TIFFANY ZABLUDOWICZ ON COLLECTING FOR THE LONG-TERM
Since 1994, the Zabludowicz Collection has supported emerging artists on both sides of the Atlantic. As daughter of the collection’s founders, Anita and Poju Zabludowicz, Tiffany is no stranger to contemporary art. Like her parents, she is a collector who speaks about her role in terms of passion and social responsibility.
Her interest in young art has led her to take on another role – that of curator. Since 2017, Tiffany has co-opted vacant office spaces in Times Square into an artist residency and exhibition platform. Her revolving program of site-specific projects focuses on a spectrum of performance, digital and internet-based artists, as well as spotlighting the growing importance of preserving spaces for experimentation in the center New York City.
Lafontaine: Let’s start with the Times Square Space (TSS). How did this project come about? Since 2017 you have managed to host both an exhibition and residency space in one of the most commercially intense intersections in New York City.
Zabludowicz: The entire process has been very organic. Several years ago, the Zabludowicz collection had a space in that building. When that came to an end, the management contacted me and said that they have a space available for one month. We decided very spontaneously to initiate a working residency for seven artists.
From the beginning, the program played with the idea of ‘hosting’ a residency in what was actually vacant office space as a sort of bridge between corporate culture and this romantic idea of the artist’s studio. The results were extremely interesting and varied. Some artists used the opportunity to work on real ‘office issues’, like setting up companies or doing paperwork. Others made performances or physical artworks. The entire process revealed quite a lot about problems related not only to acquiring an affordable studio in New York City but also the realities facing artists today in regard to the way they are required to present themselves in the public sphere. After this I curated a group show titled “Stay” with five female artists in a response to the space and, of course, to the environment of Times Square itself. From there on it moved quickly to solo shows.
L: How are you able to encourage artistic experimentation in such an incredibly touristic location?
Z: The wonderful thing about TSS is that it’s both hidden and yet so visible. On one hand, it’s centrally located, so it’s easy to reach. But coming to the art itself can be difficult because the visitor is forced to navigate a colossal office building. On top of that, traversing though the square itself is always a challenge. I think that in an age like ours, where sometimes there is very little movement between artists operating in different strata of the art world, it’s quite important to have a space which encourages artists to be both playful and irreverent. It represents a sort of freedom – albeit ironically – in one of the most commercial places in the world. On top of that we inhabit this funny framework made up of a vacuum in the real-estate system. Our space actually consists entirely of the process of jumping between the voids in commercial renters.
L: Physically bringing artists to a location which embodies American-style capitalism in a very physical way frames the residency (and the realities of the art world by extension) in an almost comical perspective. The struggle for artists in New York has reached the point where many artists are leaving. Even the majority of so-called ‘successful’ artists would only be able to dream of affording an actual office at Times Square. Since TSS is in an active commercial building, how much are you actually allowed to disrupt the space?
Z: The more I do, the more freedom I seem to get! Working within the boundaries of the office building is actually very fun and exciting. I have learned to be nomadic. We have a rolling desk, and everything folds up! Unfortunately, this also means that I can’t program more than one thing at a time in case we don’t have the space for it. This might seem like a disadvantage but in our case, it really forces the artists to jump on any ideas that they might be thinking about in that moment. An additional relief is that the artists don’t have the immediate financial pressure associated with the high cost of renting a working space. It allows them to experiment and to think more about long-term projects.
Many of the artists’ practices are either collaborative or give them some reason to be in Times Square, whether it be that their past work actually responds to the geographic location or responds to the architecture of institutionalized spaces. For example, I always let the artist pick which floor they want from the floors that are available. Sometimes the choices are surprising because it’s not necessarily the biggest or the most glamorous that get snapped up, it’s just the one that each artist feels most connected to. You could call it site-responsive rather than site-specific art I suppose.
L: In the art world, you actually wear two hats: on one hand you are a curator and on the other, you are a collector. You and your family have a sizeable collection in London. You also have a collection of your own here in New York.
Z: In terms of physical location, the majority of it is in London but I have a lot of it in my apartment here in New York. In the UK, there is a note on some of the objects that says certain pieces are part of my collection but really, it’s one of the same.
