Obituary for Herman Daled

Written by Chris Dercon,

Our former director Chris Dercon wrote a very personal and warm-hearted obituary for the collector Herman Daled.

After long months of illness Herman Daled died peacefully in the early hours of Sunday morning. He must have somehow known that Joe Biden was bringing peace to the country he visited so often. Herman felt very much at home both in Chicago and New York, which he had visited so often. Many of his trusted artists and their representatives or critics were citizens of a better America. That might be also the reason why Herman entrusted a major part of his collection of conceptual art to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It’s director Glenn Lowry wrote last Sunday: „the Daled collection is one of the most important acquisitions in the history of our museum“. MoMA curator Christoph Cherix had seen the exhibition of the ‚collection and archives of Herman and Nicole Daled’ in the spring-summer of 2010 at Haus der Kunst in Munich. He had reported immediately to his director and colleagues that the eventual acquisition of „a bit of matter and a little bit more“ would be an unique way to show and tell the story of conceptual art, also in New York. Herman was thrilled. We from the Haus der Kunst, my fellow curators Patrizia Dander, Ulrich Wilmes and myself were a bit envious having to let go our long work beyond the transatlantic ocean. Patrizia and Ulrich had spent days and weeks in Brussels at the beautifully ruined Hotel Wolfers , Herman’s Brussels’ home , designed by legendary architect Henri Van de Velde in 1933. They were truly the only ones who understood the endless papers, documents and inventory cards, and not in the least the very meaning of Herman’s own definition of his enterprise, namely ‚the collection which didn’t exist’. Years later Joachim Olender produced a beautiful film about the life and times of Herman Daled under the same title.

Last summer Ulrich Wilmes wrote a letter to Herman saying „I learned from Okwui Enwezor that we have to think historically in the present, which describes exactly your way of living your life“. I was allowed to read the letter last Sunday sitting next to Herman’s deathbed. Indeed, during the past months, his face and hands had taken on the same allure, the same complexion, yes even the same cracks as the walls of his magnificently aged house. It was as if the owner had become one with his house. That was all there was to see, Herman had always told visitors: „me, myself and the house.“ Artworks should not be hung „to avoid they become decoration“. Lesson learned!

Our members of the Gesellschaft der Freunde, on the Brussels excursion, hosted and guided by Daled himself, were nevertheless immensely taken by the charisma and outspokenness of the collector. However: „Each time a work seemed beautiful to me, I turned away from it, telling myself that I already knew it“, seemed harder to digest for our group. For me, Herman’s sentence became a motto. Of course Herman liked beautiful things and places, he was even reading about compassion through and for beauty. Indeed, during the last days of his life he was reading „Venice saved“ by Simone Weil. Written towards the end of her life, the book contemplates much about suffering and redemption being at the core of our existence. Just like Weil, Herman Daled, even during his long illness, never ever complained. The last time I spoke to him we went back and forth about going into a deep winter sleep. After all, Herman’s collection will continue to exist.

Chris Dercon, Paris, 10 November 2020