The collector, Josep Soler Casanellas, an ex-
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Do you have a really strange collection, in one hand you have works from USA artists and in the other hand Chinese contemporary, is there a link?
Of course there is a link; despite now is changing a little bit. I started with pop surrealism from USA; I liked very much their colours, their cartoon style and the issues they paint. Then, I did not have the idea to create a collection; only buy some works I liked. That’s why I tried to buy a Wang Guangyi, because I liked him so much from a lot of years and I liked his social/politic content. It was at that time, regarding the magazine Juxtapoz that I adapted a concept: “To think is contagious. Infect brains”. Going forward researching works matching this concept I discovered a mine in the Chinese contemporary works, then the next step to start to buy Chinese contemporary was easy. You can find the same worries across the planet.
Tell us something more about this concept?
I always liked the works of art as a tool for thinking about the different issues than surrounded us. Beginning by the Guernica and following with others. The art as a way to personal growth. And more you will growth; much more society will be free. And consequently, more you will contagious other people to think by themselves, more the society will be free. Therefore: infect brains!
How did you start collecting?
I really started in 2005 when I left the company I used to work for a sabbatical year, which now became undefined in the time. I started with pop surrealism from west coast USA and after a few months I got the opportunity to buy the Wang Guangyi. After that, one thing follows another and collecting became a passion and a full day work.
What previous experience do you have as a collector?
At the beginning, when I was young in the 90’s I was more attracted by ancient books, specially art books. I also thought I could not afford paintings. Just before I bought two sculptures works multiples of Rodin and Modigliani, my first’s works. When I moved to Italy I collected books. Afterwards in France beginning 2000’s I started to buy each year an artwork at Montparnasse air fair in order to help artist in some way. I also bought an excellent and funny sculpture by Saint Silvestre in 2000, “le coq pecheur”. But I bought my first “big” painting, the Erro at Art Paris 2003 to Sonia Zannettacci. My biggest artwork investment ever, then! (7.000€)
Can you tell us how, when and why you began collecting Chinese contemporary art?
Since the first exhibition in the FIAC in 2000 or 2001 I was very excited by the works of Wang Guangyi. His colours and his social/political taste attracted me very much. But at this moment I liked art, follow exhibitions at Museums and art fairs, but I never thought to buy an artwork. It seemed to me so strange to pay such amount of money for “a piece of paper”. If I thought to this “such” amount today, it is ridiculous!
How did you go about collecting?
At the beginning, I did not know anything about the inside of art world. I noticed through Internet about an exhibition of Wang Guangyi at Urs Meile Gallery in Luzern. So, with my wife planned a flight in order to be there at the very beginning of the exhibitions in order to be the firsts to buy a work. I had a budget to put there like an investment. We discover that we were “innocents”. All the artworks were sold before the starts of the exhibition. Madness!!! In reality only one was on hold, the one we liked and much important, fit the budget. After a few days without calling us I called them and we discover we could do the business. A big Wang Guangyi, black background with a big Mao conducting a crowd. Incredible!
After that, a lot of Internet, a lot of articles and a lot of mails in order to be in the pre-
Did you travel to China?
Yes, several times, including Tibet in 2007. And it remains exciting for us to see the speed of development in this country. Moreover of the feel of people in this growing environment.
How did you conduct research on the artists?
Home made. Internet and Internet again and magazines to search what I like. Of course, I continue to snoop around in art districts such as 798, Dashanzi in Beijing or Moganshan Road in Shanghai and I visit exhibitions and art fairs.
Was it difficult to collect? Did you buy at auction? Did you buy from art galleries?
It is difficult to collect the greatest now, there are not exhibitions and where there are the works are sold out, moreover than crazy prices. Young artist are easy to buy directly at galleries. Regarding auctions I tried but also the prices are at each time bigger and bigger, moreover than buyer premium’s and import taxes that make the artwork at least 30% more expensive than the bid. Because of that I try to avoid auctions if it is not something really special.
Can you tell us a little about what appealed to you about the artists you selected?
At the beginning the first rule of thumb is that we only buy what we like and if linked to social/politics matters. That’s the centre of my pop surrealism collection and all the Chinese works bought until the Sanya collection.
