Van Ham to Offer Over 500 Works from the Olbricht Collection

Nazia Safi
Published on
Thomas Olbricht (Photo Courtesy: Der Spiegel)
Thomas Olbricht (Photo Courtesy: Der Spiegel)

The art world was disappointed in May when top German collector Thomas Olbricht announced the closure of his private museum, me Collectors Room Berlin. Now, the Essen-based doctor and scientist is unloading some 500 pieces from his private collection, including numerous works from his cabinet of curiosities this September at Cologne-based auction house Van Ham.

Olbricht began collecting at five years old, buying toy cars, stamps, matchboxes, and later butterflies. In the 1980s, Olbricht started collecting post-war German art, beginning with the work of local artists. Since then, Olbricht has built one of the most extensive private collections in Europe. His collection encompasses works from the early 16th-century to contemporary art. Olbricht once said, “Collecting is part of my life cycle and as my focus in life changes, so does my collection.”

Olbricht, who has been included in the Top 200 Collector list of ARTnews 12 times, is deaccessioning selections from his collection beginning September 26, 2020.

“From a Universal Collector – The Olbricht Collection” will include nearly 200 contemporary and modern paintings, photographs, sculptures, and installations by such artists as George Condo, Cindy Sherman, Gerhard Richter, Thomas Schütte, and Marlene Dumas, along with young South American and Chinese artists. The sale will take place exclusively through Van Ham, one of the leading auction houses in Germany.

“Such a famous collection has never been auctioned in Germany before,” said Van Ham. Among the top lots is George Condo’s Screaming Couple, 2005, with an estimate of USD 354,600 – $591,000.

George Condo, Screaming Couple, 2005 (Photo Courtesy: Van Ham Art Auctions)
George Condo, Screaming Couple, 2005 (Photo Courtesy: Van Ham Art Auctions)

Other notable lots include one of the first photographs from Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film #39, with an estimate of $94,395 – $141,830.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #39, 1979 (Photo Courtesy: Van Ham Art Auctions)
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #39, 1979 (Photo Courtesy: Van Ham Art Auctions)

The Untitled Film Stills is a suite of 70 black-and-white photographs in which the artist poses as various female film characters, including a working girl, ingénue, vamp, and lonely housewife.

Also hitting the auction block at Van Ham is Untitled (Target), created in 2001 by Swiss performance artist and sculptor John M. Armleder. The installation is estimated at $94,395 – $141,830.

John M. Armleder, Untitled (Target), 2001 (Photo Courtesy: Van Ham Art Auctions)
John M. Armleder, Untitled (Target), 2001 (Photo Courtesy: Van Ham Art Auctions)

Besides contemporary art, Olbricht owns Wunderkammer—a 16th-century European “cabinet of curiosities”—with over 300 objects from the Renaissance and Baroque periods alongside other organic matter and fauna. Van Ham will auction nearly all the pieces from the Wunderkammer.

Wunderkammer from Thomas Olbricht Collection (Photo Courtesy: Van Ham Art Auctions)
Wunderkammer from Thomas Olbricht Collection (Photo Courtesy: Van Ham Art Auctions)

Among the highlights of the Wunderkammern pieces is the bronze Death Hourglass from around 1620, formerly owned by Yves Saint Laurent. According to Artnet, other highlights from Wunderkammer include much-sought-after Victorian-era models of plants and a cabinet full of rare taxidermy butterflies.

Other notable Wunderkammern objects include a “unicorn horn,” stuffed birds, religious and surreal objects, and a detailed anatomical figure of a pregnant woman. “An essential part of this collection is the medical background of many objects which refers to the history of research into the human body,” notes the auction house.

These objects, along with many other Wunderkammern pieces, have been exhibited at me Collectors Room, a museum of the Olbricht Foundation since 2010. Despite its closure, the Olbricht Foundation will continue to promote cultural education projects for children and young people from Essen, the hometown of Thomas Olbricht and his wife Claudia.

“From a Universal Collector – The Olbricht Collection” takes place on September 26 at 10:00 a.m. CEST at Van Ham Art Auctions’ headquarters in Cologne. Interested bidders can view each lot on the Van Ham Art Auctions’ website.