Jacobo Fiterman: “I received from the artists more than I gave them.”

December 2005

Jacobo Fiterman is the president of Fundación Alon para las Artes (the Alon Foundation for the Arts) and advisory president of ArteBA, the art fair he directed for many years. A civil engineer by profession, he came in contact with art and artists at the end of the 1950s, when he frequented the Teatro del Pueblo (Theater of the People). There, he met Carlos Alonso, with whom he has a deep friendship. He admires artists and finds a space of enormous personal satisfaction in art.

Arte al Día: How was the exhibition shown at the Alon Foundation “Colección de arte contemporáneo” (Contemporary Art Collection) organized? 

Jacobo Fiterman: Although the foundation has existed since 1991, it was only after I left the presidency of ArteBA that I gave it a strong boost.  Having opened a renovated headquarters, I thought it was important as a presentation to the public to ask Mercedes Casanegra to select works from my collection according to her criteria.

AAD: What is contemporary art? 

JF: I inquired many times about how to define contemporary art. From my point of view, it includes those artworks that maintain their currency over time. In this show there is a piece by Fernández Muro next to one by Burgos, which coexist very well together. The first one is still current, so a work executed in the 60s can be contemporary art. 

AAD: What other exhibitions and activities does the Foundation organise? 

JF: It mainly carries out research on the work and life of masters of the visual arts, in addition to exhibitions, publications, a documentation center, a library with reference material for students at the UBA (University of Buenos Aires), the IUNA (National University of the Arts), and other private establishments dedicated to the study of the visual arts. 

AAD: Could you tell us specifically which exhibitions were sponsored by the Alon Foundation? 

JF: “Mal de Amores y otros males” (“Love sickness and other ailments”) (2002) together with a publication of a text by Fabián Lebenglik; “El artista ilumina su biblioteca” (“The artist lights up his library”) (2003); “El mundo de Manuel Mujica Láinez” (“Manuel Mujica Láinez’ World”) (2004); “Carlos Alonso en el infierno” (“Carlos Alonso in Hell”) (2004), with a publication of a text by Raúl Santana; “Adaptaciones Urbanas” (“Urban Adaptations”) (2005); “Mitologías” (“Mythologies”) (2005); and “En la palma de la mano. Artistas de los 80” (“In the Palm of the hand. Artists from the 80s”) (2005), an exhibition based on the book by Victoria Verlichak; also, the presentation of the exhibition “Hay que Comer” (“Eating is a must”) by Carlos Alonso at IVAM (Institut Valencià d’Art Modern); “Retratos de Cervantes” (“Cervantes’ Portraits”) during the Congreso de la lengua (Language Conference).  Among the publications I also highlight “Carlos Alonso, (auto) biografía con imágenes” (“Carlos Alonso, (auto) biography with images”) (2003), “Dante” (2003), “Luminosa Espiritualidad” (“Luminous Spirituality”) (2004,) and “Hay que comer” (“Eating is a must”) (2005).

AAD: How would you define this calling of yours to buy art? 

JF: I would define myself as a non-educated compulsive collector. I collect bronze stamps, inkwells, hand door knockers, etc. And of course, art. But with this exhibition, I feel that my collection has reached another dimension with the point of view of a curator. And I have decided to continue in this direction. 

AAD: And you have many works by Carlos Alonso.

JF: Yes, about two hundred. 

AAD: What is your criteria when you buy a work?

JF: In the beginning I used to buy works that represented the human figure. Little by little and almost without realizing it, I began to acquire works of abstract art, starting with Gurvich and Alpuy among the Uruguayans, and Maccio, Deira and Prior, among others, as an approach to abstraction. Now I buy pieces with the intention of creating a collection, for example, Paternosto. I have already bought six paintings by him. Now, I am following a more defined criterion.

AAD: How did the Alon Foundation for the Arts come about? 

F: For many years I was the president of ArteBA and when I left its presidency, I realized that I lacked contact with the artists. One day, I decided to reopen the foundation. Alon has existed since 1991.  So I started to do exhibitions and publications related to art. The first exhibitions I did in this second stage were at the Centro Cultural Recoleta (Recoleta Cultural Center). One of them was “El artista ilumina su biblioteca” (“The artist lights up his library”). I’ve always liked the relationship between literature and painting.  Once I got into this métier, I had the challenge of making Alonso’s book “Retrospectiva en imágenes” (Retrospective in Images). I applied financial engineering to the service of art. As a result, Alonso became the owner of 3500 copies of his book without paying a penny

AAD: When did you start buying art?