Did you collect in an organized way, or simply pieces you liked? In other words, were you trying to collect in a strategic pattern or not?
As I mentioned it was strategic in the first phase, only works I liked with social/politic content and trying to find this kind of work by artist I liked. An example is the work of Xiong Lijun who normally did works without content but I found this particular work who matched both interest, the artist I liked and the content of the work. I wanted to do the same with Zhong Biao from the same exhibition at Frey Norris Gallery, but finally I decided to buy a very classical work from him, despite other works were more political, “the chairs is weak”. I’m collecting only Paintings, I do not understand the value of photography despite I could like very much the work and we do not have space for sculptures. The only exception is the suicide book of Cai Guo-
Somehow in a second phase we ended up with a collection which includes various masterpieces of today’s established artists but with lesser known artwork, that’s The Sanya Collection. I still do not believe to have the opportunity to buy this collection!
Today, the collection includes works from more than 30 artists. We really like all of our pieces and most of them surround us in our home every day.
What have you now decided to do with your collection? Are you showing it in Europe? Making it available to exhibitions? Are you putting any of it up for sale?
The first thing was to put it online. I had not a wealthy economic situation to build or buy a place to show it, so I decided to do it online, collecting lot information around each work and artist. Of course, one day I would like to exhibit it. As a whole but also as parts, for example The Sanya Collection as a whole. And I believe I’ll do that in the future.
I’d like to do in Europe in order to approach China to western, but that will be more difficult. In May we assist to a conference in the Fundació Miró hold by Ulli Sigg, they attend less than 20 people!!! Such an opportunity for so less people, Chinese art is still ahead from western culture.
In any case, I am not anymore linked to a piece of land. Any day I could be in one place or another.
Who are some of your favourite artists and why?
Well, there are many of them. Here are some examples: I like Wang Guangyi or the freshness of Xiong Lijun or the kids of Yin Kun. I like the special techniques of Duan Jianghua, any work of The Sanya collection because how it has been made. Or take the great idea of the book from Cai Guo-
Regarding pop surrealism I appreciate very much the cynics by Ron English, and the works of Ausgang that gives movement to the subjects.
All are favourites, if not I will not have it, isn’t it?
How was the Sanya Collection acquired and why did you choose these works?
Regarding the Christies site I noticed the works of the Sanya but were very bad presented, all together and very small. Only when I received the catalogue I could appreciate the works, and the most important, the history behind. The estimates were very low from my point of view. In this action held on November 2007 there were a drawing by Zhang Xiaogang that I went really interested, but I thought that maybe any other will noticed the works because the bad presentation. In fact, I lost the Zhang Xiaogang and following the entire auction through Christies live! I believed that the price of the Sanya collection will rocket. I start to bid, once, twice… and the works were mine. I could not believe, and I did not be sure until I received the email confirmation.
I thought to receive 28 piece of paper and I received two boxes of 300kg! All the works were framed and they looked really great, much greater than the photo in the catalogue.
Why this works? Just read the history behind, the firsts works made with traditional tools by the greatest contemporary artists, a link between tradition and contemporary, a traditional look to contemporary forms. Moreover than be the opportunity to ad the biggest names to the collection than will be impossible by acquiring his oil/acrylic works too expensive for me.
Does the acquisition of these works mean you are moving in a new direction?
I’m not sure which direction, but yes they moved me. With this acquisition I relegate the spirit of the collection to a second range.
Tell us a little about the works?
Each work is great, you can really see the strokes of the painters and in some cases the contemporary subjects translated by using the traditional tools, like the works of Zhang Xiaogang.
Did you sell any earlier works to make these new acquisitions?
No. I want to keep my collection intact and growth it.
Are you continuing to collect Chinese contemporary art?
Yes. But I am still not sure in which direction. Moreover, until now, the exchange rate between the dollar and the euro help us very much. I do not know in the future if this really helpful tool will continue in the future. But as always it is a double side, if you are in the selling position your works will be valued more.
I would like also to collect a few works from Indian, Vietnamese, Russian, Latin-