Peter Brant, entrepreneur and collector: “Andy Warhol taught me to have fun.”
The interview took place at the Cipriani Hotel in Venice during the Biennale 2011. Peter Brant is one of the most famous collectors of contemporary art.
Peter, when did you become interested in collecting art?
In 1967, when I was 18 years old and my father was collecting first-rate French masters.
What did your father do?
He had a paper packaging factory. For my part, I am the owner of the second largest venture in North America making newsprint, paper for books and telephone directories. We have six such enterprises, three in Canada and three in the United States. We also work with China, South America, India and Europe.
Why do they buy from you?
Because 50% of our paper is recycled and our costs are very low.
Are newspapers still going through a crisis?
In the U.S. the decline that started in 2000 continues until today, but there is more stability now. The firms with the lowest costs have survived, as well as those that work in export markets. In India the newspaper industry is growing by 12% a year, and there is growth in both South America and China. In the U.S. there is competition from TV and computers.
What else do you do?
I have a computer business and then there is Brant Publications. We have magazines like “Art in America” and titles such as “Antiques” and “Interview” which are going really well.
How did you start your art collection?
My grandfather gave me the sum of 25 thousand dollars in the 60’s. I invested in shares and grew this to 250 thousand dollars. When I was 19, I bought a Franz Klein and an Andy Warhol. It was the first “Marilyn”. I became a friend of Andy in 1968, after I’d already bought five of his works at Leo Castelli. Then I became 50% owner of “Interview” magazine with him.
What do you remember about Warhol?
I saw the genius at work. He was a man who rejected praise and public acclamation. He was very shy. We were both interested in buying furniture from the 18th and 19th century, and Art Deco pieces. Andy was fun, he spoke in few words but was meticulous and incisive. He liked the movies and “glamour”.
What did he teach you?
Above all, to have fun, because he could see beauty where most other people were not able to see it.
What other paintings and what other artists did you collect?
Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Carl Andre, Claes Oldenburg, Bruce Nauman, James Rosenquist. That was my collection in 1969. Some I have kept, others I have sold. Then for ten years I was more taken up with horse racing. I was a serious trainer and won the Kentucky Derby and other major trophies. I had one of the most important stables in the States.
Were you also a polo player?
Yes, I still am. For 25 years I was an amateur player at a very high level. I have a team called White Birch.
In other words you are a sportsman, a businessman and a collector?
Yes, and now I have a Foundation in Connecticut, which I run with my daughter Allison. We have put on lots of exhibitions. The first was a tribute to Henry Geldzahler, the chief curator of 20th Century art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In ’69 he mounted such an important show that it demonstrated that the center of the art world had shifted from Paris to New York. It was an exhibition of artists from 1940 to 1970. Our exhibition covered 1978 to 2008, 100 works by 25 artists from the New York school, from Warhol to Urs Fischer, a Swiss artist who lives in New York.
What do you think of the very fashionable artists like Hirst, Kapoor, Kiefer?
They are very good artists, but I mainly collect American artists or those who live and work in New York, with the exception perhaps of Picasso. The central part of my collection is made up of Warhol, Jeff Koons, Richard Serra. I also possess some works by Maurizio Cattelan, Francesco Clemente, Jean-Michel Basquiat and also Julian Schnabel.
Pollock said that Picasso was God …?
In 1940 and 1950 Picasso was God for all artists, he had huge influence. I say that Warhol is God for the art of the twentieth century. His work remains fresh and has a key influence in his time, even if when he was alive in the 60’s,70’s and 80’s he was not so well considered in the art world. His destiny was similar to that of Julian Schnabel, because both have also made films, and Julian with such success that some people think of him mainly as a director.
Has collecting art been a good investment for you?
It’s a passion, even though in the end it has also been one of my best investments. My father thought I was totally crazy much of the time.
What do you like most at the Venice Biennale?
I very much like the work of Urs Fischer, Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabine Women”. Then I really liked the work of Cattelan at Palazzo Grassi and also thoroughly enjoyed the Prada Foundation; I thought there were some beautiful Fontana’s and also the piece on Tulips by Jeff Koons.
Peter, do you have children?
Yes, I have nine children, and they are making their own collections. Three of them have come with me to the Venice Biennale.
5th June, 2011