#ibexcollection #hyperrealism #figurativeart #contemporaryart @dgwillson
David Willson is one of three co-collectors behind the Ibex Collection, one of the largest active private collections of super-realistic contemporary figurative art. After a few years as one of the youngest fund managers in Australia, he realized that technology is where his real passion lay and built a career in business and technology consulting that saw him work with banks, insurance firms, law and accounting firms across more than fifty countries, spanning over two decades. Passionate about art, he is also a prolific reader, a staunch wine snob, a fussy foodie and holds three black belts and an instructor’s certificate across multiple martial arts. Despite living in Taiwan for nine years, his Chinese is not as good as it should be. He has been very active in social causes for many years, especially in the areas of education, climate change and mentorship.
How has social media come into play with your collection?
Social media has become a very important method of finding new artists and new pieces. Instagram in particular is the dominant platform and we follow thousands of artists, watching them develop and reaching out when we see something of interest.
What role do you feel your collection has in society?
We started our collection as a private collection, for our personal enjoyment. After about a year, we started offering considerable patronage to artists to create pieces that they were unable to create under the gallery system, as they would take too long to paint and may not quickly sell. From this ongoing experience, we have realized that we are having an impact on the future development of art within the entire super-realistic contemporary figurative space.
More recently we are beginning to consider becoming more active in protecting against the attacks on art that are taking place, especially the censoring of figurative art that is constantly occurring on social media, despite US constitutional rights to free speech and artistic expression and despite the specific exemption for art that exists in the platform’s user agreements. We often have art posts banned from the platform and for professional artists in this space this can be devastating to their ability to be found and to make a living. We are looking at ways of potentially bringing together other collectors and affected artists and looking at the possibility of bringing a class action.
In a broad sense, this is also related to gender discrimination, with double standards such as no problem showing male nipples, but a ban on female nipples. In the 21st century, it is beyond me as to why people believe that blatant discrimination such as this is acceptable. I find it repugnant that incredible levels of violence are perfectly acceptable to show on TV and social media, but a naked human form is seen as something abhorrent and immoral. These are all issues that I believe collections should be more active in dealing with in the social sphere.
How did you start collecting?
My parents would never think of themselves as ‘collectors’, as the word has taken on far too much weight now. However, I grew up with my parents collecting new pieces on a constant basis and filling our houses with art. As a child, I didn’t necessarily appreciate the impact that constant visits to galleries and museums was having on me. I got an idea that it was in my blood, when I spent most of my second month’s pay check on a piece of art that I still have, and still like. Of course, I spent a substantial part of my first pay check on a bottle of great French wine, so I am not sure what that says.
How long have you been collecting?
I have been collecting art since I first started work, varying in intensity with work and family. Over the last few years, I guess we have become what would be considered ‘serious collectors’.
Do you ever venture out of your creative process in collecting?
We do occasionally venture outside of our focus on super-realistic contemporary figurative paintings. We own a number of sculptures, predominantly figurative, and in the future, this is an area that we may focus on more seriously.
Which artists are in your collection?
We have the obligatory (for our area of focus) Will Cotton and Gottfried Helnwein paintings in our collection, together with many of the other ‘names’, but far more interesting are the artists such as Martin Llamedo, Arantzazu Martinez, Alexander Timofeev, Marco Grassi, Dino Valls, Philipp Weber, Wang Xiaobo, Sergio Martinez, Aurelio Rodríguez, Noboyuki Shimamura, Osamu Obi, Park Hyunjeong, Li GuiJin, and Emanuele Dascanio, all of whom we uncovered after an extensive multi-year global search for the most technically skilled contemporary super-realistic figurative artists.
Who is your art crush?
Lol. I get laughed at for this constantly. I literally go weak at the knees, my heart starts racing and I get sweaty palms when I have the privilege of talking to Dino Valls in his studio (or over a wine!). For twenty-five years I worked in software and have met many smart people – Dino is one of the smartest.
His art is incredible. It is unbelievably multi-layered and yet it is all pulled together into a concise visual aesthetic. He has been working on a large piece for us for several years now and watching his process has been an enormous privilege. He spent eighteen months just planning for the work and produced hundreds and hundreds of pages of notes and sketches, together with models, miniatures and studies during this time. We are sure that in a hundred years time, Dino will be hanging in major museums around the world.
What inspires you to collect?
I think that all collectors are similar in this regard. We collect because we love the thrill of the chase and uncovering something unexpected and brilliant that has not yet been discovered.
How do you buy?
Initially we bought largely through galleries. These days we purchase most of our works directly from artists.
Which artwork do you dream of having in your collection someday?
The artworks that I dream of tend to be those that have not been produced yet. I love watching artists develop and push themselves as artists, creating better and better art. Those future pieces are the ones that I dream of having in the collection.
How or where do you seek out opportunities to collect?
In the last five years my two co-collectors and I have collectively flown over 5.2million kilometers - around 130 times around the world or ten times to the moon. We will literally go anywhere, anytime, if we believe that a great piece of art might be at the end of it. We find those opportunities through a mixture of word-of-mouth and social media.
How do you cultivate your collection?
When we first started collecting we bought prolifically and widely to further our knowledge about the area and to discover what we like. These days we are a lot more discerning, buying 5-20 pieces a year that exceed the technical ability minimums we have established and that add something unique and interesting artistically.
How do you navigate the art world?
We have a large database of around 4,000 contemporary figurative super-realistic artists that we watch constantly. For artists that we rank in the top 400, we have an internal rating system which looks at around 50 factors per artist and that provides us with direction on who to focus on. These days we are largely interested in artists who are in the top 50 of this index. We are always hoping to find artists who have developed their skills to the point where they make it into this internal Rating system.
Do you have a price range you stay within when collecting?
We tend to stay under USD$1mil for pieces and these days we rarely spend less than $50,000. At both ends of this, we do make exceptions.
What current trends are you following and why?
When we started the current collection and focus around five years ago, we focused on art that appeals to us. We have been fortunate that this area is now beginning to show signs of increasing popularity. Given that the vast majority of art produced since the first cave paintings has been figurative, and that we are all (currently) physically embodied ourselves, the revived interest in figurative art is not however a great surprise to us.
Have you lost interest in any of the art you have collected?
Of course! Especially in the early days when we were still learning what we like.
We were talking with Sylvian Levy in Paris a little while ago about their collection policy to sell off a percentage of their collection every year and to then buy new pieces. This idea appealed to us and while we do not yet have a formal policy, we are moving in that direction so that we are constantly refreshing the collection.
Have you ever curated a show or been involved in a public collection administration?
We are currently working on a small exhibition of around 15-20 works that will be shown in Hong Kong during Art Basel week this year. We will also have a major exhibition in 3000 square meters on 5th Avenue in New York in September of 2019 and which will then go to major cities around the world, together with a number of related side-exhibitions.
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