For Belgian collector Tobias Arndt it was his move to Brussels, and the empty walls in his apartment, that sparked his passion for contemporary art and inspired him to start his own collection.
In collaboration with Art Brussels 2017 we speak with Tobias Arndt about why the move impacted his relationship to contemporary art in such a dramatic way, how the Belgian collecting scene is changing, and why art fairs are so important as a way to discover artists.
Tell us about your collection.TOBIAS ARNDT
Everything started in 2004 with two paintings by Matt Saunders – the American artist who used images of actors from the New German Cinema (Neuer Deutsche Film) from productions made by Volker Schlöndorff, Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In addition to the execution of the work, I am also fascinated by Saunders’ work depicting the actor Udo Kier. Content is one “thread” in the collection; I need a story as part of the discourse with the work. Today the collection comprises photography, video, painting and drawing mostly from artists from Europe and the Americas. Usually, I try to buy works at an early stage of an artist’s career as I am fascinated by this early phase, and it is my experience that at this time I can find extraordinary quality of works with a particularly interesting provenance. For example, the diploma work of Sven Johne, “The Change of the Guards”.
I have had a focus on American and Latin American artists for about five years, and for that I travel to art fairs such as SP Arte, ArtBO, The Armory Show and Frieze New York. One of the more important new acquisitions is an installation-based series of drawings, “Variations of Love” by Colombian artist Carlos Motta. However, I don’t believe in being too dogmatic about collection focus and thus another recent work comes from Belgian artist Kasper Bosmans, “Decorative Vocabulary III”. The video artist I am recently most passionate about is Adrian Balseca from Ecuador.
Why did you start collecting when you moved to Brussels? Was there something in particular that you saw there which inspired you?TOBIAS ARNDT
It started with a lot of empty walls when I moved into my loft apartment in Brussels. Thus, the first works were really wall-pieces. However, it is my experience that acquiring work independently from walls or space leads to better acquisitions. That’s why I am quite happy that the apartment got filled quite quickly.
Your collection consists of a varied range of mediums – is there one which you find more challenging than the rest when it comes to buying it?TOBIAS ARNDT
I collect media that I can present in my home, so this means only large installations are excluded. The most challenging perhaps are the video works, something I have only been collecting since about three years now. At first I thought I needed a video room, which was the reason for my reluctance. However, the French video collector Jean-Conrad Lemaître gave me the advise to not worry too much about presentation. That really opened up collecting video art for me. I think it’s the least complicated medium as shipment and storage are so much easier and achievability of video works is not so much an issue. Today, it is usually agreed that new a copy will be provided if new form of storage system is released.
Is there a particular theme to your collection?TOBIAS ARNDT
I do not have specific themes as such. The thread that runs throughout is the good content and a fascination for an artist and their work. The only thing I would say is that I exclude certain themes when I feel that it would not be appropriate for me to appropriate a topic by just buying an artwork. For example; I would be reluctant buy works that reflect on the violence in Africa as I feel that I don’t have the right to appropriate such a topic for myself.
Do you live with all of the artworks that you purchase?TOBIAS ARNDT
Principally yes. However, I don’t have enough walls and space to present all the works from the collection. I arrange different hangings usually annually so that I can present different works.
How do you choose the artworks that are in your collection?TOBIAS ARNDT
I usually research and contact the gallery of an artist that I like. An acquisition is then often made or confirmed at a fair.
Is it important for you to maintain a relationship with the artists that you collect?TOBIAS ARNDT
I used to be very negligent on that side by saying that “artists are not obliged to entertain me!”. But with time I would at least recommend to get to know the artist in order to develop a feeling for the seriousness of the work.
Is it important for you to collect a body of work by an artist, or are you only interested in singular pieces?TOBIAS ARNDT
In general, I am happy with the acquisition of an important piece and a few follow-ups and then I move on to the next artist.
Are art fairs such as Art Brussels important to you and your collection?TOBIAS ARNDT
Yes, they are. As I collect works from artists that normally don’t work close to me, this is a very practical way to see the work. There are also other interesting factors, such as that at Art Brussels for example galleries form overseas have a special VAT rate that is far below the usual rate.
What is the Brussels collecting scene like? Have you seen any changes in it over the last decadeTOBIAS ARNDT
In my view, Belgium has one of the most interesting collectors’ scenes. There is a great interest in collecting internationally. As the artist René Magritte once said: “To show Belgian art makes as much sense as showing art from vegetarians.” This explains it all, collectors here are very internationally oriented. On the other hand the collectors that I know here take risks and they allocate some of their commitment to supporting the cultural scene.