Rubén Torres Llorca, Histoy according to the defeated, 2007 (detail)

Interview with Axana Alvarez and Orlando Justo

Facebook is one of the social networks that apocalyptic groups demonize the most, particularly those born under the sign of Theodor W. Adorno. Perhaps because I live in a country with a meager Internet connection, but most of all because I have a more or less clear relationship with it, I’m an integrated person, born under W. Benjamin’s flashing presence. This social network, specifically, has been useful to work with, especially in giving free rein to my egocentrism and conceit. This panoptic exhibits and controls me, and with great pleasure I let it do so.

Some of the pictures I’ve posted on my Facebook wall were taken in Axana and Orlando’s house and, without intending to, I appear surrounded by works of art which end up receiving more comments than me: having one’s photograph taken in this house risks having the center of attention stray off, you might end up as a collateral element. These works displace you and, if they do, it means they are good and, besides that, photogenic.

Therefore, these works not only spark off essays on their discursive logic, but their reproduction in a book would make it a visually beautiful and attractive product. They are eloquent, expressive, magnanimous and, in a given way, a journey on the lives of Axana and Orlando. This collection resembles them just as Orlandito resembles it. Willy-nilly – don’t deny it! – this book is also a family portrait: a nude, to be exact.

For my part, between Riverdale and Scarsdale, I have been outlining a portrait of them that I need to reinforce, reaffirm and, of course, amend through this volume. Hence the demand for the present interview that, carried out in the midst of Apollonian and Dionysian, chaotic and ordered stages, is extremely clarifying. The causes of their artcoholism, as well as their confessions on the construction of this repertoire of works, make me think that we are before an autophagic and autotelic collection… at least for the moment.

And, since one tends to reproduce, this relationship between passion and patience with which they have followed art to build what has been a great pretext, resulted identical to the one I lived during the everlasting work in progress this conversation became. I know there will be others, as seasoned and substantial, as familiar and respectful.

Reynier Leyva Novo, Los olores de la guerra, 2009 (detail)

ERC: Normally people talk from the vanity implicit in the fact of having a collection. From the niceness and –why not?– egocentrism it implies. Sacrifice, however, is rarely mentioned. How does this relationship between pleasure and renunciation act in both your cases? How can people who do not have money to spare find themselves with such a good collection?

A and O: The type of collectors we are leaves us a very little possibility for whim and vanity. Basically, the collection nourishes itself. We began collecting without being aware of what we wanted and without the intention of building a collection. By mere coincidence, when we worked in the Cuban Fund of Cultural Goods (FCBC), the company that at the time commercialized works of art, the country was immersed in a deep economic crisis; the shortage of goods and services worsened day-by-day generating a galloping hyperinflation. There was a lot of easy money in the streets, but nothing on which to spend it. Cuban state companies, however, continued to sell their products at subsidized prices in the devalued official currency, the Cuban Peso, and while the country suffered a severe lack of basic goods, art galleries were full of works of art that could be commercialized in national currency.

Over the decades these galleries aroused no interest in local collecting because acquiring or storing up works of art was badly perceived according to the values encouraged by the Cuban communist government. Art collecting was a capitalist leftover in the eyes of the “new” Cuban society. Looking where to spend those Cuban pesos, little by little we began to buy works from vanguard artists (mainly from the 30s and 50s) in the same galleries where we worked. This “vanguard” group, at the time, did not have a large market and their prices were very low. At the same time, the crisis forced many people to part with things that had some value in order to cover their needs. We also began to have access to some existing collections whose owners sold a large number of works at bargain prices. By mere chance, we were in the right place at the right time. As a friend of ours said: “Something that began as a mere coincidence, ended up being an incidence.” 

José Bedia, Sarabanda, 2010

Once in the United States, when we framed some of the works by these vanguard artists and hung them on our walls, they did not say much to us, apart from our admiration and pure aesthetic pleasure. We noticed that the art attracting us, and with which we interacted best, was reflecting the reality that had fallen on us to live. This was how we decided to begin selling those works we had and exchanging them for others of the so-called artists of the ‘80s and those who came after them. The figures worked out very well for us, since a process of valuation of these vanguard artists had already started at the time. We sold an Amelia Peláez work and, with that money, bought some by young artists, who at the time had much lower prices. So little by little we began to replace all the works from the 40s, 50s and 60s we had and began buying the ones we wanted.

