In partnership with BMW Group Culture and Independent Collectors.
On the occasion of the latest edition of the BMW Art Guide, ARTnews sat down with Christian Kaspar Schwarm, founder of the digital platform Independent Collectors, and Hedwig Solis Weinstein, Head of BMW Brand Cooperations, Arts & Design, to learn more about what readers can find in the updated guide, which lists 270 private art collections that are accessible to the public in 45 countries and 196 cities around the world. (You can download a free copy of the BMW Art Guide here or access it through the website.)
ARTnews: BMW has been involved in this collaboration for a long time now—this is the fifth edition of the BMW Art Guide. Can you explain what the art guide is, why BMW partners with Independent Collectors, and how it connects with your broader participation in other art projects?
Hedwig Solis Weinstein: It starts with BMW’s passion for creativity, which is expressed through our nearly 50-year involvement in cultural projects across varied genres, and in major creative initiatives around the globe. Creativity is key to our company, to our engineers and designers. It’s in our DNA. Engaging with artists, galleries and passionate collectors through our long-term partnerships with art fairs, digital art platforms and Independent Collectors is a way to convey this.
We aim for eye to eye, long-term collaborations and most important: creating together with our partners something that was not there before and can only exist because of the different sets of experience and shared intelligence.
The BMW Art Guide is a unique compendium—I personally call it the “Lonely Planet of Private Collections.” It fits right in with the convergence between traveling and art. We obviously have the cars for travel; Christian has the collectors—and everything revolves around the art.
Christian, tell us about Independent Collectors. How did you end up creating this guide and why is BMW your partner?
Christian Kaspar Schwarm: I started collecting art around 2005. After a few years, I was interested to find a resource that would help me connect with like-minded collectors from whom to learn, to get inspired, exchange opinions, hints, tips, etc. It was one of those things where you think, this must already exist. So, I went to look for it and discovered that it didn’t exist. In 2008, together with two friends, I founded Independent Collectors.
We started out as a closed community for collectors who could join free of charge. As social media became a broader phenomenon, bringing more accessibility to art and the art world, we gradually opened up and eventually became a completely public and accessible platform.
Today, Independent Collectors is an online chronicle of contemporary art collecting. Thanks to our global partnership with BMW that started in 2009, our platform is still completely noncommercial and functions free of advertising. We also do not sell any artworks nor our members’ data. Together with BMW we have also developed content, the most visible result of which is certainly the BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors.
Christian, how did you gather all this information on private art collectors? They are, after all, by definition private.
Schwarm: Mindsets have definitely changed, and social media may have played a part in that change. In the first few years, many collectors still shied away from making their holdings publicly accessible. When we introduced a public aspect of Independent Collectors, our members eventually used it more than the private one, so we finally became 100 percent public a few years ago. This means that everyone can now view all content and online exhibitions without any borders or limits. In what some may see as a radical shift, these private collectors enjoy opening up to the public, sharing their collections and stories, and receiving feedback from people who are enthusiastic about contemporary art. It has been rewarding to be a part of this change.
The BMW Art Guide boils down the 7,000 members of Independent Collectors to 270 art collections in 45 countries and 196 cities that are accessible to the public, correct?
Schwarm: Yes, but it is important to know how perfectly the Art Guide and our online platform complement each other. Our book (whether in print or digital form) is the perfect tool for those who want to travel and visit a collection in any of 196 cities across 45 countries. We know many people who look at the BMW Art Guide at the beginning of every trip to identify an interesting collection to visit, information that, as far as I am aware, is not available anywhere else. This is complemented by content on our website that presents rotating exhibitions at all these collections, including those that are not open to the public. Together, this creates a truly comprehensive picture of the contemporary art collecting global ecosystem.
The website is available to anyone with an internet connection. Hedwig, how does one get a hold of the “Lonely Planet of Private Collections”?
Solis Weinstein (smiling): Seems you liked that one! Since the print edition of the BMW Art Guide is published in close cooperation with renowned publisher Hatje Cantz, you can order a copy at your local bookstore. And good news for your readers: we have a limited eBook cache available here.
To complement the book and emphasize the connection between travel and art, you have created a series of films where curator Francesca Gavin and a rotating cast of tastemakers visit some of the collectors featured in the BMW Art Guide. The collectors range from Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, Italy, and William Lim in Hong Kong, to even Venke and Rolf Hoff, who live in remote Lofoten, Norway. Can you share more about your inspiration?
Solis Weinstein: Our vision for the film series is to make art more accessible and relatable, and we can “bring you there” in a BMW. So, in a way the viewer has the driver’s seat, as a metaphor, to visit these major collectors. We spice it up by pairing someone deeply immersed in art, like a curator, with a creative from a related field who is inspired by art and seeks to learn more about it. Tastemakers, restaurateurs, travel photographers, DJs and art lovers have joined the series; together with the curator they get behind the wheel and head off to visit a collection, discovering a sense of place and learning about art through their conversation. The viewer gets to eavesdrop on this really dynamic conversation, and it becomes a fun and organic way to explore art.
I had the pleasure of visiting KaviarFactory, a wonderful collection founded by Venke and Rolf Hoff in Lofoten, Norway. It was beautiful to see how they received us with open arms, sharing their passion for art, nature and their fascinating collection. The stories behind their collection are so personal and inspiring—a collection that could only exist in this one location, envisioned by these passionate collectors. Hoff’s love of art and how it can open borders between people from different cultures and enable connections is remarkable.
Schwarm: One aspect that is evident in each of our Art Guide films is this incredible individuality of the portrayed collections as well as the sense of place, and this is what continues to drive me, even after 12 years of sharing this dynamic content on our platform. When you spend time with our content, you quickly realize that each individual collection represents a creative universe of its own. This is also an essential difference between these more personal collections and the world of public art institutions. Museums do a fantastic job, but they have to focus on the kind of art that is already socially relevant and, thus, recognized. A private collector, on the other hand, can shape and define his or her collection by unique criteria of relevance and beauty. It’s our mission to show and share this diversity and personal vision.
Francesca Gavin also says at one point that she’s passionate about getting people who are not very interested in art engaged with art. How do you feel about that?
Solis Weinstein: It’s exciting to observe these interactions, to hear the exchanges, to watch the body language and see bridges being built across different cultural fields: arts and music, arts and culinary, arts and lifestyle. It shows how creative minds can easily relate to each other and share the fact that they are driven by openness, curiosity and wonderment.
Schwarm: I am with you, Hedwig; this is indeed an important inspiration for us—opening the doors of the art world to anyone who is curious enough to enter. In one of the BMW Art Guide films, we hear from Max Senges, a former Google executive. Max is not a collector at all, but he is very interested in and curious about art. Captured in our film with Max visiting a collection in France, he tells a story of when we first met. Quite by chance, he found out that I am part of the team behind the BMW Art Guide. He was completely amazed. He told me that whenever he and his family travel around the world, they look into the Art Guide to plan side trips to local collections. Max says the book is his whole family’s “personal travel bible.”
What is the next stop?
Solis Weinstein: Hmm…it’s a secret. But I will make an exception and share it with you. For the upcoming episode a new curator is teaming up with a street artist to visit a very special collection in Miami. Stay tuned for more on @bmwgroupculture.