Collecting with Purpose

Mary Rozell, Global Head of the UBS Art Collection, speaks with inspiring collectors making their mark through very different approaches

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“What is most interesting to me is what one does with art,” says Mary Rozell, Global Head of the UBS Art Collection, “and how one can reap the most benefits, the most enjoyment, but also have an impact.”

Rozell’s book, ‘The Art Collector’s Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Acquiring and Owning Art’, is an in-depth resource guiding collectors through this enriching journey, including how they might make a difference through their collections. To mark its launch, UBS and the Financial Times hosted a conversation led by Jan Dalley, Arts Editor, FT, featuring Rozell and two trailblazing collectors doing just that.

Karen Boros describes how, as the Boros Collection grew, she and her husband sought a space where they could offer people a unique experience. The building they settled on was truly remarkable: a labyrinthine former bunker in Berlin, where, she says, “you walk through history.” To date, they have welcomed more than 600,000 visitors, who are guided through the space by a team of 30 students. The couple also runs the Boros Foundation, which supports external projects such as the recent ‘Studio Berlin’ – an exhibition of contemporary art staged in the techno club Berghain1.

Arthur Lewis is Partner & Creative Director of UTA Fine Arts and Artist Space – a role which, he explains, evolved from a love of “being around art and artists.” UTA Fine Arts collaborates with globally recognized talent and emerging creatives from all walks of life to produce distinct, mixed-media exhibitions, presented at UTA Artist Space2 in Beverly Hills. As a collector, Lewis gravitated naturally toward works by Black artists, particularly women. “I noticed that there was a significant gap in how these artists were being viewed, and who was being shown in institutions and it really didn't make any sense to me.” Collecting these artists has become his “purpose.”

Central to both Boros’s and Lewis’s ethos are deep-rooted relationships with artists. For Lewis, some of those whom he has followed from the outset of their soaring careers are now “like family.” The Boros Collection, too, places a strong emphasis on emerging talent – something which Boros feels connects her to “the pulse of this time.”

As custodian of more than 30,000 works spread across about 700 global locations, Rozell is in a unique position, but explains that longstanding relationships with artists are also at the heart of the UBS Art Collection. Another key principle is the importance of sharing works through a program of loans and exhibitions as well as through the UBS Art Gallery which opened to the public at UBS’s New York headquarters at 1285 Avenue of the Americas in May 2019.

This resonates both with Boros, whom Rozell applauds for stepping in “to fill a gap in a contemporary space that wasn't being addressed by museums,” and Lewis, who believes his role can extend to supporting museums as they seek to incorporate more Black artists into their collections. This strategy, he explains, is “filling the void better than anything I could ever do on my own.”

All three note that their commitment and enthusiasm have remained undimmed throughout the COVID-19 crisis, while the gift of time has only increased their engagement. Studio Berlin, for example, was developed to highlight works by 117 young artists created during the pandemic. “There's been a lot of thoughtful collecting going on,” Rozell reflects, before looking ahead to how 2020’s new approaches and digital platforms will impact the art world: “I do think the future will be hybrid, and that will be most welcome.”

‘The Art Collector’s Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Acquiring and Owning Art’ is out now, published by Lund Humphries.

December 2020