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'Without screws, the (art) world collapses. Welcome to the empire of the 'Screw King' of southern German Künzelsau

Manufacturing screws and collecting art is on the face of it like Max Verstappen to Leonardo da Vinci. German billionaire Prof. Dr. h.c. mult. Reinhold Würth, owner of Europe's largest fastener and assembly equipment company, has a total of 10 art museums in Europe and four art annexes in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, France and Spain.

No art cathedrals

When you think of Würth museums, you should not think of art cathedrals à la Louvre or the Stedelijk, with house-high posters on the facade. Würth museums are usually housed in one of the Würth Group's business premises. Still. Reinhold Würth has plenty to show for it. He owns a collection of 18,000 paintings, sculptures and graphic works. In the late 1960s, the manufacturer started collecting art - especially 20th- and 21st-century art - and he hasn't stopped since.

'I want what I like'

Max Beckmann in Arlesheim (photo Forum Würth)

Criterion for Reinhold Würth: I want to have what I like myself. The current collection includes, among others, Kiefer, Katz, Pollock, Beckmann, Ernst, Munch, Picasso, Chillida, Cragg, Kapoor, Moore, Baselitz, Christo, Schlemmer, Hundertwasse, Braque... in short: plenty to hang out in one of his corporate museums.

Oh yes, the art collector/manufacturer has also had its own orchestra for a few years now: the Würth Philhamoniker, based in Künzelsau (just 15 thousand inhabitants), Würth's headquarters. A very good symphonic orchestra. In 2017, the orchestra performed at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw during the Robeco Summernights.

Preliminary study pissoir Duchamp

I pay a visit to Forum Würth Arlesheim. That Würth museum is on a company site on the outskirts of Basel and nestles over two floors of the company building cum canteen. Admission is free. The receptionist shrugs her shoulders at my hefty backpack: 'Take it with you though, it can be done here.'

A first visit to the gents immediately brings excitement. Is there, under the fire-engine red logo of Würth, a preliminary study of Duchamp's pissoir, and have I just made a discovery that shakes the art world to its foundations? So, not Marcel Duchamp, not Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven but Reinhold Würth was the first to screw a urinal to an art wall. A little backward calculation sobers things up: Duchamp introduced his 'readymades' in the 1920s. By then, Reinhold Würth had not even been born.

Skipper's note

Max Ernst, Sammlung Würth, Arlesheim

Above the pissoir hangs an explanatory sign with the Wim T. Schipperian explanation: "Für die Reinigung verwenden wir Hygiene-Produkte von Würth." We fear it is meant to be serious but are delighted with this unintentional integration of art and business.

At Forum Arlesheim, the exhibition 'Im Blick des Sammlers Werke der Sammlung Würth von Beckmann bis Kiefer' runs until 13 January. Comment: 'The selection shows acquisitions that came into the collection in a dialogue between the collector Reinhold Würth and his art advisory board', including Max Ernst, Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde and Rufino Tamayo.

Sugar coating the exhibit

It does not strike me as an approach for which curators flew halfway around the world for two years at a time and smoked the softwood boards from the ceiling. It takes some getting used to if you are steeled by contemporary European museums, where a thick, thematic sugar coating is laid over every exhibition (nice to look at but sometimes very steering). Wandering around the two empty floors, the word boring intrudes.

Rorschach Würth

But Switzerland has two more Würth museums. The youngest - after the sites in Arlesheim and Chur - is Forum Würth Rorschach. It is located in the small town of the same name on the shore of Lake Constance. A highly accessible thematic exhibition is currently running: Menagerie - An Animal Show from the Würth Collection. The motto: 'We come to the dog, cry big crocodile tears'. It is an 'animal show' from the Würth Collection that is excellent. The angle is the mysterious relationship between humans and animals and the changing ideas about the character of animals, from century to century. Yep, this is how a handle on the vast Würth collection comes into its own: by using the collection as a Swiss Army knife: you pull out what you need to make it fun & interesting.

Sleeping dove by Picasso

Würth museums in Europe

On display are, among others, Picasso's The Sleeping Dove, a fantastic jumping horse by Norbert Tadeusz, a drawing of two singing frogs by Tomi Ungerer (from 1984), a still life with pheasant and white dog by Nadin Maria Rüfenacht (2005) and Max Liebermann with a Spinning Cattlewoman (1895). Small but nice, such a (free) museum that lends itself well to taking a break during a car or bike ride through the Swiss mountains.

There is also an 'Kunstlocatie Würth' in the Netherlands. It is located in the premises of Würth Nederland B.V. in 's-Hertogenbosch. There, you can now see the exhibition 'Gunter Damisch - Part of the Whole'. 50 paintings, watercolours, drawings and sculptures by the 'Neue Wilde' Gunter Damisch (1958-2016), one of the most important representatives of contemporary Austrian art.

From 2-man business to 12 billion

Reinhold Würth is now 83 years old. He quit as chairman of the board of directors in 2006. Würth is now chairman of the Supervisory Board of the family foundation of the Würth Group. The original two-man screw business, taken over from his late father when he was 19, now has over 72,000 employees and a turnover of more than 12 billion euros. Würth's equity is 10 billion euros, so he is far from being bought out. Just last year - as a birthday present for his wife Carmen - he opened the Carmen Würth Forum in his hometown of Künzelsau. A cultural and conference centre with sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle, Jaume Plensa, Tony Cragg and others in the Sculpture Garden.

'Art strengthens the we-feeling'

Würth is referred to, against his will - and also somewhat disparagingly - as a Screw King. But then a Screw King with an exceptionally broad interest, who has his works of art rotated around his company's offices and factories worldwide - I can't see us Royal Boskalis doing it yet. Reinhold Würth thinks: 'Art strengthens the we-feeling and makes my company different from that of my competitors.'

'Without screws, the world collapses'

'Without screws, the world will collapse in five minutes,' is a favourite expression of Reinhold Würth. This is a truth like a loud clanging Swiss cow. The most beautiful application of the Würth screw as far as I am concerned: the picture hook.

Good to know Good to know

Forum Würth Arlesheim (Basel): Im Blick des Sammlers, a selection of the Würth Collection from Beckmann to Kiefer. Until 13.01.2019

Forum Würth Rorschach: Menagerie - An Animal Show from the Würth Collection, until 3.02.2019.

Art location Würth Netherlands, 's-Hertogenbosch: Gunter Damisch - Part of the whole, until 10.3.20-2019.

All three museums are free. See at 'Forum'.


Harri Theirlynck

Freelance (travel) journalist. Graduated cum laude in Dutch language and literature from Radboud University Nijmegen. Worked as a teacher, comedian and science journalist. Then successively became editor-in-chief of (ANWB) Kampioen, NU De Tijd van je Leven and REIZEN Magazine (ANWB Media). Since 2013, freelancer for Pikas Media, REIZEN Magazine (ANWB), Kampioen, TravMagazine, Djoser, de Telegraaf, Blendle and Arts & Auto, among others. Teacher of (travel) journalism at Fontys University of Applied Sciences. Provides training courses in creative & business writing and travel journalism.View Author posts

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