For Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, being an art collector doesn’t stop at purchasing artworks. “I never bought a work of art just to decorate the walls of my house,” Sandretto Re Rebaudengo recently told Artsy. It’s a sentiment that elucidates her stature as not just one of the most remarkable collectors in the world, but one of the most important patrons of contemporary art today.
Since the early 1990s, Sandretto Re Rebaudengo has built a vast collection that spans jewelry, costume, photography, and contemporary art. Gabriel Orozco, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Tony Cragg, Damien Hirst, Patrick Tuttofuoco, and Sarah Lucas are just some of the names that headline a collection that features more than 1,500 contemporary artworks and 3,000 historical photographs.
In 1995, with the aim of exhibiting her artworks publicly, Sandretto Re Rebaudengo founded the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Guarene d’Alba, Italy. In the years since, the Fondazione has expanded its footprint to the Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea in Turin, Italy in 2002; the nomadic La Fundación Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Madrid in 2017; and the Venetian island of San Giacomo in Paludo, which is currently being converted into an arts space, in 2018.
Supporting artists, involving communities, and exhibiting artworks publicly have been central to Sandretto Re Rebaudengo’s approach. One of Italy’s first private art foundations, the Fondazione runs a year-round program of large-scale commissions, exhibitions, initiatives, and collaborations. Several of its commissions have been shown at the Venice Biennale, including Alicja Kwade’s WeltenLinie (2017) and Doug Aitken’s International Prize–winning Electric Earth (1999).
“I really believe that being a patron today is defined by supporting artists’ careers and practices, providing them with an opportunity to exhibit their work, and trying to keep in mind that the end goal is their success and the fulfillment of their research and careers,” Sandretto Re Rebaudengo told Artsy.
Earlier this fall, we caught up with Sandretto Re Rebaudengo at her home in Turin to learn more about her journey into collecting, including her life-changing first encounter with contemporary art, the collectors who have inspired her, the importance of relationships with artists, and how she views herself as an art collector.
Arun Kakar: Let’s start from the beginning of your collecting journey. Could you talk about the first artwork that you purchased?
Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo: I started collecting contemporary art in 1992. That year in May, I made a transformative trip to London with a friend of mine, who was a collector. The trip changed my life.
I didn’t study art, and during this trip, I visited many museums, galleries, and studios of artists including Anish Kapoor and Julian Opie. That for me was really something new and important. I still remember the visit to the studio of Anish, and the pigment and powder on the floor was a moment when everything changed for me.
I visited with my friend and Nicholas Logsdail, the owner of the Lisson Gallery. My first purchases were two works by Anish—one of the small pigments that I saw on the floor in his studio, and another big work. This was really the beginning.
A.K.: It seems like meeting artists has been an important part of collecting from that early stage.
P.S.R.: Getting to know an artist completely changed my life. I started visiting many studios and understanding their work. It’s really important even now, after 30 years, for me to know the artists, to visit their studios, and to spend time with them.
And through the Fondazione, we invite artists to make new commissions. For example, Paulina Olowska will be our next exhibition. She will come to Turin two weeks before the opening and we’ll live together in my home. It’s a fantastic way to have a relationship with artists. This is the way in which I collect art and how I see collecting now.
A.K.: With that first purchase, did you know what kind of collector you wanted to be?
P.S.R.: I understood that I wanted to buy works connected to social and political issues. I never bought a work of art just to decorate the walls of my house.
For me, art is political and social. Through the work of artists, I can better understand the world in which we live. I think that artworks have the ability to tell the story of the present and anticipate the future. So collecting is something much more important than just buying art.
A.K.: And how did that play out in the way you built your collection?
At the beginning, the collection was divided into five themes.
Firstly, Italian artists. I live in Italy, and Italian art has always been important to me. At the Fondazione, we really support Italian arts and I started here with artists of my generation like Maurizio Cattelan.
Another important part of the collection for me was British art. So Anish Kapoor, but also Julian Opie, Richard Deacon, Tony Cragg, Damien Hirst, and Douglas Gordon. I understood that it was important to collect and show their work.
And another important part is art from Los Angeles. It was important to go to Los Angeles to visit many artists. I visited Charles Ray, Sharon Lockhart, Paul McCarthy, Catherine Opie, and Jason Rhoades.
