July 06, 2013

Helmut Herbst

I heard the sad news that my old friend Helmut Herbst died a couple of weeks ago in Estonia. I first met Helmut in 2000. I had been working on the Irwell Sculpture Trail for about 3 years, commissioning new works and every now and then an artist I was working with would say that they were working on a similar project in a town called Waiblingen in Germany. After it had happened one too many times, I thought I'd have to see who the other curator was. So I arranged to visit Helmut in Waiblingen. I arrived at his office after dark on September evening and the first thing he did was open sparkling wine. We immediately got on personally and professionally sharing the challenges of curating in a satellite town (in his case Stuttgart) which appears marginal in geography and in artistic profile. Over the years since we have done various partnership projects and joint commissions. In 2007, Helmut retired from the Waiblingen Stadt Museum, somewhat disillusioned with that context as local politicians were increasingly pressuring him to curate art education rather than art exhibitions. His parting show in the new Waiblingen Gallery, which he led the development of, was Turner's "Liber Studiorum" drawn from Bury's collection. After retirement he had many project ideas (and repeated the Turner show in Paderborn and Apolda in 2010); he moved to Estonia and built himself a new house and a new life there. As well as being a curator with a global vision, he was an artist. In our flat we have 3 of his works - the first one, I remember he did in the flat. He'd arrived for dinner with some lavender he'd picked on route and created a 'watercolour' painting with the plant and the after-dinner coffee. He had a text work in the last Text Festival too. 

In his freedom from an institution, Helmut and I continued to discuss ideas for future shows and he was always positive despite the growing threat of his cancers. Helmut was a very good man, I will miss him.