Collector Luiz Augusto Teixeira de Freitas: “Too much art is produced just to feed the market”

Stefano Pirovano  -  May 16, 2016

We met Brazilian lawyer and art collector Luiz Augusto Teixeira de Freitas a few weeks ago in Lisbon, where CFA went in occasion of the opening of Madragoa gallery and to get acquaintance with the city’s blossoming art scene. As you will read below, he did not limit our conversation to his 15-year-long experience on the international art scene, nor to the many artists he collected during this quite long period of time. With adamant intellectual freedom, Mr. Teixeira de Freitas – Founding Patron of Reina Sofia Museum Foundation, Member of the Director’s Circle of Chisenhale Gallery and Kunsthalle Lissabon Patron – took the occasion to raise some generally unspoken critical issues that are affecting the contemporary art system as a whole which is leading artists and art institutions where they’d better not go – hence you should stop reading now if you are an art-from-the-supermarket enthusiast.

How would you describe your collection?

I clearly see the collection has two different periods. At the very beginning, that is to say when I started to buy art on a regular basis, I looked for a curator to help me understand what I was doing and give me orientation. I didn’t know anything, except that I liked to buy art and wanted to live with it. I was finally introduced to Adriano Pedrosa, thanks to a common friend. I remember he telling me that he was not an art advisor, and he didn’t know how he could help me. I answered that I just needed to learn, and to be assisted. At that time he was already working with a collector, who actually was the friend who introduced me to him. Adriano also asked me if I had in mind to build up something institutional, but of course I didn’t know it at that time. I had bought just a few works at auction by myself.

And then?

We started with the idea that he would work for a collection with a kind of institutional approach… a collection with zero works, yet with an institutional programme! So I started to support the Museu de Arte da Pampulha, which Pedrosa was collaborating with, more specifically curating site specific projects for very young artists. It’s an amazing small museum, commissioned in the 1940s to Oscar Niemeyer by the governor of Belo Horizonte, former Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek. It is part of a complex of five buildings. Originally it was a casino, but it was transformed into a museum ten years after gambling was prohibited.

But, answering to your specific question, I like the idea of Herman Daled, the Belgian collector – at the end my collection will be the ideal artwork I would have created if I were an artist, the sum of all parts.

Have you ever been afraid of being a collector under the influence of a curator?

At the beginning some people were criticizing me, claiming that the curator was in fact the collector. They were probably thinking that I was passively following him. But it was not like that, as Adriano said himself, he was not an advisor, and together we collaborated. We were spending a lot of time discussing about every piece we bought, or that we would like to buy. Moreover, I drew quite soon some specific lines I wanted for the collection. I was mainly interested in the artists of my generation, or younger than me. I didn’t want any geographical boundary. I preferred to keep the doors open.

How did you select the artworks you were interested in?

I wanted to have a theme. And the theme we chose together was architecture. I would say that 90% of what I collected for the first ten years were works of art related to architecture, construction, de-construction and joint issues. In any and all possible media.

And work by work, you became experienced.

Slowly I was better at understanding what I was doing, and developing my own taste and interests. At some point I became more knowledgeable and independent and my relationship with the curator naturally changed, even if we never discussed ending our work together. I would say that we both realized that things were changing and went our separate ways.

What came after?

Now I am more interested in literature, books, words in general, concrete poetry, and my research goes into this direction. Four or five years ago I started to get disappointed, even frustrated, with all the things going on around us in the art world, the speed at which things are evolving, the absurd number of art fairs all around the world and the many places demanding our attention. I really wanted to slow down, and this feeling came to me in the same moment I was questioning myself as a collector as well. I wanted to have the time, for instance, to look at artists’ books, which I wasn’t really aware of and now I am in love with. I thought this was something that I could explore, trying to think in a different way. The books themselves obliged me to be more focused and think about what is present, instead of what will come next. I’ve started this with my daughter Luiza, who is a curator and was interested in this subject matter too at that time. So we opened a new section in the collection, also including ephemeras and archival documents.

Are you still looking at the same artists, but from another point of view?

No, I wouldn’t say so. It turned out to be an occasion for me to look back on the 1960s and 1970s, where I’ve found extraordinarily interesting artists, some of whom people were not paying much attention to. As, for instance, Stanley Brown – and until a few years ago only a few collectors seemed to be interested in him. I would say that now the collection is more free and open.

Which plans do you have for the future?