Collecting has been work for us. At the beginning we did not take it as a hobby and that’s why we never saw ourselves as collectors in the most traditional sense. Art and market were never separate paths for us: one thing compelled us to the other and vice versa.

Little by little our professional and economic situation began to stabilize in New York. Graduate studies ended, stable jobs appeared in our profession, the collection grew just as happened with the relationship with artists, collectors, galleries, and so on. The business went to those works we weren’t interested in collecting or those it didn’t hurt to part with. We also exchanged works with dealers and thus fed back to the collection. Without noticing it and in a natural way, the paths, that of business and that of the collection, parted.

We used the sales for new acquisitions and almost never for projects, not even personal projects, having nothing to do with the collection, although at times we had lumps in our throats. Everything is deferred if a work that interests us appears. We do it with a conspiratorial silence, thinking that this is the last time we will break an implicit pact on taking a break from the acquisition of new artworks.

As you see, in this path there is no vanity; we must have space and an opportune way to give it free rein. We would have to “exhibit” the works and have the adequate audience. With relative frequency we meet at home with friends sensitive to art and pleased with the collection. Their observations have made us aware of what we have and the weight of the work, so many works that, in a certain way, are a narrative of our lives. In all of them there is a position, an attitude, a coincidence or a critical disagreement between them and us. A subtle reading of the collection would reveal traits and nuances of our personality and our thought. Perhaps that is why we have maintained it with zeal. The collection has been as private as our home, a very intimate thing. The collection is not for us a symbol of status. Only in this way has been possible to renounce so many things.

Now that we have agreed for this book to appear and put at the disposal of museums and institutions, we’ll see if we become conceited. We hope we don’t, we hope to continue enjoying it exactly as we have done up to now, in our own way.

Carlos Garaicoa, Declaration, 1996

ERC: Some artists in the collection are better represented than others and there are some with only one work. Also, there are artists that already have two or three decades in their career and others that are practically beginning. What criterion has moved the threads of these decisions?

A and O: Actually, there is no overriding principle on the number of works per artist in our collection. We know collectors are attracted by one, two or, at the most, three artists and buy many of the works of all their stages, styles and techniques. There are some who are attracted by a specific artistic movement or by a type of technique of a specific stage – “contemporary photographers” for example – and buy a work by each of the artists in this group. Perhaps both ways are good if the collectors are happy with what they’re doing. After all, they’re the ones who coexist with these works and they know what makes them happy and what not.

In our case, perhaps a mixture of both trends may be seen, and this has happened in a fortuitous manner. We have more than five or six works by a small group of artists and this has to do with a combination of great admiration for their work and/or personal friendship, which at times has allowed us access to some pieces. Of other artists we have one, two, three or four works, because that’s what we’ve been able to find, what we’ve liked and what fits the price we can pay. Many times dealers send us images of works that appear in the market and there is an artist we do not have. We buy right there – if we like the piece – because we do not know if that possibility will again emerge. At times we’ve tracked for a long time something from a specific artist, but it’s complicated to find what we want. Perhaps we have only one work, or none, by him, but this doesn’t mean that we’re not interested, just that there hasn’t been anything available attracting us. Not even artists or dealers can provide them, since many times they have nothing from this stage or style. They have already sold everything and we must resort to the secondary market.

Collecting, in general, not only art is like a little bug entering your body, difficult to get it out. If it were up to us, we would have artworks by the artists in our collection from all the periods we like, but because we have not found the work we wanted or because of financial reasons, it hasn’t always happened. Fate has also looked after our having this collection. It’s not made on the basis of a list of names we have to lie in wait for, trapping them and then crossing them out, like the bounty hunters we see in the westerns. In fact, there are artists we would like to have, but they are practically impossible for us to acquire, Félix González-Torres for example.

