Freifrau visits Katharina Herold

The Hamburg gallery owner grew up with art. Her most important message: Live with art! We visited Katharina Herold in her apartment in the Rotherbaum district to ask her what art means in her life. 


It was not a coincidence that brought Katharina Herold to art. Rather, her father, a Hamburg gallery owner, raised her with art. Herold says that no work of art in her parents' house remained undetected or unreviewed. Even today she encounters art with an almost childish approach that she also wants to awaken in her customers. Today Katharina Herold is not only a gallery owner, but also an entrepreneur and publisher of her own magazine "The Heroldian Journal". And their most important message resonates in everything: live with art & be curious!

Katharina, let’s begin with a question that’s simple, but quite possibly also the most difficult: What does art mean to you?

It may sound a little over the top, but art is everything to me! Art is at the center of my everyday life. Whether I’m waking up in the morning or planning a trip, art always takes center stage. What’s on the agenda today? What local artists am I interested in at my travel destination? What do I want to see while I’m there? 

Sounds like you have a lot of freedom. How would you describe a day in your life? Do you have any routines?

No, not really. Of course, it depends on whether I have any appointments. But it usually takes me a while to get going in the morning. Regardless of when I get up. The only things you could really call routine are my first cup of coffee and exercise. When I’m in Sylt, the first thing I do is walk down to the beach and have a swim, regardless of the weather. It’s addictive!

You managed a gallery in Sylt for a long time. A branch of the gallery you as a family manage in Hamburg. You were basically born into the world of art because of your father and you were exposed to art from an early age. In what way do you think that shaped your understanding of art?

I think my approach to art is almost childlike. My Scottish grandfather used to say: “Always stay curious.” I’ve internalized that idea, which makes it all the more disappointing when people visit us at our gallery and are unreceptive to new artists just because they’re not familiar with them. There’s so much all of us don’t know, which is why I like it when people are open to art and ask questions. That’s something I encourage. 

What was your childhood like with art?

It’s still fresh in my mind. My father collected stools – little footstools, milking stools, and things like that. So, there was always a stool somewhere I could use to reach the door of his collector’s cabinet and then take out all of the different pieces. I had to know everything: What is this? What period is it from? What country does it come from? A lot of the pieces were from antiquity, glass items from excavations and the like. But we also had lots of works of art from the modern age and by young artists. 

Looking at your apartment, it’s clear that you’re similarly inclined. You mix styles and periods with modern things and incorporate everything into your everyday life. 

That’s true. I’m definitely not afraid of art. I don’t handle works of art with kid gloves. Metaphorically speaking. Any time my father would bring home new pieces, we would always talk about them just as other people talk about their work. But I developed an appreciation of art on my own – no one ever forced it on me. Before studying art, I worked at the theater and my brother was in advertising. It just so happened that we all ended up working in the world of art. 

You’re never too old to be interested in art – but possibly just a little inhibited?

I think you have to be open to art. I also like the idea of people discovering the world of art later on in life. I often hear about people who, at a certain age in life, suddenly find themselves with time on their hands and then plunge headfirst into art. I love that! No one should ever feel like they have to be an expert or know this or that artist. 

In your apartment, we not only see art on the walls, but also as everyday objects. We even saw an antique bowl in your kitchen sink. Aren’t you worried about breaking these pieces if you use them on a daily basis?

The bowl you’re talking about is faience from the 18th century. It wasn’t made to be displayed in a cabinet. I take good care of things, of course, but it’s nice to breathe new life into something. It would be a shame to shut it away in a cabinet. Even if that reduces the risk of it breaking.My studies were both theoretical and practical and so I learned you can use all of your senses to find out what a work of art is all about. What do oil paints smell like? Acrylics? What does silver taste like? What do porcelain and ceramic feel like? This form of direct interaction is exciting. I also think that objects should be used.

Do you look for this type of art personally so you can use it?

Maybe ... but primarily for aesthetic reasons. I do have some things that are too filigree to use. Like my 17th-century wicker chair from France, which I’d only ever display or at most stack a couple books on. Many of the people who come into the gallery say they wouldn’t know what to do with the faience in the display. I tell them they should simply use it and that’s exactly what some of them have done. 

You founded your own company, Heroldian Art Concepts, some time ago. What’s your concept? 

I’ve discovered that I have a way with people as a consultant, which I think is really important because art is something very personal. I know I’ve done my job when I’ve managed to open up the world of art for people and together we’ve found pieces that are suitable for them personally, that feel right in their home and that inspire them. Of course, I’m also happy if I can support young, local artists at the same time.

How does the work with your clients begin?

First I have to get to know the people and find out a lot about them. I ask them what they like, but think it’s even more important to know what they don’t like. I take a look around the rooms we’re decorating and try to incorporate the city and country in which we find ourselves. Particularly when you’re choosing art for a commercial space, I think it’s nice to incorporate contemporary pieces by living, local artists. But more generally, I find the reference to origin and tradition exciting. 

You’ve published a magazine as well that also focuses on “life with art.” Why is that such an important message for you?

One of the reasons is that it always makes me a little sad when people have learned to be intimidated by art. After all, the art you have to view from a distance of 1 meter with the museum attendant breathing down your neck isn’t the only kind of art there is. I would also like to tell the stories behind the artist or the works of art. I would like to provide insight into the profession of an art dealer and the associated professions such as restorer and frame dealer.

What are some of the ways you think we can overcome these barriers both visible and invisible?

That’s not an easy question to answer. It has a lot to do with large institutions – both state-run and commercial. I think art needs to be more accessible generally. Museums in Germany are often too expensive for most people. In the UK, museums are free and they’re still better off financially than they are in this country. It’s a complicated issue. I can only recommend that everyone overcome their fear and visit galleries and exhibitions.  

But just because art appeals to you subjectively doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good investment. 

It’s difficult to say that a certain painting will be worth a lot more in the future. There are, of course, trends and you can read the market to a degree, but there’s also increasingly an effort to market art as an investment. The media primarily tend to report on record prices and that, too, is a type of marketing, of course. And that brings us back to the topic that’s so important to me: art should be viewed as art and not stowed away in some warehouse for safekeeping. It should be loaned to a museum so that others can enjoy it.

What’s it like with your clientele? What do they ask for?

It’s different for everyone. I still get a lot of visitors to the gallery – many of them around my age – who first ask what the best investment is. 

What do you tell them? 

The best art investment is always the one that makes you happy.  

So, basically a little like a piece of furniture?

Yes and no. You should only ever buy what you like and what you’d like to surround yourself with, but furniture is something you actually use. Art is different and can often also tell wonderful stories – namely those of the artist. 

Like a witness to a moment in time.

Exactly. I talk about that in my magazine with a series I call “A painting is not just a painting.” I choose a painting and then tell its story. It’s sometimes amazing the information you can glean from a single painting, or where the research takes you. It can be unbelievably exciting and that’s what drives me.

Thank you for the conversation!

My pleasure!