Interview with Javier Díaz Guardiola

A few weeks ago we had the immense pleasure of talking with Javier Díaz Guardiola, according to the report of Spanish collectors that Arte Informado has published recently. But we’re not going to lie to you: we talk about many more things, which you can read here or listen to on our podcast number 21. Enjoy as I enjoyed.

Marian: Good morning, today we are with Javier Díaz Guardiola, responsible for the Art, Architecture and Design section of ABC Cultural. Let’s comment a little bit about the report of art collectors in Spain, which came out a month ago. Good morning, Javier, how are you?

Javier: Good morning, how are you?

M: As I was commenting, today we are going to talk about this report. You have already made two articles about this, one for your website and one for ABC. What can you tell us? What conclusions have you drawn about it?

J: Well, I would begin by recognizing the great work that Arte Informado has done to carry out this report. It is not simple, that are complicated data, and I think the most significant thing of all is that really what it does in the end is that it leaves in writing and verifies many realities that we knew but that were not able to synthesize them or pass them to paper so that we all had access to it.

M: Before continuing to talk about this report, perhaps for our listeners and readers who do not know you, tell us a little about yourself and what do you do at ABC Cultural.

J: I am a journalist, I always define myself as a graduate in Information Sciences. I’ve been working at ABC Cultural for 20 years where I coordinate the Art, Architecture and Design section. Then I’m also in charge of ABC ARCO, the official magazine of the fair in Madrid, so soon we will publish some numbers, and then as I always say the journalist is a curious person, that has allowed me to jump to the curator. I have done my steps without considering myself an ad hoc curator, but I always try to deal with this communicative dimension that is part of my work and take it to other areas working that journalist drive in other kind of things.

M: That is, you have a point of view about the world of culture and art quite broad because of your profession and your concern. Speaking a bit about the report, last month we spoke with the director of Arte Informado about the report, but we do not talk about collectors with name and surnames. On the other hand, you have done it in your articles. Which names are the ones that have most attracted your attention, why, and who believe they are taking a relevant role today for culture in Spain?

J: The report makes very clear that the profile of the collector in Spain is not homogeneous, as in other areas such as Latino. It is true that the type of collecting in Latin America is much more homogeneous, possibly because art itself is much more affected in its own, let’s say, economic gear. Here the fact that at this point of the film in Spain we consider whether certain things are art or not makes, as it is well said in the report, is rather a sniper work: they are isolated people who carry out for love of art, never better said, try to materialize a passion and a very personal enjoyment. That makes us have a very wide range, which then does not affect a wide range of collections since they are all very homogeneous. What can be said is that the Spanish collector, then if you want we give names, is a modest collector. Yes it is true that there are great fortunes that are dedicated to collecting and patronage, there are many, and then there is a small collection that is more modest that the crisis we have lived was carried ahead, and is now returning to form. We are talking about people of my generation, people who are between 35 and 45 years old who have assimilated art in a more natural way and have decided to turn a collector’s passion into a collection, an economic investment or an economic enjoyment that has given foot to collections. We always talk about very modest collections, not large investments, very interesting sets but that have nothing to do with the great Latin American collections, much less.

M: That’s exactly what my next question was about, well, you’ve already answered in part. It is always said that unlike other big countries, right? Other large communities such as Latin America, in Spain there is no collecting in comparison. That Spanish collecting is something insignificant compared to what we can see outside. I suppose you also support this opinion, as you have just commented to me.

J: Yes, it is also that in Spain there is always a prejudice when talking about money, sometimes even absurd. The Latin collector, because he is the closest and with whom we can compare, for a matter of sharing culture and language, is much more ostentatious in the sense that he does not care about making known what he buys, what he acquires, in a positive sense I do not say it with negative connotations. Here you are always very aware that “if I say I do something, I can be watched from envy by another and then I prefer to shut up” or “I prefer not to talk about money” because deep down it is what is being talked about, as I said in the interview I did to Carlos: “it seems that you are not talking about a list of collectors but a list of rich”, then you can not boast about your money and that makes it very difficult to analyze collections and locate collectors, since the time to set up a project like the Arte Informado report.

