In light of the new Lucian Freud: Closer, Etchings exhibition from the UBS Art Collection, I meet Mary Rozell, Global Head of UBS Art Collection and curator of this exhibition. Topics we discuss cover Lucian Freud, master of figurative painting, and the exhibition in Berlin, the great initiative of UBS towards art & culture and the “future of art collecting”.
UBS Art collection’s mission is to build and maintain a seminal body of work that provokes thought while being inspirational. What aspects did you take into account while curating Lucian Freud: Closer (also in regard to Berlin as a choice of location and the Martin-Gropius-Bau?)
Thank you Andy – you describe the mission of the UBS Art Collection nicely. We are so excited to have all of these important works on view in the city of Freud’s birth and at the Martin-Gropius-Bau – a historically symbolic building and one of Europe’s renowned exhibition spaces. I must give credit to Poul Eric Tøjner and Anders Kold of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art who recognized the power of these works and first provided them with a public platform in 2015. Dr. Gereon Sievernich, Director of the Martin-Gropius-Bau, felt that this group of works would resonate in this city. This exhibition marks the first time these works will be seen by audiences in Berlin.
You have been leading the UBS Art Collection team for around two years now: how has your experience so far been in managing a corporate collection? What have you enjoyed most/ what have the challenges been?
It‘s hard to believe that it has been almost two years since I started. The experience has been extremely positive. As Global Head, I am responsible for all aspects of the Collection from stewardship and new acquisitions to loans, publications and commissions. I also am charged with developing ways to share the Collection with the public. It is very rewarding to see how deeply engaged the public has been with Freud works in this show. The greatest challenge is trying to meet the incredible demand for art within our business and beyond.
If any/ which of Freud’s 51 exhibited works has particularly caught your attention and why ?
There are a total of 54 works in the exhibition – 51 etchings and three paintings. As with all of Freud works, these are not easily consumed. They are all so powerful and raw, yet at the same time delicate and extremely intimate. It is hard to choose just one.
What do you think of artists such as Freud, whose style remains remarkably consistent throughout their career?
Like most artists of Freud’s stature, there was a process of development. His earliest works, which recall Surrealism, Neue Sachlichkeit, and German Expressionism, are hardly recognisable as Freuds. Once he found his unique artistic signature, he did stick with it for many decades. That’s what make these etchings so interesting. Freud only started working in the medium in earnest in the 1980s once he was fully established as a painter. The etchings provided an important new challenge and a new means of expression for the artist, becoming an essential element of his overall oeuvre. They are unmistakably Freud and yet they are very distinct from the paintings in the precise use of line and the almost complete elimination of contextualising backgrounds.
Is there a notable recent acquisition of art for UBS Art collection which you would like to highlight and if so which artwork/ artist would it be?
We have acquired a lot of very interesting work in the last year and are proud of the number of women artists we have been able to support. One in particular that comes to mind is a piece by the Paris-based American artist Sheila Hicks entitled Mining Red Slate from the Depths, 2017. Although Hicks’s international stature has only recently begun to climb, she has long been considered one of the most important contemporary artists working with textiles. Hicks creates highly tactile pieces, revealing a truly painterly approach to light and color, as well as keen awareness of the interplay with architecture.
How influential are you in your own decisions for the acquisition of new artworks for the UBS collection & how does the acquisition process work? Do you take decisions as a team?
More than anything, the collecting process for UBS is based on need. The focus now is on building a collection that reflects our businesses today. I’m fortunate to have a global team on four continents to help manage the Collection and source works. It’s wonderful to have a continuous dialogue about artists we discover and care about.
How important is art (material) in acquiring new art for the UBS Art collection: How flexible are you in acquiring artworks such as sculptures, neon or other art installations?
In a corporate environment, we have to be considerate about the placement of art, so material plays a big role. It’s not a museum, so we can’t have delicate pieces. It’s also important to consider the longevity of artwork; I always consider what a piece is going to look like in 50 years.
The artworks are being hanged at the UBS offices around the world: how important are decorative purposes and aesthetics vs. art which criticises society and current global issues (including topics of war, hunger, sexual exploitation, refugees). Where do you draw a line?
As you mentioned, the vast majority of our works are on display in our offices around the world. We want the work to be thought-provoking and inspiring, but there are some limitations due to the corporate environment. We avoid acquiring works where the content includes subjects like overt violence, sex or politics. That’s not to say that there are not potent underlying messages. Sometimes sensitivities are regional.
Can interested people book a tour to view the artworks of the UBS Art collection; how accessible is the collection to art enthusiasts during the year? (regardless of the exhibitions)
We host private tours for UBS clients and international art and education groups in our major locations in New York, London, Zurich and Hong Kong. We also share our Collection with our clients, prospects and guests at our VIP lounge at Art Basel in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong. There is great demand to view our Collection and we try to accommodate as many requests as possible. It is also rewarding for us to open up the dialogue around the works that we care for.
Do you use social networks to identify new artists & artworks; do influencers, “online curators” play a role in the future. As far as the “digitalisation of the art world”: what model(s) do you think will prevail?
Social networks do not play a large part in our identifying new artists and artworks. One of our missions is to support the artist directly, so we mainly acquire from galleries on the primary market. We stay abreast of developments through art periodicals, both print and online, and have regular conversations with curators, dealers and other knowledgeable individuals whose opinions we value.
Finally a Warhol related question: As far as I know, the UBS Art collection comprises of Andy Warhol works. What comes to your mind in regard to Andy Warhol, his art and legacy?
The UBS Art Collection currently has two works by Warhol: Campbell’s Soup I, 1968, a portfolio of ten screen prints and Joseph Beuys, 1984. (Mao, 1973 and Cagney, 1962 were recently donated by UBS to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, as part of a major corporate gift of 44 works, fully realised earlier this year.)
Warhol is clearly a major figure of the last century and we are fortunate to have acquired these works at the time of their creation. He has had a huge influence on our understanding of contemporary art, one that resonates with artists to this day.
Thank you very much Mary and best of luck with the exhibition.
Thank you, Andy.
Lucian Freud: Closer
Etchings from the UBS Art Collection
22 July – 22 October 2017
Wednesday to Monday 10:00 – 19:00
Closed on Tuesdays
Special Opening Hours: open on Tuesday 3.10
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Click here for German version.