THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD IN A CHALLENGE FOR PRESERVATION

The catastrophe for the loss of the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro by a devastating fire last Sunday reopens the debate on the investment of resources in the maintenance of these institutions. This museum had 200 years of history, housed the largest collection of natural history and anthropology in South America and was the fifth gallery in the world for its funds, with a collection that exceeded 20 million pieces. Only the huge 5-ton meteorite has survived. Unfortunately, the centre's employees had been demanding for years more resources for conservation and maintenance, drastically reduced in 2014. On the night of the fire, only four guards watched the building. Something insufficient to put the fire under control or ask for help more in advance.

National Museum of Rio after the fire

This tragedy questions why the budget for culture is the first to suffer cuts when a country must adjust to the current economic situation. And at the same time, it also raises a question of responsibility on how the maintenance of all these collections can be sustainable in the long term, something that is increasingly costly. Numerous authors and analysts say that reducing investment is more harmful than beneficial, because it restricts the options for attracting new funds, limits the scope and involvement of citizens, and, above all, decreases the dissemination and enhancement of collections.

Royal Academy of San Fernando

Another recent case that raises questions about good management is the deterioration of the collection of the Royal Academy of San Fernando. The institution has been complaining for two years about the demolition and construction works of the Canalejas complex, located on the opposite sidewalk, which have damaged its aeration system and have introduced a huge amount of suspended dust that is now dropping on the paintings and sculptures of its rooms. The academy has closed to the public several rooms, waiting to restore the artworks and to ensure their conservation. Some critical voices point to the fact that the works undertaken in the area did not include an adequate plan on the consequences of the demolition, and that at the first signs of damage, the impact and the action-measures should have been re-evaluated.

Works in Canalejas

Likewise, it is striking that being Spain a country with such protectionist regulations of our cultural heritage, some actions, often irreversible, that involve a direct attack against the maintenance of goods, are allowed. The Canalejas complex that we mentioned above is today an empty shell of what was a group of historic buildings in this central block of the city. From a bird's eye view, we can only see the façades standing. The project, after several missteps, standstills, and administrative requalifications to eliminate the status of "protected" property, seemed to obey more economic-urbanistic criteria than the conservation of heritage.

Let's take all these examples as a lesson in life from which to draw good teaching. We make culture among everything and it is for everyone, beyond ourselves.

 

Buying the first work of art always instils respect. A difficult feeling to define that mixes vertigo with adrenaline. But over uncertainty and caution, a pleasurable sense of connection, understanding, and desire prevails. That work that, once seen, stays in the mind, reappears in the memory several times a day and seems to tell you that it is willing to be part of your home, is the perfect candidate to make the decision.

In the first steps, many collectors do point out that one does not start from an established plan, but rather that one acquires pieces based on taste and the connection one feels with them until, after time, they realise that the volume of works that accumulates can be labelled as a "collection". For example, this is how Alicia Aza explains it:

“I was not aware that I was collecting until many years later when a third party named me as a collector and talked about my collection. In 2005, I became aware of what collecting means and decided to articulate a collection with an identity of criteria and formats”.

Marcos Martín Blanco, co-founder, with his wife Elena Rueda, of the MER Collection, shares this same opinion:

“Collecting has been a passion, driven by a visceral state that encourages you to do so. The collection, in terms of acquisitions, has not been particularly complicated because, let's face it: it is easy to buy because they are all beautiful things and you have some clear idea of where you want to go, but at first those preferences were not so clear. It is with the time that a criterion is being formed”.

It is not always this way, of course, but for the buyer who starts out on this path, the personal connection that entails the first piece is essential. There it is the germ of a lasting relationship that is not limited to a simple aesthetic question but is an open window to knowledge, to exploration, to a world that is often unknown to us and awakens our fascination. The seed of that connection is purely sentimental, and it is precisely this impulse that determines the first acquisitions. The first piece is never forgotten.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Ana Maqueda

Exceeding the usual recommendations made by advisers and agents, rare is the occasion when the art lover decides to buy by pure investment. These paths usually open later, when the volume of pieces is large enough. In addition, there are those who are a bit against this classic concept of the traditional collector, approached from an eccentric, elitist and little accessible vision. On the contrary, art buyers are, above all, art lovers, sentient beings and permeable to creative stimulus who, at a given moment, decide to deepen the relationship they already have with art to take a piece home.

It is not that hard to overcome that small psychological barrier that turns the visitor into a buyer if one approaches the matter from a more personal and intimate perspective than from social consideration. Small-format works, graphic work or serial photography are of great help for this, whose price range, generally more affordable, allows a closer comparison to the daily basis expenses. In this way, the purchase of art falls within the range of feasible activities and becomes something close and possible.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Marc Cisneros

At that moment, a different relationship with art begins, based on pure experience and coexistence with the acquired piece. Perhaps it can be seen as an act of daring, but on many occasions, it is more a matter of necessity and transformation. Collectors also agree that the acquisition of an artwork is an exercise on personal analysis and opening up to a new field of knowledge that was previously alien to us. Alicia Aza explains that the reason she acquired her first piece of video art, by Sergio Prego, is because she did not understand it and because she saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to self-improve. This open window to knowledge creates new connections and bonds with creators, as one of the most fascinating parts of the process. Candela Álvarez Soldevilla explains that

"I think the most interesting thing in the art world is talking to artists. They are people with a special sensitivity to listen and understand.”

And Alicia Aza also says:

"I can share the satisfaction of being able to count on many artists in my circle of close friends today, and that is a long way to go."

Thus, with works that seem acceptable within the horizon of expenses that each one considers affordable, it is easy to find a piece that catches us. Since then, our home also evolves into a space in which art has a permanent place and presence, and there is no doubt that this transforms us inside.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Henar Herguera

Jaime Sordo, owner of Los Bragales collection and founder of the 9915 Contemporary Art Collectors Association, has always defined his relationship with art as a true passion and a vital necessity. For buyers who start on this path, he has the following recommendation:

“It is an essential condition that they feel the need to live with their passion to enjoy the works. Another very important aspect is that before making decisions for purchases, they are informed, so it is necessary to read specialised newspapers and books, visit exhibitions and museums and a lot of contact with galleries, which is an important and very specific source of information of the artists they represent. Finally, the presence in national and international art fairs. All this generates information and training.”

Indeed, fairs have become a good place for discovery because they condense a wide offer and allow diverse and global contact in a concentrated way. For this reason, many new generation buyers start in the context of an event such as Art Madrid, whose closeness and quality constitute a unique opportunity to meet, soak up and feed the passion for art.

(*) quotes taken from various interviews published in public media between 2013 and 2019.