Collector's eye: Bruno Bolfo

The collector tells us what he has bought and why

Bruno Bolfo, founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Milan Courtesy of Bruno Bolfo

Bruno Bolfo, founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Milan Courtesy of Bruno Bolfo

In 2019, the Italian-born, Lugano-based collector Bruno Bolfo set up the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Milan, an exhibition and project space in the Ripamonti area near the Fondazione Prada, for which he now serves as a founding board member and vice president. With the mission of fostering cutting-edge art from across the world, the non-profit institution shares Bolfo’s approach to art, based on a love of conceptual art and a commitment to supporting emerging international artists.

After working at his family’s steel business for a decade, Bolfo decided last year to strike out on his own and set up Particle, an organisation that creates immersive art and design experiences. A new project on the theme of sustainability in collaboration with the Italy- and Singapore-based design studio Lanzavecchia+Wai will launch during the UN Climate Summit COP26 in Glasgow this November.

The Art Newspaper: What was the first work you bought?

Bruno Bolfo: It was a Marylin work by the Chilean artist Marcella Bonfanti, which I bought in 2007. I saw one of her works at a friend’s house and I loved it, so I went to Galleria Seno in Milan and purchased a work of hers immediately.

What was the most recent piece you bought?

A medium-sized orange oil-on-canvas painting by the American artist Nathlie Provosty.

Surveying your collection, what are some main themes that emerge?

I began collecting in university, and largely because of a limited budget I started with emerging artists, but that hasn’t stopped. My approach to collecting is very research based and it has drawn me towards conceptual art, which is what my collection mainly focuses on. Artists in my collection include the American artist Joseph Kosuth and the German Heinz Mack. I also collect post-war work by artists such as Jonas Mekas, paintings by Idris Khan, and fashion photography. There are a lot of Italians but I don’t collect just one nationality. A friend of mine noticed that I’ve been collecting mainly women artists, but that isn’t a conscious choice. I collect what I’m interested in and what excites me.

You enjoy collecting with your wife. Do you two ever disagree about art?

I never disagree with her choices, but sometimes she doesn’t like what I choose. For example, I bought a sculpture by the Filipino artist Ronald Ventura that she doesn’t like, but it’s in the middle of the house, so she has to deal with that.

What is the longest time you’ve taken to buy a work of art?

A work by the Cypriot artist Haris Epaminonda, who creates sculptures using found objects and materials. It took over six years to find the right one. I looked around different galleries, auctions, and then I ended up finding two at once. One is an installation that was shown at Documenta 14 and the other is a sculpture that was later exhibited at the Kunsthalle Lisbon.

Keith Haring’s Andy Mouse works are what made me fall in love with art

If your house was on fire, what would you grab?

I don’t know to be honest, maybe a Haris Epaminonda—it’s not an easy choice.

If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?

Definitely Keith Haring. I first saw his work during an art history lecture at university, and the one that really caught my attention was his 1986 series Andy Mouse—those works are what made me fall in love with art. I would love to talk to Haring about art, about its power to engage people, about current topics and… anything else.

If money was no object, what would you buy?

Keith Haring. I have my wish list in my mind, but when I decide to buy one, I will look for the right one that will fit in my collection.

Which work do you regret not buying when you had the chance?

A sculptural installation by the Italian artist Monica Bonvicini.