I am a member of the Board of the Guggenheim of Venice and President of the Italian Friends of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. In this quality, i was able to attend exhibitions, fairs, auctions and art galleries.
This article is part of ARTS+ECONOMICS (April 2018)
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I have seen different international legal systems that confront each other in a different way the approach to cultural heritage, to culture in general and in particular to works of art. I am used to frequent foreign museums, where the contribution and the work of founding of private individuals is fundamental for the survival of the museum, for the recovery and conservation of works of art and, therefore, for the usability of the «cultural» asset from the community. I saw it done very little in Italy in this sense.
However, I am also a collector, an Italian collector. As such I always feel dizzy.
The soothing voice echoes in my ears: «the price of this picture will rise!».
I ask myself: am i an investor, a speculator or a lover of art and beauty?
The answer, which explodes inside me reassures me: i am a lover of contemporary art and therefore i am ready to examine the works of tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and even further in time.
At an art fair, i first select what I like, excites me, gives me a thrill, behind my back or in my stomach, and I start to attack, sometimes like a cossack or like an english gentleman, but often playing tip / heel as with the car during a rally race.
So, as I often do at the fairs, which populate the calendar of contemporary art exhibitions in various countries around the world (Bologna, Milan, Turin, Madrid, Basel, Paris, London, New York, Hong Kong and Miami), just to mention the most important, i first make a selection of the works that I like the most and then a further investigation with myself. I think of what works I could give up and then i launch myself in the purchase of those that cannot be renounced.
It's not all!
In general, when i buy, i have to consider the market, that intricate evaluation system that covers everything and everyone, like a milky fog full of mirages and truth. Where does fashion end and art begin? Do i prefer color or minimalism? Do the works with a tragic and pessimistic background or the cheerful and optimistic ones attract me more? What do i prefer to see when i wake up in the morning?
After these considerations the fateful and everlasting question arises: where do i put this picture? Do i have a corner for this sculpture?
The Collector is a hungry for walls. I remember that a friend of mine, with great taste, perhaps because similar to mine, had walls seven meters high, in the houses’ «day part», so as to be able to indulge in his liking. Contemporary works of art suffer from gigantism.
I have always envied the location.
Returning to the «market» i have to make some considerations that, although not influencing the choices, however, drive them.
Buying works of art means making a financial transaction more or less important depending on the amount involved and unrelated from my socio / economic status. Spending 10 thousand, 50 thousand or 100 thousand euros, and so on, then multiplying these numbers for all purchases, means spending large sums. Leverage and do not forgive, every mountain goes down!
The sales chapter opens. Yes, even collectors, even those who do not consider themselves merchants, speculators or businessmen, must «deprive themselves», from time to time, of some art-work that, having revalued over time, helps to keep it at the «table» of buyers, especially in those moments that find it a little «dried out» of money.
It happens to everyone, young and old. Not all works are reevaluated, but some remain at the stake or move back.
On the other hand, if you buy «only» the works that like economic considerations are irrelevant and enjoyment is assured.
Let's look at the galleries and the auction houses, two different but homogeneous sectors to the market, subjects with which the collector must still make the accounts.
The galleries, not the merchants, play a fundamental and valuable activity for collectors: they discover the artists, they believe in them, they promote them and therefore they make them known to the market but above all to the fans. Some collectors, who have the aim of saving or the ambition of the «talent scout», try to replace themselves, in part to the gallery owners. To each their profession, i always say but it is often unheard. With gallery owners though, i have had many positive experiences. From the friendship of good and passionate gallery owners, who have made me attentive to artists, explaining the reasons, knowing my tastes and sharing my strategy, i learned a lot and correctly, not distortedly. There are gallery owners who appreciate, in their ethics and their tastes, and others who, while sharing their intellectual honesty, differ in taste and approach. This creates a dense network of relationships and friendships that surpass mercantile contact and often slip into the private, with exchanges of fruitful ideas, bring new knowledge, which broadens my potential and tickles my curiosity, allowing me to learn new things.
With the auction houses, there is a natural relationship. You can buy and / or sell, you can have assessments both on the value of the works and on the sphere of more or less fast exchanges, identifying those «hot works» that at that time represent the market trends. You can monitor the exchanges through the awards, check the strategies of collectors, merchants and gallery owners. So, they are compared: works defended to others ignored, the differences between the prices in the gallery and those seen at the auction, the often-contrasted paths of artists and movements now in vogue, now in decline. The markets are compared on an italian, international or in distant, but present, parts of the world. Given globalization, which plays a decisive role in art and can no longer be ignored, today there are no limits or limits to artistic and market comparisons.