As to the generational diversity present in the collection, we would say it’s thecollector’s impetus itself invading us. As we already said, because of personal experiences we began to collect works of the ‘80s, but then we saw very interesting works by artists who emerged years later. We had the chance to know some of them personally, when they were starting their careers, and we could understand their works better. Their proposals were different from those of the ‘80s, but the new generation was also very interesting and touched us very closely. For example, Garaicoa’s restlessness because of Havana’s architectonic deterioration or the reading of the city as a text; Belkis Ayón’s intense oeuvre of a deep religious content, Francisco de la Cal’s acute satire, among others. Without our realizing it, this new approach to the issues of Cuban society made us increase the number of artists in our collection and, in a certain way, we have always continued updating ourselves according to what youngest artists are doing. We are also attracted by the work of some artists of Cuban origin, whether they were born here or came when small children, but their reality is the one we now share and they have made and/or are making really admirable work: Tony Labat, TeresitaFernández, Luis Cruz Azaceta, Jorge Pardo, José Parlá, Luis Gispert, Andrés Serrano, Julio Larraz, Ana Mendieta, Abelardo Morrell, among others. We have some of them. Others we do not.

Belkis Ayón, Sin título (Sikán entrando al río), 1993

ERC: Does your age, your generational belonging, influence you when hierarchizing the purchase of works from the so-called ‘80s generation up to the present? Is there a preference for works with critical signs in a political sense, works questioning and defiant?

A and O: It’s not a conscious, but possible connection. Since we began to see art, Antonia Eiriz’s and Tomás Sánchez’s expressionist inks, as well as their garbage dumps and their approach to a rather minimalistic landscape, it called our attention. At the time Volumen I was already over. They were the young “veterans” of Galería Habana, the forerunners of a transcendental change in aesthetic and conceptual proposals, which paved the way for everything that came later. There was also a more insubordinate group which confronted institutions, questioning the lack of freedom of expression, doing a very critical social art in which, among others, Aldo Menéndez, Ciro Quintana, Segundo Planes, Carlos Rodríguez Cárdenas, TomásEsson, Angel Delgado, Arte Calle were. It perhaps was the last moment of political activism in the plastic arts lived as an absolute civic conviction.

They, just like us, wanted to be allowed to disagree, create and live with freedom (which at the time was in itself more an aberration than a utopia). Some days ago we saw some works by Carlos Rodríguez Cárdenas made during those years which, in their matchless clarity, define the Cuban revolution and its leader. Not even today, with much more permissiveness, have we seen works so critical, so valid or so blunt.

Therefore our preference was to start the collection from the ‘80s on. We went from teenagers to adults seeing this type of work, dialoguing with these proposals, feeling ourselves reflected in them because of being part of that context. In a society where everything is politicized, even to the point of lacking a political position, it is very likely that, in our subconscious, these works reminded us what we had lived, what we couldn’t (or dare not) shout freely on the street, attracted us, that memory of which you physically escape, and the collection takes care to recreate in a given way, like a journal or a map of the moment.

In one way or another, later years produced artists with critical works, not necessarily political, with more global questionings. Today we do not believe much in that questioning and defiant political work. Perhaps a few odd artists do it with some conviction and we know that some are and continue to be politically uncomfortable for the Cuban government. We have in mind, for example, Pedro Pablo Oliva, who has been censored several times in recent years; EspacioAglutinador, a project since 1994, has promoted many artists with works that at times have been mortifying for official institutions, such as those by Sandra Ceballos and EzequielSuárez, Jorge Luis Marrero and Ernesto Leal, among others.

The tolerant attitude of the government before works with “questioning and defiant” nuances, to use your terms, gives the impression of being more an achievement of the Cuban authorities than of the questioning and summoning of critical vocation in plastic artists. On the one hand, the Cuban government has clearly understood that the gallery circuit is small, with a very limited popular reach, and art exhibitions in Cuba are not phenomena that drag in the masses, like music, films or television do; also, the same plastic arts enthusiasts, a negligible percentage of the population, almost always attend the openings. That is, this critical work has no great transcendence in terms of social reach but, at the same time, offers an image of tolerance, openness and permissiveness very convenient to show abroad.

