T hrough their experimental exhibition spaces and collaborations with artists, Friedrich and Johanna Gräfling have made a name for themselves as two of Europe's most dynamic contemporary art collectors. Their home in Frankfurt houses Salon Kennedy, an independent art space that hosts exhibitions and events to encourage conversation and sharing of ideas. Here, they discuss their personal relationships with art, artists and collecting.
What first sparked your interest in art?
We have both always been interested in and curious about art. Living in London and Paris played a huge role. Both our studies evolved around creativity and art.
What was the first piece you each bought and why did you buy it?
Johanna: A small three-dimensional wall-based work by Michael Sailstorfer, called Mondlandschaft. I very much adore how he combined several key works of his in this one piece. A small relief of the actual Mondlandschaft, combined with a photograph of the iconic Sternschnuppe and a small drawing connecting both.
Friedrich: A large photograph by Anne Hardy. It is a typical, yet reduced work of hers.
You began your collection in an unusual way – by working for artists. What was that experience like and how did it work?
Well, it was a means to an end. Both, in terms of being in the discourse and among the creators themselves, but also a tool to collect. I was not being payed in money but in works. The experience was absolutely great as I got huge insights and was able to take direct part in decision making processes. It was an ideal start into the world of art. It also led to the next steps, organising first exhibitions and external collaborations.
You’ve been collaborating with artists for over a decade now. What have you learnt from these mutually beneficial, creative relationships?
Each collaboration is of course very different and unique. Hence, there is always something new to take from it. Working with artists certainly opens up new perspectives on correlations – be it socially, futuristically or even just technically. It is a great source of inspiration and most of the times an eye opener.
How has cultivating personal relationships with artists enriched your enjoyment of their work?
It is always a risk. It can go either way. Obviously, the work is not subjective anymore. We have had the experiences that we like the art, started collecting it and then collaborated, which did not work out too well. But on the contrary it can also be an accelerator; it becomes a full engagement. We get insights into the practice, have personal conversations, basically can dive intensely into the process behind – what we would describe as the entire work of the artist.
Which project or collaboration has been the biggest challenge for you and how did you overcome it?
Organising our wedding by bringing artists into it, each forming one aspect of it. For example Yves Scherer created an enormous room installation forming our dinner tent. For this he not only designed the surfaces, but was also in charge of the decoration, the flower arrangement, the sound, the garments of the catering staff, the menu... so the entire atmosphere for this moment of the ceremony.
But this was only one element. Christian Jankowski shot a video work at the wedding, whereby we constantly had a Dustin Hoffman double hanging around. This way, we have a great and different wedding video. Further, Michael Sailstorfer created a new work, which set the spirit for the dance floor for example. So the challenge for us was to produce huge art works and organise a massive group show, while preparing our own wedding.
Do you have a particular approach or philosophy to collecting? How do you decide what to look for next?
There is no decision on what to look for next. This moment comes automatically by being curious and constantly interested. Our approach generally speaking though, is to follow the artists we collect in depth. Meaning, we are not interested in one single work, rather we need to be fully convinced that we want – and have – the possibility to facilitate a position ideally throughout their entire career.
Can you explain the thinking behind Salon Kennedy? What did you want from opening this space?
The name says it all. It is to be a Salon. A space where interested and interesting people gather – initiated by us through changing projects with artists.
Salon Kennedy is also your home. What is it like to live amongst your collection?
Salon Kennedy has nothing directly to do with our collection. It is an exhibition space with altering shows, collaborations/interventions and events, adjacent to our living space. The projects vary sometimes monthly, sometimes just two to four times a year. Thus, there is always something new to see. It never gets boring.
How do you collect as a duo? What kind of conversations do you have and are there ever disagreements?
We decide everything together – hence we are living in a full democracy. Of course there are disagreements as well and sometimes the arguments go on for years. Yet, everything that enters the collection in the end, is agreed upon jointly and peacefully.
How do you manage your collection and decide where various pieces are kept or how to display them?
The collection is managed purely by us and the decision what to display (at home) evolves rather intuitively, always depending of course of size, means, materials etc. We like to alter the pieces every couple of years or so. Obviously external shows and loans are a different matter.
Have your tastes changed since you began collecting?
It certainly evolves and grows just as we do. Our collection reflects the current times we are in. This doesn’t mean that it is purely new art, but also emotions, situations and references we are experiencing.
Aside from your own spaces, do you have a favourite museum, gallery or location to view art?
We always prefer seeing art in non-conformist places, whereby new dialogues emerge – be it through the collection it is in, or the environment it activates.
You started collecting art at a young age compared to a lot of other collectors. What advice would you give to young people looking to start a collection?
Don’t think about starting a collection. Just be deeply interested in art, go and see as much as possible, buy without overthinking it and struggle.
Which artists are you currently most excited about?
Laure Prouvoust, Simon Fujiwara, Grace Weaver and Sung Tieu.
What would you like to be the legacy of your collection?
We very much like to cover the entire oeuvre of the artists that are in our collection, hence collecting really in depth. At the same time we hope the collection retrospectively captures and reflects the time we lived in.