A COLLECTORS STORY:TIQUI ATENCIO DERMIDJIAN
We met Tiqui Atencio Dermidjian at the Antonia Café, within Le Bristol Paris Hotel. She told us about her dedication to Latin American art, her recently published book Could have, Would have, Should have and her ‘serendipitous’ journey as a collector.
Q. You founded the Tate Latin America Acquisition Committee, what challenges have you faced? At the time, was there much of an audience for art?
When I founded the Latin America Acquisition Committee, it was a time when Latin American art was not in the spotlight as much as it is today. We had to get the works before the prices started going up. We knew that it would cause an interest. We had two targets: the museums of course wanted to increase their holdings and I wanted to concentrate on living artists and the contemporary art they were producing. All in all, my challenge was to find the perfect balance between what I was about as a collector and what I had to do for the museums.
It was a learning curve for me. Imagine a person that loves contemporary art or Latin American art in general, and put them now in the context of having to help museums… I was over the moon, I thought that they had given me the presidency of the world (laughs)! But my main concern was for the world to have a look at Latin American art, as up to that point it hadn’t been as well represented outside of the region. I think we managed to do so, with the help of our first curator of Latin American Art at Tate, Cuauhtémoc Medina, who is both a scholar and a teacher.
Q. How was this close to your activity of collecting?
The committee was essential as I felt that we had to create a network to support the acquisition of Latin American art for a major institution. That’s what I consider that collecting is: it’s a sort of spider’s web or an energy that goes from one thing to the other, to all the rooms of a house, something that connects. So creating this energy and this connection was the journey. And it was lovely, interesting and passionate. It made me grow up, and made me realize who I was as a collector. Although I must say that I don’t like the word. Collectors often don’t like being called collectors and I found that out when I was interviewing people for my book
Q. What word would you prefer?
Lovers of art, admirers of art, I don’t know… Like other collectors I think we have to invent a new word.
Q. Did you feel the same back when you created the committee?
Before I left Venezuela in 1980 and moved to NYC, I started to buy art but was buying works for my home as a young housewife. At this time I considered myself more of a student, and a mother. That was my life at the time, I was involved in politics but also looking at art, and had never thought to myself as a collector. When I moved to NYC it was there that started to collect more seriously, and attend galleries and auctions with my uncle, and bought my first major piece of Latin American Art. Over time I started to feel more comfortable with being referred to as a collector and the creation of the committee has helped with that transition.
Q. Did you find it attractive?
Yes, my experiences in New York, getting to know the galleries and having my first experiences with auctions was incredibly informative. It’s a school in itself. I always tell the young collectors: you need to do your legwork, go to museums and galleries as much as you can. That’s what I would do, along with my family: look and look and look at art. After my experience in NYC with the auction world I was certain: you have to go to as many auctions as possible. Even if it’s boring sometimes and you fall asleep (laughs)! Do it because it creates an eye, and a sense of the market.
Q. Is this the moment when you realized you belonged to a community, a family of collectors – the ones you interviewed in your book , Could have, Would have, Should have?
People would introduce me and say ‘She’s a collector’. I was thinking: ‘Is that me? My collection is very domestic and very residential and it’s nothing like yours!’ That’s when I realized I’d better start looking at my work! And I still do that. I go around my house sometimes and think of the stories behind each of my works. I was listening to all the other great stories told by these people when I met with them in the corridors of galleries, auctions, biennales or fairs – talking to friends and meeting people - which is just another fountain of great experience. Some would say to me ‘Did you see this gallery?’ I would look at my map and sometimes it would take me two hours to get there – and on the day of the opening it could be crowded and I couldn’t look at the art because I had to say hello (laughs)! But I always appreciated the advice that was given to by my network within the art world.
And that’s what inspired this book. The meetings with people that were full of information: all these anecdotes became a big snow ball. And the title of the book itself was something I would hear all the time: “I could’ve, I would’ve, I should’ve’. That’s something in my vocabulary. I often happen to say ‘I could’ve bought it’! There are works of art that I could have afforded at some point that are now impossible for me to reach.
