Art Brut, love at first sight: an interview with Daniel Klein

By Artkhade with Art Media Agency

Quito, 20 May 2015


Daniel Klein and his wife Carmen are true fans of Art Primitif. They are the founders behind the Casa del Alabado, a Pre-Columbian art museum which aims to present to Ecuadorians an insight into their rich indigenous culture and their vast heritage. Art Media Agency had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Klein to find out more about his interest in Art Brut and how it occupies a new place in the art market.

What is your background, and how did you start collecting? That’s a good question. I am French by origin but I have lived in Ecuador for 30 years, where I began to collect Colombian Art with my wife. Around three years ago we opened a museum that specialises in Pre-Colombian art in the centre of Quito city. That was really our first love, yet we have been attracted to anything that resembles Art Informel, that which is unconcerned by commercial pressures. We have since collected African art, Australasian and American art; all that is Art Primitif or Art Populaire, and all that implies the anonymous artist.

We began collecting Art Brut around five years ago and we fell in love with it. We believe that in a certain way, the language of Art Brut is in harmony with what we were previously collecting, meaning that sometimes we collect what is called Art Brut without even realising. Currently we are looking to continue collecting both Art Brut and Art Primitif.

Can you explain to us a little more about why you were attracted to Art Brut… In a certain way it is the language that we feel connected to, as I said, it is the same when we speak of Art Primatif and Pre-Colombian art for example; these anonymous forms of art which have not necessarily been produced with a commercial interest. It is also the unconscious or unaware element that speaks to us too; we find that contemporary art has a certain weariness, and whilst we appreciate art forms, this feeling is less inclined towards conceptual art. We look for a certain aesthetic in art and it is this new language, fresh and spontaneous, that you find with Art Brut.

How big is your collection now? It is difficult to say, as in Ecuador our Pre-Columbian art collection is comprised of a range of collections that we have brought together. The museum does not belong to us entirely, as it is two separate collections under the same roof, but we’re talking about 6,000 pieces in reserves in South America. We collect in the same way as most collectors; it is a little compulsive but we never lose sight of the aesthetic quality, that which speaks to us the most or what we look for in each object — it’s an overall aesthetic that is difficult to qualify in the number of pieces.

Do you remember your first piece? That depends which culture we are talking about. From Pre-Columbian art I remember, it was a very long time ago, a Bahia sculpture, and that was the first work that we fell in love with. After that, from our African art collection it was a small Teke statue that I have kept ever since. These pieces are very important to me from a symbolic point of view. They seem to have a magical charge that comes with fetishes. I don’t remember our first Art Brut piece, we began to collect numerous drawings by a range of artists at the same time.

Can you explain your acquisition process… It varies but it comes mostly from galleries. I like the relationship we establish with gallerists; it is a trust-based relationship that develops over the years. When we work with a gallerist they get to know our vision for the collection and in this way they share our way of looking for pieces. There is also a certain assurance and gallerists know already what we are looking for, so we find that more valuable than auctions. If we do buy from auction houses then it is for a particular piece. I would say that our real passion is searching about a little bit in order to obtain perfect items, meaning that when we come across a drawing or object that we like we don’t need to think about it too much and we can decide very quickly.

Have you come across any Art Brut creators that you believe will become very popular? Art Brut is a rather recently-defined genre, so collectors who are just starting to get interested in it come almost entirely from the contemporary art world, meaning they have a certain vision. I would say that in Art Brut there are two main categories: firstly the classic creators discovered by Dubuffet, and then emerging artists, contemporary creators, some of whom, for example, are represented by Christian Berst. Christian Berst gallery specialises in these artists, and there we find really marvellous authors coming from South America and across the world. So yes, there are many artists to be discovered but it is a little too early for me to respond to your question… let’s say that these contemporary emerging artists are sure to be more well recognised in the future.

Have you seen any changes in the Art Brut market since you began to collect these works? Certainly, I mean, even I, five years ago, was unfamiliar with Art Brut; I collected it without even realising. We have certainly always had an interest in Art Brut, but we collected it without really accounting for the importance of its creators — that is of course something which I believe characterises the genre. Our approach is to acquire the pieces that we fall in love with rather than acquire a piece based upon its standing.

What are the biggest challenges that you come across in collecting Art Brut? You cannot disassociate the work from its author with Art Brut like you can with other art genres; I think there will always be the character behind the work. Sometimes when the artist is still alive it is great to meet them and get to know them, and they are always in different circumstances. You can meet creators in psychiatric wards or at their home, there really are no difficulties. It is quite the contrary in fact, the Art Brut market is in a period of growth and there are still people who are very interested in the genre who discover new emotions by way of this art. It is a limited market; this has its advantages all the same. Sometimes certain artists who are in the contemporary art market, which can be aggressive, are susceptible to extremely high prices and all their works will be sold before you even get into the gallery. The advantage with Art Brut is that you find real gems at comparatively reasonable prices, so I don’t see the disadvantages on that side; I think there is a bright future ahead.

Tags: Pre-Columbian Art, Exhibitions