Harmeless Vice: The Artist as Collector
Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro

In a 1977 article, the artist Willys de Castro described art collecting as a ‘vício impune’ (harmless vice), a compulsive activity that “tenha feito mais virtuosos do que pecadores” (as created more virtuous people than sinners). This exhibition, a collaboration between Galeria Millan and Galeria Raquel Arnaud examines the collections assembled by artists as a unique insight into their influences and affinities. The artists chosen for this exhibition are those for whom collecting forms an essential part of their practice, and from which we can learn something that expands our understanding of their work. There are as many models of collecting as there are artists, and the nine dialogues presented across the two gallery spaces each present a microcosm of each artist’s interest in his or her history and present.

Across history, artists have always collected. We can remember that Rembrandt collected natural history objects; the Impressionists collected Japanese prints; Picasso, African Art; Matisse, Eastern rugs. In our times Jeff Koons is one of the most active collectors of French Baroque drawings, and Emmanoel Araujo’s collection of Afro-Brazilian art is the basis of one of the most important museums in the country.

Artist’s collections can tell us not only about their own practice: what they see in the work of others that impacts them, but they are also often in the avant-garde of recognizing and valuing previously under-rated phenomena. Thus, we can see that Sérgio Camargo was among the first to identify the talent of Hélio Melo, a self-taught artist from Acre, just as other abstract artists like Ben Nicholson had supported the work of Alfred Wallis, a self-taught fisherman from Cornwall, in the 1950s. Looking at the collections of artists provides a double mirror, reflecting aspects of the collecting artist’s psyche that might not otherwise be evident, and also casting a light on an art historical system that is more affective than stylistic, more intuitive than disciplinary.

In this exhibition there are nine dialogues between artists and their collections. These were chosen not for the similarity but for their diversity of approaches to collecting. In addition to the Camargo-Melo relationship mentioned above, we have a range of artistic conversations that range from abstraction with indigenous art (Willys de Castro) to conceptual performance with deep-sea diving (Artur Barrio). In each case we have collections that are based in artistic dialogue rather than speculation or museological concerns.

The exhibition proposes that by looking at the connections between artists and their collections, we can learn something new about their work, while also imagining an alternative history of art: one that is rooted in affinity and desire rather than Cartesian concepts of progress, stylistic development, or aesthetic hierarchies.