I wanted to pick all these stories and put them together. I noticed that all the interviews I’ve made had a constant theme and it was how these people felt about waking up and looking at art in their own homes, and always looking for more – because that’s what gives them adrenaline, that’s what inspires them. I wanted to show that collecting art is a positive journey.
Q. It seems like there’s a contrast between the feeling you get when you ‘could have, would have, should have’ and the one feeling of satisfaction when you get up in the morning. How do you explain it?
I think it’s a balance! Look, it happened to me yesterday! I was after an artist and was in love with her art. And when I got to the fair I stood in front of the works, and there they were, two people looking at the work I was interested in, and all of a sudden I heard the fatale words: ‘We’ll take it!’ Right in front of me! Oh my (laughs)! But when I say to somebody ‘I could have, I would have, I should have’ they tell me ‘But you have! Look at your wall! Appreciate what you have.’ That also makes you think, the title makes you think
Q. Why did you choose to work with Pablo Helguera?
I liked his style! I didn’t call anybody else but him.
Q. I wonder what is hidden behind the desire of possessing an art piece…
It’s a feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach. It’s some kind of anxiety. Collecting is very emotional. When you’re confronted with something you really like, and you get goose bumps and chills, and it gets you thinking. First of all, you can’t afford it, you might be able to later on and put it on your wish list. But if it is something you really want, you will wonder why you keep coming back to this one piece? It’s chemistry. Why is a person attracted to another person? It’s love, it’s human. In a way, it’s a relationship. It’s an extremely intimate process. You relate to this object because it makes you think, wonder, and makes your imagination flow.
Q. Do you buy art work as an investment?
I talk about that a lot in the book - you can be disappointed by the market. I didn’t want to go into that, I wanted to underline the favourable aspects of collecting. I don’t recommend buying something because you think it’s going to go up – it shouldn’t be the criteria. Although it’s legitimate and one shouldn’t stigmatise the well-known ‘It goes very well on top of my sofa’: there are moments in your life when you want something nice on top of your sofa! But I think it’s a common denominator that collectors will tell you not to do that.
Q. You speak a lot about learning. Is it the goal behind all of this?
It’s part of it, yes. And it has to be underlined. That transforms you – I think art has the power to create positive transformation.
Q. Why did you choose to focus on Latin American art, was it because you felt close to it culturally or was there an aesthetic choice?
There are certain aesthetics that appeal to me more. The abstract, geometric, constructivist – like the Madi group in the mid-century: they were revolutionizing the painting out of the frame. Today it’s closer to my sensibility than the figurative aesthetic, though I understand it very well. But these movements were very European in a way. They were looking at each other a lot. You find that there are movements between cultures. It was necessary to show this to people. Maybe you can’t go to Uruguay, but you can go to the museum.
Q. What have you learnt along the way and what do you want your readers to learn?
You know, my book is for everyone, but I guess mainly for those who belong to the art world or are wanting to join and don’t know what door to open. I thought, well, nothing better than from the ‘horse’s mouth’, and that’s from the collector’s mouth! And I think that everyone who is interested in collecting should learn about their own sensibilities. They should develop a taste of their own. Everybody has a different approach. The one important thing is to know yourself and through art you learn to discover what you like.
Collecting art is an electric, conductive wire. It’s a way of connecting with the world, interior and exterior. It is a way of understanding your world, and of understanding how other people view what’s happening in the wold. Artists transmit, and you are the receptor. That’s how I see collecting now.
Q. What do you imagine as the future of your collection?
I have given it a lot of thought. We are all conscious that we can’t take it with us. All of these things are to be taken into consideration, unless art works get destroyed by some catastrophe, they should go on for the rest of life, and be admired in two hundred years. I have given art works to museums and I continue to give. I also think of my family. Which works would they want to live with? There is a chapter in my book I called ‘Sharing is caring’. Everybody in my book had that in mind: to loan, to preserve. Some people create foundations, scholarships – according to their own pockets. When you collect you have a responsibility towards the artist, their work and its conservation. It’s a good problem to have…