Rachel Rekkab, the founder of Artem Holdings, answers our questions about her most recent venture, UNFOLD Art XChange, a contemporary ‘think tank’ for creative leaders to connect via their interests in the art world, and to discuss the ever-changing landscape of the art market.
1 – How was the UNFOLD Art XChange project born and since when have you been working on it?
UNFOLD Art XChange as a project was conceived through my ambition to become the largest multicultural art exchanges that will offer unprecedented access to a more diverse audience beyond the art world. The aim was to create new synergies, enabling a fruitful dialogue with potential future partnerships in various areas of human activities, enticing the world’s premier private bankers, financial institutions, government authorities, spatial designers, real estate and hospitality professionals to come together with curators, gallerists, artists, arts organisations, non-profits, public art agencies, museums, private and corporate collectors.
I have been working on developing UNFOLD Art XChange since January 2017, two months after I founded Artem Holdings, the company behind this project.
Sindika Dokolo, a Congolese businessman and art enthusiast, acquired one of the most important contemporary African art collections from the late German business tycoon, Hans Bogatzke back in 2005. Based in Angola, Dokolo and his procurement have gained an overnight sensation from the public and the media since the end of the country’s civil war about three years ago. Amassing over 5000 pieces of invaluable African art, Dokolo has now become one of the symbols for repatriation in the history of art in Africa.
Dokolo is very aware of the significance behind all this media attention, both from within the country and from the rest of the world. These art pieces in his collection are not just decorations for the domestic setting, they are a beacon of hope for redefining “Africanity” amidst the deafening Eurocentric perspectives on the continent and its artistic creations. ‘[You see] every other exhibition telling you what Africa is and [what is] the real Africa. There is always this self-justification, this attitude, which I think is very counter-productive,’ argues the collector. Therefore, Dokolo establishes the eponymous not-for-profit foundation enabling the Angolan public to respond to their creation and to start organising their view of the world of art.
Samuel Fosso, Series “Emperor of Africa”, 2013 – “SFEA 1949” 166 x 124 cm
Dokolo’s collection of contemporary art includes over 80 African artists as well as those from its Diaspora. The collection holds artworks ranging from the video projection Felix in Exile (1994) by William Kentridge and self-portraits Emperor of Africa (2013) by Samuel Fosso to conceptual works by Kendell Geers and the installation work Thirteen Hours (2013) by the emerging Angolan artist Binelde Hyrcan. It covers the artistic expressions all around the continent, from the north of Egypt to the south of South Africa. Dokolo creates an interaction and a dialogue between different aesthetics of our contemporary time.
Amassing over 5000 pieces of invaluable African art, Dokolo has now become one of the symbols for repatriation in the history of art in Africa.
‘My main focus is actually to manage to have a very dynamic artistic and cultural life with no infrastructure. It has been a sort of blessing in that we do not have any contemporary art museums because we [then] have to revisit the way people engage with art and culture in an urban environment.’ One of the missions the collector aims to achieve with his foundation is to remodel the falsified bourgeois value of art into a public commodity. Currently, the Sindika Dokolo Foundation is working on a project, using marketing and publicity strategies, putting up dozens upon dozens of street advertisement of the artworks, to get the general public engaged with art in an ‘involuntary, unconscious and natural way’. Dokolo and his team are also working with local schools to coordinate guided visits to travelling exhibitions. Ever since the initiation of this programme, 50,000 children have been enrolled and this year, Dokolo hopes to reach an audience of 100,000 children in his education of African contemporary art.
The Sindika Dokolo Foundation is a safe haven for empowerment of future generations of Africans by providing them with the knowledge to participate in their own cultural history. Throughout the years with his collection and the foundation, Dokolo notices the ‘baby boom of creativity’, a proliferation in artistic expression in Angola in recent years. He is especially involved with local Angolan artists. He finds that ‘it is a socialist government but there was always a kind of depth in the Angolan culture’ giving Angola’s local artistic language an ‘inner life and sensitivity in emotion’. Dokolo has witnessed many artists come and go in his foundation and now, he shares his views on the integration of African contemporary artists in the international circuits of art like a wise man reciting a fable. ‘I think the right reflex is to come back to Angola and work some more, work to build their careers from the inside out. I think that guarantees some consistency and some prudence also when they approach the international market.’
