First published: Spring 2014
My partner, Antonio Saint Silvestre, and I have been collecting art together for over 40 years. I began visiting the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne from an early age, as my parents were living in Switzerland, and it left a deep impression on me. Antonio, being a self-taught sculptor and having exhibited in a number of galleries, later helped me to understand the art market. Twenty years ago we decided to open our own gallery in Paris as we shared the view that the artists we were interested in were not being correctly represented at the time. We both possess similar tastes and so selecting works for our collection has been a fairly smooth process.
We come from very different backgrounds: I am an Ashkenazic Jew, raised in the Victorian tradition in the fading light of the British Empire, while Antonio is a Latin Roman Catholic who grew up amid the charm and cultural diversity of the nearly intact Portuguese Empire. Being a Zimbabwean and a Mozambican though, we do of course have Africa in common. Africa gave us a taste for the natural and the primitive. It has helped us to appreciate mystery and the spirit of inanimate objects.
I don’t think we consciously chose Art Brut as our niche, but when we started dealing with Art Brut galleries we were deeply touched by the sincerity and magic in the works of the artists who we met; they demonstrated astounding creativity and independence. Being completely immersed in the unique worlds they created, often working in secret, we saw their works as monuments to intelligence, sensitivity and freedom.
We have mixed with academically trained artists, but we often found that their goals were a little too organised for us. We prefer the chaotic and the unpredictable. The result of uprootedness, discontent, madness, obsession or solitude can crystallise the unconscious desires of the creator in the most unique ways. Perhaps it is because we are both immigrants, always on the move, that we feel drawn to these unstable, different and eccentric artists. We feel that Art Brut deserves a prominent place in the history of art.