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Women in the Arts: The Italian Collector and Patron Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo

‘I have invested a lot of energy promoting women artists’

For our ongoing series celebrating the achievements of women in the arts, the founder and President of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, discusses building a collection, why many male collectors are still reluctant to collect works by women and the positivity of the #metoo movement. 

As you were starting out in the arts, what were the possibilities for mentorship, collaboration and cross-generational engagement among women

I didn’t train as an artist or a curator so, at the beginning of my career, my art education developed from conversations I had with three extraordinary women, all of whom were very influential on my thinking. The first, Rosangela Cochrane, is a visionary art collector who is now in her late 80s. She collected important artists from the 1960s such as Carla Accardi, Piero Manzoni, Giulio Paolini and Cy Twombly and she shared her enthusiasm with me. She took me to London in 1992 to visit galleries and meet artists; that was when I fell in love with contemporary art. 

My second major influence was Ida Gianelli, who was director of the Castello di Rivoli – the museum of contemporary art in Turin – from 1990 until 2008. She used to come to my home after work and we would talk all evening about art and artists – in particular, about art by women; she taught me so much. In the 1990s, women artists were getting less attention than today, so it was wonderful to have Ida’s specialist knowledge. In 1996, she invited a group of collectors from Turin to curate individual rooms from their collections at the Castello di Rivoli. She invited me, and I dedicated my room to women artists including Cindy Sherman and Rosemarie Trockel.

The gallerist Monika Sprüth was – in terms of the development of my career and my art knowledge – the third most important figure in my life. We used to spend holidays together and she introduced me to a whole generation of artists, including Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Cindy Sherman and Rosemarie Trockel. I learnt so much from her, not simply about gender issues but about contemporary art in general. The magazine she published, Eau de Cologne, also had an impact on me.  

I can’t forget the women from the past who were great collectors and supporters of the arts, such as Peggy Guggenheim, and the three women who founded New York’s Museum of Modern Art: Lillie P. Bliss, Mrs John D Rockefeller Jr and Mrs Cornelius J. Sullivan. All of these women chose to expend their energy on the establishment of this extraordinary institution and I applaud them.

What, if any, were the difficulties of embarking on a career in the arts as a woman? 

While I was very lucky that I had the chance to build a collection and establish the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, I have always been very aware of the gender inequality in the art world, in regard to the representation of women in galleries and museums, and the lower prices their work earns at auction. As a result, I have invested a lot of energy promoting women artists. In 2004, for example, we decided to devote an entire year to women at the Foundation: our exhibitions, our publications and our talks programme. This year, we are proud to have worked on ‘Herstory’ at Touchstones Rochdale in Greater Manchester in the UK; it’s an exhibition of women artists from our collection. (It runs until 29 September.) And at the Foundation this autumn (opening 2 November), we have invited three female artists to present new and recent work – Monster Chetwynd, Rachel Rose and Andra Ursuța. Over the years, we are proud to have enabled female artists – such as Rachel Rose – to make ambitious new works of art.

How has the situation changed? 

At the Foundation, we have researched the percentage of work by women artists in Italian collections and have discovered that many male collectors are still reluctant to collect works by women. Women collectors were – and are – much more supportive of women artists. 

However, things are definitely getting better – there’s now far more awareness and discussion around issues of gender – but equality is far from being achieved. The vast majority of solo shows in museums feature male artists and there is still no gender parity in documenta and the biennale circuit. But many institutions are beginning to revisit the past and reappraise the work of women artists. Also, more and more top positions in galleries and museums are being appointed to women, but the problem, of course, is that they don’t always have pay parity. We need to stay alert – things might be getting better, but we can’t become complacent.

What are your thoughts about #Metoo and other initiatives to call attention to sexual harassment?

Overall, I believe that the origin of the movement – to call attention to sexual harassment – is very positive. In particular, the #Metoo movement has provided a voice for women affected by sexual harassment, but we shouldn’t forget that both men and women can be victims. 

In Italy, a pressing issue is the domestic violence that so many women suffer on a daily basis: it’s an ongoing slaughter and must urgently be addressed. I fully support a more open discussion around these issues, which deserve urgent attention.

Main image: Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Photograph: Stefano Sciuto

A collector and patron of contemporary art, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo is the Founder and President of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, Italy.

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