An interview with the London-based contemporary art collector and philanthropist who places young, international positions at the centre of her collection.
After studying art, Anita Zabludowicz started, in 1994, to amass one of the most important private collections of international, young contemporary art. Now, more than two decades on, Anita and her husband Poju Zabludowicz, have developed a collection that includes over 3,500 works of contemporary art made up of videos, photographs, drawings and performances, always by emerging positions. In 2007, the Zabludowicz’s made their private collection publicly accessible in its new unconventional home of a nineteenth Methodist church in central London.
To mark the opening of the Sunday Art Fair, we spoke with Anita Zabludowicz about the foundations of the collection, the responsibility that comes with being an influential collector, and the difficulties that come with collecting emerging artists.
How did you start collecting?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
We started slowly, building knowledge and confidence. I also took courses at Christie’s and spent two years just looking at art in museums and galleries before we started buying. When we did start to buy we had to restart, as we couldn’t get access to the works we wanted, but we found our way in the end. Collecting for us has always been about being part of a conversation and a community. It’s not something we do alone. That’s why we opened an exhibition space and why we have always worked closely with institutions. We see the entire endeavor as philanthropic and our aim is for the public to experience as much of what we do as possible.
Were you always interested in contemporary art?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
We initially thought we would collect Modern British Art but it didn’t work out like that. My mother was very influential; she studied art history and took me to museums when I was young. We started looking at art in the 1990s. The UK was enjoying something of a golden period for art making, when social and economic factors allowed a healthy atmosphere for art. Initially we collected art photography and one of the first artists we collected in depth was Wolfgang Tillmans, whom we continue to follow today.
The Zabludowicz Collection is known to take chances on emerging artists, something that a lot of museums and collectors often do not do. Why do you think that it’s not so common to do so? Is part of the risk taking part of the appeal for you and the collection?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
To collect young artists work is difficult. The art world is a pyramid and without patrons it is difficult for the artist or young gallery to succeed. So in some ways this risk is part of the appeal , as we want to make a difference to the career and practice of artists that we work with or collect, and doing what everyone else is doing wouldn’t necessarily do that. So yes I guess risk taking is attractive. Or rather, it was, now I think things are getting more and more challenging for those in their mid-careers as museums and galleries look for ways to spread thin budgets even further. Perhaps now we will need to focus on more mature artists and those we have collected right from the start. We continue to collect many artists that were once emerging as well as some that emerged well before we saw their work. All these labels are a bit misleading. Every artist needs something different and we flex to work in as many ways as we can, but some of them are more obvious and easier to communicate than others.
In addition to taking a chance on emerging artists, what is it typically about their work that you find so interesting?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
We work with contemporary artists as they are working with their time or moment and their work embodies that.
Is investment and the future of the collection something that you are concerned about when acquiring new work? If not, what is important to you?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
Investment for us is more cultural than fiscal and is at the heart of every decision we make regarding the collection. Every work demands the same level of care and that’s a big responsibility to bear.
How would you define your collecting style? How has it developed over the years?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
It’s hard to self-analyze but I know I am led by my intuition rather than intellect. We are lucky enough to have a team that helps run the program but the collection is very much a family affair and I am pleased to say that one or two of my children have shown an interest, so this has changed the dynamic and the collecting style as they now are involved in decisions. I think my style is probably more passionate than historical.
The Zabludowicz Collection currently has over 3,500 works in the collection, and you very rarely sell any of the artworks. With a collection of that size, what is the selection process when deciding on works to show publicly and which works remain in storage?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
We have a team for our exhibitions program and we discuss current ideas and practice and select works to show following those. We also change the hangs in our homes and offices as much as we can, and often have to adapt these as works go on loan regularly. We try hard to get the collection out to the public whenever we can. We also have a full time registrar and have never charged for a loan. We regularly lend to museums and exhibition venues all over the world and are currently touring a show to MAMM in Russia. It’s wonderful to know the works are being seen by as many people as possible.
What would you say your responsibilities are as a collector? Is it important for you as a collector to be aware of these responsibilities?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
Another great question. Yes – very much so and that’s increased as we have taken on more and built relationships with artists via residencies and commissions and museums via patrons programs and bequests. But it’s important to be aware of ones responsibilities in every area of life, not just art collecting.
What influence do you hope that your collection has on the art world?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
I hope the next generation of artists saw the work that inspired them to become an artist in one of our shows!
Do you have any artworks in your collection that you own but cannot live with due to size, medium or value?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
Yes – mainly video installations.
This week marks the opening of the Sunday Art Fair – a fair for emerging artists that is also completely free to enter. How important are emerging art fairs for your collection? Do you use them for new acquisition, research, or both?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
We use fairs for both acquisition and research as they are an excellent way to see lots of work in a short space of time. We have been active and vocal supporters of London’s smaller art fairs from the start – as soon as Frieze launched we saw the potential and were proactive in funding Soraya Rodriguez and David Risley to start the first emerging fair ‘Zoo’ in 2004. We partnered with that until they handed in their cards. Then we supported ‘Sunday’ in its first year, but as a fair it has a much more sustainable model than many and doesn’t have huge overheads so it can do without a big sponsor. Now we get to just enjoy the fair and it’s changing selection of galleries.
Why does the Sunday Art Fair stand out for you as a must-see art fair?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
It’s a carefully and painstakingly selected group of galleries from around the world and often we make discoveries there that continue to inspire us for the years to come. It’s also just the right size to see the work and have energy to talk to all the galleries and spend time with the works.
In addition to attending the Sunday Art Fair, is there another way in which you support the galleries that take part?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
We always meet new galleries at the fair and then often visit them later on in the home countries. We are also active in getting other collectors to the fair and are always open to conversation if galleries have ideas of ways to work together.
What advice do you have for collectors that are wanting to collect emerging artists?ANITA ZABLUDOWICZ
Only do it if you love it and spend as much time, energy and money on it as you can afford. It’s hugely rewarding to live with art but equally amazing to see things happen that you have enabled, so don’t feel it’s all about the ‘thing for the wall,’ sometimes being a sponsor or patron can be as rewarding as making a purchase.