Born 70 years ago, Jan Mulder (Lima, 1949) grew up in a family that gave him a privileged education, halfway between Switzerland and Peru, the mother country, but his career did not follow any orthodox pattern. The founder of Center of the Image of Lima and the cultural center El Ojo Ajeno studied photography at the University of Boston, has had a successful career as a businessman and has in his collection, formally started in 2002, with nearly 1,500 pieces of the highest quality that include Irving Penn , Milagros de la Torre, Alfredo Jaar, Graciela Iturbide, Naoya Hatakeyama and the Vargas brothers.
Mulder, also key in the original conception of the Photography Biennial of Lima, has found in that medium of expression the ideal place to reflect his world view, always contemporary, restless and sensitive. And he has done so long before it became a fashion for part of international collecting.
Only a few minutes have passed since this talk began in Madrid's Casa América, where you can enjoy, until March 27, part of that collection in the sample Strata of a landscape, which consists of 108 works by 35 authors, is curated by Alejandro Castelotte and is part of the Peru program at ARCO, in charge of showing the best of contemporary art in this country.
Mulder speaks with simplicity, calm and cordiality. And, between the Greek origins of his mother and his passion for art, the dialogue flows within a zen tonic but never soporific. What has led him to focus on photography and how he became such a collector? "I always had a collector's trait, because when I worked at the Roche pharmaceutical company in the seventies, when I was in Basel, I went to Strasbourg, I saw a gallery, I chose something that I liked and bought, that is, even if they were different media, the attractiveness already existed, years later, in Hong Kong, in a gallery there was a Peruvian artist, Cecilia Colichón, who made engravings, and I still keep them, "she says. He adds: "But although there has always been a collection feature, the passion for photography comes from before, because my father had his Rolleiflex, took pictures and infected me, and I had several cameras, from the Brownies to the Instamatic. I started studying, I started in Business Administration and after a year I realized that I would not be interested, which is why I switched to photojournalism at Boston University, something I then practiced in The Press, from Lima, until the military government strongly nationalized the media and caused me to end up traveling, and later working, in Switzerland. "
A family-owned pharmaceutical distribution company was the destination that Mulder, an associate member of the Board of the Lima Museum of Art, found to return to his country in the early eighties. However, his interest in photography as a collector grew much later, because before he acquired works by painters such as Fernando de Szyszlo and José Tola.
"First, I bought works without thinking about making a collection." Art Basel Miami 2002 was the first fair in which I acquired some pieces by foreign artists, until I made the decision to have only photographs of Peruvian artists such as Luz María Bedoya and Billy Hare. time, one is putting together groups or families of works that revolve around themes, such as artistic, urban or nature-centered photography, "he explains.
Some photos, then, are historical documents, but others are pure beauty, samples of the creative greatness of the subject that takes them.
"Photography as a medium is very broad, from artistic in all its variants with the inspiration it provokes through works that interest me a lot, such as Gladys Alvarado, who has technique and visibility, even the documentary and journalism of Jaime Rázuri or Daniel Pajuelo, "he says.
"There are photographs documenting historical moments of political inflection, such as a police strike or the removal of an equestrian statue from a plaza to a warehouse and then to a park: we are talking about an important monument in Lima that changed place because the wife of a president wanted, and even though my history as a journalist was brief, the sensitivity towards this type of work is, and the truth is that Peru is a country that has an important history to document, "he stresses.
Before finishing the interview, he points out the importance that he considers going to galleries but not "to buy photographs in batches", and affirms that the fairs are also relevant, although he does not schedule in advance which one to go to each year. In 2018, he bought two photos vintage Japanese art Basel in a gallery in Tokyo and a time before had acquired a piece of a Chinese photographer from a gallery in Toronto that documents the cultural revolution, something that has marked him personally, since he was between Hong Kong and Vietnam at that time.
Beyond that, how do you feel as a Peruvian with the privileged position that your land has acquired as guest of honor of the 2019 edition of Arco? "For Peru is a great responsibility and those of us who have understood what it really means to be the guest country of Arco are few, because the authorities have other priorities, and we have had many government crises, but the truth is that the Ministry of Culture see the matter superficially, there is no deep concept of what our culture is, we do have an inherited and very important Inca culture, pre-Inca and colonial, but there is no law of promotion or support, with which individuals are the ones who show capacity or sensitivity to do something, from a cultural center to a museum, without the private sector, our representation would be poor, "he says.
What will be the ultimate destination of your collection? "I have not chosen the path, but one would be to create my own foundation and that my children would take care of it over time, giving it a form of income that allows it to stay in. A second way would be to ally myself with an institution in Lima such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, which allows to continue developing the collection of photography and to train young people to fulfill that objective. "This old friend of Mario Testino recalls:" I do not expect the Peruvian State to give me anything, I only expect something in proportion to the taxes that I pay and that I will continue paying in my country ".
For the epilogue, says that "photography has exploited as a language to collect and as a means of expression, when the camera was incorporated into the cell phone, it became widespread, and that of the millions who use it a minimum percentage, try to dedicate themselves to it. It's wonderful, because there is no more democratic art than this. "