They say that for an art collection to have impact it must have a strong focus, a direction. For London-based collector and patron Kamiar Maleki, son of mega collectors Fatima and Eskander Maleki, that direction is found in the works of emerging artists, primarily young abstract painters. He’s looking for works that, in some way, speak to our time. And since digital media and social networking primarily characterize our time, for Maleki’s inaugural exhibition as curator he has put together a group of abstract paintings that look really, really good online (and presumably in person too). With works by Oliver Clegg, Christopher Kuhn, Kasper Sonne, and Richard Höglund, Hashtag Abstract at London’s Ronchini Gallery explores current developments in abstraction and tries to engage with the question of how social media trends develop and grow.
In the following exchange, I ask Maleki how collecting compares with curating, what abstract painting has to do with the digital world, and where the women artists are in his collection.
Oliver Clegg, Bloody Mary, 2015, Oil on canvas, 120 x 162 cm. Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery
Natalie Hegert: I understand you’ve been collecting for about ten years, and your parents are also avid collectors. What made you decide to take the plunge into curating? How does this curatorial project compare with collecting?
Kamiar Maleki: Growing up, I was surrounded by my parents’ art collection and quite quickly felt inclined to start my own, concentrating on emerging contemporary artists. The idea to curate a show with Ronchini Gallery was conceived during an engaging conversation with the director, Lorenzo Ronchini, discussing numerous emerging artists I have come across at various exhibitions, fairs, and studio visits. This inspired me to hold Hashtag Abstract as my first exhibition as a curator, to exhibit emerging artists and consider the different ways in which people collect in the current landscape.
Curating and collecting have clear similarities, as well as strong differences. Curation may be considered as a more focused process, whereby the curator acts as an organizer of information/artwork, creating a unique narrative that highlights a particular issue, in order to engage creatively with the viewer. Collecting can often be far more impulsive and personal. An art collection provides a unique insight into the collector’s interest, which can often be far more varied than a strictly curated exhibition. My personal advice as a collector is: love the art you buy, you’ll be living with it!
Kasper Sonne, Installation view of Hashtag Abstract, Ronchini Gallery, London, July 2–August 29, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery
NH: This show comes with its own hashtag, and invites viewers to interact with the works on social media. In a way, Instagram helped curate this show. How do you think Instagram, vis à vis our social-networked society, might be changing the contemporary art landscape, and the way people consume and collect art?
KM: Nowadays, thanks to Instagram, Facebook etc. you don’t necessarily have to visit a gallery to buy art. I recently bought my first piece of art online, through Instagram; the art piece was by Kasper Sonne and his work inspired me to consider social media as a motivating force for the show. Visually striking pieces, such as Sonne’s abstract works, are particularly suited for social media, but also look equally as amazing on the walls at home or in a gallery. Social media—in particular Instagram, but increasingly all platforms—has solidified the power of the image as a tool of engagement and, as such, this is beginning to affect the market for art.
The digital world has also made art much more accessible to the everyday user. Firstly, the individual no longer has to be the first person at an art fair and run around like crazy to find the best pieces; they don’t have to travel the world to every single gallery. The artworks are now being sent to us up to one or two weeks in advance of the shows or openings, and we can buy them from the comfort of our own home. Secondly, viewers are interacting with art in a different way. Social media has given all viewers a platform to become critics, picking and choosing which works they wish to share and comment on; this is already affecting the decisions behind gallery shows—more “shareable” exhibitions will generate their own publicity, so are often more attractive to organizers. Within Hashtag Abstract we wanted to bring this trend to the forefront of the show, encouraging the viewer to share works through social media in a critical and engaging way.
However nothing beats going to an art fair, opening, or meeting various people along the way. Relationship building and meeting artists and gallerists and collectors are still vital to my work.
NH: Why focus on abstract painting? What does abstraction have to say about our contemporary digital world?
KM: My love for abstract art goes back to my appreciation of artists such as Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer. I always try to find something within emerging artists that links with my love of the past and post-war art. I also enjoy process-based art, where one can see how the artist works with different material; this is often integral to abstract art.
I think the importance of abstraction links to my answers above. Social media has perpetuated a very visually-driven culture, whereby the individual gaze is drawn to instantly attractive images. The works included in the show can be appreciated immediately for their aesthetical qualities, and this is arguably what makes them popular with viewers and collectors today.
Christopher Kuhn, Smear Campaign, 2015, oil and acrylic on linen, 177.8 x 137 cm, Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery
NH: I think it’s really important for collectors to help support young, emerging artists, rather than just artists who have already proven themselves in the market place, and the collector profiles about you always mention that you “specialize in collecting the work of emerging artists.” What factors have contributed to this focus in your collection? How do you discover new artists to collect?
KM: In my opinion art collectors should be patrons of artists or institutions of their choice. There should not be a distinct separation.
As a collector of young contemporary artists, I can support brilliant artists’ works and enable their careers to flourish. Following the example of my parents Fatima and Eskander Maleki—who are patrons to many artists, organizations, charities, and trusts—I was compelled to become a supporter of the arts myself. Collecting is a gratifying passion because you feel a sense of pride and excitement each time you meet an artist whose work you collect. There is also a joy in finding an unknown emerging artist that you feel is going to become established one day.
There are no set rules on how to discover artists. I personally visit exhibitions at newer emerging galleries, attend graduate shows such as at Royal Academy Schools, the various colleges of the University of The Arts London and many more. I also attend fairs including Photo London, Frieze (London, New York), Art Basel (Hong Kong, Basel, Miami), Art Brussels, and LA Contemporary to name a few. Of course studio visits give you an invaluable glimpse into the world of an artist. At the moment the artists I am looking out for are Ida Ekblad, Neïl Beloufa, and Charline von Heyl amongst others, and I am also very interested in the work of Will Boone and Harold Ancart. In regards to more emerging artists, I have recently been following the career of Marco Palmieri, Stefania Batoeva and Luke Diiorio.
NH: I haven’t seen your collection, and I don’t know all of what it contains—this is just based on what information was readily available—I couldn’t help but notice that no female artists are named in relation to your collection. Do you have any women artists in your collection? I must ask, because it’s widely known that collectors, like yourself, have a great influence on the art market, and it’s these two areas—private collections and the art market—that are the greatest bastions of continuing inequality in the art world. How would you position your collection and your activities as a collector, and now a curator, in relation to this issue?
KM: It is interesting that you have not read about any female artists in my collection as there are indeed several. I collect works from very talented female artists such as the Italian Alek O, the Iranian artist Shirana Shahbazi, the English Vicky Wright, Ayan Farah, and others. As you mention, it is important that collectors such as myself keep an eye out for new artists, male and female, and from a variety of countries and cultures. It is this engagement with a wide range of artists, from myriad backgrounds, that keeps my collecting so interesting to me; I can only hope that this will help to affect the art world and promote more equality within these areas.
ArtSlant would like to thank Kamiar Maleki and Emma Gilhooly for their assistance in making this interview possible.
(All images: Hashtag Abstract, Ronchini Gallery, London, July 2–August 29, 2015. Courtesy the artists and Ronchini Gallery)