That’s what David Roberts, CE of Edinburgh House Estates, has done. He’s one of Britain’s most prolific collectors, with an estimated 2 000 works acquired over the past decade. He exhibits his diverse collection at Gallery One One One in London, which also provides a platform for artists and offers curated shows for the public.
Roberts follows in the steps of fellow-Briton Charles Saatchi, whose famed collection was previously exhibited at County Hall until it was evicted in 2005. In 2008 it relocated to Chelsea, with an inaugural exhibition of contemporary Chinese art. The new gallery features a dedicated space for artists to exhibit and sell commission-free.
Other British collectors are taking their cue. Manchester businessman Frank Cohen opened the Initial Access Gallery in Wolverhampton, which was converted from two industrial sheds. Its December show, Lightness of Being, included Tracey Emin (famous for a tent embroidered with the names of everyone she ever slept with) and Jason Rhoades. Anita Zabludowicz, whose collection comprises over 1 000 works by more than 350 contemporary artists, has also opened her acquisitions to the public with a former London church converted into a gallery space. And in 2004, Virginia Damtsa and Tot Taylor opened a gallery in an old London gunmaker’s workshop which showcases international young artists and hosts one retrospective exhibition a year.
SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE
The Americans, of course, have already been sharing their private collections for some time – arguably encouraged by tax breaks. But collecting art isn’t like collecting cans of baked beans. Art is part of cultural heritage and there’s arguably an obligation upon serious collectors to share it. As the Swiss-based curator of the Donald Hess Collection, Myrtha Steiner, puts it: “Art should be accessible to as large an audience as possible because the artist created his or her work for the public.”
Swiss businessman and Hess Group founder Donald Hess is one collector alive to this public duty. In 2006 he opened a bespoke gallery on the Glen Carlou wine estate in Paarl which is currently exhibiting world-renowned landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy, as well as South African Deryck Healey and Ivorian Ouattara Watts. Most of the other artists represented in the Hess collection are European and American, and include Francis Bacon, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Franz Gertsch, James Turrell, Susan Derges, Georg Baselitz, Lynn Hershman and Gerhard Richter.
Hess, who retired in 2002, started collecting art about 40 years ago and has amassed with his eye and intuition over 1 000 works that are exhibited between three locations. Glen Carlou hosts about 35 works, while the bulk are on show at the Hess Collection Winery in California, US. A third museum in Colomè, Argentina, will exhibit works in 2009 created by American artist Turrell.
Hess focuses on about 20 contemporary artists at a time, visiting them in their studios and watching their development as he gradually acquires their works – a strategy he calls collecting “in depth”: “If you imagine that an artist puts their heart and soul into art, you can't just walk by because the painting needs time to respond to your looks,” he told guests at the Glen Carlou gallery launch. “I’ve also learnt to rely on my eyes and intuition. Art mirrors not only the artist’s feelings and interior life or ideas, but also the times we live in. A sincere artist can’t just paint a field with flowers when he thinks about the world.”
Hess’s blending of art and wine isn’t unique: SA businessman Dick Enthoven has built his Spier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch into a brand synonymous with his long-standing support for the arts.
CREATING A LEGACY
But creating a bespoke space for a private collection is in a league of its own. Art dealer Warren Siebrits says South Africans are generally cautious about putting their acquired works on display – and those who do so require a considerable amount of money, not only for a bespoke building, but also for the ongoing expenses and management involved “You really have to be wealthy. You also have to have a medium- and long-term vision and curatorial policy for a good collection. It’s a question of perpetuity.”
That’s something the SA Rupert family has got right. Since 1964, it’s funded the arts primarily through the Rembrandt Art Foundation, part of the business empire built by patriarch Anton. This included sponsoring the ground-breaking art triennales in the 1980s.
In 2005, the Ruperts’ affiliation with art culminated in the opening of the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch, which houses part of the family’s art collection of local and international works. The Rupert art collection was acquired over 60 years by Anton and Huberte Rupert, starting at the time of their marriage in the 1940s. About 350 of the works are now on public show: the emphasis is on 20th century SA masters, with a brief nod to the contemporary, as well as an international section. The collection is saluted by art dealers like Stefan Welz at Sotheby’s for its quality, and the Ruperts’ acumen in acquiring “the best of the best” long before SA even registered on the art world radar.
As Siebrits says: “That’s what it really takes – an integrated policy to make a collection viable and successful. There has to be some kind of connection to the arts community.”
Hess Art Collection: Napa, California, US
This museum opened in 1989 and shows world-class artists including Gilbert & George, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Francis Bacon, Robert Motherwell, Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, Franz Gertsch and Anselm Kiefer. Visit: www.hesscollection.com.
Glen Carlou: Paarl, SA
This museum opened in 2006 with an exhibition dedicated to Deryck Healey (who died in 2004) and British artist Andy Goldsworthy. Paintings and drawings of African artist Ouattara Watts, who lives in New York, were unveiled in January 2008. Visit: www.glencarlou.co.za.
Colome, Calchaqui Valley, Argentina
This museum opened in 2008, showing nine of James Turrell’s light installations, as well as a group of his drawings and prints.Visit: www.estanciacolome.com.