July 01, 2016
Born into a family of Lebanese merchants, Gary Nader is undeniably one of the most powerful figures in the world of the Arts. For someone who began selling art when most children are learning to read, it's indisputable that this bold Dominican, who predicted 30 years ago that Latin American Art would be appreciated with time, is a true visionary.
His trajectory as an entrepreneur has been propelled by the unveiling of galleries, auction houses, art fairs and even a museum that houses his private collection, which includes the works of Pablo Picasso, Fernando Botero and Diego Rivera, making it one of the most noteworthy collections in private hands. From the onset, his personal crusade has been to vindicate the intrinsic value of Latin American Art. Nowadays, that laudable cause propels his most ambitious project: the Nader Latin American Art Museum (LAAM), a multidisciplinary center to diffuse Art and Latin American culture, which will be located at Miami Dade College. Such a project will require an investment of 725 million Euros. Extending more than 20,000 square meters, the center will include an exhibition center, theater, conference center, garden for monumental sculptures, luxury housing for artists, a gourmet high-end restaurant and a selective culinary market. It will be erected in Downtown Miami, next to the Liberty Tower, becoming so, the cultural axis of Miami. There are four enterprises competing for the adjudication of the project and Gary Nader, through Nader + Museu I, LLP, has offered Miami Dade College the largest financial contribution ever made by a Latin American philanthropist to an American institution: 108 million Euros. Moreover, he will donate his Latin American art collection and a thousand works of art by more than 250 artists, worth over 50 million Euros.
How did growing up in a family of art gallery owners influence you?
I remember visiting my Uncle Georges' gallery in Haiti when I was 6 years old. I had never seen such a huge space filled with so many works of art and so jam-packed with art buyers! Back then, Port au Prince was today's Saint Barth. The cruise ships would arrive at the dock bringing buyers who would swarm into town to buy Haitian art. After noticing my keen interest in the artwork, my uncle gave me an art book that he had published containing information of all the artists on display in the gallery. After spending two hours observing the paintings and flipping through the book, I could look at any of the paintings and recognize who the author was. Evidently, I inherited my family's photographic memory! Shortly thereafter, my parents opened an art gallery in the Dominican Republic. I would run to the gallery as soon as I finished my homework and spend entire afternoons there. At the tender age of 9, I decided to take my first shot at selling art. It's well known that the Lebanese have a reputation of being good salesmen (laughing). I learned about sales from observing my father. Approximately two to three hundred buyers passed through our gallery on a weekly basis. As a result, we would dispatch hundreds of paintings every week. It was sensational!
He opened his first art gallery when he was 19
That's right; I became a minority partner of the family's gallery at the age of 20. Back then, my father wanted to make innovations to our gallery, but being a Property Developer involved in the construction of buildings and hotels, he had little or no time for the gallery, while I was already wholeheartedly devoted to the art business. Our Salon was the "meeting point" of the Dominican intellectuals. Also, diplomats, ministers, and foreign Presidents would meet at the gallery, allowing me to interact with very interesting personalities.
Do you remember any person who had a special influence in particular?
They were so many! There, all the Latin American presidents passed by. Julio Iglesias, for example, would visit the gallery and stay for a couple of hours. The gallery was the most exciting cultural center in the whole country, and my father was very charming. Everybody wanted to have a cup of coffee or better yet, a glass of whiskey with him.
Taking into consideration this astounding precocity, you have a privileged panorama to evaluate how the world of art has changed.
I studied Business Administration (graduated with First Class Honor); from my prom, I was number one. I applied everything I learned at university to the arts. I became fully aware that Miami was a crucial site; it surprised me that a city, fiercely cosmopolitan, with sea cost and so close to Latin America and Europe, was more backward in regard to the arts than the Dominican Republic. It was a desert! I knew that Latin Americans preferred Miami instead of New York, and that those who purchased at Sotheby's and at Christie's adored Miami. The young people of my generation began to study here and to enjoy its beaches and discotheques. I always say: Miami is destined to become a great metropolis because of its privileged geographic location and its people, who come from all over the world to live here, and are vertiginously transforming Miami into what I have already affirmed, a great metropolis.
