“The new rich avoid the past, because the past isn’t fashionable and is more difficult to understand.”
Fabrizio, what made you decide to open an art gallery in London?
It wasn’t my decision, it was fate. London is the capital of the art-market world, vying for the title with New York. London and New York are the twin poles of the art market.
Your main interest is the market for Old Masters, I think?
It certainly is. I have an international reputation for Renaissance painting but my interests extend as far as the eighteenth century. Actually, as I believe all art should be seen as a single entity, it amuses me also to take an interest in modern and contemporary art, which I buy for myself and sometimes sell on.
But isn’t it precisely modern and contemporary art that commands the highest prices at auction today, in what seems an unstoppable inflation?
I like to persuade myself that all art is contemporary. But it has never before achieved such high prices as now: in some cases deservedly so, in others not. The reason the market has been pushed to such “crazy” heights today is because so many people have come to treat art as an investment. At the same time, I do firmly believe that in the first instance we should see art as an investment for ourselves, and that no one who bought art in this spirit in the past was ever mistaken. Art is an antidepressant!
But is early art selling well today?
It is, but fewer and fewer quality pieces are available, and they are what really sells. There is considerable interest in the Renaissance, my own special period. The school of Giotto is in great demand and so is the mid-fifteenth century world surrounding Botticelli and his school. Early art is badly undervalued today, particularly in comparison with modern and contemporary art. The disparity is huge.
But why does early art fetch so much less?
Because it is difficult to understand and most of all because it is not so glamorous. The less sophisticated newly rich see contemporary art as something easier to understand and also related to the media and fashion. Of course icons do also exist among the old masters, for example the paintings of Caravaggio. Of course these are not on the market. On the other hand I do hope to be able to make a find myself.
Is much money changing hands in the art world?
Yes, a great deal, but it is often badly spent. $150 million dollars for a Bacon or $40 million for a Jeff Koons, what is the significance of that? Has the market lost its head? Koons is a brilliant promoter of his own work who has built his career on the star system, which I believe to be why his “Dog” has sold for $40 or $50 million dollars – pure insanity. For that kind of money you could fill a small gallery with top-quality early art.
Is it true that you deliberately don’t mix with artists?
I don’t mix with them because many of them have lost sight of their true mission and see themselves as stars. Success has led them to think they are more talented than they really are. Meanwhile Giorgio Morandi and Pontormo, and more recently Lucien Freud, concentrated on working in their own studios.
Who are your clients?
People with a sincere love of art. People who buy not with their cheque books but with their hearts. They include the great international museums, and also European, Russian and American collectors.
And the most important sales of 2013?
Without question my own Canaletto, a view of the Grand Canal in Venice, which I have sold to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Are museums short of money these days?
They have less now than they did, because the “Trustees” responsible for them (a category unfortunately non-existent in Italy because no law has ever been passed to keep finance out of our cultural heritage) have been tightening the screws to some extent, but even so the museums always manage to take home what really matters.
Are the best pictures in museums?
Yes, beyond any shadow of doubt, and it is right and proper that they should be. They are a treasure that belongs to the whole of humanity.
Are the American museums your main clients?
Yes, I have excellent relations with The Metropolitan in New York, The Museum of Houston, The Los Angeles County Museum, and The Kimbell Art Museum in Texas, which will soon be opening a new building designed by Renzo Piano.
You’re not on good terms with museums in Italy. Why is that?
I‘m on very bad terms with them. In the last twenty years Italy has had no Minister for Cultural Affairs capable of improving the situation, and worse still no Prime Minister able to grasp that in Italy the Minister for Cultural Affairs is almost more important than the Minister responsible for the Treasury. Bearing in mind that we possess the most important treasures in the whole world.
But why is this the case?
Perhaps because living so close to beauty leads one to take it for granted. Sadly, no one in our country is likely to change things for the better. When I look at possible future premiers, I see nothing but mediocrity and ignorance. Worse still, in the present economic situation, people are afraid to allow themselves luxuries that may be condemned as sinful. Which paralyses the whole economy.
Is it different in London?
Yes, in London and the rest of the world you can live fearlessly in sunlight.
First published in La Stampa, November 24th, 2013.