On the other hand, the authorities learned from the massive exodus of the ‘80s generation and are now much more flexible with plastic artists than they were twenty-one or twenty-two years ago. These artists now sell from their studios, travel abroad, frequently come to the United States, exhibit here, take part in projects, win scholarships and return to Cuba without difficulty. In today’s Cuba artists are an economic elite very distant from the daily reality of the average person, and do not have a vital need for a truly questioning and defiant oeuvre faced with a status quo that favors them in that context. That is why we see the political work produced today with some disdain, in most cases, or we simply don’t see it, because it is increasingly scarce The restlessness of many artists seems to be in other places today; we could say that they try to be more contemporary, more “cutting edge,” more global.

Carlos Rodríguez Cárdenas, Escala de valores, 1992

It is very difficult to define a thematic preference in our collection because that is not the way we made it. We could say, “It is not a collection hastily made.” We do not find it complicated to live with the works we have. None of them is repulsive, no matter how strong or violent the topic may be, and that’s precisely what makes them beautiful. We are interested in artists who feel committed to their work, whether successful or not, whether quoted at high prices or not: those who have the need to express something and do it rigorously.

ERC: I’m aware that you transcend the act of buying and become “entangled” with the artist, turning the relationship into something warm, even conspiratorial.

A and O: An important part of the collection is by artists who are very close to us. When we worked in the FCBC in the early ‘90s, we learned how gratifying the relationship with the artists could be and we hold dear our friendship with a large group of them.

Once in the United Stated that circle of artists increased, mainly with some from the ‘80s generation. We’re close friends with several of them and have shared New Year’s Eve and family parties together. We have seen our children grow, in some cases establishing a relationship transcending that of artist-collector. There are many hours of accumulated conversations, stays in their studios seeing their intimacy while they create, exchanging our distress, findings and, at times, even personal problems. Then, if we carefully observe their works, this shared time is blurred.

Because of our age and similar life experiences, our collection has grown together with many of the artists who are part of it, because they, as well as us, from the professional and economic point of view have travelled parallel paths of evolution. Just as they struggle to find good galleries, interesting projects, better prices, and establish themselves in the world of art, we struggle to grow in ours, the academic world. We are not collectors with fortunes and influences in the artistic circuit. We simply are a couple defending and promoting a collection with total respect for art and artists who have turned us, on this path we walk together, into contemporary collectors in the most literal meaning of the word.

This close relationship with the artists has undoubtedly allowed us to buy works they consider important and at times are not easy to find on the market. We really have nothing but deep gratitude for them because of their generosity and help has allowed us to arrive at this point.

Los Carpinteros, El trineo de la Bahía de La Habana, 1996

ERC: In “Picasso Baby,” Jay Z ironically raps “(…) yellow Basquiat in my kitchen corner.” The “bible” on collecting says: “if you are looking for the right color painting to match your wallpaper, stop reading here.” You have works difficult to locate anywhere other than the galleries. Also, in photography sessions and studying what you have bought, I have seen works with which it might be complicated to coexist. Anyway, I suspect there are whims, preferences, a certain taste…

A and O: That is a difficult question because we have works we would never conceive of outside of our house; about others we jokingly say: “this one is coming with me to my grave.” But it is very complicated to choose one over and above the others. They have all been bought because of some reason. Histories, experiences and connections are created which could make some more special than others, not only because of their artistic meaning, but also because of the experiences behind those images. Of course, we both have a great weakness for the work of some artists. In many cases we coincide and with others we don’t, but we respect that difference of opinion without conflict.

