“For me collecting is about looking, whereas for richer people it is about buying.”

Internet entrepreneur Ivo Wessel has three main obsessions—computing, literature, and art. Although he likes to combine them he decided early on that he had no interest in making money from art—just in collecting it. FAM takes a tour of Wessel’s collection and discovers his attraction for all that’s provocative!

Ottmar Hörl's Monolog für Fortgeschrittene (tv screen, mirror, video camera)

Sven Johne's Ship Cancellation

Within a minute of meeting Wessel it became clear that my carefully researched interview questions could go out the window. On entering this collector’s flat there was a moment’s pause as if he were surveying me before sweeping me into a whirlwind of stories, enthusiasm, and knowledge—I barely had a chance to shake his hand. Wessel’s collection comprises Conceptual Art, Op Art, Concrete Art, video art, and photography. He does not like “realistic painting. I do not collect art history. I just buy art that interests me. For reasons I don’t really know. It is a gut decision.”

It is impossible not to get caught up in Ivo Wessel’s enthusiasm for his collection as he bounds around his airy Altbau apartment in Wedding, Berlin, excitedly recalling anecdotes about the works and details of his artist friends. His collection is above all a reflection of him and the habitual, considered manner in which he has gone about building it. When I ask how he put it together he replies that it comes down to the fact that he can “distinguish between value and price. If a gallerist comes to me and tells me they have a young artist who is going to be a big star next year and win this or that prize, I’m not interested at all. I really love to make my discoveries for myself.”

Ivo's home and collection

Jan van Munster's Studie über einen perfekten Eiskubus

Wessel can count numerous artists featured in his collection as good friends. Many, such as Sven Johne and Via Lewandowsky, he discovered before they had made a name for themselves and whom he came upon by chance. This is part of the thrill of Wessel’s collection—it has a spontaneity and personal connection that obviously means a great deal to him. One piece by Hörl that is currently being exhibited in Bremen at the Museum of Modern Art is an envelope containing the drilling dust from a solo exhibition that Wessel was unable to attend. “This is my most expensive piece. You don’t need a credit card for something like this, you need a friendship, a relationship. An art consultant couldn’t get you this.”

Martin Kippenberger's Grüsse vom Müttergenesungswerk Massaker and Ivo Wessel sitting at his desk in front of picture of Ottmar Hörl’s Bohrstaub (Drilling Dust), a gift from the artist

“I would never just invite people and show them around my collection piece by piece to try and impress them by the price or rarity. People are always more interested in the stories. This is something I really love.” Indeed, there is an extraordinary story connected to almost every piece and Wessel holds each on the tip of his tongue. “People don’t view a collection and say what an important collection, but they will say that is an interesting story. I don’t like art as a status symbol, look, over there is a Gerhard Richter, the value of two houses is hanging on your wall!”

Ivo Wessel first started programming at the age of 12 and quickly made a name for himself developing interfaces for Windows and publishing computer books. The course of his professional life however took a drastic turn in 2008 when Apple’s App Store opened and Wessel suddenly had access to millions of subscribers and in less than six months mastered Apple’s Objective C computer language. Suddenly there was no stopping him and not only has he created many successful Apps, he has collaborated with Art Basel as well as programming the iPhone-App for Bjørn Melhus’ art work created for the new Berlin airport.

Geteilte Freude ist Doppelter Spaß by Via Lewandowsky

“A friend noticed that my name is an anagram of ‘I sue solve’ and this is what I do, I try to analyze and cut things down.” Seeing the confusion on my face Ivo repeats the phrase and it becomes clear he meant “sew” instead of “sue”. Overall one gets a sense of Wessel’s unbounded generosity, his willingness to find time for his passions, and to help out fellow enthusiasts in any way he can. Whether preserving rare books—he has an astonishing Oscar Wilde collection—helping a writer find the correct computer set up, or in his ability to offer advice and numerous ideas to the websites, friends, and companies that entwine his three passions.

In April his new website In Best Hands promises to be a new way of trading goods online, allowing the stories behind each item to sell them and to allow people to find things they want through the telling of stories. “Sometimes the things they are looking for are totally ridiculous, things I am not interested in, but the stories are a fascinating read. We hope to draw people to the platform through this storytelling aspect.”

Mirror by Victor Bonato

Julio Le Parc's Mobile and a Sven Johne Certificate of Authenticity for his video work Jutta.

Obviously at FAM we are particularly interested in the multiples and editions that Wessel has and in this area he does not disappoint. Notably he has the video work Telephones by Christian Marclay on one screen of an integrated DVD installation that he had made himself, “well before iPads had ever been invented.” Containing over a 100 years of the use of telephones in Hollywood movies, they only made “250 copies and I got my copy in 1996—nobody bought video art at the time. I love the idea of video art collectors from all over the world visiting my collection, and going ‘We have that in our collection too!’ Nowadays people are so stupid not accepting multiples of larger than five. But if an artist only makes five copies, they are only addressing rich collectors.”

“I have a cleaning robot, which is kind of stupid and not very effective. It always drives straight into the Kippenberger.” The piece he is talking about, Grüsse vom Müttergenesungswerk Massaker (Greetings From Mother Rehabilitation Center Massacre), was made in an edition of ten and consists of the chain of a chainsaw lying on top of a palette. It stands inconspicuously between a window and his overflowing table like a forgotten pile of books. Kippenberger’s mother died when a palette fell on top of her in an industrial accident and, as Wessel tells me, “when I heard about how his mother died it totally changed my perspective on the piece. Good art is sometimes shocking and I am drawn to what’s provocative.”

Flower drawing by Sven Johne which was made for the release of his video work Jutta

The only time I saw Wessel uneasy was when it came to doing his portraits—a man of such energy and movement suddenly forced to keep still and not speak somehow looked unnatural. Because he is a man literally exploding with ideas whose relationships to artists, the art he collects, his books, and his profession are held in a perfect simmering symmetry. Often he gets writers to add a passage to his programming books or an artist to produce drawings—not necessarily with anything to do with the subject. It is this collaborative aspect that he thrives off. Everything of value has a story, and sometimes the story is just as important—with Wessel as well as his collection, it is the “background story” that is so intriguing.

Revolutionsbedarf by Marcel Bühler

Check out Ivo’s website In Best Hands.

By Duncan Ballantyne-Way — Senior Editor