What brought you to Miami?
In my country, the gallery was highly profitable; my earnings were higher than the President's profits. By the age of 22 I had sold whatever sellable art I owned. I had millions in the bank. I had succeeded, although, I felt that the island didn't offer me any inducements. Besides that, a personal issue arose; I had to bring my daughter to the United States in search of specialized medical care.
What did your family say?
When I told my father that I wanted to open a gallery in Miami, he said: "Why there? It's a desert! Go to Paris or London." I explained to him that those cities were already formed and that I wanted to be part of one that grows with me. My father wisely predicted: "It will take you twenty years", to which I replied: "Yes, it will, but it's going to be fun". Indeed, the first two years were quite complicated.
How did you begin?
I decided to open a "Dealer Shop", in other words, you don't own a gallery but you act as an intermediary exhibiting works of art in various places; I also worked a lot with Sotheby's and with Christie's. From an early age I had found out that Matta, Lam, Botero and Torres García, the four most important Latin-American artists, had lived in Paris, except Torres García, who lived in Barcelona. So then, I moved to Europe in search of their artworks. My arrival to Madrid caused me total disappointment.
What disappointed you?
I thought that in the "Motherland", Latin-American artists would have a notable presence, but the only thing I found was a small drawing made by Torres García. Every time I asked about these artists, they would tell me, "If you want some of their art, you should go to Paris."
So then, you left to Paris?
Yes, a week later. It was 1986, and back in those days the city had only two hundred galleries. As a matter of fact, Guide de Galeries, a one-hundred page agenda with a list of artists, would specify in which gallery they were having their art featured. I would spend twelve hours daily searching, tracking down, and acquiring art. As a result, I brought to Miami: two by Lams, two by Matta, and two by Botero.
Paradoxically, in spite of Lam being the most well-known Cuban artist worldwide, Cubans in Miami weren't familiar with him; only one or two Cubans had heard about Botero; they believed that Matta was French; and that Torres García was too hard to understand. Anyway, it was a tough beginning.
Yet, your motivation never wavered...
No, it didn't, although the obstacles were huge! People would not understand and would look at me thinking: "This guy is asking $150,000 for a painting, he must be insane!" Then, I would argue that it was a significant work of art painted by Lam, which in the future would be worth millions, because his contemporaries, such as Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall were appraised for tens of millions of dollars even back in those days. And, it was impossible that these great Latin-American artists were so undervalued.
Let's talk about you as an Art Collector.
At times, it excites me more to acquire art from an artist who is at the mid-point in his artistic career than from a great master. My art collection is vast; I own important paintings by Matta, Lam, Tamayo, Botero, Torres García, Siqueiros...
I have collected art since thirty years ago with the purpose of exhibiting them in the museum that we are building. Once inaugurated, the museum will be the Latin American cultural center point of reference for the world. The museum already has over one thousand works of art, and we are currently negotiating with Miami Dade College, and if they accept our proposal the project will start in about three years. An important aspect to take into account is that the museum will not be only about art, but also about global Latin American Culture. In addition to art expositions, the museum will feature events promoting gastronomy, dance, music and theater. "The best things that Latin Americans have given to the world, besides the most beautiful women (winks) are our culture, our art".
I understand that Emilio Estefan is in your team.
Yes, indeed. Emilio is my best friend. He has to his credit 23 Grammy Awards, and he has produced magnificent musical shows, among them, his latest musical hit, On Your Feet.
Has Spain neglected its work as bridge between both shores of the Atlantic?
I'm afraid it has. When I arrived in Madrid thirty years ago, I was disheartened by the panorama. Despite the historical ties that bind us together, it surprised me the fact that there was no major interaction with Latin America. It's disappointing that the panorama has not changed much. Madrid should have a permanent, established cultural center, a place where ideas and exhibitions might be interchanged. Yes, they have La Casa de America, but it is absolutely irrelevant. With the opening of the museum, the perception of Latin-American Art will change radically.
Besides collecting art by consecrated authors, you bid also for young authors.