We can coexist with all the works we have, but the limited space in our house is a challenge. We rotate them to enjoy them and that day is an endless party, because we both move with opposing speed. We can spend a month opening wooden crates, folders, deciding what work we are taking out. We live with them all around us, with the idea of finally having a wall for that painting, of making an inventory. But no: it seems this is not the fate of a collector. Paraphrasing Walter Benjamin in his excellent essay “Unpacking My Library,” it is when you open the boxes of books and light enters after years of darkness that, just like works of art, they wake up before your eyes, they acquire a meaning. Many were forgotten and when you suddenly see them again they impress you once more. Then memories appear, the histories having to do with the works, the conversations. Hours and even days go by until you hang them on some wall. No matter how difficult it may be for others to exist side by side with them, this is just the opposite for us. There are persons who may be offended by some of them and do not understand how having a child we expose him to a habitat of strong or erotic images; but our son has grown up seeing these works and, for him, this is something natural.

Jorge Pardo, Untitled, 2003

Someday we will find a way to enjoy those works that are very large. Years ago we bought a work by Jorge Pardo, difficult to hang and very delicate, and actually we didn’t see it again until the day we decided to open the box. It appeared in parts with meticulous instructions on how to assemble it and we even had to make a small adjustment for it not to bend. It was a long night for just one work, an illusion floating on the wall. Next day it looked beautiful and even people who have nothing to do with art have enthusiastically praise it.

From Rafael Domenech, who is probably the youngest artists in our collection, we have the Converse sneakers he wore when he left Cuba. He engraved on the soles “Good” on one and “Bye” on the other and these go from shelf to shelf. Someday we will find an adequate place for them. Some see them just as dirty sneakers and they cannot understand why we bought them; for others, they are just worn-out Converse; for us, however, they are a work with an immense vital charge in them.

Rarely have we sold works that we have displayed in our house for a long time. Seeing them again on someone else’s wall gives you feel an odd sensation. It’s as if they didn’t belong to that place, as if they had been misappropriated. You don’t forget the individual stories relating you with each work: they always return at a simple glance.

Rafael Domenech, Good Bye, 2010

However, there are works that do not belong to that stage known as “Cuban art” and which have key and visible places in the collection and the house. I am thinking about Kentridge and other very good authors.

After more than two decades living in the United States, and most of that time in New York, our preferences logically began to change and this also extends to art. Being in New York is a privilege for those of us who love the plastic arts, since there is always something interesting in the museums, institutions, galleries, auction houses, art fairs, and so on. Sometimes you don’t have time enough to see all the good exhibitions that are on offer. Little by little, these artistic proposals turn into your new reality as a resident in the city. You begin to discover and admire the work of artists who captivate you because of their aesthetics or their speech, which you feel part of, sometimes starting a dialogue which makes you want one of those works to enjoy it every single day. This is for us a sort of recurrent story.

Although years ago we began to collect only the art that attracted us from our country of origin, now that art which is part of our present life in a different context also moves us. That is why for some years we decided to buy works by artists of other nationalities following the same premise: they must be works we like and enjoy living with.

It also frequently happens that collections evolve as the tastes and preferences of collectors change. There are works that several years ago we bought with enthusiasm and today we probably wouldn’t buy if they were offered to us. As a collector you are on an incessant search for that you do not have, of what is “new,” of what motivates you today. At times you cleanse the collection, sacrificing works (now not with less pain), because the one you are about to buy stimulates you more. Also, there are others that never leave your side and that you never move from the wall where they hang. In an excellent story about the art world, Bruce Chatwin talks about the pain he forever felt after selling a fragment of Greek marble that an old friend had given to him as a present. The lesson was that works of art, when intended to last, should never be sold or bought, but only offered as presents or exchanged. What is fascinating in this story is that posterity is given in an unconscious act of transferring the work, as if there were a mysterious reason in the fact that nobody would decide to sell it. That work we keep with zeal. There will be a day someone will find it and it will deserve the right to eternity.

Tomás Sánchez, Calvario en tierras bajas, 1974

ERC: I wouldn’t normally ask a question like this of anyone and I think I would out of mere individual curiosity, but I am thinking of the readers: In your experience as collectors, what criterion should be taken kept in mind when beginning a collection of “Cuban art,” to use a quick and easy term?

