A Berlin Show Celebrating Dealer Rudolf Zwirner Brings Together 80 Works by Artists He Championed, From Bourgeois to Warhol

The legendary German dealer has been credited with inventing art fairs and redefining the modern art market.

Rudolf Zwirner at Kunstmarket Köln (now known as Art Cologne) in 1971. Photo: © Angelika Platen.

How have some legendary gallerists contributed to the making of art history? An exhibition at the PalaisPopulaire in Berlin is honoring the discerning eye of Rudolf Zwirner, one of the most influential art dealers of all time, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Born in Berlin on July 28, 1933, Zwirner and his then wife Ursula Reppin opened his eponymous gallery in Essen, Germany in 1959, quickly expanding to a second location in Cologne (formerly Kunstmarket Köln) in 1963. He is usually credited with having invented the art fair after co-founding Art Cologne with fellow dealer Hein Stünke and artnet’s founder Hans Neuendorf in 1967. Perhaps most impressive of all, Zwirner brought international attention to the German art scene at a time when it had been greatly diminished by the economic ruin of World War II, Nazi suppression of “degenerate” art, and the exodus of many well-established Jewish dealers.

“When we started what became Art Cologne, there were just six of us who sold contemporary art, so it was really a risk,” Zwirner told Artnet News in 2021. “There was very little interest in contemporary art at that time. Now, there are 3,000 galleries in Germany that focus on it.”

In 1992, he retired as an active gallerist but his son David Zwirner, who was born in 1964, has become an art market giant with galleries in New York, London, Hong Kong, and Paris.

Bringing together some 80 works from the Deutsche Bank Collection, other private collections and museums, the show tells Zwirner’s life story and demonstrates his celebrated ability to spot talented artists in the early stages of their careers and support them in becoming successes.

Over decades, he worked with many of the biggest names in modern and contemporary art whose works are in this survey, including Louise Bourgeois, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Georg Baselitz, Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, and David Hockney. A few standout examples from the more distant past include those by Tiepolo, Dürer, and Gaspare Diziani.

See a handful of works from the exhibition below.

Henri Rousseau, The sign as a painter (1903-10). Photo: Alistair Overbruck, © Courtesy Sammlung Zander.

Matija Skurjeni, Surprise Visit (1958–61). Photo: Alistair Overbruck, courtesy Sammlung Zander.

Astrid Klein, Untitled (I hermetically locked a man in the room) (1980). Photo: Timo Ohler, © Astrid Klein, courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers.

Michael Müller, Epiclesis (2022) from the series “Hades.” Photo: Mathias Schormann, © Studio Michael Müller.

Gerhard Richter, Bomber (1963). Photo: © Gerhard Richter 2023.

Gaspare Diziani, Cane and Abel (early 18th century). Photo: Lea Gryze.

“A Life in Pictures: A Portrait of Seeing for Rudolf Zwirner” is on view at the PalaisPopulaire by Deutsche Bank, Unter den Linden 5, Berlin, through August 14.


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