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A dedicated collector and advocate of contemporary art since the late 1940s, Giuseppe Panza has played a fundamental role in the artistic culture of his time, introducing American phenomena such as Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Pop Art, Environmental Art, and Conceptualism to the museums of Europe. Now, in a brilliant response to everyone’s primary question about Modern Art What does it mean?” Panza shares philosophical insights and personal reflections that bridge a half-century of discovering new artists and movements.
Panza was among the first to buy the works of Rothko, Kline, Lichtenstein, and many of the other major figures of post-WWII art, watching as their works skyrocketed in monetary value as well as historic importance. He pursued collecting with undiminished enthusiasm through the 1980s and 1990s, all the while searching for the best venues in which to display his latest acquisitions. Sections of his private collection were exhibited by and acquired into major collections, particularly the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim in New York. Among his signature innovations was the juxtaposition of contemporary art with historic settings Baroque palaces, ancient European public buildings, his own eighteenth-century villa in order to create unexpected and stimulating dialogs between the architectural context and the work of art.
Complete with 110 full-color illustrations, spanning decades of transformation in art and world culture, Giuseppe Panza: Memories of a Collector provides a unique glimpse into the movements and trends that have defined modern art. It is also the fascinating life story of a man who helped define the trends themselves, through passion, insight, and prophetic taste.
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Giuseppe Panza was born in Milan in 1923 to a prominent family of Italian wine merchants. He studied law and entered the real estate business, but soon became devoted to his true love: acquiring contemporary art for himself and for the leading museums of the world. He credited an interior "thermometer" that enabled him to spot up-and-coming movements, artists, and works of art, and over the course of fifty years and hundreds of purchases he was rarely wrong.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Excerpt from: Giuseppe Panza: Memories of a Collector
During my time in America I didn't have the chance to concern myself with art, but now the moment had come. In my talks with friends and acquaintances about this I realized how little art was understood and that it was subject to irrational rejection. I saw that whoever was able to overcome such psychological obstacles could choose the best art before the others. The situation in which Van Gogh found himself was not very different from the present time. It was necessary to understand if there was true art behind forms different from those we were used to. But it was also necessary to have the widest information possible before making any decisions. The first step was to visit the art galleries in Milan. The best-known didn't have anything new; the most famous, the Milione, sold Morandi, Sironi, and Carrà, all the best artists of the Italian twentieth century, but all by now old and famous. There were no young artists. This was at the end of 1955, and Milan was undergoing postwar reconstruction; the situation was still that of the ’thirties: a society closed in on itself because of the Fascist nationalist policies that exalted the Italian spirit and made relationships abroad difficult. There are also economic difficulties, the lira was undervalued in comparison to foreign currency, so buying from abroad cost more. There had been great collectors in Milan, Mattioli, Jesi, De Angeli Frua, all of whom were still active, but they had works from Futurism up to the ’thirties and were little interested in current art. Foreign art was hardly seen, except in the collection of the De Angeli Frua, who bought in Paris. This was a collection that was to disappear a few years later due to his firm's financial difficulties. In the ’fifties he had bought Wols, Fautrier, Picasso, and Dubuffet. It was a collection of the highest quality and its dispersion was a loss for our culture. When I talk about things that happened fifty years ago I seem to enter into a shadowy land: a difficult period, a close situation; I see the Milanese streets in the fall and winter, gray by day and suddenly dark in the evening, few lights along the roads and not much traffic, like the cityscapes by Sironi, a life oppressed by something imponderable.
Little light, long nights, but happily something of the good that existed then has been saved. The Mattioli Collection has been conserved and renewed by the intelligent and loving activity of the collector's daughter Laura, and a group of its top quality Futurists is on loan to the Venice Guggenheim Foundation. The Jucker was another important collection, and a nucleus has been bought by the Milan city council, with the help of the Cassa di Risparmio bank, and is now exhibited on the top floor of the Palazzo Reale while awaiting construction of a museum of modern art. Another important collection was that of Lamberto Vitali who specialized in Morandi: he was an enlightened connoisseur of art and, above all, of this great artist. There were also many other small- and medium-sized collections, and that of the tailor Tosi was not the least of them. In Milan there were tailors who collected, but now theirs is a profession that has virtually disappeared, and clothes are all machine made.
