The Bizarre Saga of How an Isa Genzken Sculpture Wound Up on a German TV Show, Then a Sotheby’s Auction, Only to Be Mysteriously Yanked

How did a valuable sculpture end up on TV?

31 January 2019, North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf: Horst Lichter is delighted to receive the German Television Award 2019 in the category "Best Factual Entertainment" for his programme "Bares für Rares". Photo: Henning Kaiser/dpa (Photo by Henning Kaiser/picture alliance via Getty Images)


An Isa Genzken sculpture found itself in a bizarre turn of events last month. First, it appeared on a popular German television program akin to the U.S. series Antiques Roadshow, then was almost immediately put up for auction—before being swiftly yanked from the block.

Two recent German newspaper reports recount the strange incident that occurred on the popular German television show Bares für Rares (Cash for Rares), where eager candidates bring on artworks and objects to have their value assessed by a panel of experts. 

According to Monopol, the September 6 episode featured an intensive care nurse identified only as Jörg F., who presented a Genzken sculpture that he said he’d received as a gift from the artist, during a period in which she was battling health issues and he cared for her. The work in question was identified as World Receiver (2011) and consists of a concrete block with two antennae. Jörg F. reportedly said the work was not to his liking and he wanted to sell it.

Isa Genzken's <i>World Receiver (Weltempfänger)</i> (2011). Image via Sotheby'

Isa Genzken’s World Receiver (Weltempfänger) (2011). Image via Sotheby’

Art dealer Detlev Kümmel, who was also on the episode, said that the work could fetch up to €35,000 ($36,700). The show then staged an auction where dealers have the opportunity to bid on the objects that the guests present. Jörg F. ultimately walked away with less than half the estimated amount, $16,800, which came from a jewelry specialist identified as Susanne Steiger. 

Neither Kümmel nor Steiger responded to requests for comment.

The next day, the sculpture appeared for sale at Sotheby’s Cologne, with a much higher estimate of €30,000 to €50,000 ($31,500 to $52,550), bearing the provenance of “an important private collection from North Rhine-Westphalia.” According to the Sotheby’s lot description: “This work is registered under the no. IG/S 2011/14 in the archive of works by Isa Genzken, Galerie Buchholz Cologne, Berlin.” Galerie Buchholz did not immediately respond to request for comment.

In yet another twist, at some point before the Sotheby’s auction took place,th sculpture was yanked from the sale—at the behest of Genzken’s lawyer.

A representative for Sotheby’s Cologne confirmed the news, telling Artnet News via email: “Sotheby’s has withdrawn the work in agreement with the consignor, and [can] provide no further detail at this stage. Sotheby’s confirms that the work was not withdrawn on authenticity grounds. The work is signed Isa Genzken and dated 2011.”

Monopol pointed out that there are numerous legal concerns about how the nurse came into possession of the sculpture. Genzken could not be reached for comment but has said that she was receiving inpatient psychiatric treatment at the time. “Until the broadcast of the program, this donation was not known, nor was it known that Jörg F. had worked as a carer for the artist and how he came into contact with her. Efforts are currently being made to clarify the matter,” a representative for the artist told Monopol. “A lawyer has now been appointed to represent Isa Genzken’s interests.”

The question remains whether the deal between Jorg F. and Steiger could now be negated. Monopol posited that the show organizers could have foreseen trouble, adding that people “were too happy to take the supposed joke that a concrete block could be worth so much.”

Jörg F. could not be reached for comment.

According to the Artnet Price Database, a Genzken Weltempfänger (World Receiver) dated 1990, sold at Christie’s London in February 2020 for £52,500 ($68,500).

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
  • Access the data behind the headlines with the artnet Price Database.