Picking up the scent…
Artists and their respective personal dispositions are of fundamental significance to me. It was indispensable to first become personally acquainted with them and to become familiar with their personal backgrounds, as well as to discover the cultures and histories of their cities and countries.
I could afford the luxury of visiting all of the artists repeatedly and whenever I wished. This usually allowed us to meet undisturbed, to gradually become acquainted and—slowly but surely—to gain each other’s trust. We did not have to get down to business right from the start; instead, we took our time until—ideally—together we had reviewed their entire body of work.
For me, in any case, it was the conditio sine qua non: to be able to synoptically grasp the oeuvre to the greatest extent possible and present it before my mind’s eye, so that I felt capable of evaluating the form and content, qualitatively as well as quantitatively, and to subsequently place it within the broader context of its origin and its contemporaries as well as developments that were parallel to it.
… and searching for clues
Much time and extreme attentiveness are required in order to simultaneously arrange, analyze, and comprehend all of the obtained information—and then, in turn, to bring it into accord with the future collection. Of course, this required that very clear ideas formed the basis regarding the quality standard of the works. It also required fastidious accuracy when networking and gathering all necessary details. This is the only way to reveal all possible and impossible connections as well as to reasonably take them into account for further research.
Each piece of information must be consistently examined in regard to its potential semantic content and then be scientifically and systematically analyzed. One must travel from point A to point B, while taking care, however, not to give in to the rapid snowball effect, which could ultimately lead to being buried in an avalanche!
Expecting the unexpected
I had to take hold of the countless threads in order to weave them gently together or—in the instance of overwhelming complexity—to disentangle them like the legendary Gordian Knot. Often enough, I landed at a destination entirely different than originally planned. The people I initially met were not necessarily those with whom I would cooperate in the longer term. Unexpected situations—both negative as well as positive ones—were continuously lurking, waiting to be dealt with; and a plethora of information was chaotically accumulating 24 hours a day that had to be arranged in its proper (preliminary) place. As a general rule, nothing is foreseeable. People from Ecuador, who you coincidentally meet again in Honduras—and not even recognize at first glance, of course, because you did not expect them to be there at all—could provide you, for example, with important tips on Uruguayan artists and so forth. This means that you must generally be prepared for everything at all times, as well as always be open to all remarks and recommendations, and remain “on alert” day and night.
Never judge a book by its cover
Everyone who is involved in art has an important piece of the mosaic to contribute to the overall picture. For this reason, one must always be an attentive listener. I visited and spoke with absolutely everyone who was available: the famous and the unknown, young and old, rich and poor, in the centers and at the peripheries. Only afterwards can a relatively complete mosaic of the context be discerned, along with the appearance of possible backgrounds and motives—none of which has been written in any book!
All of this requires full involvement, creating an intimate closeness, yet at the same time also maintaining the necessary distance and detachment. It requires meticulous “bookkeeping” with much patience and perseverance, not to mention a good measure of tenacity. My numerous notes written on hotel stationery or restaurant bills have become a veritable trademark of mine: after all, it was ultimately impossible for me to spontaneously recognize the full meaning of immediately obtained information. This is why I continued to carry with me all of this information that had been jotted down, until I was able to allocate the proper respective place for it within my system. This resulted in neatly arranged piles, containing wildly varying forms, and full of a diverse array of information from a variety of locations, which I regularly combed through in my Zurich office at the end of each trip.
It was essential to bring a state of calm to situations that were frequently chaotic and unforeseeable. My research was defined by continuously interrupted narratives, which would eventually resume at some later point in time, as if one would sit there holding many threads in the hand, forever considering which one best matches the other.