Javier Lumbreras, an elite Spanish collector, has plenty of self-confidence, but is never arrogant. Ambitious, modern and intellectually restless, he explains by videoconference from Miami his latest project: Collegium, a center for education, research and experimentation of modern and contemporary art that will be located in his hometown, Arévalo, in Ávila. It also aspires to be a space for the production and conservation of artistic goods.
Investor, collector, philanthropist, real estate developer and fund manager, in the life of Lumbreras United States, the country in which she resides and in which her children were born, occupies a predominant place. He has played an essential role in two New York institutions: the Hispanic Society of America and the Museo del Barrio, on whose board of trustees he has participated by overseeing a collection of almost a thousand works by more than 150 artists from 40 countries, some of them key to understanding of what are we talking about when we talk about contemporary art.
“My first affinity with the world of art was through my maternal grandmother, who had several works from the 19th century and she started me with something I did not expect: with some paintings by Zuloaga,” he recalls. “Also, my mother painted, as did another paternal aunt. Since I was little I went to the Prado Museum, art has always been present in my life, first as a curiosity and, currently, as a passion. I acquired my first work by changing a Zuloaga for a Tapies. But it was when I finished university that I began to actively collect contemporary Latin American art, an activity that began in the late 1980s with a great attraction for young artists, such as Adriana Varejão, Vik Muniz and José Bedia, for some of whom I even organized exhibitions. Those artists particularly inspired me, but then I didn’t wonder how far I wanted to go with that. Until I got divorced in 2000 and my collection was divided into three: one part went to auction at Sotheby’s, another went to my ex-wife, and the remaining third remained in my hands.
Lumbreras knew how to extract a virtue from that need: “After that disappointment, that stumbling block, a time when I had a hard time, Adrastus, my collection, was redefined, because I got more into art and because I bought, always for pleasure, historical works by masters like Picasso, Warhol and Rubens. For me, art serves to better understand oneself and to build fascinating societies, but that is something that I gradually understood, and the evolution that I have had as a collector has been more rational than passionate, because I reflect a lot ”.
Member of a successful family in the world of finance, Javier, who studied in Saint Louis, spent a good part of his career in New York and now spends more time in Miami, however, he charted a unique path. “What Lorena, my current wife and I wanted to create is a collection that would serve others. It is not by chance that Emerson, whom I greatly admire, affirms that the purpose of life is not to be happy, but to be useful. So we set out to collect 21st century works that are highly representative of this historical moment to form the basis of a museum project that cannot simply consist of building a permanent headquarters for the collection, but rather tries to touch the lives of all the people who go through it, to become a research and knowledge project, with production and exhibitions that allow the generation of true social well-being. Collegium It is going to be a project with more than 15,000 square meters, with 11 or 12 buildings, and that we have been designing for 12 years ”.
“What we are interested in is managing the cultural space in its entirety,” he clarifies, “because a private museum runs the risk of becoming a mausoleum, and I don’t want to impose my personal tastes as I get older. For this reason, we will form a private non-profit board of trustees, in which the Junta de Castilla y León will participate. But I also hope that other patrons and other collections will join, and it would be important for our collection to grow. What is certain is that it will be a public-private collaboration and that we will have permanent and temporary exhibitions, the first of which we will open in February and will be made up of about twenty artists, with only three or four works from our collection ”.
When asked what is the ultimate goal of his collecting passion, Lumbreras answers: “The fact of collecting for me has nothing to do with accumulating material goods. Also, when you only seek profit, you are inviting galleries to prostitute themselves. Now, if I wanted to buy art as an investment, I would basically buy work from deceased and established artists, but not from contemporary artists. Because when you speculate with contemporary art, you can damage an artist’s career, and that’s not pretty. The angle of speculation does not interest me and, when I acquire these contemporary works, what I look at is the emotional value. In these years we have accumulated 800 works, although we never sold any piece of the collection ”, explains someone for whom works of art are“ supranational ”. “The museum can have an enormous economic and social influence, and if you conceive it as we have conceived it, the collection becomes an instrument,” he adds.
Lumbreras has a deliberately international eye, which does not look at “how many Latin Americans or how many women are there” in his collection, and prefers “to base itself on the merit of each work”. “Today there is art for the rich, which is sold at a high price but will not necessarily transcend, and there is also art to enrich culture and knowledge. It is difficult for highly valued artists, but who have poor or little institutional recognition, can leave a historical mark ”, he maintains.
He prides himself on knowing the market like the back of his hand. “For me, a great artist has to be long-term. Today, Marcel Duchamp is cheap, but he revolutionized the art world. As for my collection, I am not concerned with what the works are worth. Yes it is true that some gallery has suggested that I be in the board from museums like MoMA, and it is no coincidence. Museums in Europe are still a bit exempt from the influence of the great collectors, and I think that, in the same way, there are galleries that have begun to generate programs and notice some difficulty in selling some fabulous artists who contribute a lot to the dialogue of the contemporary art. So, since they do difficult works and some rich people are mentally lazy, galleries also begin to compromise their exhibition program and incorporate second-rate, higher-priced artists, who sell like bagels. Well: those galleries place their clients on the boards of museums in the United States in exchange for pressure and exposure to those creators, which I consider unethical. In Europe, with museums financed by the State, we are freer from these pressures and, therefore, we are more independent from the boards ”.
Before finishing, Lumbreras, fan of the conceptual artist Roman Ondák and author of the book The art of collecting art, He will have time to remember that his collection has lent some of his best works to such emblematic institutions as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the New Museum in New York, the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, or the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. It is his way, he says, of keeping art “alive among the people.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.