Features & Interviews
Interview: Valentina Frutig on Developing One of Europe's Largest Private Collections
Valentina Frutig probably has one of the most envious jobs in the art world: As the Senior Collection Manager of one of the most notable private collection in Switzerland, Valentina is surrounded daily by the likes of Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Annie Leibovitz. If she's not sitting at her desk in the collection's headquarter in Zug, she's traveling the world in the quest of finding new additions to the Erni collection. We sat down with Valentina and asked the passionate collection manager about her job, life and secret passion.
You are the Senior Collection Manager of Nicola Erni Collection, one of the most important private collections in the world, counting Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon to name just a few. What is the most recent acquisition that was made to the collection?
Nicola Erni is collecting very deep into an artists’ oeuvre. She acquired some further large-scale works by the American artist Rashid Johnson and one of those will be exhibited in our upcoming inhouse presentation. Another amazing piece is an almost four-meters high pink rocket lacquered with car paint by the Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury which can also be installed outside. The photography collection of Nicola is very extensive and she is constantly on the lookout for works to further expand this genre.
The impressive buildings in which the collection is shown has been described as the “extended living room” of Nicola Erni. Could you tell us a bit more about that statement?
Since the beginning of her collection in the mid-1990s, Nicola visualized her philosophy and appreciation of art together with her passion for interior design, textiles, decoration, books and architecture. She had the vision to present the collection in the first dedicated museum building according to the atmosphere she already had created in her private home in much smaller scale. The 2013 finalized building and the second one opened in 2021 are her extended living room as she likes to call it. It’s a space conceived as an overall concept where the broad range of her collection interacts with each other and where friends and art enthusiasts experience her personal view in a unique setting. Nicola definitely turned the common museum presentations and its aesthetics upside down when thinking of the well-tried white cube. I think that’s one of the main charisma and magic of the collection that separates us from other institutions.
Installation view, Nicola Erni Collection, Rashid Johnson - Photo: Reto Pedrini Photography
Installation view, Nicola Erni Collection, Beatriz Milhazes - Photo: Reto Pedrini Photography
You have recently decided to open the collections doors to the public and offer guided tours. What are the highlights within the current exhibition visitors are most interested in?
The current presentation in the newly opened building is outstanding in terms of the commissioned, site-specific works on view and their installation within the 9’000 m2 space. The six-meter installation by Rashid Johnson in the entrance foyer is really impressive. The color of the steel and the wallpaper behind it was selected by Rashid and Nicola in collaboration. In combination with the extensive living room area in front of the work, Nicola curated an eye-catching visual experience visitors are immediately amazed of. The presentation of almost forty photographs by Peter Lindbergh is important to Nicola and this is reflected in the scale, selection and location on the ground floor. The other highlights are the monumental silkscreen works by Andy Warhol exhibited for the very first time in the collection. This exhibition room and its size was specifically built to show these two works together with a customized table permanently. The dimensions of the works, furniture, architecture and its combination are one of a kind for our visitors and for me.
A core pillar of the collection is fashion photography with works by Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Juergen Teller - A secret passion of yours?
I have the privilege to experience and understand the beauty of fashion photography through Nicola’s long-time passion for it. During my master studies of the Theory and History of Photography, this genre was only discussed in passing. We know that institutions are still refusing to acquire fashion photography for their permanent collections due to its commercial purpose. The first use of the photographs within the magazines and brand campaigns should rather be accepted as a unique situation and interaction, that bears a great research field to be discovered and examined. Let’s say Nicola took this chance and challenge…Her vast collection contains so many unexplored topics and material that are the core of fashion photography as a genre. Her appreciation of fashion photography is truly contagious. So how can one not become a fashion photography aficionado?
Installation view, Nicola Erni Collection, Sylvie Fleury, photo: Reto Pedrini Photography
What is your favorite work within the collection and why?
This is and always will be a hard question to be answered since the collection is still growing so fast and new great works are being integrated. The works by the American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat touch me a lot. His large-format paintings, drawings and objects form an important part of Nicola’s collection and in every new installation Nicola is curating, at least one work by Basquiat is included. I had the rare opportunity to work with these pieces of art and gain so many new insights about his way of working and used materials by examining them in front of me. It’s the entire Basquiat collection that fascinates me. My favorite work of the photography collection is the “One-off Photo Album” by the German photographer Helmut Newton currently presented in our exhibition. It contains 103 images and they are so different and similar at the same time. There are signature works but also unique photographs which have never been editioned during his lifetime. He commented every single one of them by hand with descriptions and anecdotes centrally on the front. This way of presentation emphasizes the photograph as an intimate object.
Valentina at home - Photo: Kuenzli Photography
Who is Valentina Frutig outside of work? How do you like to re-charge for the week?
I’m quite sociable and active. I like keeping busy after work either going to a gym class, having a nice dinner with friends or visiting an opening. At the moment I’m working on taking things a little bit more easy, i.e. have less FOMO, stay at home and cook a nice meal or read a book. A combination of both, expectation and status quo is my aimed after-work program. I’m on it. On the weekends, I’m regularly in the mountains enjoying the Swiss nature with our Dalmatian dog Lola. Seems I already succeeded on the weekends…
You are a passionate collector yourself, could you share with us which artist or work has recently caught your eye?
My collection is still modest and very diverse but I think many collections look like that in the beginning. I had the opportunity to buy a beautiful so-called phantogram by the Mexican artist Martin Soto Climent where he used tights as stencils inspired by the photogram, the camera-less photographic technique practiced by the avant-garde artists in the 1920s. The hyper-realistic work by the Swiss artist Florian Bühler is my newest acquired painting. My own working field within the Nicola Erni Collection is very much connected with it. It shows a painted verso of an Old Master still life shining through the jute. Thus, the material becomes painted subject and vice versa. For me, this is a fun and complex work of art that demands craftsmanship and incorporates conceptual questions straight forward. I’m looking forward to his upcoming monography in conjunction with a retrospective exhibition at the Museum Franz Gertsch in Switzerland.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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