Giorgio Fasol

Collecting is an art

28 FEBRUARY 2017,
Exhibition view, Santa Maria della Scala, Siena - Courtesy AGIVERONA Collection - Ph. Michele Alberto Sereni
Exhibition view, Santa Maria della Scala, Siena - Courtesy AGIVERONA Collection - Ph. Michele Alberto Sereni

Born in 1938. Giorgio Fasol is one of the leading Italian collectors with a particularly sensitive to the support of young artists. In 2010, the MART in Rovereto dedicated to him an exhibition curated by Giorgio Verzotti with the extraordinary cooperation of Hans Ulrich Obrist. Since then there have been various exhibitions dedicated to the AGI Verona Collection by Giorgio Fasol and his wife Anna. The most recent is Che il vero possa confutare il falso with the artist direction of Associazione Fuori Campo in Siena and the curatorship by Luigi Fassi and Alberto Salvadori, within Itinera project, promoted in close cooperation with Associazione Culturing and Comune di Siena. As the curators say Lucretius' quote is the key to understand the selected works in the exhibition "where the investigation of epistemological problems, the analysis of public and private memories, but also the reflection on social and political issues, are expressed by a rational analysis approach in which emotions and passions become part of a broader attempt to understand the world by art." I met Giorgio Fasol and asked him some questions about this show and more generally about his collecting activities.

How and when did your passion for art and the AGI Verona Collection born?

I have always been a collector: as a child I collected stickers, then newspapers and stamps. With reference to art you can find three significant moments in my career. The first is when I graduated. I went to the only art gallery in Verona because with my savings I wanted to buy a Morandi. I had no idea of the price, therefore when the gallery owner told me “one and a half million lire” I had to give up. Think that in 1958 it was really a lot of money: in fact, an employee earned 50,000 lire a month. The second significant period began in the mid 60's when my wife and I were inside a gallery in the center of Verona. We watched an art exhibition when someone from behind told us "don't look at the scabs but only at the true artworks”! I turned and saw a guy I did not know. We started talking. It was Renzo Sommaruga, a painter, poet, sculptor, musician and also printer of art books. He invited me to his house and when I arrived he had just finished to print a book by Quasimodo, which contained the poem The man of my time with attached 9 lithographs. I leafed through, there were Gentilini, Cantatore ... estimated artists at the time. I leaf further: Capogrossi. Immediately I saw the new, something very different from what I was used. The third moment is to be placed at the end of the '60s. With Sommaruga we went to the study of Ajmone, a Milanese painter, since Sommaruga wanted to print a book with Blanchard poems and some Ajmone lithographs. After a long wait Ajmone appeared with a A4 sheet with an oval and three holes. It was a Fontana. I was struck. So I started going regularly to visit exhibitions in Milan. We visited all we could. There was time only for an ice cream and a coffee.

I always had the desire to buy a Fontana and I had this opportunity with an exhibition in Brescia. Fontana had recently died, and the show was beautiful, like a museum. All the artworks were beautiful. I asked the price of the smaller artwork: 3,000,000 lire. I had only one so I proposed a contract according to which I would deposit some payments until to pay the full amount. And we did in this way. But the gallery owner told me "you are right in buying Fontana but I want that you see a work of a young artist who will be equally famous". He went in his stock and took a 180 x 250 cm white canvas with some "S" and black arrows. It was a Kounellis. But I did not know the artist but the work was really interesting. I had just made a significant debt so I gave up. In the '80s I began to be interested exclusively in young or very young artists. I bought Arienti, Cattelan, Eva Marisaldi and other young artists. To choose you must have intuition but first of all knowledge. If you have no knowledge you will successful one time but ten times you will be unsuccessful. If you have knowledge and intuition and luck as well then there will be more opportunities for success. When you buy a young artist you are running a risk. Mine is a contest against time. In 1999 I purchased Jim Lambie and Adel Abdessemed; Tino Segal in 2004 when he was still a young man. We went to Brescia to an exhibition by Minini. When I saw him I considered him the continuation of Duchamp practice: one showed the urinal, the other showed anything. Only the idea, the concept, going beyond Duchamp.

AGI Verona was born on the occasion of the Art fair in Bologna in 1988 when together with 4 other collectors we were invited to submit 5 artists. We did not want to present ourselves with our name. Thus it was born AGI (Anna and Giorgio) Verona (for the city). We created a cultural association that only recently we are using continuously. The collection includes more than 150 works and over the last five years it has participated in five exhibitions.

You defined your participation to the art world through three concepts (ignorance, awareness and research) representing the phases of your approach. How important is for a collector the passion? How important is the spirit of distinction? How important is the capital you can invest?

Among all the factors you mentioned, I believe that the most important is the passion. I did the accountant and many clients of mine told me "Can I invest in art?" I always answered "invest where you want but not in art because it takes a certain passion and knowledge." In your opinion who could follow me in the path that I have just told you? One stops at the first stop. My competition is not a contest with anyone. I want to be successful with myself. It is not a competition with others. I am aware of being a small collector because I have no considerable financial resources. To continue in collecting sometimes I have to sell. Every time I am at a crossroads: to stop or to sell? So there is no doubt that to operate in the art world as a collector you need money. I have a special love for my Fontana and I hope to never sell it. I repeat, however, the money is necessary. For example when I speaks in various talks always I say: why do you not buy graphics? multiple? I started from there and I have a beautiful Frank Stella. On the other hand I did not have much money, and especially in the beginning I bought leading artists. I had not the courage that then jumped out when I started collecting young artists. It is true that also the multiples have a price. Everything has a price. Even if you have to buy an ice cream you need money to pay it. You need a basis but this is proportionate to your possibilities. In Italy there are at least 50,000 people who consider themselves as artists. I consider as artist 250 persons knowing that it will remain 4 or 5 of these.

