in Profiles | 07 AUG 12
Featured in
Issue 6

Test Of Time

Jörg Heiser speaks with Eduard Pomeranz about exhibiting his collection at Vienna’s Jewish Museum

in Profiles | 07 AUG 12

Cyprien Gaillard, Indian Palm Study I, 2011 (Courtesy: The artist & Sprüth Magers Berlin/London)
A private collector exhibiting his art collection in a public museum has become a common scenario in recent years. And one couldn’t always be sure that the hosting institution and the public benefited as much as the collector, whose possessions were likely to increase in value after being shown in such a prestigious context. One could easily jump to such a conclusion in the case of Eduard Pomeranz, a financial trader by profession and thus focused on increasing values. But this scenario is not so simple. Pomeranz is presenting his collection under the title FOREIGNERS EVERYWHERE at the Jewish Museum in Vienna. A Jewish-Russian immigrant from Odessa, Pomeranz is aware that a Jewish middle class has yet to re-establish a prominent role for itself in Austria in the wake of the Holocaust. In short, there is a political-historical dimension to this private-public cooperation. The contemporary art works in his collection are not the kind of showy stuff one might expect from the world of finance. Pomeranz is capably advised by Paris-based Romanian curator Ami Barak, who shares the collector’s preference for conceptual, minimalist tendencies and his focus on Eastern Europe. All good reasons to speak to Pomeranz …

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

JÖRG HEISER Why do you collect?

EDUARD POMERANZ I have always thought that if someone from the world of finance puts money into art, it must have something to do with redemption. At the same time, it’s about trying to have an open mind, being receptive to the Other and to the work.

In the collection there is an emphasis on Conceptual and Minimal approaches, on Eastern European history, and on capitalism versus Communism. You work as a futures trader. How do all those things work together?
EP Yes, I’m in the financial world, and, let’s be honest, it’s politically on the right, dominated by the standpoint of neoliberalism. The art world, by comparison, is more on the left. I like to surround myself with people who think differently from me. This gives me a chance to grow, to grow as a human being – as long as it is open-minded, as long as people talk to each other and exchange ideas. And even if something contradicts my values, I still want to think about it. I think that the art world is more sensitive to the future than we business people are – another opportunity for me to learn. But I also admit – and I may be one of the few collectors who do – that I hope that the pieces I buy will stand the test of time in terms of their monetary value. Because what I own is not mine – it has just been loaned to me for a certain time. And I have to make sure to preserve the collection, and to pass it on to the next generation: of course, literally, to my kids – but they also have the obligation then to share it with the public.

Adrian Paci, Back Home, 2001 (Courtesy: The artists & Kaufmann Repetto Milano)

The Conceptual emphasis of your collection is sharply at odds with the kinds of aesthetics that the proverbial financial trader – or, even more, the proverbial oligarch – would be attracted to: bling-bling, eye candy …
EP I do have something of that in my personality as well, but that doesn’t mean that I only go for flashy art. I think that, with the help of Ami Barak, I go for very interesting artists who have the potential to become part of art history. In general, history is an important issue for me. I am a Russian Jewish immigrant to Austria. Half of the family were haunted by Communism, and half of the family were haunted by the Nazis. So I’m in the middle. I’m a liberal, of course. But for me, that’s why I like Conceptual Art so much. You pay $150,000 for a piece of paper: but they cannot take it away from you. A painting can be carried away, it can be destroyed, but an idea you cannot destroy.

You present the collection for the first time in Vienna, in the Jewish Museum. That is a statement, isn’t it?
EP It definitely is a statement. And I have to admit that I’m very proud. I had offers from other museums, but for me, again, it has to do with history. At the beginning of the 20th century, Austria and Germany were, for me, the centre of the universe. It was the Vienna–Frankfurt–Berlin era: the scientists, the collectors … And the Jewish collector was different, wanted to be different. So that’s why the title of the exhibition at the Jewish Museum is Fremde überall (Foreigners Everywhere). For me it’s about continuing this old tradition, which has always been part of the Jewish mentality – about being open-minded, and being different, and about collecting being a role model for other collectors, not just Jewish ones. Obviously this attitude is more prevalent in the Anglo-American world, so for me the point is somehow to relate this attitude to the Viennese context.

Marina Abramović & Ulay, AAA_AAA, 1970

(Courtesy: The artists & VBK, Wien 2011 & EP Privatstiftung)

You’re also facing a specific current situation. There was a very late process of restitution in Austria, which began only about 14 years ago. In April 2011 a Klimt was given back to its original owner by the Salzburg Museum of Modern Art. In 2008 Otto von Habsburg gave a much-applauded speech at a Conservative Party (ÖVP) event, in which he described Austria as the ‘first victim’ of Hitler’s Germany, rather than as a willing supporter. What do you make of all this?
EP I always say: out of what you took away, keep everything, keep the land – just give us back the art. It is worth more than everything else. In relation to Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907), though, I have to say: come on, there was a settlement on offer. Forty-five million, 60 million. I mean, there were more tourists coming to see Adele at the Belvedere. We can find money to spend on all sorts of things, but not to keep Adele here? Did we really need to give it away to New York? As for the whole victim thing: I disagree with the very idea of being a victim. I teach my kids: don’t talk about blame, it’s already in the past. And the past you can never change. Instead talk about responsib­ility, because responsibility is about the future, and the future you can change through your actions today. I arrived in Vienna when I was a child; my family came from Odessa and a Communist environment, and that’s the reason I’m so interested in Eastern art, in artists like Roman Ondák or Adrian Paci. Together with Ami Barak, I chose important pieces by these artists because of this connection, this personal story.

You also collect a number of Israeli artists whose works often touch on difficult questions. Yael Bartana’s work, for example …
EP For me, it’s a big compliment to the openness of Israeli society. Why? Because the works are critical of Israel. And they are shown in the biggest museums in Israel. And prizes are awarded to Yael Bartana and to other artists by the Israeli government. So now, please try and find me an Arab artist who makes work that criticizes Hamas in Gaza City.

Mircea Cantor, Tracking Happiness, 2009

(Courtesy: The artist & Johnen Galerie)

You said earlier that you are interested in surrounding yourself with opinions that differ from your own. How much would you allow these opinions to change your own, eventually?
EP My opinions are already changing. What is the image of the hedge fund industry or the alternative investment industry? We rank somewhere between, I would say, paedophiles and the Taliban. And for good reason. Because what happened was a disaster. I can’t see a better system, but things have to change.

The exhibition FOREIGNERS EVERYWHERE. Contemporary Art from the Pomeranz Collection, curated by Ami Barak, is on view at Vienna’s Jewish Museum until 7 October 2012.