Herman Daled, a Belgian collector who amassed one of the world’s most important collections of Conceptualist art, has died. Devrim Bayar, a curator at the WIELS Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels, where Daled formerly served as president, posted news of Daled’s death on Instagram on Monday.
Born in 1930, Daled had a vested interest in work that pushed at the very limits of what art could be, which led him to become one of the top European collectors of Conceptualism that placed a greater emphasis on ideas than aesthetics in an attempt to explore the systems that guide institutions and the art market. Much of his collection was amassed with his wife Nicole Daled-Verstraeten, whom he later divorced.
Herman ranked on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list each year between 1990 and 1997, yet he often resisted the idea that he should be classified in such a way. “I don’t consider myself a collector,” he said in La collection qui n’existait pas, a 2014 documentary focused on Daled’s collecting practice.
During the 1960s and ’70s, Daled engrained himself within a community of European and American artists who were breaking new ground in their respective countries. In 1966, he acquired his first work, Marcel Broodthaers’s Maria (1966), a sculptural piece featuring a dress suspended from a hanger on a primed canvas along with a shopping bag adorned with eggshells. Daled bought the work from Broodthaers, a key figure in the history of European Conceptualism, on the day it was completed, and he went on to acquire dozens more pieces by the artist over the years.
The trailblazing spirit that guided Daled’s purchases also extended to the methods by which he bought works. He was careful to respect artists’ rights and often engineered unconventional contracts in order to acquire art. In 1970, Daled and his wife agreed to buy one work per month from artist Daniel Buren and nothing else, save for art by Broodthaers, for the course of a year. And in 1971, the Daleds re-purchased a work from Niele Toroni, increasing their sum this time to include the adjusted cost of living from when they initially bought it in 1969.
Daled’s collection has been considered key among experts in Conceptual art, but it was not widely known until the past decade, after an exhibition devoted to his holdings appeared at the Haus der Kunst in Munich in 2010. In interviews, Daled said that Chris Dercon, who was then the Haus der Kunst’s director, had been the driving force behind that show, which also included the publication of a book dedicated to Daled’s archives.
One year later, in 2011, the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired 223 works from Daled’s collection, including pieces by Vito Acconci, James Lee Byars, Dan Graham, On Kawara, Sol Lewitt, and Toroni. Also included were some of the most famous works by Broodthaers, including Maria, which figured in a 2015 retrospective devoted to the artist at the institution. Prints by Broodthaers that came from the Daled collection are now on view at the museum in its permanent collection galleries. Glenn Lowry, MoMA’s director, said in a statement at the time that the collection was “among the most significant acquisitions in the museum’s history.”
Daled worked as a radiologist and often said he drew inspiration from Albert Claude, a Nobel Prize–winning biologist who, in addition to performing innovative scientific work, made sure to helped support the growth of his era’s experimental music scene.
In the later stages of his life, Daled continued to be active in supporting the Belgian scene. He served as president of the board of the WIELS Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels, which opened in 2007 and is now among the country’s top contemporary art institutions.
Daled often said that he prized the challenging quality of the works he acquired, and in later years, he claimed the world had grown overly concerned with monumental art privileging visual pleasure. In 2011, he told the French-language Belgian publication La Libre, “Each time a work seemed beautiful to me, I turned away from it, telling myself that I already knew it.”