L: What draws you to certain pieces and artists?
Z: Although I try to collect across the board, I do end up being more into things that are a bit digital. I also tend to gravitate towards younger artists. I think I just try to look where other people aren’t looking, which means that the generally the artists I collect are younger or less well-known. I look for objects that resonate not only with me but also manifest a sort of feeling of authenticity within culture as a whole. After all, one of the wonderful things about art is that it can open your eyes to other experiences.
At art fairs I usually go straight for the young sections. It just feels more relevant – if it’s current and the works are new, I can immediately connect with it. Also, I’m in art for the long term. Working with younger artists I have a sense of the possibility of building a long-term relationship, which is pretty important.
L: When you acquire an artwork, do you actively consider it an investment or that is absolutely not a factor for you? Recently, a dealer told me privately that collectors should never buy young artists that aren’t first tried and tested in the marked. Naturally, if everybody bought like this, we would never have any new art being shown – the whole process would just become circular within a tiny section of the blue-chip market.
Z: The generation of artists that are working now are the ones that are actively making art history, even if their works sell for relatively little at the moment. An artist should always be important to the collector because in the best collections, the works are always in conversation with each other – everything must be in a dialogue. When you look at the great collectors of the past, they were all collecting for the love of it. I believe that as long as you love the work, its financial value shouldn’t be your primary motivator.
L: What about storage? Do you ever run into problems managing the size of your collection?
Z: (Laughs) Although my apartment has lots of walls, storage was something that I had to learn a lot about. And as a collector you definitely learn that the hard way. I didn’t understand that when I started so I’ve learned since then to be more thoughtful about all these details.
L: How do these thoughts tie into your collection of digital art? Does an increase in the types of technology used to display artwork complicate the way in which you decide how to store pieces? How do you manage when the technology of a certain artwork goes obsolete?
Z: With an ever-increasing number of platforms promoting digital work, I do feel confident that there will be storage and preservation solutions available when needed. In fact, handling digital art can be much simpler than traditional artworks because of the compact nature of the digital file. On the other hand, if I buy a piece that’s designed to be shown on an Oculus Rift, I would always buy the device that goes with it and then store it with the art work itself so that the necessary hard technology will be there if I need it in the future.
I’m also big fan of web-based works. You know, my mother is involved in this project called Daata Editions. I think giving people public access to art is so important. (editor’s note: Daata Editions is an online platform which commissions limited edition, media-based artworks and makes them available for purchase as digital downloads.)
L: How is it for you as a collector of digital art to live with your collection? Do you show video art in your apartment?
Z: I love video art but I don’t like having television screens in my apartment, so I don’t actually show much on a daily basis. What I live with is much more physical. After all, art is meant to be viewed physically unless it exists online. On the other hand, the internet has exploded the possibilities of viewing art without having to be physically present at any particular location. This means that there is a greater access to learning. In terms of traditional forms of visual art, the internet is an excellent educational resource because of the sheer availability of information. But it doesn’t replace the experience of viewing it in person at all.
L: Now that we’ve covered a bit of both grounds do you feel that you identify more as a collector or as a curator? Or do you feel equally split between them?
Z: Equally split. Both roles flow together very well and then they separate at the same time. I think if I’m drawn to an artist from a curatorial perspective usually I’m also inclined to collect their work. When you feel a sort of connection in your soul, you just want that to remain a part of your life in a way.
L: Which makes perfect sense because if you spend so much time working together with someone and their art, you get to know them on a quite a deep level. It’s natural to want to keep a piece of that experience with you.
Z: Both curating and collecting are forms of problem solving: it’s quite a rigorous exercise putting objects together in way which creates a both a history and presence. For these reasons, a deep knowledge of art history is incredibly important because it gives you a context of how those works will flow into the future. At the same time a knowledge of contemporary art and a knowledge of the present historical context is also necessary to understand what’s new. You need to be well-educated but the whole process can still be very instinctive.
L: Deep down, art is something that appeals on a very primitive level to the senses, no matter how much you might try to analyze it. In the end, you could call it a gut feeling – something that either you like, or you don’t.
Z: But it’s an informed gut.
L: Exactly. The more informed the better.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Interviewed by Marie Lafontaine