Estate of the art (Part 3): Stella Lohaus on father Bernd Lohaus’ legacy

When a great artist dies, those left behind are faced with complicated choices. What will happen to their lifetime of works? To their studio spaces? And what about the more intangible aspects of their legacy? While some heirs hire experts, others take it upon themselves to keep their dear-departed’s house in order. According to the kids and grandkids of these world-famous artists, there’s a certain measure of pride involved in taking care of a loved-one’s artistic legacy, despite the difficulty in escaping from from its far-reaching shadow.

The full feature was originally published in The Second Best edition of the magazine.

Taking care of Bernd Lohaus’ rich artistic legacy is a family affair, with his daughter Stella at the helm.

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I could feel from an early age that my father was different than the other dads, especially because he was home a lot. “Why don’t you go on a business trip?” I would ask him. So one day, when he had to travel to Spain, he sent me a postcard saying: ‘From your father on a business trip’. I was extremely proud. I’d also ask him why he never went to work. His answer was: “Even when I’m reading a newspaper, I am working.” He would sit around and think a lot, just looking at objects. I never wanted to spend much time in his studio, it was cold and quite primitive with enormous amounts of drying wood lying around, though it felt like a special place. Our mother tried to bring some normalcy to our lives, while Dad was the cliché of the chaotic artist; he was always late, his studio was disorganised, so much so that even as a child I tried to bring some order to it. His desk was full of papers and I just had the urge to clean it, which my dad was not too happy about. I didn’t realise he had his own system. When he died it all seemed like a big mess to us. He never talked to us about what would happen to his work after his death. As I had been working in a gallery for years, I pretty much knew how to go about organising his estate. I did what I would have done for any dead artist, it really didn’t make a difference that it was my father. But my brother, my mother – who is also a former gallery owner – and I never even thought about letting anyone else handle it. Even though there is public interest in my father’s work, this is first and foremost a family affair. You cannot leave this to an outsider. We, as a family, have to go through everything, see what’s personal and what’s artistic, and decide what is meant for the public. Although we discuss everything and decisions are taken together, I do most of the work, mainly because I’m just well-equipped for it and know exactly what has to be done. The Bernd Lohaus Foundation concerns itself with the future of my father’s work and archive, and in that sense, my mother, who is 75 years old, believes it’s something for the future generation. She knows many people in the art world from her generation but she doesn’t know so many young curators, critics, artists, collectors etc. Though all decisions are made together, I am more ‘the face’ of the initiative. I am known in the art world and, for me, it was a logical continuation in my life. My mother does a lot behind the scenes, which is also important. It’s very time-consuming, especially because for the last ten years of his life, my father was not represented by a gallery. This meant that essential tasks like making an inventory had not been taken care of for a decade. The biggest challenge was, actually, how to deal with the unfinished pieces. There is a grey zone: some things are 5% finished, others 95%… but does that mean you can declare it an artwork? So there was and still is a lot to do, so much so that I eventually decided to give up my own gallery. It wasn’t a difficult decision, though, because I was at a point in my career where I was open to doing something new. And taking care of your father’s legacy is something you just can’t turn down.