When it comes to the work that got away, I was simply too much of a coward. This was in 1995 in Pittsburgh. I had asked Sigmar Polke to take part in in the Carnegie International show and he presented a four-part painting called Hermes Trismegistos I-IV (1995). I thought it such an important work that I wanted to buy it for the museum.
It was from the series in which he was considering alchemy and was dedicated to Hermes Trismegistos, a pre-Classical figure who was considered a patron of alchemists. It was a peak moment for Polke who, to my mind, was one of the great artists of our time.
The work, which won the Carnegie Prize that year, would have cost around $1m, which I thought was an impossible price at the time. I’ve seen the work since—it is in the collection of that great, small Dutch museum, the LINK De Pont in Tilburg, and was on loan to the Palazzo Grassi last year. Each time I see it, it looks more beautiful. I think about the work often, with tears in my eyes—and I’m not a man who cries easily.
Interview by Charlotte Burns