top of page

The Exhibition

In 2004, after a long period of renovations, the Escritório de Arte reopened with an inaugural collective exhibition that presented works by major modernist artists in a totally reformulated space designed by the studio Pileggi Arquitetura.


An imaginary collection


What makes a young student abandon his biology degree in 1969 to become a  marchand de tableaux?


To answer that question I suppose you really have to know the art dealer Benjamin Steiner and see him in action in his house, selling some masterpiece or other (Gomide’s Last Supper, for example). It’s fascinating to watch him at work from the room next door. And you’ve also got to have a peek into the many drawers in that house, full of drawings by Ismael Nery, which “Benja” would show while recounting the tragic story of this artist, who spent over thirty years in oblivion. It was from Benja that I learned one of the first lessons of art dealing: stockpile works now to increase their value later. And it was also from Benja that I learned how to buy, with passion in one eye and disdain in the other—and a little guile and astuteness thrown in.  


In 1967, still a student, I was introduced to Volpi by Professor Mario Schenberg, who was a staunch supporter of the students’ movement. Volpi, like many other artists from the day, would collaborate with the movement by donating paintings. It was only later that I realized the full extent of the human grandeur I had been privileged to meet and how little I had been able to capture of his wisdom. Sometimes, we’re just too young… 


In 1969, I started buying Volpi’s works at his house, in Cambuci, and selling them on to my small circle: besides Benja, there was Cesar Luiz Pires de Mello, owner of Cosme Velho gallery, and a good friend to this day. The Volpis smelled of that delicious cinnamon oil he used to mix his tempera. As the smell would linger for some months, I developed this habit of sniffing the Volpis people offered me to see how recent they were.     


Volpi didn’t paint much and his paintings were in high demand, but I had the privilege of managing to snag at least one a month. Perhaps because he liked me, he’d sometimes tell me, between one straw cigarette and another, about friends and relatives who had old paintings of his they might want to sell. And so began my life as a hunter: day after day, following up lead after lead, I’d track down Volpis from the 20s and 30s—highly appreciated then. Even today, the thrill of going into a house without knowing exactly what I was going to find—a mediocrity or a masterpiece?—is the best part of my job.    


These were dark times in Brazil, and tracking down and selling paintings was like an escape from reality. Then, one fine night in the early 70s, I was having dinner with Benjamin Steiner and Paulo Roberto Strieder (a friend from my teens, neighbor and one-time business partner), when Benja spilled a name to us—a pair of know-nothing youths—which we’d never heard before: Theon Spanudis, man and collection.  Without wasting any time, we went to see him a few days later, and I must confess that the sight of the retired psychoanalyst, a near hermit, scared me a bit. Perhaps out of caution, he met us at his mother’s apartment on the ground floor of the building he lived in. Straight off, I found the absence of any Volpis on the walls of that quasi-monastic cloister rather odd. The man with the penetrating stare, paused speech, and contained yet evident rigidity, was carefully observing and assessing his two young visitors. At a certain point, he disappeared inside the apartment somewhere and re-emerged after a long while with an extraordinary Volpi in his hands: Garagem Preta (Black Garage), as I call it today, and he gave it to us to sell. 

We sold it the very next day, and, with our enthusiasm at the prompt result, we won his trust. He then opened up heaven’s gates to us, and we got to see the surprising collection Theon had built throughout the 50s. He had some of Volpi’s most poetic moments, the like of which I could never have imagined, paintings that eluded the known phases and labels. Theon jokingly called them his “Toys”, but these were pure poetry. He kept these toys with him to the end, and gradually sold off the rest—which was plenty.  


Besides the promise of good business and my obvious appetite, what you could really see there was Spanudis’ keen eye. Here was a man who knew how to spot the sublime among the many canvases I had seen in my time spent with Volpi. This selective knack marked me deeply, as it continues to do to this day, and I can now see the germ of my own working process in that encounter with Theon: spend a long time looking at paintings, thinking them through, selecting them and hearing other people’s opinions so you can discern the most inspired moments in each artist’s career.    


A few years later, my monologue with paintings expanded into a dialogue with Gerard Loeb (my business partner for fourteen years), a man with refined taste, a true appreciator of art and music. We would make comparisons the whole time: for us, Volpi was without doubt all Mozart. As Gerard didn’t have kids, and I had lost my father, I became his artistic son.  


After the first few years—of intense obsession with Volpi—, my horizons broadened and I began to discover the many wonderful artists we’ve had throughout the 20th Century. While some were still alive in the 70s, I had little contact with them, as my eye was always drawn to their most creative phases, and their very best work. Even with the grand masters (with few exceptions), there is always a learning curve leading up to the revolutionary, innovative zenith.   


And after the peak, which may or may not last some years, there invariably comes repetition and decline. Identifying the golden years of each artist and resisting the commercial temptations to stray from them is the challenge facing the art dealer in this selective pursuit. That, and a merciless approach to what lacks quality is what I learned from my chosen peers: Antonio Maluf and Jean Boghici.   


Over the decades that followed I developed a great affinity with my clientele and was able to direct my work towards building important Brazilian collections that recovered and revealed some real treasures. Now, from 2004 on, I see that this project is about to expand alongside the old corner townhouse I’ve been based in for the last thirty years (as charming as it is unassuming). I just wanted a larger exhibition hall, but the design by Sergio Pileggi ended up giving me a gallery downstairs too, a new space that will enable me to hold exhibitions whenever a set of works, however small, reveals a new perspective or comes together around some special meaning.   


There comes a crucial moment in the work of a marchand—normally so solitary—when it’s no longer about search or discovery, but about presenting works to the customer. It’s only when a piece of art strikes that cord in the back of the client’s gaze that a real bond forms. And without that “click”, there’s no deal, no point in trying to talk someone around. You may as well just move on to the next painting. Deep down, the question I always ask myself is: “Who does this painting speak to?”. 


After 35 years, that cord of seduction and passion has thrummed so often that various collectors have become my friends and together have been able to give me a glimpse of that imaginary collection. As the art dealer chooses and gathers artworks only to scatter them far and wide, that glimpse is a rare moment indeed. This exhibition shows a part of what I have guarded in memory over all these years, and I offer it here as my little tribute to those who, by falling in love with art, create a special place for it inside.

bottom of page