The collector: Tobias Gombert
The Basel/Berlin-based investor and collector Tobias Gombert – who started sharpening his ‘collector’s eye’ with the legendary art dealer and collector Ernst Beyeler – shares his favourite museums, artists who's work he’s been following and the three main pillars that form his growing collection.
SSM: Basel or Berlin?
TG: 30/70 – The best out of both #lebenimlaufschritt. I'm working mostly from my Berlin office – a Venture capital fund / Family office. I enjoy the city and the international connections that Berlin built over the last years – the city changed a lot and transferred into a professional business hub. The art scene got more professional as well – sometimes I miss the time where you could discover art. Berlin got very fashionable in a way. What is missing is a passionate art-loving community which Berlin never developed on a high-class level. I’m a member of the Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin – one of the most beautiful museums you can find – however, in comparison to museums in Basel there's not too much going on, and it’s not a very active community. Let's see if Klaus Biesenbach can change this.
Basel is a great place with an incredible cultural background. In Switzerland you see a generous support for culture.
SSM: What's the last exhibition that left an impression on you?
TG: The most recent show on an outstanding level was Piet Mondrian's Mondrian Evolution at Fondation Beyeler in Basel. The Fondation Beyeler is one of the best European museums. This cultural hub in Basel is always stunning – the level of museums and the cultural scene in Switzerland are probably one of the best out there.
Thinking back of the last shows that I saw perhaps the best curated show was Peter Fischli's Stop Painting at Fondazione Prada in Venice last autumn. This was really down to painting – perhaps one of my core interests.
The best gallery show I saw this year: Ida Ekblad WE WERE PATIENT at Galerie Max Hetzler in Berlin. Of our time, I would say Max Hetzler is one of the best gallerists when it comes to painting.
SSM: Your 5 favourite galleries / museums around the world?
TG: 1. Fondation Beyeler in Basel: Ernst Beyeler was one of the best art dealers of the late 20th century, with an incredible sense for quality.
2. Kolumba in Cologne: A beautiful building from Peter Zumthor – it's always a lesson in art history and architecture, visiting or better spending time in this building. Time stops completely. The way this museum and collection are run is outstanding.
3. Kunstmuseum Winterthur / Sammlung Römerholz: It houses an outstanding collection created by Oskar Reinhart around French impressionism, combined with radical American minimalism – Winterthur is a hidden gem.
4. Dia Beacon in New York City: Also, absolutely worth visiting is the founder Heiner Friedrich's German museum DAS MAXIMUM near Munich.
5. Castello di Rivoli: Visiting Turin – the centre of the Arte Povera – during Artissima is always a highlight.
SSM: When did you start collecting?
TG: I started early when I was 17 years old, when I earned my first money. I got in touch with Ernst Beyeler at his museum and he taught me how to look at paintings and sculptures and how to connect them in art history. It was only after his death, when I realized that he was not just a security guard at this museum in our neighbourhood.
Wilhelm Schürmann also taught me to look at things and art in a completely new way. From the perspective of a photographer and an observer, he sharpened my eye, as we walked through the city and visited exhibitions.
Peter Handschin brought me to Kunsthalle Basel, where he was the former president. I had the privilege of discovering contemporary art on a high-class level.
Sam Keller gave me access to the professional art world, running the world's best art fair in Basel – in a way he opened the window to the world for me.
In the end it's all based on intrinsic drive and a deep passion, paired with desire for discovery and open-mindedness. Being surrounded by art, art-loving people and a cultural environment, makes me happy every day.
SSM: What’s the newest work in your collection?
TG: The newest works in the collection are a small drawing by Sophie Jung, a young Swiss artist who works across text, sculpture and performance, navigating the politics of re/re/representation and challenging the selective silencing that happens by concluding. She employs humour, shame, the absurd, raw anger, rhythm and rhyme, slapstick, hardship, friendship and a constant stream of slippages.
A painting by Brandon Lipchik, an American artist who moved to Berlin – painting in a complete “post internet” way, Brandon Lipchik is interested in the process of distortion and dissociation of a picture, which can occur both in the digital realm and on canvas. He masks a picturesque scene such as the Caprian landscape with lovers and collages occasionally bizarre and contradictory compositions.
And a large work by the established radical painter Joseph Marioni – a yellow painting / painted light. Marioni is the painter of liquid light. He is a modern painter working out of the tradition of Robert Ryman and Mark Rothko. For the past 40 years he has practiced the fine art of painting with acrylic paint on linen canvas over wooden support.
SSM: Abstract or figurative?
TG: For me personally, since the 20th century, art history has been going in an abstract direction. We saw so many great historical painters that are in my opinion, unsurpassable. We've seen the Italian renaissance and the Flemish painters with their incredible quality. Today, if you go to see the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin or the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, somehow you feel our era won't rise to this kind of level.
SSM: Is there an underlying theme behind your collection?
TG: I don’t follow a strategy, but in the end it's always a combination of art history and established art, alongside young contemporary art of our time.
Looking back and learning from the history is always good, but combining it with our time is essential. The best collections that I've visited are not done by art advisors – they are done by personality over years. If I had more money, space, and time I would collect much more around different topics. But limitation is always good – I don’t want buy for the storage. I created an imaginary collection of works that I would love to own through my library of over 2000 books!
The main focus of both my interests and collection I would segment into 3 parts:
1. Abstract painting: From German Informel to abstract American art, radical painting, to the Europe of our time. So Bram Bogart comes next to Robert Janitz and Paul Czerlitzki. Emilio Vedova next to Christopher Wool and André Butzer or an Auguste Rodin drawing next to Dominik Sittig.
2. Performance and conceptual art: Perhaps the field I’m interested in the most, with the least amount of works. It's hard to collect within a limited space here – most of the works you need to experience directly and collecting them could only be an idea. A study or a draft would capture it best. Anne Imhof next to Franz Erhard Walter. Meuser next to Pedro Wirz.
3. Photography: Thomas Struth, Wolfgang Tillmans, Thomas Ruff and Candida Höfer are the pillars of my photo collection. But I feel my interests are shifting to documentary of performance art and conceptual art. Works by Thomas Julier, Dan Graham or Nathalie Czech and Karsten Födinger are good examples here.
SSM: Having collected Jan Kiefer for a couple of years, what are some of the qualities that drew you to his work?
TG: The wide field of techniques, combined with an interest in music, art history and painting are key qualities in Jan's work. I’m happy to call him a good friend for nearly 10 years, whilst following his career. For his show Skiing Snowman at the Swiss Institute in NYC some years ago, Jan turned his attention to Alpine tourism and the figure of the snowman, a recurring character he has depicted on skis both in painting and sculpture since 2016.
Optimismus, Pessimismus, Realismus, 2022
SSM: Can you name 3 artists whose works you've loved lately?
TG: Discovering artists on Super Super Markt.
1. Oliver Osborne is getting better and better. His new works were one of my Art Basel highlights this year – I have to see his show at Tanya Leighton in the next days.
2. Heji Shin: Her new works at Reena Spaulings are amazing. I’ve been following her work since I discovered it at Kunsthalle Zürich.
3. Ei Arakawa at Max Mayer: Which brings me to an amazing show with his works Post-Capital at Mudam Luxembourg last year, curated by Michelle Cotton.
Oliver Osborne German Afternoons No. 6, 2021-22
SSM: If your personality was a painting, what would it be?
TG: A Brice Marden.