An Interview with Silvia Anna Barrilà
Launched during Berlin’s Gallery Weekend (May 1st–3rd), the third edition of the BMW Art Guide features privately owned collections which are publicly accessible. This specialist guide was compiled by Independent Collectors and BMW, and published by Hatje Cantz. We talked about it with one of the co-authors of the guide, Silvia Anna Barrilà, during a recent lecture on “Collectors” held at the 8th Masters course in Art and Cultural Heritage Management offered by the Sole 24 Ore’s Business School in Milan.
How did your collaboration with Independent Collectors begin?
In 2008 I wrote an article on Independent Collectors for ArtEconomy24, the Sole 24 Ore’s page on the art market. It was something new at the time: an online community for contemporary art collectors. That’s how it all started. Later on, Independent Collectors were looking for someone to moderate their website forum, and that’s how our cooperation continued.
I helped on the preliminary research phase of the guide and, when we moved on to the editing of the texts, I was invited to become one of the co-authors.
Why a guide to private art collections around the world?
This is not a guide to all private collections, but only to contemporary art ones, which, although privately owned, they are open to the public. Why was it created? Because it didn’t exist before, even though there is a growing number of privately owned museums and galleries nowadays. The Art Guide is an initiative based on the partnership of IC and BMW, in order to fill this gap in the market. In the guide you can find not only the great private museums that are internationally famous, but also addresses and contacts of private collectors who, on appointment, will open their doors to art lovers.
What kind of public is it aimed at?
It is aimed at all people fond of contemporary art and at all who are interested in collecting. It was designed as a practical tool to carry around during city trips scouting to quality places off the beaten track.
How did the BMW Art Guide develop in three years?
It developed in parallel with the growth of interest in contemporary art and collections, which expanded worldwide, and with the increase in number of private museums around the world. Whilst in the first edition of 2012, there were 217 collections hosted in 156 private sites in 41 countries, in the second edition of 2013, we added 49 collections, and in the third edition of 2015, we added further 32 collections.
How did you manage the research side of the collections? Which parts did you personally take care of?
While I was just an external consultant in the preliminary research phase, during the editing phase other authors also contributed to enriching the guide with their knowledge and experience. I was obviously in charge of the Italian side of the guide, that together with other eastern and southern European Countries, such as Greece, Turkey, Poland, Russia, Ukraine is incredibly rich in important private collections. I also took care of the Asian side, especially of the Chinese and Japanese collections. It was not always possible to visit all collections personally, indeed, in a few cases the short texts introducing the collections were written based on research and interviews we had with collectors.
What’s new in the third edition?
Besides the 32 new collections, the third edition was overseen by a new managing editor. While the first two editions were under the supervision of Jana Hyner, the third edition was managed by Sylvia Dominique Volz. Then new authors joined in: apart from myself and a couple of journalists, like Nicole Büsing and Heiko Klaas and Christiane Meixner, this year we also had Alexander Forbes looking after the United States scene, and Anne Reimers, in charge of Great Britain.
Italy is home to many collectors, so naturally the guide features a lot of collections, but how do Italian readers actually react to this review?
As I previously said, in Italy contemporary art collecting is a relevant and widespread activity. The role of private citizens in supporting and promoting contemporary art is extremely important, because in many cases it fills the gap left behind by public institutions, that aren’t often present on this field. In the guide, Italy is the second most represented country after Germany, with 26 collections. Maybe not everyone has become aware of this reality yet, but I believe the awareness about private collections is increasing, thanks to the activism of foundations, single collectors, and their associations.
Do you believe the guide is mainly meant to allow a larger public to approach art, or more likely to put collectors under the spotlight?
I think it is a tool to allow a growing public to access art, but not so much to give exposure to collectors. In fact, collectors are very often reserved, thus they accept joining the guide only on the basis of the trusted relationship which bonds them together with us, and because they know it’s about a quality product. Certainly today there are many collectors with a more and more public profile, who are very popular.
What does the future hold for the BMW Art Guide? Will it be translated into other languages?
I believe the intention is to keep it going and update it periodically by including new collections, but the decision is up to Independent Collectors and BMW. For sure the public has greatly appreciated the guide so far and more and more collectors spontaneously contact us to join in.
At the moment it has been translated into English and German, but I don’t believe other translations are being considered.
Image courtesy of: Independent Collectors, S. A. Barrilà