Fear was the emotion that came to mind when Ana Gamazo was first approached about putting her private art collection on display.
Gamazo and her husband, prominent Spanish businessman Juan Abelló, had spent nearly three decades amassing some 500 pieces in a collection considered by Spanish curators to rank among the best in the world. But the collection had been guided by the pair’s personal taste, leaving Gamazo terrified of how revealing the exhibition would be. “What would critics say? What would people think of the art we own?”
The couple were eventually convinced and the Abelló Collection, currently on display at Madrid’s CentroCentro Cibeles, features 160 works spanning five centuries.
Her husband almost cried when he saw the exhibition, Gamazo said. “It was like he was seeing the pieces for the first time,” she said. “And he’s not a man who shows his feelings.” She motioned towards a painting of three portraits by Francis Bacon that went from hanging over a candle-laden coffee table in their salon to occupying a whole wall of the exposition. “It’s one thing to see a piece of art in your house, but a whole other thing to see it like this, with this light and staging.”
For curator Felipe Garín Llombart the toughest part lay in selecting which of the 500 or so pieces of the collection to put on display.
He built the exhibit so that it travels through time, beginning in the 15th century right up to a 20th century room that counts 14 works by Picasso and two by Dali alongside others by Juan Gris and Matisse.
“You could come here with an art student and explain the development of art,” he said. Spanish works are mixed in with others to contextualise their work; a Kandinsky sits in the same room as Rivera, Millares and Palazuelo while Miro sits facing Mark Rothko.
A highlight for Garín Llombart are the several pieces by Spanish artists such as Ribera and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo that were bought abroad and brought back to the country. “Spain has never been very careful about keeping its art in the country, so it’s incredible that this part of our history has been brought back.”
The Abelló Collection is the fourth in a series of exhibitions of private collections at the CentroCentro Cibeles. Behind the series lies the hope of encouraging a culture of art collection in Spain, said Francisco Bocanegra, the architect behind the exhibit’s design and layout. Save for a few high-profile collectors, Spaniards have traditionally lagged behind other countries when it comes to private collections, he said.
As museums across the country cut back on acquisitions in the wake of austerity measures, art galleries are also pinning their hopes on cultivating a culture of private art collection to stay afloat. Initiatives, ranging from gallery walks to art fairs that bring together dozens of galleries, have popped up across Spain in recent years with the goal of convincing Spaniards that art collecting isn’t a hobby solely for the rich.
The Abelló Collection runs at Madrid’s CentroCentro Cibeles until 1 March 2015. All proceeds from the exhibition will be donated to the Catholic charity Caritas.
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