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Mary Rozell, UBS Art Collection Global Head, on the Evolving Art Market


Mary Rozell, UBS Art Collection Global Head, on the Evolving Art Market
Mary Rozell, Global Head UBS Art Collection Photo Courtesy of Timothy Mulcare

The woman behind one of the largest and most important corporate art collections, Mary Rozell, has been Global Head of the UBS Art Collection since 2015. Rozell oversees a vast and diverse collection comprised of over 30,000 works, spanning from paintings, to works on paper, photography, sculpture, video and installations dating from the 1960s onwards.

With a global team located in Zurich, London, New York, and Hong Kong, UBS has and continues to collect works by artists from all around the world, aiming to grow their collection in accordance with the geographical reach of its business.

The Artling had the wonderful opportunity to interview Mary Rozell to learn more about her experiences heading and expanding the UBS Art Collection. Here, she discusses how the collection has evolved under her direction, and what she envisages for the company’s future acquisitions and commissions.

In light of the second edition of her book, 'The Art Collector’s Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Acquiring and Owning Art’, releasing this September, Rozell explains how the art market has changed over the last few years, and also shares some important tips for new art collectors.


Howard Hodgkin, As Time Goes By (blue), 2009. Sugar lift aquatint, carborundum and hand painting, 96 1/16 x 240 1/8 in (244 x 610 cm). UBS Art Collection

Photo Courtesy of Howard Hodgkin Estate and Alan Cristea Gallery, London

What initially drew you to pursue a career in the art world?

The line between my personal interests and work interests has always been blurred. I’ve spent a lot of my vacations looking at art. I believe anyone in the art world has to be looking all the time. I grew up in a rural area in the Adirondacks where there wasn’t much art, but following a month-long college study trip to Egypt with its rich artistic culture, I kept going, focusing on French art in Paris the following year. I was always interested in history—my father was a history teacher—so I suppose I came to art through the history side.


Congratulations on your new book “The Art Collector’s Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Acquiring and Owning Art”. Could you share some key tips for someone who is starting to collect art?

Thank you. The book, which will be released on September 3rd through the London publishing house Lund Humphries, is a new iteration of a comprehensive handbook that I wrote in 2014. Reflecting on changes in the art world over the past six years since the original volume was published, this edition will offer fresh and timely insights on acquiring and owning art for new and experienced collectors alike, as well as for anyone aspiring to a professional career within today’s art market.

When I first started in the business, I did not have a road map for approaching such a multi-faceted responsibility of managing a collection, nor anything more than superficial knowledge of those vital back businesses that keep the art world afloat: insurance, conservation, logistics, storage, etc. Over time, I have learned much on the job from the experts, professionals, and collectors who shared their knowledge, and felt that a compendium of this information might be of use for the private individual collector.


Ding Yi, Appearance of Crosses 2006-3, 2006. Acrylic on tartan, 135 x 200 cm. UBS Art Collection, © Ding Yi. 

Photo Courtesy of the artist and ShanghART Gallery

Some tips I have for first time collectors are:

  • Buy what you love, but also do your research. It can be easy to be seduced by artworks for their visual appeal, but it’s important to learn about the meaning behind the work, the artist’s production practices, and whether or not a work is priced appropriately. For secondary market works, another level of due diligence is necessary, focusing on a work’s authenticity, provenance and condition. Art collecting is deeply personal, a reflection of the self and at UBS we believe that collecting is a passion project that pays emotional dividends, enriching lives.
  • See as much as possible. Go to galleries and museum shows on a regular basis. While nothing compares to seeing art in person, the Internet can also offer wonderful opportunities to learn about art. With its visual focus, Instagram is a great platform for discovery where even sophisticated collectors have been known to fall in love with artworks previously unknown to them. Art fairs are also a wonderful place to learn about new artists and works. The Art Basel fairs, which UBS’s sponsors, offer such a wide range of works from the global art market.
  • Before making a sizable, long-term commitment understand what it takes to maintain and manage an art collection. It can be quite an undertaking so it is wise to be familiar with all the aspects involved.
  • If you have the opportunity, there is no better way to gain insights into an artist’s practice than a studio visit where one can see the artist’s working environment and materials and learn about their unique process. Rewarding relationships can be formed, sometimes evolving into lifelong friendships. For some collectors, such connections are among the most interesting and meaningful aspects of collecting.


Fred Eversley, Untitled (parabolic lens), (1969) 2018. 2-color, 2-layer cast polyester, 19 1/4 x 19 1/4 x 6 in (48.9 x 48.9 x 15.2 cm). UBS Art Collection, © Fred Eversley.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff McLane and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles

What major changes have you witnessed in the art market over the last six years and how have collecting habits changed as a result? Have you seen collecting habits change over the past few months with the ongoing pandemic situation?

With respect to the art industry, these last six years have been marked by astonishing changes across the board. Art businesses as well as existing models of practice have come and gone or been reinvented. Lines have dissolved between auction houses and galleries, and power has been further consolidated among a handful of top galleries. Laws and tax codes have changed. The effects of global warming and political instability due to trade wars and the spectre of Brexit are also having an impact on the art trade. At the same time, the European Union’s Anti-Money Laundering Fifth Directive, which now includes the art business, is beginning to push the art market towards greater transparency. Furthermore, technological advances are shaking things up as never before, with new media art making a comeback as virtual reality and interactive works enter the mainstream, and a new generation of art buyers looking to blockchain and fractional ownership in the quest for transactional certainty and new forms of collecting.