JF: I’ve always liked art. When I was a student I used to buy art books. In the 1940s there were a lot of concursos de manchas (spots contests) and I would approach budding artists and buy something from them. After I turned professional, the first work I bought was a Castagnino gouache at an auction. But my connection with art started before that. At the end of the 50s I went to the Teatro del Pueblo and the artists who exhibited there were linked to the left-wing. The Di Tella Institute, directed by Romero Brest, was pointing the other way. I bonded with the artists who exhibited at the Teatro del Pueblo: Castagnino, Berni, and Policastro, among others. And there is where I met Carlos Alonso.  I went to see him and began to buy works from him. We used to meet for lunch with Alonso, Berni, and Castagnino at Petrone’s and I grew and learned from them.  

AAD: Do you frequent art shows to keep up to date?

JF: Yes, I always go to art shows. 

AAD: What’s your search for right now? 

JF: I’m working on the idea of prioritizing my collection. I get advice from Valeria, my daughter. She is a person who is aware of emerging artists or  valuable pieces and I trust her taste.

AAD: Did your relationship with Carlos Alonso continue?

JF: Yes. His wife says I am very important to him as a friend because I inject optimism into him; he knows he can count on me. He’s a great artist, a full-time artist. I consider him to be an interpreter of society, of what is happening in the world, and especially in the country. 

AAD: What would a full-time artist be?

JF: A Renaissance artist whose life revolves around art. Alonso is a man of very deep knowledge, with a firm political position, and he expresses himself very well, both with the brush and with the word.

AAD: That kind of artist doesn’t exist anymore?

JF: They still do. They strive for excellence and feel part of the society to which they belong, their country and its destiny. Today, in the era of globalization, an artist in Buenos Aires does the same as one in Paris… On the other hand, Alonso, as well as Gorriarena and so many others, live and feel the country, its changes, its joys and its tragedies…

AAD: What is today’s artist like?

JF: They are like modern life: more agitated, more superfluous, with a lot of influence from the media. Today, trends and what others do is more influential than feelings, and that can be seen in painting. Before, the artist painted for artists, and if he or she were very successful moneywise, they were even frowned upon. Everything has changed a lot, the bohemian lifestyle no longer exists.

AAD: It seems that those who taught you how to buy and to see are the artists themselves.

JF: I had and still have a lot of contact with the artists, and in this way I learn. I received from the artists more than I gave them. 

AAD: What do you think about the space that art collectors have occupied today?

JF: The figure of the collector as we know it today is a new phenomenon.

There have always been collectors, but I think that today’s art collecting is a matter of prestige, and of following the times with a financial criterion. I don’t understand the collector who looks at art as a business. Art, particularly contemporary art, needs to be given time to decant, but it is important that new collectors join in. I think that today, the number of good artists exceeds the purchasing power of collectors. In the formation of a collector, the participation of a curator is necessary, and this is seen more and more.

AAD: Do you not believe in collecting contemporary art as an investment?

JF: As an investment, it is a mistake because it is not a movable asset. But taken as a very long-term commodity we will see the result, and perhaps, a single work of art acquired today in the long term will give you financial satisfaction.

AAD: So, if someone wants to make a financial investment, you wouldn’t advise them to make it with today’s art?

JF: Buying art as an investment is taking away the beauty from it. Art has to be looked at beyond its price. I have sold five paintings in my life, and I regret it. It’s true that I was paid very well, but I lost what I had.

AAD: You were president of ArteBA for many years. What do you think is the merit of this art fair?

JF: It helps people to develop their artistic judgement. I think that ArteBa is very important because it is an art fair that seeks excellence, takes risks, is an example of international art fairs, and with perseverance, will help to place Argentine art in the international scene. And it was necessary indeed; today in Buenos Aires there are four fairs. 

AAD: How does one learn to buy art? 

JF: By looking. In a moment you sharpen your gaze. The help of a critic helps.

AAD: Today ArteBA is a contemporary art fair. What do you think of this change of direction? 

JF: The problem is that if it were to be sustained by the market, it couldn’t do it. It is financed by the sponsors. I think that Mauro Herlitzka’s idea is good, I mean getting foreign collectors to join the national ones. I insist, the problem is to see how it is sustained by sales.

AAD: Isn’t this a society that buys art?

JF: Our society is not yet educated to buy contemporary art in the amount needed to sustain a market. Gallery owners must accompany and educate the public.

AAD: And how do you carry out that mission at the Alon Foundation?

JF: I hold meetings, I bring people together, and there is a library with study material for anyone who wants to consult it. This first exhibition was like a presentation in society. From now on my idea is to do research exhibitions, always accompanied by a catalog. The first one will be on Bonevardi.  After that there will be a research on Matilde Marín’s work. We also have the support of the Centro Cultural Recoleta. The Alon Foundation sponsors three exhibitions at that center during the year. However, the exhibition that will open on the 14th of this month will be a tribute to the artist Carlos De la Mota with whom, as with Carlos Alonso, we have been friends for more than 40 years. 

AAD: What do you find in art? 

JF: A lot of satisfaction.