Interview. Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebandengo, Collector and President of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo

IB: How did you start collecting?

PS: I started collecting in 1992, when I bought my first four contemporary artworks. I remember looking at those paintings on the wall with interest, and they almost spoke to me, I really felt as if they belonged to me.  So this was my initial approach to contemporary art. I then became an avid reader of art catalogues and books, visiting galleries and museums and, most of all, I started to get to know the artists, to visit their studios and to establish an authentic relationship with many of them – something that could certainly never have happened had I been interested in ancient art or art from the first half of the last century.  It was fundamental a trip to London, in 1992. I visited many galleries, among which Lisson Gallery, and went to studio visits with artists like Anish Kapoor, Julian Opie and Tony Cragg. As at the time there was a recession, gallery owners and artists were very open and welcoming. Meeting artists was one of the most important things to me, it opened up a whole new world for me. I will never forget my first visit to Anish Kapoor’s studio, it was such a fantastic experience. The difference when you collect contemporary art is that you don’t simply buy works but you can develop a relationship with the artists and this is still what I enjoy the most about collecting. Being exposed to the same culture (cinema, literature, music or politics), you can establish an interesting dialogue with artists of your own generation.

IB: What is the collection about?

PS: At first, my collection was divided by themes, which explored aspects of the artistic production from the 80s:  British art, artists working in Los Angeles, Italian art, female artists and photography. The world has changed a lot since then, in recent years my interests have extended and I can no longer categorise my collection by nationality, genre or ways and means of expression.  It now includes artists from all over the world and also from the younger generations. It is important for me to keep learning and to develop an understanding of contemporary and emerging artistic practices. Since the beginning, I also felt a sort of mission towards the development of contemporary art in Italy. During my travels, I quickly realised that in Italy we were late in comparison to other countries.  In the early ‘90s, while visiting many museums and cultural institutions abroad,  I remember seeing museums dedicated to Italian artists and it seemed incredible to me that you had to go abroad to see Italian contemporary art. Can you imagine that our first publicly funded contemporary art museum is the MAXXI that opened in 2009? Of course there were places like Turin’s Castello di Rivoli, or Prato’s Centro Pecci, but very few in comparison to other Countries. The lack of institutions, the desire to support young artists and to share my Collection led me in 1995 to establish the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo.

IB: How do you see the role of the private collector in this context?

PS: In Italy I think that private collectors have understood that it is important both to support Italian artists and to bring works by artists from other countries to Italy. In my case, I established the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo because I felt I had a responsibility, given the lack of contemporary art museums in Italy, but also because I believed that the role of the collector is to support artists by being involved in the production process of artworks. Since the beginning, the Fondazione has worked closely with artists for producing new works. For example, our current exhibition of works by Ian Cheng is the result of a commission. And next November Adrian Villar Rojas will take over the entire space of the Fondazione to create an in-situ installation.

IB: This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Fondazione. How would you define its mission since it was established in 1995?

PS: The Fondazione has two exhibition venues: an 18th Century family Palazzo in Guarene d’Alba, where we worked at the beginning before the construction of the space in Turin, and the Centro per l’Arte in Turin which opened in 2002 and consists in a 3.500 square metre building that today is our main gallery and head offices. Its mission can be divided into three main aims.

The first aim is to support and promote young artists by financing the production of new works and by showing their work in Italy and abroad. The Fondazione presents three major exhibitions each year and a range of special artists’ projects and events, often relating to the themes and concepts explored in our exhibitions. Supporting the production of new works may happen in different ways.  One way is when artists are invited by the Foundation to present projects based on curatorial concepts that we may be working with for our exhibition programme, as was the case with many Italian artists such as Patrick Tuttofuoco, Christian Frosi and Flavio Favelli. A second way happens when artists ask for our support to produce their works: it happened for example with Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno for “Zidane – A 21st Century Portrait”. In other instances, we specifically commission new works. In 2011, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Italian Unity, the Fondazione invited twenty artists from all over the world to visit one of the twenty Italian regions and then to produce twenty works inspired by their visits, which were shown in the exhibition A Geographical Expression. Aside from commissioning works, the Fondazione is also involved in the production of large-scale works to be featured in major international exhibitions,  such as the Venice and Istanbul Biennale or Documenta in Kassel. These projects included works by Doug Aitken (1999), Luisa Lambri (1999), Steve McQueen (2007), Goshka Macuga (2009),  Meris Angioletti (2011), Nathaniel Mellors (2011),  and Ragnar Kjartansson’s participation in the Venice Biennale (2013), Wael Shawky’s work for Documenta (2012) and Ed Atkins’s and Rawan Rachmaoui’s contributions for the Istanbul Biennale (2015). We feel it is important to give as many people as possible the opportunity to understand contemporary art. For this purpose, we established a programme of workshops and educational activities for children, adults and disabled people. In the exhibition space, you will always find art mediators available to discuss the works in detail and to provide information about the artists and the content of each exhibition. This can completely change the experience you may have of an exhibition! I remember, after presenting Doug Aitken’s New Ocean exhibition in Turin in 2002, I received a letter from a plumber from the local community who had visited the exhibition. He said he usually didn’t get contemporary art but loved Doug’s exhibition thanks to the young mediator who explained how Doug worked with water and, more importantly, because this experience gave him a chance to engage with ideas presented by a younger generation. I was so pleased because this is what I want to achieve. It is true that contemporary art is sometimes difficult to understand. It wasn’t easy for me at the beginning and I have always wanted to find ways to make contemporary art available for a large audience.