In terms of collecting habits, when looking at the yearly UBS and Art Basel Art Market Report, you can see over the past few years that online sales have been rising as have the number of millennial collectors. We’re also seeing that female collectors tend to be the main spenders and with larger collections than men, a reflection perhaps of the rise of female billionaires as found in the UBS and PWC (2019 The Billionaire Effect: Billionaire Insights 2019).

The importance of an online presence and viewing rooms was being recognized prior to the pandemic, however this has certainly been fast-tracked in light of the current situation, with galleries and art fairs currently conducting most of their business online. At UBS we’ve remained committed to collecting during this time and supporting artists directly through galleries on the primary market. While it has been a time of uncertainty and struggle, it’s been very encouraging to see artists continue to dig into their practices with new vigor.


Sarah Morris, UBS Wall Painting, 2001/2019. Household gloss paint on wall, 196.5 in x 536 in (499.1 cm x 1361.4 cm). UBS Art Collection, © Sarah Morris

Photo Courtesy of Tom Powel Imaging

Since joining UBS in 2015, how has the collection evolved under your direction? Did you face any resistance or challenges along the way?

When I first joined, I set to work on exploring the history behind the formation of the Collection. I wanted to get an idea of what this collection is really about. This then led to the publication of UBS Art Collection: To Art its Freedom, which was the first major book to be released in over a decade on the evolution of the UBS Art Collection. Obviously if you have 30,000 artworks, you can’t chronicle the whole collection, but we wanted to create an impression to share with the public, and that meant exploring a selection of works from all different decades and regions.

Last year we also launched the UBS Art Gallery in New York at 1285 Avenue of the Americas. Through the gallery, we’re able to share the Collection with the public year-round with an exhibition of permanent works including a monumental wall painting by Sarah Morris that is also visible from the plaza outside. We also have a rotating exhibition program, the most recent exhibition being Indelible Marks with American artist Shinique Smith featuring sculpture and painting, combining bold, calligraphic forms with recycled clothing, fabrics and found objects.


Cerith Wyn Evans, More Light Research, 2019. White neon, 355 x 487 x 285 cm. UBS Art Collection, © Cerith Wyn Evans.

Photo Courtesy of © Kate Elliott.

Could you elaborate more on how you discover artists and select artworks? How does the acquisition process work?

We buy exclusively on the primary market. We want to directly support artists and galleries. That’s one reason we opened a Hong Kong office. It is very helpful to have a team member in the region to see the artist’s first show, their second show.

We want to showcase the most significant and important artists of our time from the regions in which we operate.

For instance, we recently refreshed the hang in our London Headquarters at Broadgate with a focus on the Young British Artists we have in the Collection including Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Gary Hume, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Angela Bulloch and Fiona Banner. Alongside works by the YBAs are significant pieces by artists who impacted the movement’s development. At the heart of the display are two new major commissions, Light (2018), an indoor sculpture by Michael Craig-Martin – the artist’s first sculpture of this kind created specifically for an indoor space – and More Light Research (2019), a white neon sculptural commission by Cerith Wyn Evans – who, quite coincidentally, is Craig-Martin’s neighbour.


Shinique Smith, And there you are, a shooting star, 2018. Ink, acrylic, ribbon, fabric and collage on canvas, 84 x 84 x 2 ½ in (213.4 x 213.4 x 6.4 cm). UBS Art Collection, ©Shinique Smith

What do you envisage for the future of UBS’s corporate collection? With over 30,000 artworks, do you see any gaps that you would like to focus on for future acquisitions and commissions?

The UBS Art Collection is at the core of the firm's commitment to contemporary art and collecting is a passion we share with our clients. The vast majority of our works are displayed in UBS offices globally, serving as an inspiration for employees and a platform for dialogue with our clients. One of the defining legacies of the Collection is close collaboration with living artists, creating ambitious site-specific artworks.

Through continued research and discovery, the Collection’s future will focus on collecting and collaborating with a diverse range of artists of our time that are breaking new ground and pushing boundaries in terms of their practice and ideas. We also have a strong focus on building diversity via new acquisitions and special artist commissions by female artists, including the recent collaborations mentioned with Sarah Morris and Shinique Smith. We seek to collect work by women artists and artists of color in order to increase representation and accurately reflect the voices and talents of today’s world.


Mary Rozell, Global Head UBS Art Collection, and Ed Ruscha. Ed Ruscha, VERY, 17.05. – 19.08.2018. Installation view. UBS Art Collection, ©Ed Ruscha. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek.

Photo courtesy of DK Photo: David Parry

What kinds of artists and artworks do you gravitate towards?

One gravitates towards artists who have something new to say, whose practice pushes boundaries. I am also interested in looking at artists who have been at it for a very long time and may have been overlooked. For me, it’s thrilling to see these older artists getting recognition after decades of dedication. We also have long-term collecting relationships with artists, including deep holdings of works by Ed Ruscha dating back to the 1960s, and we had worked with the late Carlos Cruz-Diez since the 1970s.


UBS Headquarters in Zurich, Bahnhofstrasse 45, View of John Armleder, Agenda, 2018. UBS Art Collection, © John Armleder

Photo Courtesy of Martin Rütschi

What makes UBS’s collection unique in comparison to other corporate collections?

The mission of the UBS Art Collection has been the same from the beginning, and that is to collect the greatest art works of our time in the regions where we do business. This has led to a collection that is varied, comprised of some of the most iconic artists of the last half century alongside emerging talents

A defining aspect of the Collection is that it is comprised of various individual art collections with unique attributes that have been integrated over time through a series of mergers and acquisitions – notably Union Bank of Switzerland, Swiss Bank Corporation and PaineWebber Inc. Our Collection has existed for six decades and we continue to collect new works.


To learn about the UBS Art Collection click here.

Discover more on their Instagram: @ubsglobalart

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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