Delivered in St. Andreas, Leverkusen-Schleebusch, on 5 November 2010
Rolf had the wonderful but uncommon gift of self-motivation. It was noticeable in the never-ending stream of projects, ideas, and plans on which he worked, about which he questioned his friends, and which then at some point became reality in the form of books, catalogs or exhibitions. When I visited him for the last time, he sat in his armchair with a view of Ursel's lovely courtyard garden, at his tiny desk on which there was no computer, but a few small sculptures and a clutter of papers. He wrote by hand, though not due to a disdain for technology, but rather as an expression of the immediacy between thought and the act of writing. Ignoring my conventional, naïve question as to his health, he began to talk straight away about how he owed our mutual publisher in Munich an exposť, which was already completed in his head. Even my account of a planned exhibition in Prague was immediately and enthusiastically seized upon, and he was certain that he and Ursel would participate - in the coming summer.
When we spoke on the telephone, he sometimes began reporting on a new project with the introduction: I know I can tell you about it without you turning around and using it in some opening remarks. He knew the mechanisms of our field, a field in which he spent his life and by any measure was successful. Toward his friends, however, there was never a trace of these mechanisms. Here he was open-minded, always curious as to their plans, and ready for critical but sympathetic discussion.
As I read the subheadings of his last major book on "The Painting of the Informel," I thought about how perfectly this characterized the author himself: not "Weltverlust" or loss of world - that would never have crossed Rolf's mind, but rather the "Ich-Behauptung," or assertion of self! An affirmation of one's self as constant motivation for intellectual action. It was this unflinching belief in one's self and the values that constitute it that so distinguished Rolf. This belief, however, never led to the dogmatization of his viewpoint, but rather the opposite, making it possible for Rolf to live out his gift of unfettered curiosity. After I once bought a painting in Moscow which didn't fit into my collection at all, and for which I was quite sure I wouldn't find much approval or understanding for in Germany, I waited until Rolf visited me, in order to introduce him to the painter and his works. After the artist had taken about ten works out from behind a curtain in his small apartment, Rolf said: We're going to put on a solo exhibit for him in Morsbroich. The artist in question was the Russian painter Sergej Chesnakoff.
As the exhibition visitors strolled somewhat perplexed past his paintings, we feared the worst. That is, until the painter Bernard Schulze threw his arms around Rolf and exclaimed, so that everyone could hear: "Finally, finally a real painter is shown again." Such appreciation was worth more to Rolf than alleged success in a mainstream which did not correspond to his own values.
This curiosity and openness that I so cherished in my friend brings to mind his beginnings as a journalist; beginnings which he never forgot and from which he, as he often told me, not only retained his curiosity but moreover his sovereign independence. This had its price in a cultural world of dependence and constraints, but in over 30 years of being the "Lord of the Castle" in Morsbroich, Rolf was successful in keeping this price so low, that he never even touched his own identity. And so, over the decades, this friend also became an admired role model, a booster and challenger. Of course I could never have told him this, he would have answered with the same sarcasm that he could also very well use as a weapon. As a friend, one could always count on Rolf, in every situation. As a colleague and partner in a never-ending intellectual dialog, he was the benchmark. And he was solid as a rock amongst the ever-changing styles and excitements.
We have lost the friend, and will miss him always. His benchmarks will continue to accompany me and us, and will remind all those who knew him well, that by which one wishes to be measured.
Cologne, November 2010