The Essl Collection

A coincidental meeting in New York in 1958 is the starting point: The young entrepreneur Karlheinz Essl met the gallery employee Agnes Schömer. In New York they found their love for contemporary art and for each other. Back in Austria they started a family and from 1970 on, Karlheinz Essl built up the DIY market chain bauMax.

These years also mark the start of their collection of contemporary art with works by Friedensreich Hundertwasser and Kurt Moldovan. Austrian Art from 1945 becomes their main focus. For the collectors, the direct interaction with the artists remains an important factor until this day. With the success of their business, the Essls broaden their activities as collectors.

The main focus of the collection is Austrian Art from 1945 with works by artists like Maria Lassnig, VALIE EXPORT, Arnulf Rainer, Max Weiler, Markus Prachensky, the artist of the Viennese Actionism like Hermann Nitsch and Günter Brus, new painting of the 1980s to the younger generation of Austrian artists such as Elke Krystufek and Deborah Sengl.

During the 1980s the collection develops into the most significant private collection of Austrian art from 1945. In 1989, with the collaps of communism and the opening of the borders to Eastern Europe, Agnes and Karlheinz Essl decide to integrate international art into their collection. They travel through Europe, America, Asia and Australia and visit on their travels artists, studios, exhibitions and galleries.

While media such as photography, sculpture, objects and installations are important parts of the collection, the collectors have a special appreciation for painting.

One of the main objectives of Agnes and Karlheinz Essl is to open their collection to the public. In 1987 they planned to incorporate a gallery into the firm headquarters of their DIY-chain bauMax, the Schömer-Haus.

The Essl Museum, planed by architect and holder of the Austrian State Prize Heinz Tesar, opened in 1999. This architectural icon offers not only generous space for the collection's art depot, but also 3.200 sqm of exhibition space.