I have taken part in the same change too, as I wear clothes that are machine made. This is an inevitable evolution due to research into productivity, but something has been lost. The best tailors had artistic sensibility and were often collectors like, for example, Italo Magliano. It was a pleasure to go and try on a suit and, while it was being sewn, to talk about art.
Visiting gallery after gallery in Milan I discovered one with a greater interest in what was new: the Apollinaire Gallery run by Guido Le Noci, a friendly, helpful, and really enthusiastic and passionate person. He was one of the few dealers willing to talk about art with a young man who was only just starting and needed pointers, information from someone who was already an expert. The other dealers looked down their noses and didn't much take me into consideration even though they had to wait hours before a client might arrive to talk about buying. Le Noci sold fewer works than the others since his was not a long-established gallery with a stock of important pictures. His was a poor gallery but run by a competent person: he did not sell much and so had a lot of time to talk with whoever wanted to talk, and I was one of those: I needed those talks. I left the office at 6:30 in the evening and stayed in the gallery until a quarter to eight almost everyday. I was forming my ideas about art and needed a person to react with. He was also one of the few who was interested in what was happening abroad, above all in Paris, then the undisputed capital of art.
I remember that the first time I bought an example of contemporary art, it was from Le Noci. I thought I had made a first appraisal of the situation, and so I felt up to buying something. It was a cold and rainy Sunday in January, and I had made an appointment with Le Noci at his home where he had other pictures to show me. There was an abstract by Atanasio Soldati, and a view of Venice by Gino Meloni that was, in fact, an ensemble of many colors in which the form disappeared. I think I paid 100,000 lire for each one. I remember looking out the window and seeing a beautiful winter sun shining. Today 100.000 lire seems ridiculously little, but if you think of the cost of living then it was quite a lot. The average wage of a working man was 120,000 lire a month, and a full-time domestic helper took home 25,000 lire a month, and there were many available, very different from today when they have to be invited over from the Philippines or India. A decent meal, without wine, cost 1,000 lire, and a dollar 700 lire. I was pleased with the first purchases I took home. Pupa had not been able to come with me as she was not feeling well, but she too was pleased to see the works. At once we wanted to see where we could hang them, but the walls seemed too large for two rather small pictures; still, it was inevitable that the collection would grow, and there was a lot of space for it even though there was not much money for buying. Almost all the paintings I bought in the first year were then sold to buy others. I was overtaken by anxiety for having the best and had to obtain the maximum emotion from them. I continually juxtaposed one picture with another, one artist with another, in an unending search for the best. This is a necessary impulse for a good collection. At first it is almost inevitable that you will make mistakes, as with everything, but in collecting you learn by making mistakes. This is a risk you have to take. If buying art is not a momentary fad the experience you gain is extremely useful. You must continue to follow events and never abandon your interest in searching, otherwise you lose contact with topicality, you stayed tied to the things of the past, to well-known things that in the meantime have increased in price, if they were the right choices, and so they can no longer be bought. Usually the amount of time for buying does not last long, and in a very few years the situation can change. This happened above all in the ’fifties, ’sixties, and ’seventies when the overall financial situation was expanding without much inflation, and critics were interested in the evolution of art. Today, in 2003, the situation is different. The art market went through a great crisis in the fall of 1990. Values were halved with respect to those of 1988, and for many artists the drop was extreme. Because of a general deflation policy, prices were stabilized at a low level. An increase toward the levels of ten years earlier only began in 1996. This was the longest crisis over the previous fifty years. The increase has been erratic, and many fashionable artists have been rewarded by conspicuous increases, but these are artists I would never buy since they have nothing to do with my sensibility or vision of life. For example Basquiat, in 1984 cost 25,000 dollars now costs over 500,000. Most of the artists I have bought recently have had stable prices, and they did not diminish during the crisis because they were already low, and they have not increased because the artists are outside current trends and critics do not concern themselves with them. In contemporary art there are extremely strong cyclic variations, and it is necessary to have the patience to wait for a change in trend. No one is a prophet, but high quality will perforce be recognized in time.
You come through only after a long wait. This certainty and waiting was my philosophy of life yesterday as it is today. I have never believed in luck, but I continue to believe in what is good. Probably when I am no longer here to talk about these things, the art of today that is overlooked by critics, by institutions, and by collectors, all of whom are on the lookout for novelty, will be appreciated differently; it does not matter that I won't be around: it is enough for me today to know that I am making the best choices my conscience will allow. In the past too I make difficult choices that were not accepted by everyone, or almost everyone...
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