Collector Exhibits Amazing Modernism

New York -- In today’s hyperactive art world, investment potential and auction sales often influence art purchases. This was clearly not the case with collector Reinhard Onnasch.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network will appreciate this astounding private collection, now open for public viewing.

He has been collecting for over 40 years and has rarely sold off anything. Born in Görlitz, Germany in 1939, Reinhard Onnasch made his money in real estate, and pointed his proceeds towards the arts.

In 1973, he opened the Onnasch Gallery at 139 Spring Street with Gerhard Richter’s first solo exhibition in America. He sold only one Richter.

His gallery here did not succeed. Nor did the gallery he started in Cologne. Ultimately, he channeled his passion and uniquely good eye towards building his own collection, something at age 73 he continues to do.

A downtown exhibition offers an intimate view of Onnasch's collecting passion.

The ‘wow factor’ of every piece is remarkable. The Barnett Newman is beautiful. It is in the first room, with other Abstract Expressionist works by Clyfford Still, and Morris Louis.

The three large paintings riff off each other in an ongoing verse. The room is poetry in motion. There are paintings from 1953, 1954 and 1955.

The exhibit progresses into a more personal odyssey with an autobiographical 1956 painting by Larry Rivers ’the Journey’. Beside it hangs a Cy Twombly from 1960 that has male and female genitalia scattered across the canvas.

These paintings are offset by an unusual David Smith sculpture. ‘Seven Hours’, done in 1961, has not only David Smith’s typical use of industrial materials but spouts on top, a beautifully rendered Rorschach-like white on black painting. Perhaps Onnasch bought this piece as a way of having both a Smith drawing and a sculpture rolled into one.

The show then moves on to Pop. There is an early Rauschenberg combine painting, ‘Pilgrim’ 1960; three Jim Dine oil paintings from 1962, and a George Segal ‘The Farm Worker’ 1963. Notably, there are no Warhols, Lichtensteins, or conventional Pop icons. American artists focus on mass production is shown through signature and seminal Oldenberg sculptures.

There are early 1961 ‘pre’ sewn Oldenbergs, 'Two Girls' Dresses' made with canvas soaked in plaster and painted. These illustrate Oldenberg’s early creative sparks. A totem-like sculpture by Christo, ‘Wrapped Road Sign’ 1963, seems to me, to be a seed or germ for subsequent works by Christo. Mark di Suvero has a sweet 1962 sculpture in the room titled ‘Homage to Brancusi’. His homage is actually a break through piece that sets the stage of sculpture’s new direction.

An entire room of John Wesley paintings, 1962-1986 segue into a room of Richard Tuttle sculptures.

Tuttle’s polite, abstract assemblage works set a good contrast for the following room filled with explosive, in-your-face pieces by the West Coast artist Edward Kienholz. Kienholtz was a self taught artist with a lot to say. His sculptures, made from trailer park refuse, are a blatant critique of the underbelly subculture in America’s rural back woods. With works titled ‘A Bad Cop’ and ‘The Future as an Afterthought’ he exemplifies art with sharp social criticism.

It is interesting to note that the volatile Kienholz constructions are made during the same 1961-63 years as the Pop works by Jim Dine and Claus Oldenberg.

It’s one more indication that Onnasch’s breadth of art appreciation spanned a disparity of styles from the euphoric expressions of pure color and line in the early Ab Ex works to the highly conceptual and political commentaries by Edward Kienholz. Onnasch’s collection is also a testament to his commitment to art as a living breathing history. He nails it with each work proving to be a wonderful example of the artist’s intent and oeuvre.

“Re-View: Onnasch Collection” HAUSER & WIRTH NY 7 February – 12 April 2014, Hauser & Wirth New York, 18th Street