A and O: Seriously building a collection, not only of art, requires much knowledge on what you wish to collect. That is why the first thing should be to learn about this kind of art and the historical context in which these works develop. It is a great intellectual experience, because artists tend to have a very diverse way of seeing life and understanding the world. In many cases, it’s a comforting educational exercise that allows us to understand art better, whether for its contents or for its aesthetics. Thus, for example, a work, which for some may seem grotesque at first sight, when the context in which it was created is understood, allows you to isolate the tormented images and see the strength it brings because of its artistic and intellectual value. It is also necessary to find the essential information on the artists, on their works, see their curricula, the public exhibitions in which they have taken part, and notice with what museums they have worked. You learn much attending the opening of exhibitions. Most of them are open to the public and generally offer the chance to meet the artist and hear him speak about his work.

To understand what exactly you’ve decided to collect also allows you to buy with your own criterion, looking for what really interests you, what you like, and adapts to your view and budget. To collect in an imitation of other collectors can be disastrous, because in the end you have a copy of someone else’s collection, with works at times you cannot coexist. Also, buying works only based on an index of names of successful artists or trendies brings with it the risk of having a large collection of insignificant works by famous artists.

Also, to blindly buy what dealers or art advisors tell to you to buy may be risky. Some are honest, rigorous and very ethical in their work, putting their years of experience at your service. To build a good relationship with this type of dealer is very important for someone recently entering deeply into collecting. Good dealers will not offer you only works for sale: they will allow you to learn. On many occasions we have learned about the work of certain artists through independent dealers and gallery owners. Well, now, if you’ve decided to put the fate of your collection in the hands of one of these dealers or art advisors, then it’s important, before spending the dollar one, to be well informed of their reputation and of their true knowledge of “Cuban art.” After all, you have deposited your entire faith as a collector on the criterion of these people, like you would your investments to a financial consultant, or your health to your doctor. Let us not forget that this is also a business and some try to sell what is economically best for them, which wouldn’t necessarily be what may interest you the most for your collection. It can happen, unfortunately, that over time you realize you have on your walls a collection more in tune with the taste of your dealer than your own, or worse, that you have paid excessively for many works.

For a person who is starting to collect it is important to lose fear. Normally, the work most difficult to buy is the first one, because ignorance and insecurity invade us and, after we pay, at times we question ourselves if we had done the right thing. This is normal and may also happen with a jewel, a pair of shoes, or any other product. As happened to us, most of the collectors we know have felt indecisive at first, afraid to approach gallery owners or artists; but we have seen that they are very open and pleasant with new collectors, showing a great readiness to help when they perceive that their interest is real. There is no reason to think that artists and dealers are unshakeable and will reject you if you are not intending to spend large sums of money. At times many people tend to think that art collecting is a private reserve for millionaires – it is not. Many galleries have works with different price ranges. If there is an artist whose work you like very much, but the prices are much higher than what you can pay, it’s worthwhile to ask whether they have an engraving, a silk screen, or any other type of work with a limited edition. This generally is a more affordable option and you are buying a work of art. Also, most gallery owners are understanding and offer the chance of paying in installments. There are numerous charity auctions during the entire year too, many of them online, in which artists and collectors donate works that can generally be bought at lower prices.

Sometimes you have the chance of knowing the artist and there are cases in which you may buy a work in his studio. We already told you that we have been able to add many works to our collection because of our friendship with the artists. Negotiating with them has always been more difficult than with a gallery owner. First, when a personal link is established, it is very demanding for us to discuss prices and generally the same thing happens to them. Also, because of a matter of respect for their work, we do not consider it proper to ask for a discount, as usually is the case with a dealer. It is better to just tell them how much you can pay and the artist will find an option that will please both of you.

Tania Bruguera, El peso de la culpa III, 1997-1999

We would tell collectors interested in “Cuban art” that it is further away from insular limits and that, to make a serious collection, the work of several artists based in various countries must be considered. You may notice that on some occasions we’ve used the term “Cuban art” in quotes, precisely because it is a categorization which, lacking a more accurate one, has been imposed by habit and we tend to automatically repeat it, but it is a term with which we have a certain kind of disagreement. What is Cuban art? Art made by artists born in Cuba? Then, the work by Carmen Herrera and Jorge Pardo must be considered Cuban art. Or, is Cuban art the art made by artists living in Cuba? If it is, then the works by Bedia, Carlos R. Cardenas and many others who live outside of the island cannot be considered Cuban art.

