Collecting is Present: An Encounter with Five Contemporary Art Collectors

by Gisela Chillida.

Out of all the cogs in the wheel that turns the art world, collectors are often the least conspicuous, despite keeping the machine well-greased to hold it all in motion.

For Art Nou 2022, five collectors have, literally, opened their doors to us, so we can spend some time at home with them, talking about their interests, about how they got started, what inspires them to acquire a work of art and how they have gradually built a collection keeping the present and the future closely in mind. Because there are just as many collections as there are collectors, each with their own different views and approaches. As Asier Tapia says, “the mistake is in believing that contemporary art is for an unaccessible elite, when that is simply not the case”.

The collectors joining us are: architect and independent collector Gerardo Van Waalwijk Van Doorm; independent collector Berta Caldentey; designer, creative director and independent collector Asier Tapia; Nimfa Bisbe, director of the La Caixa Foundation Contemporary Art Collection, and Alicia Ventura, Art historian, independent curator, manager of Gestió Art Ventura, consultant and curator at the DKV Collection and artistic director of the Alhambra Prize for Emerging Art.

Shaping – A Never-ending Story.

Collecting is a work in progress and constant transformation. Gerardo sees it above all as a learning process. When he discovers an artist’s work that interests him, he begins to research their body of work and the definitive purchase may take years to finalise: “you have to investigate in order to make an informed choice, you should never buy on impulse, you have to do your research, explore the catalogues, ask yourself why the work caught your attention”. For the time being, he prefers not to pigeonhole himself, he defines his collection as young, very inclusive and open. “Being an individual buyer, you can acquire without the need to justify”. So it should be no wonder to discover, accompanying two Perejaumes, a delightful drawing by Jean Cocteau found in an antique shop in Paris that he used to visit during his student years, a purchase that was “neither meditated nor thought out”. Among the pieces in his collection, we find two opposing ceramics pieces inspired by the Alhambra by Teresa Solar, a mural of photographs by Iñaki Bonillas in which we can see the traces left by the pressure of furniture on different surfaces at Casa Barragán, a pair of paintings by Rasmus Nilausen, a twisted cement tube by Sergio Prego, a world map made of hair by Itziar Okariz or a microstory by Martín Vitaliti peeking through the pages of a comic strip.

Berta considers herself a cautious collector and acquires works that are more or less evidently related to the concept of space. For her it was important to find a criteria that defined a through-line, whether it be more explicit or more abstract, in order to link the works of Ignasi Aballí with those of Alán Carrasco, Zush with Mounir Fatmi or Mabel Palacín with Teresa Margolles. It is a polyhedral vision, but in all the artists there is a commitment, if not an overtly political one, then a personal one. “You can’t ignore the dialogue with yourself, the mind has to follow a certain order to be able to understand how it works”. Although art evolves and so does the way we collect, “it’s not the same now as when you were thirty years old, what used to interest you doesn’t anymore, and not because it’s no longer interesting, but because your interests have changed”. In some way, for Berta, the collection is a reflection of her life story.

Asier confesses that he likes to research the artists he discovers obsessively. In fact, he has a wish list noting everything he would like to buy (should he ever win the Euromillons lottery) Although he doesn’t consider it a curated collection, he establishes relationships between the different pieces. “A collection is your experiences, it’s your life, it’s your home and it’s your things”. That’s why, when you have to live with a work, its dimensions matter. It also has to be a somewhat pleasant work, which doesn’t mean that it is necessarily aesthetically superfluous, but that you can share your everyday life with it. Although he feels a preference for the Basque school, such as June Crespo, Asier Mendizabal or Alberto Peral, we also find a Jaume Pitarch alongside a Xavier Ribas, ” which brings him peace”, and a Lara Fluxà close to a Mònica Planas. Or a frog by Joana Vasconcelos, which he discovered on a trip to Lisbon. As well as works by Joan Rom, Dora García, Ignasi Aballí and Alejandro Palacín.

The DKV collection, “is a visual story that helps us to communicate and support culture. We always say that a country with no culture is not a healthy country”, states Alicia Ventura. “When it comes to looking for a piece, the first thing that interests us is its excellence, but also that it is in keeping with the DKV ethos”. The collection began at the beginning of the 21st Century with national artists under the age of 45 who offered a fresh and contemporary perspective. “But it’s not about a name, it’s about pieces and projects that interest us, we have to find the work that suits us, that’s why sometimes it’s worth waiting”. To date, they have acquired over 900 pieces, and can proudly boast that most of the artists are still present on the art scene. The exhibitions they organise involving works from the collection, often in dialogue with other collections, are also very significant. “It is a priority to get the artists’ work seen, “the less time they spend in storage, the better for everyone”.

