What I Buy and Why: London Collector Valeria Napoleone on Why She Exclusively Acquires Work by Women Artists
The Italian-born collector and philanthropist told us about the artists on her wishlist for the next year.
Italian-born collector Valeria Napoleone’s west London home is bursting with artworks, including impressive pieces by Nicole Eisenman, Shirin Neshat, Ghada Amer, and Lisa Yuskavage. She describes her highly personal—and highly exuberant—collection as “a choir of female voices.”
Napoleone has made it her mission to collect work by emerging and mid-career women artists, and her support often extends beyond simple purchasing power. In recent years especially, the spirited and stylish collector has collaborated with institutions including Contemporary Art Society in the U.K.. and SculptureCenter in New York to increase the presence of women artists in their collections and programming, respectively.
We caught up with the infectiously enthusiastic collector about everything from the first work she ever purchased to the most impractical artwork in her collection (hint: it involves water tanks!).
What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?
The first work I ever purchased was from an artist-run space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I bought a black-and-white photograph by the artist Carol Shaford for $500.
What was your most recent purchase?
I recently purchased a work by the American artist Katherine Bradford. She’s in her 80s, I believe. I bought the work from Kauffman Repetto in Milan where she just opened a solo show.
Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?
Right now I’m really focusing on mid-career artists—those who have been working for 20 or 30 years. I’ll always add younger artists as well, but I see so many established artists who are being a bit overlooked. I keep my wishlist on my phone, actually, so I’ll just read it to you: Firstly, I’d like to add a few more works by Margherita Manzelli, who is one of the artists I’ve had in my collection since the beginning. I think she’s one of the great artists of this generation. I’m also looking forward to adding more works by Amelie von Wulffen, Amalia Pica, and Monika Baer to my collection.
What is the most expensive work of art that you own?
It’s either a Lisa Yuskavage painting, True Blonde, that I bought early on, or Brooklyn Biergarten by Nicole Eisenman.
Where do you buy art most frequently?
From art galleries—over 20-plus years of collecting there are people I trust. But I’m adventurous and listen to artists and curators too. I have a network around me but I make every purchase myself. The journey of discovering artists is one that I cherish. I also buy from arts non-profits as well.
Is there a work you regret purchasing?
Not really! People ask me “What are your mistakes?” Well, I don’t think they are mistakes. I think of my collection as building a choir of female voices. I am quite focused on each work I buy and each is very important to the collection. Every work has to be my first choice. Looking back, my only disappointment is artists who have stopped working or have gone in a direction I can’t share in. But each work in this collection is one I really love.
What work do you have hanging above your sofa?
Over my sofa in my London apartment, I have Judith Bernstein’s The Birth of the Universe. Next to that is Nicole Eisenman’s Saggy Titties. Then, across from that, is True Blonde. That’s a very specific and powerful room.
What is the most impractical work of art you own?
Oh, the work that is most difficult to maintain and nurture is a work by the German artist Mariele Neudecker titled Much Was Decided Before You Were Born—it’s a water tank with solutions and chemicals. Inside the tank is a tree, upside down. The chemicals react with the water to create a kind of mist. With the water, we have to avoid moss and algae buildup. I love to look after artworks but this one is a challenge.
What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?
Quite a few! But there was a Cosima von Bonin sculpture of a dog that she had shown at Documenta and I didn’t buy it in time. It was really incredible.
If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?
Either a sculpture by Eva Hesse or a work by Cady Noland—a big installation if I’m not going to get caught!
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