I bid on them at a personal level. Acquisitions for the museum must be differentiated from one's independent acquisitions. You cannot exhibit emerging artists in museums because they haven't earned their merit just yet. First, they have to create a body of work by presenting public exhibitions at biennials, galleries, and small museums. Unfortunately, 90% of those young artists disappear. It's an irrefutable truth. Museums should support those established artists who already have a background; and galleries should confer opportunities to novice emerging artists.
Quite often, recent graduates are found for exorbitant prices.
It's absurdly grotesque! That's the result of ignorant art collectors and a twisted market. What these buyers have on hands is worth nothing, because the artists stopped painting or what they paint is of poor quality. I differentiate between art collectors and art investors.
Do you think that art is being excessively commodified?
Of course! But, it's a balloon that will do much harm to too many people once it blows up. It is a tragedy orchestrated by several gallery owners, art collectors, and auction houses. It's disgusting! Don't count on me for such infamies. I don't go for that. Art is not a business. It must be enjoyed for its intellectual value. Maybe you're lucky enough to acquire an interesting artwork that revalues, but often what's acquired today is worthless tomorrow. The way the market manages certain artists who just have two art exhibitions, for which they ask 300,000 dollars, is a horrible joke. The art collector who believes his own lies is nothing but a fool.
You opened an auction house...
I sell art at auction houses and also have an auction house, that's why I cannot participate in Art Basel. Of course, my art auctions are "curated" sales. I do not exhibit a commercial artist just because he has to be sold. I don't hang a thousand paintings, but rather, a hundred works of art by artists whose price I know will not collapse. Neither am I Sotheby's nor Christie's. People don't buy from a corporation, they buy from Gary Nader. I must keep my ethic and my credibility. If I sell to a collector an artwork, which by tomorrow is worth nothing, my prestige is at stake.
Also, you mounted an Art Fair
It was called Contemporanea, and it was a response to Art Basel Miami in 2001. Sam Keller called me and asked: "Gary, shall we do the art fair or not?" The 9-11 Attacks had just happened, and for that reason I told him: "Sam, the artists will not send their works, and neither will the museums or the galleries. Your first addition will be a fiasco, and you should cancel it because we are in October, and the world has come to a halt". Sam's objection was that newspapers had already announced it, and that galleries were all ready. I warned him that people would be afraid to travel. Art Basel Miami was postponed for a year. When Sam called me again, he said that he had followed my advice, and thanked me for advising him. As I was already well aware, he said that I could not directly participate in the fair, and that they were open to explore other ways of collaboration. I asked him about the participant galleries, and was surprised to find that just one Latin-American gallery had been selected. I told him that was an insult because Miami was the most important Latin-American city in the world. He argued that it was the only one chosen by the Selection Committee, and added that there was nothing that could be done. Then, I told him that I would proceed how I see fit. I called Agustín Arteaga, former Director of the Tamayo museum in Mexico, and sent him on a mission to fifteen Latin-American countries with only one request: "Bring me 50 Latin-American artists. I'm going to give away one booth to each one to make an art fair".
I rented the Convention Centre, and to make long story short, we welcomed 11,000 visitors and 40 million dollar artworks were sold. The following year, Art Basel Miami had 25 Latin-American galleries.
Why don't you participate in Arco?
I don't do art fairs because it is not in my gallery's interest. Fairs are fashion runways, and if a gallery owner has such a fabulous artist whom everybody wants, why does he exhibit his artworks if they are already sold?
Now, however, I will begin doing art fairs to give the museum recognition because fairs are good promotional platforms. I don't want to sound pretentious, but if I have succeeded it is because I work with integrity. When I began in this business I used to go to Art Basel, Fiac, Tefaf, and Arco. There you could see and enjoy; it wasn't like today's modern day craze of parties, champagne, and all the "I bought this, what did you get?"