M: I share that opinion, but I’ve always said that the marked Spanish character is sometimes more of a scourge than something to be proud of, as you said what Carlos said in the sense that people see it as you talk more from a list of rich people that from a list of collectors, which is something positive for the country. But hey, I was going to tell you also that precisely speaking of that range of media collectors that took the crisis ahead, something that I totally agree with, what do you think we could do those of us who move in the world of art and culture, that we have an outreach work like you and me, trying to bring it closer to the average public, so that the new Millennial generation gets closer to art and does not have it as an investment asset but rather as something that they like and interest them Enough as a collector’s wish?



J: It’s complicated because the basic problem is educational. It is impossible to find out a Rafa Nadal in anyone’s house if you are not used to playing tennis, that is, if at home you have not been accustomed to follow that sport, you have not practiced the sport since childhood, that is, by generation spontaneous it is very difficult for a collector to arise if, since you were a child, you have not been inculcating what culture, art, art values are, if you have not been taken to museums, if you have not visited galleries. Art is a worm that is inculcated. To which it adds that the educational system itself does not help you either. That is to say, I do not know now because I do not have children and I do not know what children study, but I remember that when I was studying 20 years ago you had a subject of History of Art and you had it in COU. Even in basic education you did not have an art subject. If you are not familiar with content, it is impossible to develop it. With which, I start from the basis that if you’re interested in art, the first thing you should do is find out a lot, which means visiting galleries, visiting museums, when galleries are free and museums have spectator days that are also free. You don’t need to make a big investment to start having an art education. And generating that sensitivity only requires going to debug it, I always say that you do not need to start a collection by spending a million euros. You can acquire much smaller works, much more modest, and depending on that is when one is growing and going debugging. Many collectors tell you that when they started collecting their first works they were failed works, in the sense that they do not fit with their collection. But it was necessary to spend that period of acquiring more modest things, things that at that time did have a sense and a value and they did interest and then throw yourself into another collection. Then we must differentiate a collection that is made by value of a collection that is made by economic investment. The tastes and intentions of the acquisitions are going to be different.

M: I totally agree. Look, I studied later than you, I am now 24 years old, and the same thing has happened to me. I remember that in primary school, at the end of each Social Science lesson, you have a mini-folio face in which they talk a bit about what happened in the culture and art of the time, and that’s it. Until Baccalaureate, and not always, because now you can perfectly pass your entire educational stage without being told about art in the absolute, there is no subject in which they talk about art. And not only that, but try to make it pleasant, without it being a list of names, dates and works that learn and vomit in an exam. I agree that it is educational, but it is true that we have some power to try something. We recently started a movement in The Art Market that consists of recording the heads of the auction houses talking about the lots they have at that time for sale, so that many people who think that going to an auction means having to buy, have to register, see that you can simply go to see the exhibitions of an auction house, just like a gallery, just like everything else.

J: It is that I believe that the problem in the end is what we say, it is knowledge. And then, there is also around the art system itself, the false belief that you have to understand everything, that the system is very complicated, and that if you do not understand something they will dismiss you as ignorant. This already generates a very important psychological barrier with respect to other disciplines, that is, literature. One reads a book and in the end you draw a conclusion that is also personal because you are reading it at home. But the reaction to a work of art in a gallery or in a museum is more public and it is that fear of “this is touchable?, how do I have to receive it?” And above all, “how do I have to intellectualize it?” That many times is not even necessary. That is to say, a work of art does not necessarily have to have an overwhelming conceptual well, that you have to know the theory of the atom to understand what they are saying to you. In that sense it is complicated. In the field of art, culture and market are being mixed in most cases, and this also makes it very difficult for many agents to reactivate themselves. We have even lived as certain political parties said that art was a matter of the rich or an elitist question, is to confuse a part with a whole, a whole with a part. Art involves many complexities that may not affect other disciplines. That is, one goes to the theater and is not thinking about the theater market and yet there is, or in the cinema, which is an industry, an industry like art. But nevertheless people do not stop to think about “look, this is a question of the rich” or of the poor, or of elites, or of non-elites. It is enjoyed in another way, much more separates what is the industry of aesthetic enjoyment, aesthetic enjoyment, or cultural enjoyment.

“Today, art is not made for society, art is not made for anyone to access”

M: I’m going to take up a bit of the subject that you bring up again, which is to understand in some fields of society that art is something elitist. Do you think that the collectors’ report is going to help that this is not the case, or just the opposite?