Another important theme is female artists. Really, from the beginning, I understood that there was a lot to do for them because it was not easy in the ’90s to be a female artist. I feel connected to the themes that female artists explore in their works. I like to compare my point of view about feminist issues with the point of view expressed in their works. And so many artists are in the collection starting with those from my generation, like Rosemarie Trockel, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, and Louise Lawler.
The last of the five themes is photography and video. These are mediums that I like, and in the ’90s there were many examples of these works at art fairs.…Now, we see many more paintings.
In the ’90s, I really devoted part of my attention and collection to photographers like Thomas Ruff, Jeff Wall, Thomas Struth, and Andreas Gursky. But the collection also includes an additional historical section of around 3,000 works that date from 1839 to 1910. There’s also video art, a medium that I really like.
A.K.: How has your collection evolved over time?
P.S.R.: Since 2000, things have changed a lot. The world is much more global, and today there are so many artists from all over the world in the collection. I don’t have to pay so much attention to geographical areas.
A.K.: I’d like to ask you about your influences as an art patron and collector. Are there any collectors or art patrons who have inspired you?
P.S.R.: I have to say that I feel very close to Peggy Guggenheim. I didn’t meet her but I read everything about her life.
I really put art at the center of my life. And like her, I wanted to turn my passion into a museum activity. She also chose artists as her reference point and that is the same for me. I love to have dialogues with the artists and to have direct relationships with them. When she started collecting, she didn’t know about art but she studied, and she had relationships with the artists and learned from them. And she decided to open a gallery and museum.
What I admire is that she showed her collection in the Greek pavilion at the Venice Biennial in 1948. This is a dream for a collector to show their collection in a pavilion in Venice. I have to say, I really love her.
It’s also important to have good relations with many collectors. You can learn a lot from other collectors, and it’s important to have a dialogue and get to know artists that maybe you don’t know.
A.K.: Would you say that your art collection represents you as a person?
P.S.R.: A collection is like a story that flows through episodes and encounters, linking the biography of a collector to the artists, the studios, and the city in which they live. Collecting for me in a certain sense is like exploring, and drawing my map of the world.
Art was not created to decorate houses. I pay a lot of attention, for example, to not just buy artists, but to buy the right work from that artist. I always say it’s not a collection of names, but it’s a collection of works.
A.K.: Can you talk more about that distinction?
P.S.R.: In a collection, a work of art must be precise with respect to the moment in which it is produced. It must tell the story of the present but also be able to anticipate what will be the future, to tell me something, or to tell future generations.
In that way, I really believe that a collection represents the person. I buy the works of the artists that I really think represent them and the moment in which we are living. And so this is the way in which I built the collection, as a crucial link between the artist’s biography and mine.
A.K.: Would you like to talk about some works in your collection that are especially meaningful?
P.S.R.: I’m particularly fond of Bidibidobidiboo, a Maurizio Cattelan work I purchased in 1996. I think that is a work representative of Italy, and when I saw it, it was love at first sight.
But at the same time, all of the works in the collection are important. For each work, I remember the moment in which I purchased, the moment that I decided to commission, or the moment that I started to talk with the artist.
One work that is very close to me that I just commissioned is by Goshka Macuga. She’s a Polish artist, and I worked with her at the Venice Biennale in 2009. We decided to invite her to realize a 15-meter metal rocket that we realized for the first time at [Florentine cultural foundation] Palazzo Strozzi at the center of the courtyard. I like this work because I think of rockets now when we should not use planes to travel because of climate change. And so I like this concept.
A.K.: The Fondazione has been a central part of your life. Can you describe the work that you do there and why you decided to set it up?
P.S.R.: From the beginning of my collection, I understood that, in Italy, there was a lack of museums. The desire to support my artists, the lack of institutions, and the desire to show my collection—I really believed that an art collection should not stay in storage, but should be shown—were the main motivations for my decision to establish the Fondazione in 1995.
It’s a nonprofit institution with three aims. The first and main aim is to support the artists. We do exhibitions, we use our space in Guarene and the space in Turin. Now, we have an island in Venice, and in 2017, I also established a nomadic foundation in Spain, through which we organize exhibitions.
