“I didn’t like art history very much. I hated painting and drawing nudes; I found it incredibly boring,” confides Anita Zabludowicz of her early days at art school in Newcastle, where she trained to be an interior architect. Little wonder, then, that once she began collecting seriously in the mid-1990s, her tastes would run to the abstract, conceptual and cutting edge, with a particular fondness for German post-war painting, video and digital works (it was seed money from Zabludowicz that established the Tate’s Film and Video Special Acquisitions Fund in 2003). Along with her husband, Poju, the chief executive of the equity firm Tamares, she buys in depth and rarely sells. The couple’s collection now numbers around 3,500 works, many by the young artists they have hosted in residencies in London, Las Vegas, New York and Sarvisalo, Finland. Their contemporary art space in London’s Kentish Town, the Zabludowicz Collection, is celebrating its tenth birthday with The Root, an exhibition by Rebecca Ackroyd (until 5 November), as well as a new commission by the sound artist Haroon Mirza (until 17 December). While her commitment to emerging artists is steadfast, Zabludowicz has lately been exploring their influences, such as the 1970s film-maker Ericka Beckman. “It’s funny, the way younger artists are making us look back,” she says.
The Art Newspaper: How did you first get into collecting?
Anita Zabludowicz: I was on a tour of the High and Low show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, back in 1990 or 1991. I’d never seen anything like it before—not since I was a little girl and was mesmerised by a story on Claes Oldenburg in my mother’s copy of Reader’s Digest. I met a woman on the tour, Jill Bernstein, and asked her what she did. She said she was an art collector. It had never occurred to me that one could do that, and I thought I might like to do it, too.
What was the first work you bought?
I decided I was going to collect Modern British—that’s where I felt comfortable. The first piece I bought was a Ben Nicholson painting, Box and Cox, which I bought at Sotheby’s in 1994. I was so nervous I left the room, then returned and wound up mistakenly bidding against myself! I was so upset; I paid £3,000 more than I should have. I still have it to this day, though, because it’s so beautiful.
What is your most recent purchase?
Josh Kline’s sculpture 99% Recyclable (2016), from the Leonardo DiCaprio benefit auction in July. We’ve been collecting Kline for around five or six years. Also, my daughter Tiffany runs a residency in New York, and over the summer we bought a couple of paintings by Dale Lewis. They’re quite amazing. They’ll hang in the lobby of Poju’s real-estate office this year.
What is the most expensive piece in your collection?
Several years ago, we acquired an important 1960s [Sigmar] Polke through Ivor Braka. I don’t know if we should be announcing we got that one, otherwise I’ll have every dealer in the world on me! It has gone up in value hugely since. But what do you do with it? When it’s that expensive, you can’t put it on your wall, you can’t show it. We’ve had it up a couple of times, but most of the time it’s in storage, which is crazy.
If your house was on fire, which work would you save?
I’d probably save my little Ben Nicholson I bought all those years ago. It’s just so perfect. For my last birthday, my husband bought me an Anish Kapoor pendant, and for the collection’s anniversary, I bought myself a Koons necklace, so I’d probably save those as well.
Which work in your collection requires the most maintenance?
We have all these amazing technological works by Nam June Paik, Haroon Mirza, Ed Atkins, Paul Pfeiffer—they need maintenance all the time. You can’t get spare parts. We are the stupidest collectors in the world—we’ve been collecting analogue since the 1990s and haven’t learned our lesson. So when virtual reality arrived, we were the first to show it, with Jon Rafman in 2015. And it’s moving so fast, that work is going to be archaic in two years’ time.
Which artists, dead or alive, would be your dream dinner party guests?
Well, I love Keith Tyson, he’s a great guy. I love Jon Rafman. I love Simon Denny and Ed Atkins, Chloe Wise, and my favourite, Dora Budor. Donna Huanca, Haroon Mirza and Laurel Nakadate. Ed Fornieles, he’s fun… all my artists are alive, so I could actually throw this party. We do, sometimes.