Benedict Rodenstock: I have focused on contemporary art, and then preferably on more recent art or the art of the 21st century, as I like to say. And it has to fit in somewhere. I rarely buy a work by older or deceased artists. Otherwise, I tend to be “agnostic”, as they say, regarding the medium. It’s all the same to me whether it’s painting, video or a photo. A special segment is digital art, which we have discovered as collectors.

How many works do you have now?

Benedict Rodenstock: About 150, I guess. It’s a relatively small collection, but it’ll grow gradually.

As a collector could you give a few tips for those who would like to start collecting art?

Benedict Rodenstock: In the beginning it’s really good to look at as much as possible. Don’t rush in to buying, look at as much as possible and then buy gradually, not a lot at once. Maybe one painting to begin with and then another after a while. I think it’s inevitable as a collector that you have a certain learning curve at the beginning. Maybe a bit later you say, “Oh God! How could I have bought something like that back then?”

Another thing: you should read as well as looking.

Can you describe what makes a good collector?

Benedict Rodenstock: It’s hard to say. You can judge a collector by the value growth, or by big names, that’s relatively objective. Otherwise it’s also good if the collector has a certain concept for their collection – a certain strategy – and sticks with it as far as possible – and doesn’t do something different every couple of years.

How do you do it? What is your strategy?

Benedict Rodenstock: Basically it’s relatively unchanged. I’ve always collected contemporary, I took that over from my mother. I find it hard to specialize further. Put it this way: it’s simply the need for quality.

 

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© Martin Spengler / Benedict Rodenstock

 

When you decide to buy do you ask your mother for advice?

Benedict Rodenstock: Well, I’m not trying to compete with my mother – I think that wouldn’t be worthwhile. But sometimes we talk about things of course. It’s more intensive with my wife, who’s also interested in art: I go to a lot of exhibitions and trade fairs with her.

Isn’t following a specific concept or strategy restrictive?

Benedict Rodenstock: My focus is relatively broad, so I don’t feel restricted.

You must surely follow developments on the art market. What is your opinion of recent developments as well?

Benedict Rodenstock: It’s clear that in recent years the expansive monetary policy of the central banks worldwide has caused a run on real assets, especially real estate, but also other real assets such as classic cars and of course also art. It’s noticeable that the glut of money is fueling prices, especially in in the upper segment.

Is this giving rise to a new group of art collectors, who collect in a quite different way?

Benedict Rodenstock: Yes, it is too. In the Emerging Markets there are new collectors who weren’t there before.

May I ask what was the most expensive piece you ever bought?

Benedict Rodenstock: The most expensive piece was maybe in the mid-6-digit range. But normally we attempt to get in earlier, preferably to buy smaller tickets and maybe share in value growth.

Daniela Ilieva: Thank you for this very interesting and informative conversation!

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