Nimfa Bisbe tells us that “an institutional collection is not like building an encyclopaedia, it’s more like a novel, in which you find a series of characters who relate to each other and create the stories”. From the outset, they have upheld a policy of relevant purchases, acquiring works from the 1980s onwards by artists that were referential in the latter half of the 20th century. Even back then, they were already committed to very young artists, who were just starting out. Today, it is a collection that has expanded to include 1,040 works. They have forged long-term relationships with national artists and have followed their careers over time. Among international artists, they have tried to purchase “the work”, the one that is most highly representative. “We think long and hard about buying, we take our time, which is how it should be done”. Sometimes an artist may fit in, but you have to look for a piece that makes sense within the collection, “that can be one of the characters that can communicate with the others. Collecting means looking a lot, asking a lot of questions, investigating a lot and having a very clear objective”. The most important thing is to construct good stories.

The Collector is present. Local Scene.

For Gerardo, acquiring work is also a way of helping or supporting an artist, in a way, “you believe in them”, which is why he prefers to support young artists from the local scene. In this sense, the job of the gallery owner, the good gallery owner, is fundamental, “they are like the family doctor, they help you along this long path of collecting”. He is very certain that it is a question of principle, “you have to support the local scene and buy from galleries in Barcelona, for me it’s a logical process. And it’s also a way of forming part of this network”.

Berta admits that she has learnt a lot from visiting the exhibitions held in Barcelona galleries such as Àngels, ADN or Senda and also Nogueras Blanchard or Joan Prats, among others. Gallery owners perform a task that is not easy, they need to keep up to date in order to understand the art world and its transformations in depth. She confesses that she feels satisfied when she sees an artist she has followed grow. “We all learn and grow together”. The galleries are the filter and the quality guarantee, the gallery owners help you, especially when you are starting out. And then there is your observation.

Many artists and gallery owners have passed through Asier’s house, because they are already part of his life. “The gallerists do an essential job.” 98% of his acquisitions come from galleries like ProjecteSD, Àngels, etHall or Bombon in Barcelona, or CarrerasMugica in Bilbao. In spite of the fact that he maintains that “the current landscape of exhibitions is very promising”, and that the movement currently happening in L’Hospitalet “is wonderful”, he confesses that the problem in Barcelona is that there isn’t an appreciable private collecting scene like the one in Madrid. Or that the institution should support patronage to strengthen the sector, “it has not yet been understood that collecting is not just for millionaires. The mistake is believing that contemporary art is for an unaccessible elite, when this is simply not the case”.

“An important part of the exhibition sector is formed by the galleries, they are the reference point for curators and museum directors”. “In Barcelona there is a gallery network that is once again just as powerful as it was at the beginning, including visibility initiatives such as the Barcelona Gallery Weekend and Art Nou”, explains Alicia. “I came to live in Barcelona in 1997. Back then, the most cutting-edge stuff was here. Then there was a decline, but for the last three or four years a network of young, strong galleries is back, such as Bombon or Dilalica, or more experienced galleries that have managed to reinvent themselves, such as Joan Prats or Rocio Santacruz, or those that have moved to L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, such as Nogueras Blanchard, etHall, Galeria Alegria… “Currently, the offer is very positive, we are experiencing a good era”.

For Nimfa, the Gallery Weekend is a very interesting model, “it’s when you can see a good exhibition by an artist”. The fairs are more of a snack, where you see the works out of context, but it is also a way of seeing all the galleries that interest you at once, you can talk and negotiate with them, even if the work of the artist you are interested in is not there. “When I go to a fair, I go with a list of artists, and there might not be any of the artist’s work exhibited there”. “In fact, sometimes we have bought works that I have not seen exhibited at the fair, but that I have discovered by talking to the gallery”. The galleries are the great collaborators.

As our five collectors demonstrate, collecting requires a combination of passion, perseverance and knowledge. The collection, then, is not a mere accumulation of objects, fruit of fetishism and profit, but rather the collecting gesture – from institutional approaches with a more public vocation to the most intimate private collection – traces a history of commitments and shared interests that becomes a key element in the debate on art today.

Text by Gisela Chillida in collaboration with GRAF. Gisela is an Art writer, cultural manager and curator.

APROPOS are contents created about things happening in our artistic context. On this occasion and for the new edition of Art Nou, five collectors from the city open the doors to their collections and their perspectives. Art Nou and Graf have made the necessary connections, Gisela Chillida has written the article.

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