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Tiqui Atencio Explores What Makes Collectors Tick

Ms. Atencio, who also has homes in New York and London, has some powerful museum affiliations in those cities. She is an ex-officio trustee at the Guggenheim Museum, chairwoman of its International Director’s Council and chairwoman of Tate’s Latin American Acquisitions Committee.


Tiqui Atencio’s “Could Have, Would Have, Should Have: Inside the World of the Art Collector.”

She talked to The Times about her own collecting, her book and the one that got away. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

Did you have art in your life at an early age?

I grew up between the United States and Venezuela. Then I went to school in Europe. Collecting art was not part of the immediate family, except for my uncle and aunt. And those are the two major influences that I had. They would take me out to the galleries in Venezuela, in Caracas, and then later on in my late-20s to the auction houses.

How did that come about?

My uncle lived on top of Christie’s when it was on Park Avenue, and he wouldn’t go out without going to see what was going on in Christie’s. So, he introduced me to that world.

Did you take to it right away?

He was passionate about it, and he passed that passion to me. Auctions are like politics; they bite you and you just want to continue.


Eli Broad in front of the Broad Museum in Los Angeles.

Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

And I learned so much through auction houses, because you learn about the market, you learn about the art, you create an eye.

And what was the first thing that you bought at auction in those early days?

It was a very important Armando Reverón, who was our most important late Venezuelan painter. It was one of his best, and most important, paintings, “Woman with Mantilla.” I told my uncle, “I am putting a lot of money into this painting — practically everything I own.”

And how much was that?

Around $400,000, in 1989 or so.

That’s starting out with a bang. Does it still hang prominently at home?

No, I sold it to buy something else. I was buying Latin American at the time, and then I started buying American and British art, and I wanted to buy something more modern, more contemporary.


Laurence Graff, the head of Graff Diamonds.

Michael Falco for The New York Times

Do you remember what you used the proceeds for?

A small Brice Marden and an important David Salle.

How many works do you own?

It’s more than 500, mostly contemporary. I have very few of mine in storage, because I like to live with them. I have a lot of sculptures, and I even have video, but it includes paintings, photographs, all media.

It seems not a coincidence that you have homes in auction hubs — London, New York.

Yeah, I have it covered, all the auction centers. Even Monaco is an auction center. I travel to all the sales, November and May in New York, and February, June and October in London. I chair these two museum committees, and I think it’s important to have an influence during the auction period.

What kinds of things did you learn writing your book?

I loved the fact that the common denominator was that they were all very altruistic, and they were all giving to institutions, and creating their own institutions. They are playing a huge role in promoting art and culture. I’m sure that there are other collectors who have the wrong motivations, but I truly believe that at the end of the day these collectors love the arts. And I wanted to underline this human side of collecting, which I thought was the most important side, because I never thought of art as an “investment.”


“Hanging Heart” by Jeff Koons at a show in Monaco in 2014.

Valery Hache/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Any especially good anecdotes?

There were a lot of funny moments. People would find a work that they had seen in the gallery, and then they brought it home and it couldn’t fit through the doors or the windows. Laurence Graff told me about this enormous steel sculpture that he found. At one point he had to hire helicopters to move it, and the logistics were impossible. I said to him that what you have to do is make a mock-up beforehand, to test it. I don’t know why he didn’t think of that before.

You run in the same circles as these people, do you ever feel competitive with them?

I’m aware that I can’t compete with people like Eli Broad! I think that everybody has their own way of collecting. There are rivalries, of course, but I don’t feel that.

Do you have a personal “one that got away?”

I think the thing that got away was “Hanging Heart” by Jeff Koons. I went to his atelier. I saw it in a mock-up, and I fell in love with it — this was years before it was even fabricated, mind you. I had agreed to a price and everything, but it was big. I think Jeff said to me, “Listen, it’s enormous. You’re not going to be able to put anything else in your home. It’s an apartment in New York. And the other thing, how are you going to get it in?” [laughs]

Isn’t that the one that sold for a lot of money at auction?

It went for $25 million or so. Today it’s worth maybe $80 million.

Oh well.

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