Mutual confidence

The better you get to know an artist—a human being like all others, after all—, the more obvious become the weaknesses and strengths of his or her oeuvre. I always had to take care not to become presumptuous and raise beyond measure the quality standards I applied. It’s similar in sports, perhaps, to being spurred on from one world record to the next, continuously topping your own self!

 

Hooked on excellence

That is exactly how I felt with the truly excellent artists of Latin America whom I had the privilege of getting to know over the years: the already very high level of quality made me long for even more. Only the best seemed good enough for me to purchase for the collection and for subsequent exhibitions. This bears a risk, namely that of becoming intolerant towards anything with only the slightest hint of mediocrity. Like the surfer constantly on the lookout for the perfect wave, I also kept hoping for ever more quality!

It always expands the comprehension of art—no matter the purpose, whether for collecting or exhibiting—to gather as much information as possible about the personality of the artist and to analyze the conditions that contribute to the creation of the works. The opportunity to get to know the artist personally is simply invaluable. Flowers bloom outside in the field, and not in a computer! To conduct a research about an artist without actually meeting her or him in person is doomed from the start to be fragmentary. It is also a rather outdated method. For fear of being manipulated, earlier generations of art critics shunned direct contact with artists, such contact, in their view, impairing objectivity and critical faculties.

 

How much transparency is possible and necessary?

Trust builds up mutually and gradually, and it should not be trifled with—in no relationship! When purchasing works of very young artists, I place a great amount of trust in their future artistic development. But I should beware of taking it for granted. The same holds true for older and acclaimed artists—there is no guarantee for a consistently high-quality output.

The market, however, disregards such differentiation: once a Picasso, always a Picasso; once a Gerhard Richter, always a Gerhard Richter! This is unwarranted, of course. No outstanding artist can permanently maintain an achieved level. Art is not a mechanical production operation (exceptions excluded). The market, however, will—and must—brush aside such insights. What a pity it would be, after all, if a bad Picasso wouldn’t sell; and how tedious it would be to have to assess each work on its own terms!

Absolute sincerity in all comments and statements is of fundamental importance. Only then is it possible to have a uniquely constructive conversation. Curiosity and constructive criticism additionally indicate respect for the other person. From this grows mutual appreciation as the basis for a future relationship of trust.

In principle, I took an unobtrusive approach and rather listened to the artist speak—hence the numerous artist interviews in my publications. In the extreme case, such an interview would proceed as the one with Ernesto Neto in Rio for our catalog of the Seduções exhibition in 2006. I asked him my first—and only!—question, initiating a one-hour torrent of words from Neto—whereby he already answered all further questions I had! Criticism of individual works or of the artistic production as such was something I very rarely voiced, and in particular only when the artist explicitly requested me to. I hold the belief that it is not for “the curator” to criticize; the curator’s task is rather to accept “the artist” as she or he is.

 

It all comes down to decision-making

In the end, it is the curator or collector who has to make a decision anyway. The curator has to select particular artists from a vast group—and each of their particular works from their entire oeuvres. In this way it happened that I intuitively, and without yet knowing about Waltercio Caldas’ bibliophile inclinations, purchased all of his book objects. His large-scale works are exceptional as well, while the middle formats are not his forte. “The bigger, the better” also holds true for his Brazilian colleagues Iole de Freitas and Ernesto Neto, and, incidentally, for the landscape architect Burle Marx. Or take, for instance, Julio Le Parc, to my opinion the greatest optical-kinetic artist of the 20thcentury, whose sculptures and paintings, on the other hand, are of less significance. Or Luis Camnitzer, a brilliant conceptualist with a marked penchant for poetry, who is less convincing in his attempts to transmit some issues all too literally…

  1. Artists are also people, you write. That’s certainly the case. But there are many interests and many representatives of these interests who want to make forget that human side with all its strengths and weaknesses.
    The art market, for example, has worked hard to generate maximum prices for a few artists, which once achieved should not be destroyed again. The museums also do not want to damage their acquisitions by admitting that their purchased work might not be as good than thought time ago. Private collectors will act the same way, of course. And curators do not have the task to criticise, as you also write quite correctly. You have the task to choose the best and, if applicable, to combine it with other best, to which both in the light of each other will be even better.

    There are only the critics who should have no mercanile interests and they should judge the art honestly. But they, however, fear too often for their good contacts, they fear to lose their VIP invitations and other privileges. They don’t like to be considered querulous, as whiners. Those who have a permanent position with a powerful gazette can now and again speak clear words, the others prefer the path of least resistance. They parrot what the press texts of the art markets offer them.

    Hardly no one dares to ask what is actually so great about Gerhard Richter. It belongs to his image that he considers himself overrated (at least with regard to the prices achieved for his works), but he has unquestionably a point there. It would be interesting to see how he would react, if one would agree with him quite frankly: yes, dear Mr Richter, you are absolutely overrated. Your blured streak-paintings have fizzled out 40 years ago and what came after, others have done better before you, if it was not completely stolen anyway, like the glass windows of the Cologne Cathedral by Ellsworth Kelly.

    The same goes for Picasso, of course. He painted his “Demoiselles” when he was 26. After that, nothing of importance for art history succeeded. Beautiful settings, a few successful decorations, handicrafts. That too has its authority, but it does not justify the prizes paid for Picasso.
    It is nice to see that you have left the curator’s position – and thus of the art market – to speak out (with all due respect to artists) the simple truth that they are human beings and not gods. They fight, fail, dazzle, pretend, like people in other professions too, whether in business, politics or academics.

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