So let's choose one of these 250. When you go to a fair, even if it is ArtBasel, you can not visit all the stands. Even if you know the dealer and you trust in them, between their proposals you must choose the best artist and between the works by this artist you have to choose the best artworks. This is the mechanism that should be the basis of the process. You can see there a picture from 1600. I put it there because a customer of mine (a friend as well) after looking around said "I thought I had a serious accountant until I saw what you stuck on the walls!" So I put that work there, and when he returned he said,"this is real art!" Then I asked him why it was true art, and he said "for the precision with which the work was done." So I told him "see there, there is tar (a work by Manzoni) and the difference between the two artworks is four centuries of history, this means that you're back of four centuries (we were in confidence!). I have another anecdote: I am told that there are beautiful Arabic poems but I do not know Arabic, so how can I understand them? If I have the passion I have to study Arabic starting the alphabet, grammar and then reading articles, books, newspapers. At some point I will be able to read and understand the Arabic poetry; so I will be able to choose the best poet and their best poems.

I think there is a purely Italian reason by which we decide whether a work is more or less art. The reason lies in two gaps: one positive and one negative. The positive one is that we have 65% of world art up to 1800. We are not aware of the heritage we have, because we look only the GDP. We do not know the artistic heritage that all the world envy. The negative one is that the general public has no chance to get closer to contemporary art. I am reluctant to the fact that every city should have a museum of contemporary art because I realize that it has an incredible cost. So backing to the original question, I repeat that the most important factor is the passion. That is the reason why I am never tired and that gives me an incredible satisfaction. I'm retired for three years and many ask me "now that you're retired are you bored?" The answer is that now I have less time than before.

There is something that a collector should always do and something that they should never do?

The thing they should do is to be informed by learning not only contemporary art but also the ancient art since the ancient art helps a lot to understand the present. Especially the history of art. If you watch certain films the things we are saying now people said them in the 1600 or earlier. So the thing that one must do is to be updated regularly; the thing not to do is to buy only according to an instinct because there are many chances to make a mistake. If I see an interesting work I buy it without hesitation because I have 50 years in experience. Do you know how many kilometers we covered my wife and I? Do you know that my wife saw the center of Basel after 5 years that we went there? We arrived by car at 11 and after parking we went immediately to the fair until closing time.

I think that the Italian collector is really valuable. There are young people much more updated than me. Maybe I should learn from them. The problem is that you see more art by foreign artists than art by Italian artists. But why? In my opinion this situation is only minimally due to collectors, I say only 20%. The remaining 30% is for me due to the artists, another 30% to gallery owners and 20% to critics and curators. The Italian artist does not have enough curiosity, they are afraid of confrontation. But if I were an artist I would like to compare myself with the best artists and not only with those of my group. In addition, the gallery owners in proposing an artist they have to defend them also encouraging them to go out like parents do with their children when they reach a certain age. You should protect artists from auctions buying them at least with 10% more than the price proposed. I always buy from the dealer because I want to respect the mechanisms of the art system with five gears: the artist, the gallery owner, the critic-curator, the museums, the collector. If I bought directly from the artist I question this system. Who will promote that artist? the curators also have their faults: why didn't they propose Italian artists abroad? Did you see the latest Venice Biennale? Why didn't we do the other nations proposing one or two artists in the national pavilion?I am aware that the art world is not difficult but very difficult, where there are no written rules that you have to know if you don't want to be dead.

For the exhibition Che il vero possa confutare il falso you chose together with the curators and organizers works from your collection. But thinking of your entire collection is there a common thread that ties all the works? Which title might you give to your collection and why?

What ties all my works is the "fit of spark", the thunderbolt. Without that spark I do not buy works. I love all my works, even those made by those who didn't achieved success. For me they are all worthy and I say this because I believed in those artists. This is why I blame those dealers who do not believe all in their artists and do not promote them, or the curators who do not offer them chances or the museums that do not expose them or collectors who buy directly from the artists. At some point, the system no longer works. The passion should inspire all actors working in the world of art and all of which are important cogs in the system. I always purchase from the gallery because with my small or large purchases I lubricate the engine, the system.

AGI Verona association created by you and your wife has as its aim the promotion of contemporary art and international young artists. The long-term purpose of the association is to finance the opening of a space for cultural education linked to contemporary art. Many art experts looking at similar experiences created by international collectors have also coined the neologism EGOseums to define the museums created to held the collection of a private collector. In other words, the contemporary collector no longer wants to donate their collection to public museums with the risk that part of it remains hidden in a warehouse. No longer satisfied with a plaque at the entrance of the hall, the collector wants their personal museum. In your case and in the project about which you are thinking with your association how is true this definition? In the future will the private do the public?

I think there is a total lack of the public. There are few museums interested in acquiring a whole collection because they are already fully saturated and have no availability. The reason of the creation of private museums is because the public does not do it. The private museum although it works with public funds is never expensive like the public one. I do not see an abuse of power or a competition, because it lacks really a competition. In other countries, no one cares a certain show is organized by an art gallery. In Italy it will be the end of the world. I like when people ask me to exhibit my collection. It is normal. I am pleased to share the collection with the general audience who otherwise don't have the opportunity to see the works. I also wish that closed to my works there were other artworks because I always like to create opportunities for comparison. It is true that in Italy there are great collectors. They are the Everest and I am a hill but also from a hill you can see a beautiful view.