When I got the assignment to interview and photograph five of the most influential women in the world of contemporary art, I felt very curious about what I was about to learn. The first appointment was with Raffaella Cortese, who radiantly welcomed me into her art gallery. We sat comfortably on a very stylish couch and, while I was getting ready with my laptop, I spotted a silver bowl full of candies right on the table in front of me. “A mint!” I happily exclaimed. And while I was grabbing one of them and shamelessly putting it in my mouth, I noticed that the big smile on the gallery owner face was turning into a worried expression.
“Actually”, she said with composure, “these are not mints”.
“It’s a sculpture”.
Oops, too late. The candy (because it was a candy!) was already melting in my mouth.
“What you are eating is pretty old too”, she added.
“Tastes good!” I tried to convince myself.
Was the lesson learned? Not really. The proof was the meeting with Isabella Bortolozzi in Berlin.
“These flowers are wonderful!” I exclaimed in front of a big pot filled with a huge variety of beautiful flowers.
“These are not flowers”, she said, “it’s a sculpture”.
OK girls, that was not my best performance as a contemporary art connoisseur. But we certainly had a laugh!
Contemporary Art Gallery Directors
They are respected, imitated, at times a bit feared… Their choices can determine just how the wind blows in the contemporary art scene and redirect the course of the art market. Five of Europe’s leading gallery directors agreed to reveal the stories of their success and give some tips to those who want to invest in art today.
Theirs is a strategic position: they are the liaisons between the artists, the collectors, the public and the critics. We always see them beautiful, smiling and elegant at the inaugurations. But in addition to presiding over these worldly events, each one has developed a completely personal way of addressing the challenges in the art world. Raffaella Cortese is one of the most influential women in the world of contemporary art. Her charm is contagious and she is always ready to tell the story and reasons why something was successful or an artist is on the rise. “And yet giving practical suggestions is always difficult”, she explains. “A work of art is a very personal choice. The best thing to do is passionately visit exhibitions, document yourself on the artists you like, go into depth, and most of all, delight in and enjoy art”. OK, but practically speaking? “Nowadays with an investment of five to fifty thousand euros you can buy works of great meaning and quality: for example, women artists of the 1980s and ‘90s, artists of past generations or of more offbeat countries, or else video works. You have to buy works of emerging artists right at the outset, before they go over 10,000 euros, and always following the advice of someone in the know because it is easy to get dazzled”.
An important slice of her work, especially at a time such as this, when the art market is lively and speculative, is to propose new artists at acceptable prices, knowing that the market for their works will go up. Her colleagues are also quite alert and have a knack for spotting emerging talents. Monica De Cardenas, long red hair, slightly aristocratic courtesy, lets herself be attracted “by artists who know how to see things that others don’t see. Many of those I believed in at the beginning, when the public and the critics were very dubious about them, now exhibit their works in museums all over the world”. So the secret of buying art is to listen to your sixth sense? “For those who don’t do it as a profession and want to buy art, it’s a good idea to carefully collect information, for example, going to contemporary art shows in museums and fairs, such as Artefiera in Bologna, ARCO in Madrid, or ART BASEL in Basel. At any rate, I think it is essential to only buy what you really like. I am convinced that if you let your passion (and good advice) be your guide, the increase in value comes of its own”.
Isabella Bortolozzi, seen as a bit fearless for the extremely innovative nature of some of her exhibitions, agrees with her. “Selling art means knowing what you’re doing. I was confident that with time the work of certain artists would have developed in a very interesting way and I transmitted this confidence to my collectors”. She says, with a laugh, that some of the works she exhibits “are frightful” because they are too difficult, and yet, true to her intuition, she saw the prices of their works go up. If she were to give advice to those who want to buy art now, who would she name? “Among those I represent, certainly the ones I would invest in are Seth Price, Susan Philips, Danh Vo and Leonor Antunes. Other international talents I find very interesting are Carol Bove, Gedy Siboni, Allan Linder and Trisha Donnelly”.
