A rare opportunity for art lovers

An interview with curator Suzanne Landau about the exhibition ‘Red over Yellow,’ which presents for the first time important works from a private collection.

ELLSWORTH KELLY, Red over Yellow, 1966, Oil on canvas, two joined panels, 220.3X190.8 cm © Ellsworth Kelly (photo credit: SOTHEBY’S LONDON)
ELLSWORTH KELLY, Red over Yellow, 1966, Oil on canvas, two joined panels, 220.3X190.8 cm © Ellsworth Kelly
(photo credit: SOTHEBY’S LONDON)
‘The practice of collecting art goes back to Hellenistic Greece, but it was developed in its modern form since the Renaissance,” says Suzanne Landau, director of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
“Private collectors played an invaluable role in art history. The collectors had the opportunity to support artists. Where would we be without those individuals who were open minded, passionate and had enough funds to support the artists of their times?” she asks.
Of course, not every wealthy person is an art collector, and not every collector has a good eye, says Landau.
“Art collectors have a great role to this day, and they often donate or loan their collections to museums.
The exhibition ‘Red over Yellow’ is the first time that this particular collector, who prefers to remain anonymous, has allowed his collection to be presented to the public, and we are very proud that he chose the Tel Aviv Museum of Art as the first venue. This collector has chosen each work with unusual insight and impeccable taste, and this exhibition is a rare opportunity to experience very important works” she says.
Walking through the exhibition, one wonders what motivates art collectors to invest so much time and money in acquiring more and more works. Landau says it is all about passion.
“The Walter Benjamin quote I placed at the beginning of the catalogue describes it very well,” she says. “He talks about collecting books; but collecting art, very much like collecting anything else, is a passion. The collection is, in a way, a portrait of the collector. Like one’s library, the books that you keep in your library mirror who you are.”
Most of the museum’s collections were originally based on gifts from collectors, explains Landau.
“In many cases, the collectors have more funds than the museums, and often they make bolder decisions.
They take risks that the museums cannot take. They may choose to support an artist long before he or she becomes famous. In a public museum, you have to go through procedures and committees while private collectors can pursue their fancy immediately.” she explains.
Real collectors have close relationships with the artists that they support, says Landau.
“I know collectors whose collections are the center of their life – they love to talk about their encounters with the artists, the visits to their studios and being so close to the artists. Surely that also means that they can choose the best works,” she says.
“The works on display focus on Italian, German and American artists from the second half of the 20th century.” says Landau.
“Red over Yellow” exhibition is not a random display of the collection.
“When I do a gallery talk around an exhibition that I had curated, I always explain why a certain work is placed next to another, what made me decide to hang the works in a certain way, that there is always a dialogue going on. The same work will look different in a different context. Visitors to an exhibition usually don’t think about that. They look at the works, they sometimes read the explanations.”
In the two exhibitions now showing simultaneously at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the focus is on collection and collecting. “Collective” displays the museum’s collection, and “Red over Yellow” displays a private collection.
“I didn’t want to show the works in chronological order nor according to the nationality of the artists. I wanted to show the collection at its best, to build the exhibition so that each work would stand out and, at the same time, would create the impact as a whole.
There are top, museum-quality works in this collection; some really iconic.” she says.
With such a list of works, where did the curator begin? “I had a starting point – Alighiero Boetti’s work from the series called ‘Tutto’ (1990). I knew it had to be at the entrance to the exhibition. It is a fantastic, and a very powerful work. I thought that the large scale, the colors, the shapes would be a magnet, arousing a lot of curiosity and surprise. From far the work looks like an abstract painting, but when you get closer, you realize that it is a silk embroidery. Visitors can really dive into the work and search objects and figures.”
explains the curator.
“It was also clear to me that I wanted to create a composition from all three-dimensional pieces in the collection and to place them on an elevated platform in the center of the space. I wanted those pieces to relate to the works hanging on the walls around them. There is a lot of dialogues different from each angle.
The show comprises a period of 30 years of art created at the same time in different places on the globe, and we have a rare opportunity to see it displayed in one place.”
“There are some, unusual juxtapositions, such as the works by John Chamberlain and Donald Judd. The two artists were friends.
Judd always wanted the finish of his works to be perfect. He made cubes from galvanized iron, and he would discard the ones he thought weren’t perfect enough.
Chamberlain picked up the discarded cubes, squashed them and created his work.
The piece by Lucio Fontana, who usually does square or rectangular canvases, is more elongated and very unique with cuts and strips that create a grid – something that echoes the works of the minimalists. So I didn’t hang it next to other Italian artists but next to other minimalists,” she says.
“We must mention the signature work by Ellsworth Kelly. A composition of two canvases – one red and one yellow – two warm colors in a perfect balance between them .The yellow has some of red and the red some of yellow.
“Art collecting is a passion,” writes Landau in the preface of the exhibition’s catalogue. “The collector finds a work of art, falls in love with it and cannot let go. This process repeats itself again and again.
The act of collecting is the act of painting a kind of self-portrait – collectors’ life stories through the objects that speak of their love and fascination while reinforcing their identity, memories and existence.”