Erich Marx, a well-known art collector and patron whose decision in the 1990s to donate most of his valuable collection of contemporary art to the German state transformed the public display of contemporary art in the country, died on Wednesday September 9 at the age of 99. The news was announced by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which runs Berlin’s art museums, and was first reported by the art diary.

Marx, who was named on the ART news The list of the top 200 collectors each year between 1990 (when it was launched) and 1996, might be best known for its decision to give the Nationalgalerie (also known as Berlin’s State Museums) much of the work. from his key collection of post-war art, centered on the work of Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol, which Marx collected in depth.

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When Marx donated the works to the Nationalgalerie, the institution, which runs several art museums in the capital, needed a place to display them. Then came the idea of ​​transforming the Hamburger Bahnhof building into an art museum.

The neoclassical building opened in 1846 as a station for the line from Berlin to Hamburg, but finally closed in 1884. Over the next few years the building served a variety of purposes, including serving as a transport museum in a given time, until it is transferred. at the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in the late 1980s.

After a renovation of the building supervised by Josef Paul Kleihues, the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart opened its doors in 1996 with the ambitions of a bold contemporary art museum in a recently reunified Germany. Among the emblematic works that Marx entrusted to him are the works of Rauschenberg pink door (1954), Warhol’s Dual Elvis (1963) and Mao (1973) and that of Beuys Straßenbahnhaltestelle (Tram stop), from 1976.

Marx also collected works by other major contemporary figures from the 1960s, including Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Cindy Sherman, Sandro Chia, Georg Baselitz, Günther Förg, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons and Matthew Barney, as well that others. recent pieces by Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Rachel Whiteread and Ugo Rondinone.

Among the most important works in Marx’s collection is a more recent addition, Beuys’ 1980 installation Das Capital Raum 1970–1977 (The Capital Room 1970-1977), which includes, among other things, 50 tables covered with text, an ax resting on a piano, a ladder, a microphone and film projectors.

“I took it as a general statement made by Beuys,” Marx said of the work in an interview with then-director of the Nationalgalerie Udo Kittelmann, which was published by the English-language publication DW. “He brings together everything he has created in a single work. It was what it was.

Kittelmann then said, “It expresses the idea that ‘real capital’ is human creativity.” To which Marx replied: “Yes. It’s exactly that. If you don’t understand this sentence, you don’t understand Beuys and you never will.

Marx donated this work, which was first exhibited at the 1980 Venice Biennale and is currently installed at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Nationalgalerie in 2015 on permanent loan. He had bought Das Capital Raum the previous year for an undisclosed price (several million, according to Marx) from a Swiss museum, the Hallen für Neue Kunst, where he had resided since 1984 and where Beuys himself had reconstructed the piece. (The Hallen für Neue Kunst was forced to close after a legal battle involving the play Beuys and its owners.)

Erich Marx.  A man in a suit jacket with gray hair stands in an ornate museum gallery of Warhols.

Erich Marx.

AP Photo/Jan Bauer

Speaking more broadly of Beuys’ contribution to art that informed his own world, Marx added, “I have always seen in Beuys something out of the ordinary when it comes to art appreciation. You have to be open-minded about it to realize it’s something entirely new that you’ve never experienced. That is, the fact that you have art that is portrayed in this way.

Erich Marx was born in 1921 in a village in the southern Baden region of western Germany. He studied law after World War II and worked as a legal adviser for Berda Verlag, the German publishing house co-run by another notable art collector, Frieder Burda, who died last year.

Marx soon left law and started his own real estate and property development company in 1967, which focused on building hotels and, later, clinics and rehabilitation centers. Through this business, he amassed a fortune that eventually enabled him to purchase art. He then built up one of the largest collections of post-war and contemporary art in the world.

Marx’s dedication to art collecting was unwavering. As he once said, according to RBB 24, “The deciding factor is how curious you are. Either it jumps out at you, or you get curious and say, I’d like to know what’s behind it.

After Marx donated his collection to the Nationalgalerie, the Hamburger Bahnhof refocused its exhibits in such a way that Marx’s holdings were later augmented by other notable donations from prominent collectors. This allowed museum curators to rotate works from Marx’s collection, much to the collector’s dismay.

This experience will eventually lead him to be the driving force behind the development of another museum in Berlin, the Museum of the Twentieth Century, currently under construction. When it opens, part of the Marx collection will also be on display and the focus will be on 20th century art, as opposed to emerging art.

It is, however, his experience of Marx’s first art acquisition that perhaps best encapsulates his dedication to art collecting. While on vacation on the German island of Sylt, he bought five works by graphic designer Friedrich Meckseper. “I would say that it was actually no coincidence that I discovered a gallery while walking,” Marx once said. “I went to this gallery, to see what’s new? I just saw that the art survived after the war and came back to life.