How can it be that in twenty years we have grown from 6 or 7 galleries to 800? Do you know how many kiosks need to be filled? And they have to be filled with something. What do gallery owners do? They exhibit irrelevant and untenable artists. If you visit the first four hallways of any of the best fairs, you will see marvelous art, but what is behind curtains makes you flee. They all exhibit the same garbage simply because they have to fill the kiosks. How can it be that in the last ten years 50,000 artists have emerged? I suggest you take a look at the Art Basel's catalog from ten years ago and verify that 70-80% of the emerging artists that appeared have faded away. It's something that can be statically verified. Art fairs have turned into a complete joke of which I don't want to be a part of. There are important galleries that participate and exhibit extraordinary works of art, but in a gala you cannot have 300 kiosks, it's ridiculous!
Is it a sign of the times?
Absolutely, but the ability to appreciate the intrinsic value of a work of art is something that should be cultivated. That's why is imperative to teach children this ability - so they can have their own criteria. I visited fifteen apartments of young millionaire New Yorkers, and it seems that they all made a mutual agreement to buy the same thing. All of them have the same artists, there is no originality. When a customer asks: "what do you recommend I buy, Mr. Nader?" I tell them to acquire just one thing, but that that thing should excite you. One should not influence people to acquire something that they do not like, just because it has a famous name, nor because it will be worth more in the future.
There are artists who have turned into brands
History will take care of putting them in their place, even though neither you nor I will get to witness that. A Basquiat cannot be worth what a Van Gogh is worth!
A famous art collector declared that current houses work better with contemporary and modern art. How can someone say something so stupid? How can it be that the artists of the last decade are worth more than the Masters from the Renaissance? It's insane!
Jeff Koons is worth more than Velazquez
Exactly, a Koons is worth more than a Velazquez, and they are not even his works. Art has turned into a business. And, do you know what happens? The wealthy people have invested their money in artists that lack historical value, but they will defend their investment. Today we find artists who are worth what you pay for them, like Gerhard Richter. But those artists who put three words in a frame and ask for 50 million dollars take advantage of the general public's ignorance. But everyone does what they want with their money.
How do art collectors influence all this?
Some have formed their collection based on what their advisors suggested, and they make museums out of things that are a complete joke. I belong to the old school generation and perhaps, they pertain to the new school and the only thing that interests them is just seeing names. That's their choice. I have taught my children not to ever ask me the price of a painting. I bring them to the gallery and I ask them to tell me what they like and why. When they ask me how much something is worth, I tell them that that is not what matters most. I have paintings worth 20,000 dollars better than others that cost me 300,000 dollars.
Which artists have impacted you the most?
The artists who have impacted me the most are Roberto Matta and Fernando Botero. The first one is, for me, the most underrated artist in the world. He is the painter who influenced the Great Masters of the abstract art in America. And his value in the market is extremely low compared to others. This is what we are trying to change. And the second is Botero, with whom I have maintained a close friendship since twenty years ago. He has had to fiercely fight against countless critics who have scorned his art work.
Also, he is a renowned art collector
Botero donated a thousand works of art to the Banco de la República, the largest donation ever made by a Latin American. I accompanied him to the ceremony, with the President of Colombia, and I asked him: "Master, why are you donating this collection? It is worth hundreds of millions of dollars". His response left me speechless: "because if you make a donation that doesn't hurt, it is not a donation". It's true. If you make a donation of 500,000 dollars to a hospital, but in your bank account you still have billions, then, it is meaningless. Later on, talking about the donation, he confessed: "do you know what hurts the most? It's not the money. It's having lived decades with these amazing works of art, and now having to see empty walls". I hope that Miami Dade College understands that the donation of our family collection is the result of a passion, something that has to do with feelings. Getting rid of these works of art for the pleasure of sharing them with others is an unequalled sensation.
"I predicted thirty years ago the revaluation of Latin American art- assures Gary Nader- All the important museums worldwide exhibit our masters: The Shanghai museum just recently presented an exhibition on Botero and has already been visited by more than 2,000,000 people; the MoMA organized one on Torres García [which is now in the Fundación Telefónica de Madrid]; the Reina Sofia currently has one on Wilfredo Lam, which comes from Pompidou, and then it will be at the Tate; and they are contemplating an exhibit on Matta in the Guggenheim. Ten years ago you could count on one hand the international galleries that were exhibiting Latin American artists. Nowadays, there is not a single renowned gallery that does not have several Latin American artists. Museums are also just now starting to collect our artists"