Anton Herbert, a Belgian collector who over 50 years amassed a pioneering collection of Conceptual and Minimalist art, died on December 7 at 83, according to a report by Le Monde. No cause of death was given.
Herbert, who appeared on ARTnews’s Top 200 Collectors list 16 times, began amassing his holdings in 1973, when he purchased Carl Andre’s 64 Lead Square (1969). With his wife Annick, Herbert soon began focusing specifically on buying work produced between 1968 and 1989, when Conceptualism and Minimalism flourished. He focused on collecting in-depth works by around 40 artists involved with those movements, among them John Baldessari, Robert Barry, Marcel Broodthaers, stanley brouwn, Dan Graham, Donald Judd, On Kawara, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman, Lawrence Weiner, and Ian Wilson. Herbert also collected works by Arte Povera artists such as Luciano Fabro, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Giulio Paolini, and Michelangelo Pistoletto.
According to his foundation’s website, the two years that bookend his collecting window “anchor the framework in which the Collection situates itself ideologically and represent two historical turning points: the 1968 student-led revolts with their accompanying belief in a makeable world, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the disillusionment with such ideas.”
He went on to expand his purview to include contemporary artists whose work shared affinities with the heart of his collection, including Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Thomas Schütte, and Franz West. In an interview with Le Monde, Dirk Snauwaert, the director of Wiels Centre d’Art Contemporain in Brussels, told said, “What made the difference, is the rigor of its choices and its aesthetic without ostentation, the opposite of that which prevails in Belgium.”
Based in Ghent, with his money coming from the manufacturing of industrial machinery, Herbert came from a family of collectors. His father Tony was a leading collector of Flemish expressionism in the early 20th century, and owned pieces by Constant Permeke, Gust De Smet, Jean Brusselmans, Edgard Tytgat, Rik Wouters, and Frits Van den Berghe. When Tony died in 1959, rather than continuing in his father’s footsteps of collecting Flemish art, Anton and Annick decided to amass a collection of contemporary art.
Their buying habits were closely watched. In 1984, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, invited Herbert to show his collection. Titled “L’Architecte est absent,” the show was overseen by director Rudi Fuchs and curator Jan Debbaut, who selected works from the Herbert collection. Those works complemented a showcase of art from Van Abbemuseum’s permanent collection selected that was by Annick and Anton.
In 2000, the Casino Luxembourg’s Forum d’art contemporain mounted an exhibition of the Herberts’s holdings, titled “Many Colored Objects Placed Side by Side to Form a Row of Many Colored Objects: Works from the Collection of Annick and Anton Herbert.”
In 2008, Herbert began to think about what he would do with his collection. He dedicated himself to creating a foundation in Ghent that would mount exhibitions of his holdings. In 2011, to finance the exhibition space, he put up for auction 35 works from his collection at Christie’s New York. With a $5 million to $7 million pre-sale estimate, the sale included 29 pieces that sold for a total of $7.8 million. The top lot was Carl Andre’s Steel-Lead Alloy Square (1969), which sold for $2.4 million.
The Herbert Foundation’s building in Ghent opened in 2013 and continues to mount exhibitions. This past October, it opened “Distance Extended / 1979 – 1997. Part II Works and Documents from Herbert Foundation,” which runs through 2023.
In 2011, as he was working to build the foundation’s Ghent space, Herbert said, “Our goal with the private collection in Ghent is to go in depth and work on a Foundation as a research center, a study organization and an archive, so as to analyze in a broader context the essential aspects of art and study the changes of 1968 and 1989. We want to look, if possible, for some historical continuity through the subjectivity of our collecting activity. Indeed, it is ‘Utopia.’ But we know it is necessary.’”