At 40, Alex Petalas appears more seasoned than your average older-millennial collector. Thanks to his family’s shipping business, the Swiss-Greek qualified solicitor has been buying art since his late 20s. He opened The Perimeter in 2018, a non-profit, private art space in a renovated Bloomsbury mews house where he stages two exhibitions a year based around his collection. Recent shows have included the group exhibition of Black artists, Citizens of Memory, with works by Cassi Namoda and Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, and the first London solo show of the 106-year-old Cuban-American painter Carmen Herrera outside of her gallery Lisson. A co-chair of Tate Young Patrons, Petalas maintains that his collecting ethos is more conservative than that of his peers: he virtually never sells at auction and rarely buys off jpeg file. As Sarah Lucas’s Bunny sculptures go on show at The Perimeter, we ask Petalas about what he buys and why.
The Art Newspaper: What was the first work you bought?
Alex Petalas: My art space is actually named after my first ever purchase, a spherical metal sculpture called The Perimeter (2009) by Eva Rothschild, who represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale in 2019. I bought it at a solo show of hers in 2011 at Stuart Shave [Modern Art].
What is your most recent buy?
A Mohammed Sami painting at Art Basel from Modern Art’s stand. I’d just seen his work at Mixing it Up: Painting Today at the Hayward Gallery. I also bought three photographs from Empty Gallery’s stand at Liste [art fair in Basel] by Taro Masushio, based on a little-seen archive of homoerotic photographs by the photo technician, Jun’ichi En’ya.
Where do you keep your works?
Most are in a storage facility outside of London but I rotate the collection fairly often. Of the works that are on show, probably less than 10% are at home, and the rest are at The Perimeter, because I like giving works a lot of space and having quite pared-back hangs and installations.
If your house was on fire, which work would you save?
A Steven Shearer painting, also bought from Modern Art, dated to 2007/2014, because it’s small enough to carry and he doesn’t make work that often.
If money were no object, what would be your dream purchase?
A Vermeer; I love his style of painting and there are so few of his works in existence. Would I feel guilty about owning one of 35-odd existing works? Absolutely not! I’d be over the moon.
What is the most surprising place you have displayed a work?
One of the site-specific works I commissioned for The Perimeter is by Prem Sahib. It’s a mirror that turns into a light box, which is installed in the bathroom. I feel like that might be the most unusual place.
Which artists, dead or alive, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I don’t have a huge amount of artist friends but the few I have are all women and I’d want them all there. So: Rachel Jones, who showed work at Citizens of Memory, Allison Katz, Zoe Leonard and Anj Smith, who is having a solo show at The Perimeter during Frieze 2022. All of them are contemporaries, too, so we’d all feel comfortable around each other. I’m not the best cook, so I’d order in fancy sushi.
What’s the best collecting advice you have been given?
Don’t get too hung up on missing an opportunity because there are always more. There is so much art out there, you’re always going to see something else and fall in love with something else.
Which work do you regret not buying when you had the chance?
Despite that sage advice above, I still, of course, have regrets. For me, it’s probably not owning more Carmen Herrera paintings. I discovered her fairly early on and it would be great to have purchased more of her work.
Have you ever bought an NFT?
No, I haven’t, and I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future. Which isn’t to say I don’t collect digital art—I have video works by Ragnar Kjartansson and Laure Prouvost—but no NFTs.