My major problem today is keeping the works, and preserving them correctly. I am not a museum, nevertheless I’ve bought things that only a museum would have collected.

What are your golden rules to buy art?

First of all, passion. Then research, study, independence. And, trying to collect things that are bound to stay; even if we all know that a great percentage of what is produced today will not even survive 20 years time. And again, borrowing a golden rule from Daled, being very skeptical of beauty. Beauty can be a trap.

It’s impossible to foresee the future.

I agree. But it’s easy to predict that most of what we see available in the market will not survive. Just compare the size of the market today, with that of the 1960s. Or, just leaf through the pages of an old Artforum from the late 80`s to realize that many of the artists mentioned are no longer around.

Indeed, but our ability to manage information has also increased. We can instantly keep them, and make them accessible. We have more museums, and galleries, and artists too. History is written day by day on the web. On the contrary, it’s not proved that all the art we can preserve will increase its value over time. As Richard Feigen recently pointed out, old masters, even the best ones, are extraordinary undervalued if compared to living artists.

The old masters are a good example. It does not make sense that the best ones should be undervalued. When I say that the artist should stay, I don´t mean exclusively in terms of an increase in monetary value, and we see the historical value of old master´s works. The problem, I believe, is that today artists are too involved in the art market. As a matter of fact, as you said, today we are able to put on record what is going on. But too much art is produced just to feed the market. And what I am really concerned about is that the artists are unfortunately following this trend. Artists are becoming professionals, that is to say, not artists as such any more. They go to art schools already with the idea of becoming artists, building up a career worried about strategies instead of focusing only on their art practices. In the 60′ s and the 70`s artists were focused on art. I do not see much transgression these days. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to seem naïve or romantic. But what I am asking is, who is really left in the art? Are we considering that the art produced exclusively for the art fairs can be considered 100% art? Some artists are represented by three, even four galleries, that take part every year in seven or eight (if not more) art fairs on average. Not to mention museum exhibitions, and those hosted by the galleries themselves. How is this all possible?

We spoke with Wade Guyton during the recent booming period of the market regarding his flame paintings. He told us that art and art market are two separate matters.

Last year Jens Hoffmann also wrote an article for Mousse magazine asserting that most of the art produced nowadays is art for the shopping malls. And he is not just another crazy guy disenchanted with everything. He is one of the most reputable curators, directing a very important New York museum. Honestly, I’d already had similar thoughts. It’s just impossible. Can you imagine someone like Bruce Nauman receiving calls from his dealers commissioning him pieces for eight different art fairs every year? Art and art market are precisely two separate matters, and artists should start saying no. It is not enough to be something beautiful.

Yes, but having a high volume of artworks by a certain artist on the market does not necessary have a negative outcome. In some cases the value somehow turns out to be more transparent and democratic, don’t you think so?

That may be true economically speaking, but the point is that I am not concerned about the value at all. I will never be interested in artists like Jeff Koons. I just don’t care about it. I care about good art. I am concerned about how all this is affecting the new generation of artists. I am afraid that there might be a Marcel Broodthaers, Stanley Brown or Lawrence Weiner out there but they are almost certainly being spoiled by the voracity of the art system.

As stated by Richard Feigen, also museums are apparently affected by this syndrome.

They want to be bigger, and get more attention, and they need millions and millions… but to do what? Instead of influencing the market, they are influenced by it. I see an absolute lack of ethics in that. I like that CFA has no advertising. Art magazines are 100% propaganda. Nobody can be critical if you are talking about the same galleries buying your advertising. Even in the museums there is censorship today.

What do you mean?

It took hundreds of years to free the artists from the power of aristocracy and religion. And now we are back to that same situation.

And sooner or later people visiting contemporary art institutions, most of which are private nowadays, will start wondering: what am I really looking at?

Vanity monuments, sometimes marketing orientated. I am thinking about these new private foundations in Paris and Milan, for instance. Wouldn’t it be more useful for these cities if these private foundations channeled their money to the public institutions?

Conflicts of interests in art are exaggerated. Especially in the United States, people are giving money to art in order to get tax deductions. This kind of generosity is definitely questionable. Generous is the one who gives and doesn’t ask for anything back. Moreover, you have galleries directly supporting these institutions, influencing their programmes. As a matter of fact now museums have more money, but it does not mean they are showing better art. Again, they have become window shops for the art to be sold at the supermarket.