Here in Italy, due to the predominantly provincial culture of the country, the purchase, sale, evaluation of opportunities and the limited financial strength of our galleries, have determined and continue to create a partial vision, both of the market and its potential. The foreign galleries do not participate in our mercantile events, with a low and often absent participation in italian fairs. We must therefore be charged with costs, goodwill and often hardships, to visit exhibitions abroad, often exposing us to transport problems, import costs, payments and trust from operators who obviously know us less. They are still good hobbies.
The result is that very often only italian or international artists are collected that are treated in our country, as other names are difficult or impossible to access. It follows that those who, with difficulty, can buy untreated works in Italy, then find it difficult to sell them on the square, then having to resort to auctions that are held abroad, resulting in fiscal difficulties, cash receipts and management practices with auction houses.
Another problem (if there were no problems there would no fun) is to place in their homes the laboriously purchased. «The difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys». Not only must we identify the wall or the free angle, as i have already said above, but approaching one work to another, these must be spoken and integrated with the others inserted in the context they find. In my opinion, this is the most difficult part and its result is in itself creative. In this way the collector is forced to transform himself into a curator of his own collection, providing it with an added intellectual value.
The visual pollution that a collector must undergo is enormous and represents one of the most evident actions of his good will. Seeing works beautiful, medium, scarce or unwatchable, often is not the best, but so it is.
The taste is refined in part by looking at the works, turning everywhere and thoroughly, during the fairs, in the studios of the artists, visiting the museums, the houses of collectors in Italy and abroad. Often an interesting and spectacular visit, worth the trip. I've always said it. One learns to choose to approach the works to recognize the hand of the artist in his state of grace. No one, not even the genius, gets up in the morning and makes a masterpiece. Paraphrasing Alessandro Manzoni in the Promessi Sposi: «The taste one cannot give it, they either have it or they don’t».
Much depends on the possibilities that a child can have at a very young age and, anyway, a lot can be done with training and using the elements of comparison provided by your brain, which constantly analyzes the stimuli.
When we go visit a museum of contemporary art, both in Italy and abroad, we always have the opportunity to see the permanent collection and the temporary one. Now, it is immediately obvious that the temporary, set up by a curator outside the museum, always presents a specific theme that enhances the exhibited works, chosen with care and loaned by institutions or private collections. Here we measure the creativity of the curator, not only in knowing how to combine the works, but the influence of the same to be able to get the right works, to achieve the goal of the exhibition.
This has always been one of my primary goals, which represented my strategy for collecting. I have never realized, through the years, to follow such precise choices and combinations, proved so well chosen. It was the people who visited my collection over time, to give me the precise dimension of my choices and my taste.
So, to sum up, i possibly choose works that i like, that are compatible with market trends, that are tradable in Italy and abroad, that can allow me to buy, without destabilizing my finances, which fall into my strategy, to the order to make them part of the collection. I never allow myself to lock up the works in anonymous cases deposited in a warehouse, not finding «on the spot» a more appropriate arrangement.
The attention and preservation of the works must play an important role for a collector who, like me, has collected a number of pieces exceeding 400.
Today artists are not as fussy as in the past, they do not have eternity in mind. The passage of time can ruin and modify the mixture of colors, supports and materials used. Nowadays the «frail» is popular, the transient, the Panta Rei of Heraclitus, all concepts that fight with conservation.
The consultation of a good conservator is therefore a must to have the basic parameters to be observed, about the works owned.
The insurance side is also a concern. The security and the financial parameters involved must be kept in mind even if today the gigantism of the works discourages thefts, presenting undoubted environmental difficulties. However, there are excellent solutions that should be examined with a trusted broker.
A careful examination also for the authentic works, is a fundamental part of the baggage in the collector's suitcase, which he must carefully store and always collect any information about the career of the artist, the articles or books that concern him. When buying, you must examine the authentic with a photo, signature of the artist, measures, technique and anything else that must be delivered by the private, gallery or auction house at the time of sale of the property. The work should never be sold without this original documentation.
I trust that this brief chat has created the premises to shed light on the various issues that compete with those who launch themselves to collect contemporary art.
In any case, I recommend to anyone who can take some time and go on vacation for a few days, to go and visit the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It is a visionary museum, unique in the world: born from the donation of great collectors who over the years have bought, preserved, donated the fruit of their own collectibles. Visiting it you learn what it means to «collect» in a short time. What the passion for art is, for beauty and for the culture that is and will always remain the story not only of a family, of a person but also and above all of a people and a historical period.
Collector. President of AIMIG (Italian Friends of Israel Museum in Jerusalem), member of the Board of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection of Venice.