In the conversation below, Olaf looks at the corporate collection on display in Hannover Re’s offices, explains the Hannover Re Foundation’s role at the Sprengel Museum Hannover, and considers their collaboration with the Braunschweig University of Art. He also shares some of his own personal artistic insights and anecdotes.
NB: Olaf, am I correct in thinking there are several different parts to the collection?
OB: That’s right. There are three elements of our art activities: the Hannover Re Foundation art collection, the Hannover Re Art Collection, and the collaboration with the University of Braunschweig.
The basis for the Foundation is that we buy pieces which we then dedicate to the Sprengel Museum Hannover. It is local to us in Hannover, but holds one of the most significant collections of modern art in Germany. The Foundation was set up in 1991, to mark our 25th anniversary.
We also have the Corporate collection on display at our Hannover Re premises, which we began to assemble in the mid-1980s. And then we have our partnership with Braunschweig University of Art, where we have an annual rotating ‘Masterclass’ exhibition profiling the work of students.
NB: Have any of your proteges from Braunschweig University gone on to achieve international success?
OB: Not yet, as they are still early in their careers. After our sponsorship, we see many more activities from them – they get other art scholarships, they exhibit nationwide as well as worldwide. It is hard to become a famous artist, but they are all going their way and they are extremely creative and engaged.
NB: How many years has the initiative with Braunschweig University been in place?
OB: 2021 is our eighth year. So, we are now keeping our eyes open for some of the students from the earlier years!
NB: What do you look for in terms of objects you might consider acquiring for the Foundation or the Corporate collection?
OB: That’s a good question. It’s very much a mixture of items that have personal significance, that we feel will have significance to our employees and significance to the stature and standing of Hannover Re.
I see it as a ‘living collection’, for the benefit of employees and clients in the Hannover Re building, and the local community in Hannover via the Sprengel Museum.
How we choose what is collected is based on several informed people’s opinions and desires, and naturally there is a strong German influence on the collection. The board has active discussions around what we personally like and what we believe will meet employees’ expectations, all the time also following new art developments to complete the collection of the Sprengel Museum. For the Hannover Re art collection, we have installed a curatorship committee which is responsible for acquisitions.
NB: The period of the corporate collection in the office mirrors the age of the Hannover Re organisation, which I interpret as focusing very much on the present and future?
OB: Precisely – our focus is on the ‘young ones’. When it comes to our own corporate collection, we have a certain amount we can spend which determines the area we concentrate on. We want to see interesting developments with the budget we have – so we start with new and upcoming artists where we can see potential.
NB: I’m really interested in your thoughts on contemporary art. In your fortunate position of being able to tour Europe with art advisors and meeting artists themselves, how much easier do you find it having help interpreting works - and how radically different does your perception of the art end up being after such interpretation?
OB: If you’d have asked me before I took over the function of being in charge of the collection, I would have answered this differently. Previously, I would have said “What could anyone tell me that I can’t already see myself when I look at a work?” Now, in this new role, I will answer this completely differently. Without the educated explanation, I wouldn’t have such a detailed understanding what a painting or sculpture is all about. I now always ask for our curators to join us at exhibitions, to help understand from a technical perspective the idea and meaning behind the art and the exhibition itself. There is so much creativity behind the individual paintings or sculptures which you cannot fully understand or appreciate without an explanation.
NB: Do you think there is an analogy that can be drawn between the interpretation of complex, non-representational art and complex risk and risk management?
OB: There’s an interesting link between the process of understanding a piece of art and a client’s complex risk; your first impression as to whether you like either is not necessarily the right one. Art and complex risks run deeper than that, they need a second and third look before making an informed decision.
NB: Do you have favourite work or works, either at the Foundation or currently on display at the office?
OB: Yes, I do. My favourite at the moment is a painting entitled Kopf (Head) by Thomas Scheibitz - a face that is painted in grey, blue, and orange. We have this in one of the rooms in our office that is used for hosting guests. The room is called ‘Herrenhausen’, and this painting fits perfectly into that room alongside the Picasso pieces we also have in there. I love the orange colour as it really stands out against the other moderate colours in the room.