Behind the Sindika Dokolo Foundation is an ideology to repatriate the rights to the continent to paint an accurate portrait of African art in our contemporary time. There is a synergy between his collection and his audience, Dokolo encourages authentic creation through his collection and at the same time, he is inspired by this creativity to further experiment with his foundation.
The exhibition Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier at Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris, constituted of 3 main sections retraces Africa’s grandiose landscape and future in the contemporary art world.
L’Institut du monde Arabe is currently exhibiting The Islamic Treasures of Africa, a show gathering both contemporary and ancient creations from African creators, influenced by islam.
“Many people are curious to know how I express artistically as a businessman and at the same time, as a collector. They want me to tell some dramatic story or a vivid moment in my life that triggered this passion in me to become an artist.” The eternal smile underneath the stylish fedora is only the tip of the iceberg that is Kim Chang-il. With a multi-million dollar company, three contemporary art galleries and five museums across the nation under his name, Kim speaks with fluidity and sobriety about his work. This energy flows throughout all aspects of his life. In fact, Kim’s professions as a businessman, an art collector and an artist should not be looked at separately. The basis of these dimensions is his originality in the pursuit of simplicity. Kim defines simplicity as a particular that requires concentration on the most valuable thing. This particularity for him lies in art and this is what makes Kim the unique CI KIM in the universe of businessmen, collectors and artists.
Kim first started collecting art at the age of 27. Walking down a small gallery street in Seoul, the landscape and figure paintings by Korean modern ink painters such as Kim Kichang, Lee Sangbeom, Byun Gwansik, Jang Unsang and others caught his attention. Now looking back to the beginning of everything, Kim sighs at the conservative tendencies of many Korean art collectors, with whom he once identified, to limit themselves to one region from one instance in the history of art. Kim travels to the corners of the world, he met the YBA artists, partied with Neo Rauch and Matthias Weischer, made long-lasting friendships with Kohei Nawa and Subodh Gupta. As his horizon broadens, his collection expands. With over 3700 pieces to call his own, Kim deems that this chase after Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter Cindy Sherman, Nam June Paik and other artists in the hall of fame, is an outcome of his self-discovery.
In all honesty, Kim’s selection and taste in contemporary art is intuitive and instinctive. His affinity to a certain piece of artwork is determined at first sight: “I select soulful artworks where I do follow my inner counsel.” Kim’s collection is perhaps the incarnation of Chicken Soup for the “Artistic” Soul – tugging at the heartstrings of the mass with contemporary art. He has also quite successfully done so with his galleries and museums. The Arario Museum in Space, Seoul opened its doors in 2014 and houses more than 200 pieces by 43 international artists from Kim’s collection in an exhibition named Really?. The whimsy in the title winks at people’s initial reaction towards Kim’s eclectic choice of artworks. He likens himself to the conductor of an orchestra, like in the 1940 Walt Disney animated film Fantasia, he animates the exhibition of artworks, the lighting, the total experience in his museums. Kim constructs his museums in abandoned structures that once carried significant memories to the neighbourhood or even the nation, building his ideals of sustainability and a brave new world of past and future coexisting in harmony.
To quote Kundera in his 1984 masterpiece, “for there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”; Kim is susceptible to the weight as life surrounding him expires. He turns to art in its purity and its trustworthiness. He confides in a work of art, in its flawless aesthetic beauty without the peripheral engagement of the story behind. As if situated in the eye of the storm, in the calmness he seeks to minimise the artificial, to reveal the natural beauty of life, to find himself, to find CI KIM.
Language is like a window to the internal workings of the human mechanism. Perhaps lost in translation, it is rather curious to witness Kim’s sense of obligation that he “ought to discover young talented artists at a national as well as an international level”, his sympathies for the “mediocrity of the existing buildings that are disappearing one after another”, and that he has fallen victim to art evident from his choice of Marcel Duchamp as his inspiration.