The second aim is education. When I started, it was not easy. And I don’t want to make contemporary art easy, but we want to give everybody the means to understand. We do a lot of integration: We work with our educators, we work with kids from two years old and up, and we have programs for people with special needs. We have young mediators in our exhibition spaces and a young curator residency program every year.
Another important aim of the Fondazione is collaboration with institutions. This is important to me personally, and I create relationships with museums and academia as much as I can. This also gives us the opportunity to show the collection. Recently, we showed works from the collection in Shanghai, Ecuador, London, and Madrid.
A.K.: What emerging themes are you incorporating into your collection?
P.S.R.: Creatively there is an energy between technology and artificial intelligence. We have worked with artists like Martine Syms and Sougwen Chung because technology’s growth is changing and institutions like ours have to pay attention to those artists.
What we try to do is to talk, through the Fondazione, and explain our world, the direction of the world, and the important issues that we have to pay attention to. We use art in a certain way to talk to our audience about life. It always starts from the collection, because, for me, it’s the beginning of this story.
A.K.: Who are the artists that you’d say you’re most excited about now?
P.S.R.: I bought a fantastic work by Simone Leigh, a big sculpture, with the idea to show it in Venice. I have recently bought works by young artists such as Marguerite Humeau and Lawrence Abu Hamdan.
I pay attention to the new generation. For example, in Italy, there’s a fantastic artist called Giulia Cenci, who was invited to be in the 2022 Venice Biennale by curator Cecilia Alemani. We purchased the work that was shown at the Biennale. I also purchased a work by Jumana Manna for the collection just last month, and Lenz Geerk and Walter Price are a few other recent examples.
Sometimes, I buy work by artists that we will invite to stage an exhibition at the Fondazione. For example, we will invite Danielle Mckinney to exhibit in Turin next year together with Mohammed Sami, whose work I have just bought.
Salman Toor is another one. This is the new generation of artists that we are following and whose works we are buying.
A.K.: What would you say you enjoy most about being a collector?
P.S.R.: The possibility of having a relationship with the artist. If you collect antiques, but also art from past centuries, you cannot ever have a great opportunity to have this strong relationship with the artist.
My role as a collector has transformed over the years. I’m a collector but I’m also a patron. I really believe that being a patron today is defined by supporting artists’ careers and practices, providing them with an opportunity to exhibit their work, and trying to keep in mind that the end goal is their success and the fulfillment of their research and careers.
So you might start as a collector, but then you can do much more. Collectors can be much more involved, not only in buying more art but also in the production and being close to the artist in order to support them. This isn’t just financing a practice but being really proactive in finding an opportunity to promote their work.
When I decided to establish the Fondazione it was important to give back what I have been fortunate enough to receive from artists. For me, it’s important to give back to the community in which I live.
A.K.: You’re a collector who supports galleries as well as artists. Can you talk about that?
P.S.R.: Galleries for me are very important. Galleries give me an opportunity to know artists and even when we commission a work by an artist, we talk with the gallery.
My introduction to female artists, for example, happened thanks to a friend of mine, [Sprüth Magers co-founder] Monica Sprüth. Monica taught me a lot about that generation of artists like Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger.
Galleries are doing the hard work because they have to find the artists, support them, do the exhibitions, and so on. I always buy work through the gallery, except for a few works that I buy in auctions. I don’t use auctions often. In the last year, I bought a fantastic work by Cindy Sherman, for example.
A.K.: What advice would you give to collectors who are just getting started?
P.S.R.: Nicholas Logsdail said to “use your head” and I think that all collectors need to do this. I really believe that a collection is work and not a hobby. You have to read, talk, and understand. This is very important, particularly when you start. Exercise your eye, and see as much art as possible so that you are able to understand what is interesting and what is good art.
What I learned over 30 years is to not be afraid if you don’t understand something instantly. You have to take your time, and you cannot understand everything just at a glance. If I were to use two words, they would be depth and slowness.
It’s also important to have curiosity and passion, too, because with passion you can really build a love for art.
And make decisions by yourself. Take all the information from Artsy, galleries, museums, and artists. Think, ask, listen, but in the end, make the decision by yourself. The work of art is an investment, but it’s also something that you have to live with. You have to love it.