IB:  The Fondazione’s education program offers a wide range of opportunities to the local community as well as to students or curators from other parts of Italy or of the world. Can you explain some of the educational projects you established?

PS: Education is a priority for me. Our educational work affects children from two years of age, teenagers, art academy and university students, teachers, people with special needs, families and adults. We firmly believe in the idea of an accessible museum that enables each visitor to take advantage of the cultural content we offer. This is the reason why we have so many different projects, involving so many different targets: special education programmes for migrants (children, teenagers and adults), family sundays every month, Big Draw! Events (in the context of the international network of “The Campaign for Drawing”) twice a year, free workshops for adults on Thursday evenings, intensive workshops for teenagers and university students and special projects for infant and primary schools all year long, permanent activities for people with special needs (especially with the Italian Union of Blind People) and e-learning projects.

For young curators, we started the Young Curator Residency program in 2007, each year inviting three young foreign curators to come to Italy for four months to research and study the Italian art scene. At the end of the four months, the three residents organize and present an exhibition in Turin at the Fondazione, involving the artists they met during the trip. Recently, we have launched a curatorial course for Italian curators: a program of field trips and visits to major Italian cultural institutions, galleries and artists’ studios spread over a nine-month period. The course also includes time at the Fondazione in Turin working alongside the registrars, curators and art mediators. It is the best way to learn how an art institution functions on a daily basis, but also to learn how to write texts and prepare an exhibition program.

IB: Enabling the production of artworks and education are two of the Fondazione’s objectives. What is the third priority?

PS: It is to collaborate with other institutions, creating partnerships in Italy and abroad, with the aim of supporting the artists and promoting contemporary art. For example, in 2013, we created an annual grant in partnership with the Serpentine Galleries to support the creation and production of new projects by two winners selected from a range of multi-disciplinary practitioners (including artists, writers, architects, filmmakers or musicians). Or last year, we organised the group show Beware Wet Paint with the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, followed by the first solo show in Italy of American artist Avery Singer in cooperation with Kunsthalle Zurich.

IB: Is the collection also a basis for collaborations with other institutions?

PS: It is very important for me to work with my collection. It is not always exhibited in Turin but is constantly travelling. For example, the next show including works from the collection will be in Quito, Ecuador. Back in 2012, we worked with the Whitechapel Gallery in London on displays of works from the collections over the course of a year. A fantastic collaboration was the 2013 exhibition Deep Feelings: From Antiquity to Now presenting contemporary artworks from my collection in dialogue with works from the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum. And I’m very happy about the project of Going Public in Sheffield next September.

IB: Are you collaborating with other private collections?

PS: Yes, I am very interested in collaborations and I strongly believe that it is essential to create a network – a synergy. In 2008, the Fondazione launched FACE in collaboration with other private institutions in Europe (Deste Foundation, Athens; Magazine 3, Stockholm and La Maison Rouge, Paris). Works can travel to those different locations and extend the impact of our respective collections. And more recently, I have been working on the development of a committee of fifteen Italian private foundations to support artists but also to collaborate with the Italian Ministry of Culture. We all have contributed in some ways to the culture of our country and it is now time to create forms of partnership with the state. Lack of resources is a big issue for museums and it is important that public and private collections work together to find solutions and create opportunities. Going Public in Sheffield is a great opportunity to create a dialogue to understand what can be done when bringing together private and public sectors.   

Interview by: Ines de Bordas