In practice we have observed that this term has become a very simplistic way to refer to work made in Cuba, entirely excluding many artists living abroad for many decades now. At times we have encountered collectorswho have recently begun to make incursions in Cuban art and, with much enthusiasm, talk only of the artists living on the island, ignoring the work of those who have migrated. In their cultural tourist jaunts they pass through Miami, at times with their art advisors, and don’t know that many of those artists with a very solid, rigorous, oeuvre live right there and their works may enrich their collections. Maybe there is something exotic in going to Cuba to find the new Jean-Michel Basquiat, as very superficially a New York based gallery owner was quoted recently in a Wall Street Journal article.

Making a collection also requires patience. To educate the eye takes time and looking for an adequate work, if it does exist, sometimes takes years. We have seen people who suddenly become enthusiastic about “Cuban art” and, in the blink of an eye, they have an immense collection with an enormous number of works. The selection process, however, seems to be ambiguous and the quality of many works is questionable. Time has been our best ally in building this collection. Over the years, we have tirelessly sought out works, tracked them and patiently waited for the one that interested us. In collecting it’s essential not to despair, but at the same time know that when you have a chance before you, if you let it go, it will probably never return.

Teresita Fernández, Nocturnal (Pacific), 2013

In a good collection a great passion is also implicit because of what you treasure, whatever it may be. In the case of art, this passion is constantly fed as you become more involved with the object of your collection and discover new artists and new works. To collect becomes an immensely comforting activity which holds many personal experiences, making the time invested in learning and building the collection not seem stolen from daily activities. It’s important to feed this addiction with the means you have, always trying to buy the best possible work within the price you can pay.

In an interview with Eli Broad, an important collector in Los Angeles, he said that collectors simply turn into the guardians of these works during our lives. This implies that we must take rigorous care of them, keep watch over their preservation, see that they are adequately moved and framed, not only because of the monetary value they have, but because of their being the legacy of our times for posterity.

The best piece of advice that other collectors generally offer is: “buy what you like” and we echo them. After all, you are the one who will live with these works, you will see them every day and they will become silent witnesses of your life.

Tomás Esson, El rey de la selva, 1991

ERC: I’ve always said that your collection is a reasoned collection, with very good works by very good artists, almost all with a history and path, and therefore patience, as you have well said, has been essential. I think reason and passion go hand in hand here.

A and O: Our collection is the one we have been able to build and we really are very happy with it. In fact, it has been a process of very patient searching and researching. It is more than twenty years of collecting and, as we were telling you, time has been fundamental in this endeavor. During all these years we’ve been carefully studying the work of various artists. We have learned from conversations with them about their work and with other colleagues they have recommended to us. We have a library of books, magazines and art catalogues. Also, some dealers and curators, whose opinions we very much respect, have introduced us to the works of some artists we did not know. All these have allowed us to learn and be able to decide with no hurry what works we want to have. We take our time, knowing that we may lose the work, and we also put limits on ourselves.

We have made this collection by ourselves, with no consultants, and that absolute independence has saved us from external pressures and alien opinions that, no matter how subtle, always hang around in silence when it’s time to decide. Also, the collection was built without competitive eagerness. We have known collectors who rejoice in the number of works they have, or boast thinking they treasure the best works made by a given artist.

However, as often happens with other collections, when seeing ours, some may think that there are artists who deserve to be included and others who don’t, and works in the collection that are not relevant in the career of an artist, or of enough quality and transcendence. We don’t doubt that they may be right. After all, it’s very difficult to please everyone and reach a unanimity of criterion when, actually, we have only tried to please ourselves, as we assume all collectors do.

This collection has been built with the thought of having works that make us happy. However, it’s very far from being a complete selection: it’s rather an unfinished task. We have the feeling of always starting over, as if there were time to acquire that work we don’t have; it’s an intimate pleasure, so personal and unique that it surprises us that others may like it. After all, an art collection is a sort of aesthetic diary of the life of every collector.