A Walk Through Frieze London With Super-Collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo

Ever wondered what it’s like to be a fly on the wall in an art fair booth of VIP day? We found out thanks to the Italian power philanthropist and museum founder.

Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Photo by Stefano Sciuto.

There are collectors who follow the herd and chase safe, trophy art. And there are collectors who know their mind, their artists, and who, on VIP day at a major art fair, make swift and informed purchases beyond the mega-galleries. Turin-based Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo falls into the latter category. The eminent European collector gave artnet News a whistlestop tour of Frieze London on Wednesday morning when it opened to VIPs at 11 a.m. What started out as a chat over a coffee turned into an high-intensity, 18-gallery power canter without a cappuccino break. 

“Let’s go! Andiamo!” she says. And we’re off. The “we” includes Sandretto Re Rebaudengo’s son, Eugenio Re Rebaudengo, who runs the art platform Artuner with his fiancé Olga Donskova. Fair map in hand, Irene Calderoni, the curator of the collector’s Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, is our navigator. Toronto-born, London-based artist Paul Kneale comes along, too. His work is in the group show curated by Eugenio and Olga that opened at the Italian Cultural Institute in London for Frieze Week.

“I love to visit a fair with an artist,” Patrizia explains. For an artist (and arts journalist), the experience is a bit like visiting a fair with your favorite (and ever supportive) auntie. She admits that when she thinks an artist is fantastic, “I become a bit like a mother.” She has recently had tech-savvy American artist Josh Kline as a house guest. “I learned so much about AI,” she tells me. 

First stop: Sadie Coles’s booth, where Patrizia makes a beeline for the British artist now known as Monster Chetwynd. Her arrival on the booth sets the tone for the rest of the tour. If a gallery director is talking to another collector, as Sadie Coles was, Patrizia steps back and waits patiently. “They are working,” she explains. When Coles is free, they greet as old friends and then turn to the artist’s work on view.

“Monster is producing a new performance and new work for the fondazione,” Patrizia explains. The show opens in Turin on November 2nd. “I am here in a double role.” She is in London to buy work for the collection and also to find work to show at her foundation in Turin, plus her David Adjaye-designed space in Madrid, which is due to open in 2020. 

Beyond the Mega-Galleries 

Wherever we go, the reception is the same. Patrizia needs no introduction to dealers, including Daniel Buchholz, José Kuri of Kurimanzutto, Pilar Corrias, Nicholas Logsdail at Lisson—where her collecting began in the early 1990s—ditto Lisa Spellman at 303 Gallery and Maureen Paley.

Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo’s first Frieze London 2018 purchase is Paulina Olowska’s haunting work The She-Ornitologist (2018) at Foksal.

Andrzej Przywara at Foksal, the Warsaw-based gallery, which is our second stop, is delighted to see her. Ten minutes into the fair, he is even happier. Patrizia makes her first purchase with a minimum of fuss and after a brief conferral with her son. It is Paulina Olowska’s The She-Ornitologist (2018), a full-length portrait painting of her friend, the late Italian artist Chiara Fumai, holding owls. The purchase is personal for the collector, too. It is also tinged with sadness as Olowska has created a posthumous portrait. (Fumai killed herself last year.) “It is part of our story,” Sandretto Re Rebaudengo says. It is important to be decisive, she adds.

Next stop: Sfeir-Semler of Beirut and Hamburg. After a “ciao” and brief chat with gallery director Andrée Sfeir-Semler, we focus on the Lebanese artist Rayyane Tabet’s installation based on ancient fragments from Tell Halaf in Syria that the artist found in the stores of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Contemporary artists from the Middle East whose work has an archaeological dimension is a particular area of interest. Her foundation works with Turin’s Egyptian Museum so that it can include contemporary interventions amid the ancient mummies.

The galleries, museums, and artists with which her foundation is working come thick and fast. At Zeno X of Antwerp, she is seriously interested in Mark Manders’s new sculptures. “We started working with him in 2000,” she says, adding that she hopes he will make something monumental for the foundation. “Now we go to 303 Gallery,” she announces.

