For this week of Collecting Art the Smart Way, I am profiling the Zabludowicz art collection. Chaim ‘Poju’ Zabludowicz is a Finnish-British business magnate, investor, art collector and philanthropist. The Sunday Times Rich List 2016 of the wealthiest people in the United Kingdom ranked him 67th with a personal net worth of £1,500M. Since the 1990s, Poju and Anita Zabludowicz have accumulated 5,000+ artworks. They exhibit their private art collection at three different locations, one of them being in a former 19th century Methodist chapel in north London.
You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred is the new exhibition currently on display at the Zabludowicz collection. A quirky name one would think. It was apparently borrowed from a conversation between artists Jeff Wall and Lucas Blalock in which they argue for art that is experimental and mysterious. Interesting. So I went to see it to experience the experimentation of this incredible listing of artists – Richard Prince, Wolfgang Tillmans, Andreas Gursky etc – and I interviewed the curator Paul Luckraft to throw a light on this mystery:
Q: How does one go about curating such a varied selection of photographs? It feels like an enormous challenge from the outside.
A: All the works in the show are from the Zabludowicz Collection, but those gathered here – 56 – are really just a small sample, as there are over 800 photographic pieces in the Collection. In order to present a selection that had some coherence the exhibition focuses on photography from 1977 onwards, and is linked in a questioning of the idea of a ‘truthful’ image, and a blurring the line between fact and fiction. This theme has been explored in particularly interesting ways by a couple of generations of artists studying, living and working in cities from which seem real hotbeds of photographic enquiry; New York, Vancouver and Dusseldorf. So the show focuses on a small number of key locations, and hopefully that allows there to be seen how artists influence each other, both through their work itself and their teaching and writing. But I would also agree that the works in the show do have a diversity; some are appropriated images, others staged cinematically, and others are digitally manipulated. We were keen that the show is open and celebratory about the numerous ways photography can be used as a tool and set of processes.
Q: The architecture of the Methodist chapel is incredible, yet could also be overbearing for the works? How do you tackle this?
A: We aim to work with the space and not pretend it’s uniform. Each of the spaces we use as galleries have distinctive features and layouts, and this certainly influences the selection and placement of works. For this show I was keen for there to be a range of scales of work, from the small and intimate to the more imposing. And also for there to be some connections between artists and the context works were made in to be suggested by the way they are encountered when walking through the spaces. To this end we build quite a few internal walls that can create some moments of discovery, like when you move through the Main Hall and then see the Jeff Wall light box piece on the altar, or when in the last room the smaller Elad Lassry works come after viewing the large scale tableaus of Tillmans and Gursky. I also wanted to allow for moments where an artist has their own space, such as Lucas Blalock in the Middle Gallery, which is much more domestic with its wooden floor and old fireplace, and with the two alcove rooms for the video works by Sara Cwynar and Erin Shirreff.
Q: Favorite works?
A: It’s too difficult to select a single favourite, but overall I would say that the most exciting part of staging the exhibition is to encounter works in person – their material and scale are key, even though they are mechanically produced images. For example Anne Collier’s three works each have a real presence and sense of mystery. More direct is Thomas Ruff’s Stoya from 1986, a really unflinching portrait printed at a very large scale. The face almost becomes a landscape of details and blemishes. But you also feel somehow a connection to that person’s life; you try to read his expression. It’s a very layered image in a way, even though it is stark and stripped back. Having the chance to show this alongside Ruff’s later work jpeg ny15, 2007 – which takes low resolution image from the internet of the 9/11 attacks and stretches the scale so that the pixels are revealed – poses interesting questions about the personal and the impersonal, and the ethics of representing tragic event.
Q: Favourite conservation between works?
A: It’s been great that several people have commented to me on the connections they have felt between Sara Cwynar’s Soft Film and the work and approach of Christopher Williams. Sara’s narrated video explores her discomfort with how the female body is often used as a studio prop in the selling of objects and desires to us, particularly in the language of advertising – a ‘soft misogyny’ as she terms it. In his work Christopher Williams also tries to show the full mechanics of how an image is produced, and what ideologies it serves, but rather than a collage approach he uses very precise modest scale photographs that each act like sings as part for a bigger language. Sara also has the line ‘quick history in a single thing’ appear at both the start and end of her video, and this phrase really resonates across the show I think, suggesting how a photography promises us access to the past, but is always a partial rather than full account.
Today, the photographic image feels ever-present, almost too familiar. Yet, we are mainly getting used to a kind of imagery, mostly digital and with little experimentation towards its process. Leave your Instagram behind and go and experience physical photography at the Zabludowicz collection.
An advocate for artists since a young age, Marine managed her first gallery at age 21, opened her first art gallery in Los Angeles at age 23 and finally created her current business, MTArt, to promote the artists she believed in across the globe. MTArt is the first artist agency promoting influential visual artists and specialising in talent management: building, growing and accelerating their careers.Marine is a thought leader, writer and frequent speaker on contemporary art.