He began by buying Murano glass without thinking that the conjugation of the verb to collect would become a constant in his life. Today Giorgio Spanu has Magazzino, an extraordinary museum of Italian art in the Hudson River Valley of New York, mounted in concrete, aesthetics and functionality on the rubble of an old computer factory, thanks to the conception of the Spanish architect Miguel Quismondo. The wealth of the collection that he has developed in parallel to his work as an entrepreneur and real estate developer is unique.
First, because of its obsessive and passionate specificity: post-war Italian art, especially art povera. And, also, because nothing of how much Spanu has done could be understood without the encouragement of his wife, Nancy Olnick.
With low profile and a warmth to narrate and make feel in an interlocutor who has never seen an inexplicable air of family, Giorgio speaks long and deeply with EL PAÍS. "Everything we do as a team with my wife, you know?" Clarifies with expansive enthusiasm and natural calm.
Spanu returns to a conditioned origin, first and in solitude, for the love of modern art and then, starting in 1989 with Nancy, wrapped in a spell called Murano glass and marked by the discovery of architecture as a major artistic discipline , for the sponsorship of the great Massimo Vignelli –and later by Margherita Stein-, for the acquisition of about 2000 pieces that speak both of post-war Italy and the world and its soul and, now, for multiple projects with contemporary creators such as Vik Muniz.
A full humanist
Spanu talks with that naturalness that John Ford used to build myths and, as he tells his story, walks to EL PAÍS on a much more conceptual than chronological tour through that great warehouse that is Magazzino, where art povera it shines in all its hierarchy, in spite of the deliberately pedestrian elements with which it has been made, through the force of Michelangelo Pistoletto, Giulio Paolini, Jannis Kounellis and Mario Merz.
The thematic concerns are, then, as relevant as aesthetics, and it is clear that, before an entrepreneur and a successful collector, Spanu is a thorough humanist. And his wife – a New Yorker without whom he says he would not "have life" – expresses that conception in a more histrionic way. "When we started with this whole story, of course we did not imagine that we would open, as it will soon, a foundation. Actually, we are delighted. This has exceeded all our expectations, because in less than a year more than 25,000 people have already visited a museum that is not exactly in the heart of Manhattan, "she says.
But Spanu's path is unorthodox for several reasons, not only because of this atypical society with his wife. He knows it perfectly. But he recognizes that his journey would not have been the same without the substantial contribution that the book meant The museology, by Georges-Henri Rivière ". And he notes: "For me, the word 'collect' has a negative connotation. More than as a collector, I see myself as a kind of temporary protector of what I own. I feel the strong sense of responsibility to have the privilege of acquiring works of art. Therefore, I assume the responsibility to protect them and make sure they are available for everyone to enjoy not only now, but for several generations. "
I see myself as a kind of temporary protector of what I possess. I feel the strong sense of responsibility to have the privilege of acquiring works of art
Proudly Italian and, therefore, passionate about history and aesthetics, Spanu sees more advantages than disadvantages in the bubbling and always surprising world of contemporary art, which returns to the fore in the form of records like the one recently beat the British David Hockney.
"It happens that one of the most notable aspects of the current scenario is the global attention it provokes and the appreciation it provokes. The number of art fairs that have been scattered around the globe allows millions of visitors to know the world of art deeply without feeling intimidated, "he says. And he clarifies: "I think the problem is that the scene is dominated mainly by economic incentives, rather than by the purest passion."
Between museum tours, unforgettable anecdotes and deep and emotional quotes, there is time, while the ghost of George Orwell walks through the room, for one more question. It is very simple, but nothing irrelevant.
-What does art mean to you?
At first glance, art may seem inexplicable and, for many, it will remain a true philosophical mystery. Anyway, I think that art is the truth, and that it does not recognize borders and, therefore, is universal. In addition, art serves to remind me of who I am. And I think that, as a discipline, it must find its roots in the popular tradition and thus transmit strong messages from the political and social point of view. In spite of this, good art should also have the ability to inspire and provoke. But, above all, it is a personal experience. Therefore, one must remember that "what holds the artist is the look of love in the eyes of the spectator".