OBITUARY : Konrad Fischer
Saturday 21 December 1996
Born in Dusseldorf in 1939, he attended the Dusseldorf Art Academy from 1958 to 1962. In 1963, exhibiting under his mother's maiden name of Lueg, he collaborated with his fellow students Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter to found a new movement, "Capitalist Realism", a European strain of Pop Art and an ironic reflection of the material world of the nascent German economic miracle.
Polke and Richter went on to develop international reputations as conceptual painters; Fischer, with his feeling for art and artists, became no less influential, but as an agent for artists. It was the legendary dealer and representative of Joseph Beuys, Alfred Schmela, who having shown Lueg's work in 1963 encouraged him to start a second gallery for young people.
This joint project did not work out, but in 1967 Fischer developed his own concept for a gallery. His idea was startling in its simplicity but established a completely new approach to exhibiting contemporary art, not only in other galleries, but also in exhibition halls and museums across Europe and eventually America.
Carl Andre, the first artist to show at Konrad Fischer's gallery, in October 1967, has written of the experience:
Konrad did not have enough money to pay for the shipping and insurance of any art work so he sent me the cheapest New York/Dusseldorf Lufthansa ticket. [He also] did not have enough money to rent a proper gallery space so he took a disused alley that ran like a tunnel through a tenement block in the Altstadt, blocked both ends with glass doors, and wired fluorescent lights from end to end overhead. When I arrived he handed me a brush and a can of paint and said "Carl, the sooner you paint the floor, the sooner you can install your work."
Andre tore up the plans that he had made in New York and proceeded to make a new work devised specially for the scale and configuration of Fischer's gallery. This principle of moving the artist, rather than the work of art, reflected a contemporary interest in concept as much as object and was soon widely adopted as a model, as was Fischer's custom of announcing his exhibitions by means of a simple postcard.
Fischer followed Andre's exhibition with the first European exhibitions for the Americans Richard Artschwager, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman and Robert Ryman, and the first one-person exhibitions anywhere for Hanne Darboven, On Kawara and the British artists Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, Bruce McLean and Gilbert and George.
Within the space of two years Fischer's gallery became one of the two or three most important places to see new developments in contemporary art. It provided a forcing ground for the artists and the ideas that dominated the avant-garde agenda and the international exhibitions of the period, including "When Attitudes Become Form" in Bern in 1968, the annual s eries of "Prospect" exhibitions held in Dusseldorf from 1968 and culminating in Harald Szeeman's "Documenta 5" at Kassel in 1972.
In the 1970s Fischer became the most influential figure in a group of European galleries that included Wide White Space in Antwerp, Art and Project in Amsterdam, Heiner Friedrich in Munich and the Lisson Gallery in London, continuing to show minimal and conceptual art and the work of the Italian Arte Povera artists such as Mario Merz and Jannis Kounellis. But his influence grew from his close association with artists and the significance of the particular exhibitions that they made in his gallery rather than through his success as a merchant.
Fischer's primary goal was not to act as a salesman but, as he put it, "to keep the family informed". Andre's account discloses Fischer's instinctive sympathy for the mind and the strategy of the artist. This was repaid by the loyalty which artists displayed when they came under pressure to show in more successful commercial galleries in the late Seventies and early Eighties.
Time and again artists would reserve their best work or efforts for a show at Fischer's, from where the work would be bought by discerning collectors or other dealers who would subsequently present it in their own "general stores", as Fischer described those commercial galleries with no sense of dedication to a group or a generation. In the mid-Eighties Fischer renewed his commitment to the principle of working with emerging artists, embracing and promoting a younger generation of sculptors, including Schutte, Mucha, and Klingelholler from Dusseldorf, as well as Tony Cragg and Juan Munoz.
For 30 years Fischer was a presence at every important exhibition opening in the European art world. Understated and relaxed in contrast to his eager competitors, he could be seen in the bar in the company of artists or a small group of discriminating collectors from Belgium, Holland and the Rheinland rather than drinking champagne with the international collectors who emerged in the Eighties and Nineties.
Konrad Fischer was shrewd and self-deprecating with an ironic sense of humour. He had a special relationship with British art and regularly showed the work of Hamish Fulton and Alan Charlton as well as Richard Long, Gilbert and George and Tony Cragg. Dorothee, his wife and then his working partner for nearly 30 years, continues to run the gallery in Dusseldorf, a role which became even more significant as Fischer fought the cancer which brought his early death.
If art dealers have always been fascinating, that delicious combination of large sums of money and larger cultural erudition, in the 20th century they are nigh totemic figures, writes Adrian Dannatt. The more hermetic or enigmatic art becomes the more crucial the gallerist.
Konrad Fischer was the ideal modern dealer, absolutely uncompromising in his tastes, completely committed to actual art rather than anecdotal pseudo-biography or associative glamour, and just as importantly, awfully good at selling. With his gallery in Dusseldorf for nearly 30 years, Fischer was amongst the handful of figures who made post-war Germany a universally envied haven for contemporary art, responsible for a generation of enlightened collectors, generous museums and local Kunsthalles.
Konrad Fischer made you feel you should stick to your guns and carry on with what you wanted to do: it wasn't about money, it was about art. Fischer was totally independent, totally about the art. He focused on the art and the artists and couldn't give a rat's ass about the public.
Konrad Fischer, artist and art dealer: born Dusseldorf 1939; married 1964 Dorothee Franke; died Dusseldorf 24 November 1996.
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