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Interview with M. Wolfson

Libro Nuova Architettura

What is the spirit of the collection?

The collection is a reflection of the contemporary information age culture. I find that an image communicates more completely than a word picture. Collecting images and points of view is my main activity.

What do you want to communicate through the works you collect?

I like the idea of stimulating people’s curiosity, of asking people to reflect. I guess I am mostly a provocateur. What I like best is the message that art reveals, it is this message that I want to document and broadcast as snapshot of our times.
Collecting of course is a kind of egocentrism. I accept my role as a digger who searches and finds. An egocentric in everyday life, but I don’t think myself as an egocentric collector, I prefer to define myself as a conservationist because of my desire to discover, but not to possess.
The challenge is to save endangered objects that are ignored or not held in admiration by others. Yes, I consider myself something of a missionary, but mainly what I do is meant to be shared with the public.

How did you develop a passion for collecting?

It all began in Miami where I was born. While at school, my love of collecting manifested itself, but I was truly born with a collecting instinct and yes, my parents and teachers helped me to recognize and develop this quality. I mean to stimulate people to think. And while I don’t feel a collector, I rather consider myself an archaeologist whose mission is to save and study objects rather than look aggressively for them.

Which is your favourite piece, the one you love less, the one you are sorry not to possess?

I don’t collect with the intent to keep anything, therefore I am not a slave or particularly tied to anyone object. However I certainly remember with enormous pleasure the first object bought when I was 12: it was a book by T.S. Coleridge, the magical and romantic Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. However with that purchase came my first mistake as a collector. My book was a second, not a first edition.
I can say that what I like less are glass objects, however glass breaks it is impossible to repair. I don’t mourn any lost or broken object. Like every collector I am very tenacious and a little perverse. I would do anything to get a piece that I liked or that I felt completed a thought. If I am really interested in an object I would try to acquire it in anyway. It has happened that I had to bargain for 25 years as in the case of La Notte by Cambellotti. The family would not sell me that piece until I swore not to export it.

Which is the last object you have bought?

The most recent purchase is a collection of posters from the province of Parma and Piacenza regarding the Republic of Salò 1943-45 where the theme is forced labour and military authority. Also recently I bought some sketches for futurist posters and books and magazines illustrated by Rubino.

Where do you buy your objects?

I don’t mind bargaining, but I hate to buy at auctions because at an auction one never has a direct contact with anybody, but the auctioneer. So what’s the exchange? No conversation, not for me. Further as I have already said I prefer that the objects look for me and not me for them. But I do buy often and everywhere.

Do you like buying?

I get pleasure through exchange. I like to exchange one value for another, in this case money for an object. But it’s the contact with an individual that makes such an activity so exciting, as it ofttimes happens with the seller, a lover of collecting, or anybody else. Sometimes it happens that I exchange one object for another as in the case of the 7 pianos made by Tallone on an island in the lake of Orta in exchange for an August Endell dining room suite from the former East Berlin. At that time an antique dealer friend of mine from Piacenza had told me that in Berlin there was a state store which exchanged pianos for antiques. After some give and take the exchange was achieved.

Do you buy by instinct or are you looking for something particular?

A purchase may not be liked, but needed. Before I decide to buy an object I think whether it belongs to the narrative or not. Truth and beauty don’t interest me particularly. I am interested in the language of objects. My approach to bargaining has changed. Once it was based on instinct, but today it is based on instinct and research.

What is public's reaction?

Generally the reaction is positive and that satisfies me but in the beginning I ignored the public reaction. Even if I had a negative feedback, I continued to work in a way that I believed right. In Miami when the collection opened to the public, it was considered with shock and the collection has gone from junk to things and now to objects. Many now consider these objects valid documents of an epoch, so it all seems pretty successful.

Are you also interested in the economic aspect of collecting? What is your collection worth?

Usually buying means expending. However my collection is not an expense, but simply the result of exchanging one value for another. I like to share the exchange process and I have been very fortunate with the people I met in these relationships. To collect has an aesthetic side, too. I am admiring of the motivation and thought behind the objects and I respect the maker. I think all this comes from my zodiac sign, Libra, a zodiac sign which is inclined to admire beautiful things.

What do you collect for yourself?

Personally I don’t collect anything for myself. Sure I have kept something at home, but it has to do more with décor than design. In fact the spaces are very theatrical, but not very comfortable. Some objects have no economic value, but create the right atmosphere that might be too beautiful to be used and too ugly to be discounted.

Who inspired you and who is inspiring you at the moment?

Fortunally, I come from a well to do family and my father and mother were both intelligent collectors. I have a natural curiosity and together with my studies in the liberal arts have joined to guide me. My teachers enlightened me and my parents encouraged me and the curiosity was always there. The enquire into human behaviour and human surround gave me access to myself as well as to my fellows. I could not live outside the dynamics of engagement with things. Because it is through this dialogue that I came to know the objects as witnesses to time.

How do you remember your parents?

From my parents I inherited a 1964 Fleetwood Cadillac, 110 horses and $ 10.000. The horses were soon sold I am allergic to horses. My father was born on an island 90 km from Havana and my mother came from a typical Southern American small town, Pensacola, Florida.
My father, a brilliant businessman and humanist, founded a university where he gave all his money. Today it is called Miami Dade College and is one of the largest and most prestigious universities of its kind in the United States.

What peaks up your curiosity?

New beginnings excite me. It’s how I live. Conversations create new situations that I try to respond to. Then I want people to see things the way I do.

Can you be defined collector of object from that period?

For me collecting means to maintain, to curate and to shape. It is to remember a period that began our era. It is a time that I belong to, being born in 1939. Through my collection I give life to inanimate objects in order that they become witnesses of history, “my history”: the objects I have are my autobiography.

Some of the objects you collected belong to a particular historical period; when you started your collection did you realize this bad atmosphere around the period you have documented?

You must not confuse the motivation with the aesthetics. The object is testimony of a period in which it cannot express an opinion. Objects have a language ordered in a certain way to communicate. The value and the ideas are expressed through the artist. This collection represents the human spirit and intellect during a period of strategic importance to history. With the help of Italian and American scholars, the collection succeeds in not confusing substance with surface. No judgement is imposed: one is invited to think.

Is the genovese collection still yours or has it been given to the Fondazione Colombo?

The collection is entrusted to the Fondazione Colombo. Hopefully soon it will be donated to them.

What is your relationship with the scholars?

It’s a professional relationship. I often ask for advice and listen to their point of view. The Italian and American professionals help me to understand the collection as a propaganda tool. History, in fact, can give information, but never judgements.

What do museum professionals look after?

They look after the data base at the Study Centre, the offices in via Asilo Grbarino and the new museum in Nervi; they look after the presentation and the study of the objects in order to document the historical period to which all this belongs.

What is the function of Centro Studi?

All the objects are to be researched; for this reason they are put at the disposal of the students and other people interested in the subject.

Can you tell us something about The Wolfsoniana?

The presentation of the works will take place through temporary exhibition made up of not only Wolfson’s material, but also other works outside the collection. Besides the temporary exhibition, exists a section dedicated to the permanent exhibition of some art works. Wolfsoniana will be a museum where people will be able to visit several times a years.