Other interesting names are recommended by Christabel Stewart of the Hotel Gallery of London, which originated almost by chance and is now considered one of the most important reference points in contemporary art. “A good way to get your bearings, in my opinion, is to follow the work of an artist you feel attracted to and discover their connections with other artists. For example, our Steven Claydon and David Noonan participated in a collective exhibition at the Tate Modern last year, an exhibition that also included the works of David Wojnarowicz (who died of AIDS in 1992 at the young age of 37 and has recently been greatly reappraised) and Dorota Jurczak, a young Polish artist living among a community of artists in Hamburg. All of them have seen prices for their work shooting up in the past two years. Personally I also greatly admire the careers of Nick Relph and Oliver Payne (Herald St), Enrico David (Cabinet), Carol Bove, Alan Michael, Alastair MacKinven (Hotel), and Judith Hopf (Galerie Andreas Huber, Vienna). Their work deserves the attention of collectors”.
Chantal Crousel, tireless discoverer of talents for her temple of art on Rue Charlot in Paris, makes an important distinction: “It’s exciting to follow the careers of artists who pose new questions and suggest innovative responses regarding social evolution. I like making their work accessible by exhibiting it and, once the show is over, my greatest satisfaction is when I succeed in placing them in a collection or in a museum so that the work continues to live and be seen. For many, however, art is merely an investment and right now there are many artists who conceive their works not as artistic concepts but as products, and they appeal to a type of buyer who is particularly sensitive to commercial speculation”. Is she saying that two parallel markets are developing? “Exactly. One deals with investments, the other sees art as art.” But what advice would she give to someone who wants to invest in art today? “Names? Reena Spaulings, Wade Guyton, Claire Fontane. All three had their first solo exhibition in Paris at our gallery. I am convinced however that you have to buy a work if ‘it speaks to you’, when you feel stirred up or even disturbed in its presence, only in that case is it a good purchase”.
Chantal Crousel, Paris
One day, when she was eighteen, strolling down Avenue Louise in Brussels where she was studying, Chantal saw a small drawing in a large gallery window. She liked it so much that she went in, learning that it was a work by Man Ray. The gallery director explained his art so well to her that, enthralled, she bought the work. And she also realized that this was the work for her. After completing her studies in art history, she moved to Paris where she worked in a number of galleries until she opened her own in 1980. The first exhibition there was a great success: a solo Tony Cragg show.
Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin
Half Austrian and half Friulian, when she decided to open her gallery she felt irresistibly drawn to Berlin. Perhaps it was because, as the mayor of the city says, “Berlin is poor but sexy”. She is known and respected in the art world for her courageous choices, starting with the gallery she opened, not in a nice white loft, but in a problematic, impractical and architecturally cluttered space. She often proposes difficult artists, such as Susan Philips, who works exclusively with sound.
Christabel Stewart, London
In 2003, the two floors below the apartment where Christabel lived (and still lives) with her boyfriend Darren Flook, suddenly became available and they rented them on the spot. The next move was to organize an exhibition. The evening of the inauguration an incredible crowd arrived, including collectors ready to buy the only work on exhibit: a neon script by Peter Saville. That convinced them to go on with other installations by young talents and recognized artists, establishing their gallery as a major international landmark in the art world.
Raffaella Cortese, Milan
She reserves part of her house for the artists she is happy to host and with whom she has a very intense relationship: together they eat, talk, discuss and plan new projects and exhibitions. She travels often to participate up close in the creations of the artists she represents, such as Roni Horn, with whom she was recently in Iceland. She claims that if she were not directing a gallery she would be… a gardener! Taking care of flowers wouldn’t be so terribly different from cultivating her artists, making them grown and seeing them mature.
Monica De Cardenas, Milan
At the age of sixteen, she got excited visiting the National Gallery and decided to study art history. Afterwards, she immediately started working in an important gallery in Zürich and then in another in Naples. In 1992 she made the big leap: she began organizing exhibitions in Milan at her own house. After three years business had become rather stable and she moved out so that her house-gallery could become exclusively a gallery. She was the first to believe in the international star Thomas Struth when he was a young unknown.