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 It is also a rather outdated method.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…