J: Well, let’s see, what the collectors report finally throws at you is that a hundred names have been collected and a hundred more could be collected. We are talking about two hundred people in a country that has fifty million inhabitants. Is it elitist? It is elitist the acquisition, maybe, but elitist in the sense that it is done by a few that do have some money, but it is quite precarious in the sense that they are very few. It is unthinkable, I have always said, that certain brands, companies that we have in Spain, which are large exporters that have impressive tentacles, do not have an art collection or do not support culture. That in the United States is unthinkable. In the United States in fact there is, on the part of the individual in itself, I do not speak of a company anymore, it is the Anglo-Saxon mentality that when you have reached a certain status it is in your mentality to have to give back to society that which has contributed to you, because you have made more or less a name or a fortune thanks to society. That idea of philanthropy in the Anglo-Saxon sphere is much more rooted, here in Spain that does not happen. The normal thing is that each one of the big companies that there are in this country had a reflection, I no longer tell you an art collection, that you invest in music or in the film industry, or in medicine, or whatever you want. That is much less. It is also true that we have many more complexes, we do not have a good patronage law, in short, there are many things that finally converge. But I think that the idea of philanthropy here is not developed at all.

M: In fact, I’ve talked a lot in various podcasts with Juan about the patronage law and its various stops, interruptions and problems. But hey, it would make a separate interview. And finally, not to steal much time, I wanted to ask you a question that we also asked Carlos to see if your opinion is different or shared. Do you think there is some kind of pattern in Spanish collecting?

J: He explained it very well in the report and I think I will welcome his response. Here there are snipers. Each one makes his war separately. That does not mean that if you have not been sufficiently informed, or you are moving by parameters that are not those of taste, desire or interest, it has not led to that in the end they have all been sold relatively the same. That is, if all the museums have agreed to praise certain names, or all the galleries have been eager and ready to place all the same authors or the same pieces, which has made us have fairly homogeneous collections. But I think that the Spanish collector is very heterogeneous, that each one does what they can, while in Latin collecting you see that they all follow the same patterns: they start to collect local, they always bet on the local, they let themselves be instructed and they continue collecting their artists, while here for a matter of snobbery we have always thought that if we put the title of an exhibition in English it is more international than putting it in Spanish. This leads us to stop collecting national artists to collect international artists, and that is what we are seeing in galleries and museums. I also blame my generation for that, which I consider to be the pedantic generation more than X. We have been the first generation to have lived in democracy, and we have been the first generation that has been able to educate well, travel, and do a series of things that previous generations have not been able to do, and that denotes a certain snobbery in the sense that we need to reflect our great knowledge in everything we do. It seems that in the end you are more, I do not know how to say it, smarter because you know the name of five Soweto artists but nevertheless you have no idea what is being done in the neighborhood of Carabanchel that you have next to your house and it is where a good part of Spanish art is developing. I do not know if I explain myself properly.

M: It really happens and it continues to happen in my generation. You only have to see the anglicisms that we use every day in our language only because we can, right? And to a certain extent it is a way to revile both language and Spanish culture, and until we are aware that we have a country rich in culture, rich in knowledge, and that defend or value it, or value your language is not a bad thing, if not the opposite, we will not go anywhere, unfortunately.

J: And that leads to a false eruditism too, which is reflected in catalogs, in curated texts, which also do not help, within these psychological barriers that we said before, to get people closer. That is to say, this is not fixed because it is doing it, I am not saying that everyone, but that the image that is transferred is that art is made for the world of art. Today, art is not made for society, art is not made for anyone to access. If that is like a leitmotiv that repeats a lot, “no, no, no, art is really within everyone’s reach, we want to reach the whole world” which is what you are constantly hearing from galleries, artists. But in the end the system itself is articulated in such a way that they are working for themselves, that is, and that is one of the reasons why we may not have more collectors, we do not have more visitors to exhibitions. I no longer tell you people who acquire work, but people who want to go to a museum or a gallery because they have the feeling that this is a private club that is being done for a few, not for me, they are going to to leave in evidence at the moment in which I am recognized that I do not belong to this club.

M: Yes. Why am I going to say no when yes? It is something that we both live, normally, in the art world. Well Javier, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for dedicate this time to us.

J: Thanks to you. I hope that something that I have been able to tell you has helped.

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