Interview with Valeria Napoleone | Quintessentially Art

Interview with Valeria Napoleone

As part of Quintessentially Art's Spring Patron Programme, major art collector, patron and philanthropist Valeria Napoleone will open her private home to Quintessentially Art Patrons today. Guests will view the artworks this inspirational collector chooses to live with while listening to her discuss how she started her world-class female only art collection. During the talk, guests will gain insight into ideas about collecting for a domestic and institutional space and the role of collectors in the contemporary art world. The talk will begin with champagne and afternoon tea refreshments.

This month Tali Zeloof from Quintessentially Art had the pleasure of visiting the private home of the esteemed art collector first and asked her a few questions about her role in the art world...

As part of Quintessentially Art's Spring Patron Programme, we have the privilege of visiting your private home to view and discuss your world-class collection of female artists. How did you start your art collection and why have you decided to only collect female artists?

I started my art collection in 1997 after I did a Masters in Art Administration at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. After two years of learning about the contemporary art world and gaining exposure to its various dimensions, I had the confidence and knowledge to start collecting and really fostering my passion for contemporary art. I realised the impact contemporary art could have on the world and it was very exciting to me.

Since the very beginning it was a choice to collect only female artists. After I bought the first work, by a woman artist, I said to myself, I am going to build the collection. I realised for me it was a passion, not just a hobby, and this is the real difference between buying and collecting.

The first piece I bought, will always be a seminal work in my collection. It's a small black and white photograph by an artist who is totally unknown. Her name is Carol Shadford and I bought the piece from a gallery in Williamsburg in New York. The image depicts soap bubbles and from far away it looks abstract but as you approach the work you can see a body of a woman emerging. Women often feel trapped in the bubble of domestic reality and their predetermined roles, without being able to reach out and look into who they really are. The Guerilla Girls are just one example of a group of artist/activists who connect to these realities.

I am a feminist and I believe in a balanced world and when I saw the under representation of women in museums and galleries made me even more determined to focus my collection on female artist practices.

What is the role of collectors in the contemporary art world?

I have an old fashioned view on roles in the art world. To be a collector is to dedicate life supporting the practices of artists. The first step is to buy the artwork, but inherent to the role of collectors is patronage. These artists are living artists, they are individuals and contemporary art is about contemporary life. I am not collecting antiques, we are getting a vision of life, that reflects the zeitgeist of our time.

It is critical to support artists in different ways, through supporting exhibitions, projects and engaging in conversations. People underestimate how vital it is for the artist to engage with a collector. The importance of the artist/patron relationship is evident since the renaissance, and the longevity of this connection is critical. I try to follow my artists as much as I can by supporting their practices at large. When there is too much focus on the 'object', it becomes buying more than collecting.

Once at FIT, we had two guest speakers (collectors) said that "true collectors are often faced with the decision of whether to by a work of art or a washing machine". This always resonated with me, as collecting is a necessity. It is not about accumulating stuff, but rather buying work that pushes you and compels you to think deeply about things.

What are some of the philanthropic art projects and commissioning platforms you are involved in?

Last year I launched a new initiative ValeriaNapoleoneXX. It's a continuation of what I've been doing for the last 18 years, but a little bit more formal with a stronger message. The point is to support the unseen artists and under recognised museums. We have a partnership with the Contemporary Art Society (CAS) and together we yearly choose a museum and donate a work of art by an emerging artist. With particularly keen focus on practices that are overlooked. Before going to a museum, the work will be exhibited at Camden Art Centre.

The other project part of ValeriaNapoleoneXX is the partnership with the Sculpture Center (SC) in New York City. Here the situation is different from XXCAS as SC is an exhibition space and not a museum with a collection. It is a platform for supporting the specific production of a large installation by an artist yearly. The focus is on the process of art making. I sit with the curator, look at the programme and identify a specific artist I want to support through the funding of a major work.

These are the two ongoing collaborations within XX platform I am involved in at the moment. I'm also supporting one off projects as the Berlin Biennale and a number of other initiatives as they come along, the way I have been doing for the past 20 years.

ValeriaNapoleoneXX is not an attempt to fill up the holes in museum collections. The lack of support and representation of women artists has been going on forever The gaps are too large for me to fill. XX aims to instigate and inspire a dialogue about this and to make curators and directors of galleries look into their own reality. I believe it is these conversations that will be the catalyst for change.

What is the most recent artwork you bought and loved, and what are you eyeing next?

The last piece I bought were two paintings on paper by the British artist Claudette Johnson, who belonged to group of women in 80's known as the BLK Art Group, who were working together and engaging in different politically charged practices. I bought the works from a group show at Hollybush Gardens, which is one of the galleries in London I admire most.

Judith Hopf is an artist I have been following for years and she is at the very top of my list. She shows at Kaufmann Repetto in Milan and I've been looking at the work for a long time. This is what happens in my life, I follow artists for an extended period. It's not just about fashion trends, but rather about personal discoveries. 

Image credit: Mariona Otera

For more information please contact Tali Zeloof
Ance Rusova