There Alicja Kwade’s new sculpture resembles the brass section of an orchestra tied into an elegant knot. Patrizia supported the young Polish artist’s work at the 2017 Venice Biennale. She went to see it on Tuesday at London’s Hayward Gallery, where it is again a standout piece, this time in the exhibition “Space Shifters.” A prolific lender as well as collector, Patrizia says, “I am so happy it is there.” She is a member of the Tate’s acquisition circle and a trustee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among the many institutions she supports.

Venice Back in the Day 

New York’s 303 Gallery founder and director Lisa Spellman and Patrizia first met at the Venice Biennale. “In 1995—no, 1993,” she corrects herself. “There were no boats, no parties. There were just small dinners with curators, artists, and museum directors.”

There’s more Mark Manders at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, including an unusual painted wooden object on parquet flooring. Fresh from the studio, it catches Patrizia’s attention. Maybe it’s a possibility. She adds that she would like to work with Manders on a show with the foundation. “Maybe in 2020,” she says. It all depends on the artist. Refreshingly, there is no sense of entitlement with the collector and private museum founder. Artists’ egos and schedules come first.

When it comes to price points, most works she asks about range from the tens of thousands of euros to the low one hundreds. When Johann König tells her that he knows a collector willing to sell a piece by Elmgreen & Dragset now on loan to their show at London’s Whitechapel Gallery (which she visited the day before), she is cautiously interested. König thinks around €160,000 ($184,000) will secure the work. “I am not so interested in the market, but it is good to know the prices of artists you follow,” Patrizia explains.

Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo owns works by Laure Prouvost. The collector learns more about her new tapestry, Ahead of Us (2018), at Lisson Gallery.

At White Cube, founder Jay Jopling talks to Patrizia through the new paintings by the Chinese artist Liu Wei, who has designed the uncharacteristic stand filled with partitions. There’s a fly-on-the-wall moment for artnet News as Jopling consults a price list (north of £300,000, or $390,000, for a large canvas) to find out which of the colorful, vaguely landscape-ish paintings are still available less than two hours after the fair opened for business.

“That’s going to a museum, there are a few things on hold, this is sold, that is sold,” he says. Liu is having a Damien Hirst moment—painting the canvases himself after a history of working with assistants. Patrizia, who began collecting at White Cube when YBAs were young, owns a geometric work by the Chinese artist created by his assistants—just as Hirst’s spot paintings were made before the British artist’s new “DIY-daubist” phase.

Patrizia takes the listing of sold works in her stride. She says that galleries have been sending collectors like her lists of what is on show all week. She knows many have pre-sold. Does she ever buy from a jpg? The answer is yes—and she even remembers when galleries would send slides before the advent of digital images. “There is always something available,” Eugenio tells me. He has been a collector of mainly younger artists for the past 10 years. She credits him with introducing her to many new names. Team Sandretto is a smooth operation at a fair, which they usually visit methodically, aisle by aisle. (artnet News was given a route-one Frieze experience. Focus, the section for younger galleries, was down for later in the day.)

Come to Turin

Patrizia has witnessed a lot of changes over the past three decades, not least the rise of the Chinese art market and its private museum boom. She is on the board of Shanghai’s Rockbund Museum, and its curators have organized a show now on at her Turin foundation. It’s to Turin’s Galleria Franco Noero that we go to next. “This is the best gallery in Italy. It is fantastic,” she says. When she bumps into curators and collectors and they say, “Yes, I’m coming to Turin” —and she is delighted. 

The collector will go the extra mile for an artist she believes in. When the young Argentinian sculptor Adrián Villar Rojas wanted to ship hundreds of tons of stone to her Turin foundation—and added in fish, cheese, and fruit, which he left to decay—Patrizia and curator Irene Calderoni took a deep breath and backed the project called Rinascimento (2016) for its duration. They even demolished a wall to get the work in. “Patrizia is very brave,” says José Kuri, the co-founder of Mexico City’s Kurimanzutto. “She takes impossible projects and makes them possible.” 

“Memories Arrested in Space,” October 1 through November 9, Italian Cultural Institute, London, 39 Belgrave Square SW1X 8NT.

Monster Chetwynd, Rachel Rose, and Andra Ursuța solo exhibitions open on November 2, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo,Turin . 

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.