«Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo: A Foundation must be an open place»

Von Julieta Schildknecht


«A Foundation like mine must be an open place, a lively place, a hospitable place, where anyone can come to learn, share and grow. We serve the community and the public interested in Art».

Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, one of the worldwide most powerful collectors and well established Art patron, couldn’t imagine living or working if not in a sustainable way.
Julieta Schildknecht: I would like to start our interview with a quote from your father, Mr Sandretto: “Do it but do it right.”
Can you say something about this?

Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo: Yes, my Father just passed away last year… I have been thinking a lot about him. I am lucky because I grew up in a fantastic family, my father was a hard working Entrepreneur, created a successful company. He was a bit strict but this was a positive upbringing to learn how to discern what is good from not good. Since I was meant to work at his company, I graduated in Economics in Torino. I married, had two sons and in 1992 I discovered contemporary art. It was love at first sight. I decided to get more involved with art and start to collect. The wish to build the Foundation and have a space came along. I had to spend all my energy on that direction. When I spoke about my idea with my father. His advise was if I wanted to build a collection and have a foundation, I should do it in the best possible way. “Fallo bene.” mi dice lei. From that moment on, I understood this was my path and the direction my life would take. I am happy because my father followed the developing of my collection, he was always very interested. He was part of the Board of the foundation. He used to come to all openings, he would travel with me whenever we would have openings in other countries. He was so involved. Two years ago when I was informed about receiving the Torinese dell’Ano Award in December, as a recognition for my work in Torino. He planned to be present at the ceremony in May on the first row to support me. It was a matter of months and unfortunately he couldn’t be there. I was proud he knew about the award before his passing because the recognition meant a lot to him. He is always around and remains an important person in my life.
JS: Meanwhile you are one of the 100 most influential people in the art environment worldwide for consecutive years. Why?
PSRR: Because since I started collecting, I spend all my energy not only collecting art but also supporting artists. I always say that if I am collecting artwork it is because I know the artist. I want to have a strong relation with the artist to understand what is behind the artwork they are producing and what is needed to produce it. I understood from the very beginning there was a lot to do particularly in Italy. In 1992 there was no National Museum, MAXXI in Rome opened in 2010. Meaning 18 years later after I started to collect. I was lucky to be living and working in Torino, here where the Castelo di Rivoli is located. I always wanted to be more involved and be part of the art world. For that reason I established the fondazione. It was important to share my collection instead of keeping it at home and produce new work. The fondazione exists also to create connections, relations, synergy and network. This happens for instance with the project with the Philadelphia Museum. Every two years, we invite an artist, we commission a new work either a video, film, installation, or sound pieces, which are much more difficult to collect than collecting a painting or a sculpture. When we invite the artists, we show them in the venue in Torino. At the same time I really believe in collaboration. That’s why I decided to put together 17 private foundations to create an Art Committee. We work together to support Italian artists, we work together with the Minister of Culture, we have a protocol and now we are working on new ways to support Italian artists to establish them abroad.


JS: Could you talk more about the creation of the Italian Arts Council?
PSRR: I think this was anticipated through our Art Committee when we established it in 2014. At the end of 2015 our Comitato Fondazioni Arti Contemporania started to closely work together with the Ministry and Minister of Culture. That was Franceschini back then. We felt the urge to create something like the Arts Council in UK. We made a big study and the Minister was familiar with contemporary art. Artists can only apply if they are endorsed by an institution (museum, foundation or even a group of collectors). There is a Jury to choose the most important project. The council funds 80% project’s costs and the art institution contributes with the other 20%. The artwork when ready becomes part of a public museum’s collection. The entire process guarantees the quality of the artwork as well as the expansion of public museum’s collections. It is a good way to bring visibility to other museums like Mambo in Bologna or Castello de Rivoli as well other institutions abroad.


JS: Thinking of new projects, I would like you to talk about San Giacomo Island, Collina di San Licerio Park with sculptures and your Art residences.
PSRR: San Giacomo Island is a small island between Murano and Burano, the highest island of the laguna and will be the last one to disappear. It didn’t happen but never say never. We are reappropriating the island which is part of venetian history for cultural purposes. It was once a big Basilica, it was a monastery in the 11th century, it was used by the pilgrims leaving Venice on their way to other countries. I can imagine being used for quarantine during the pandemic. It was also used as an orchard for lots of plants, vegetables and trees. During the napoleonic period it was used as military post where gunpowder was stored. It is possible to live in the island in small buildings that surround it. Three bigger ones are not ready. The idea is to transform it into a place for residences with two art spaces. So far we had a performance by Jota Mombaça in April 2022 during the 59th Venice Biennale.
We plan to have it open in 2024 during the next one. When the island is ready, we will invite artists to start working on future projects and exhibit at one of the spaces, we will have artists as guests at one of the houses. It will also function during the Cinema, Dance and Music’s Biennials. My husband Agustino Re Rebaudengo, works with renewable energy and since we don’t have energy there, we installed solar panels and eolic mills. We want it to remain a sustainable project also used for think tanks to think about the future of our planet. I will be there this week for a meeting with Venice Major and counsellors and other people who are also working in the garden. The idea is to install new artwork there.


JS: Regarding your sculpture collection, two of them that are currently at Palazzo Strozzi celebrating 30 years of the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Collection are going to the island?
PSRR: The sculptures are at the moment at Palazzo Strozzi Firenze where we are showing works by many artists the likes of Maurizio Cattelan and Lynette-Yiadom Boakye. We have there a fantastic 15mt rocket which we commissioned, produced and realised with/by the artist Goshka Macuga. There is also a fantastic Mermaid (Serenade) by Thomas Schütte. Both these sculptures will be later installed at the entrance of San Giacomo island. As of Guarene, is a small village which means a lot to me. It is opposite from Alba, the capital of the white truffles – Piedmont. From Guarene you see Barolo, Barbaresco. We have a family house dated 17th century which we decided to use as a space for art. It’s a Palazzo and the first fondazione’s venue when we started. We renovated it. The ground floor is used for artwork exhibitions. We have around 15 rooms for artist and curators.


JS: Could you please talk about your programs with art curators?
PSR: We have two programs. One is called Young Curator Residency Program which is oriented to foreign curators. Every year we ask world’s most prestigious curatorial schools to send CVs of one or two curators who just finished school. From Royal College, Goldsmith, Sotheby’s (….)… We have a jury to interview all curators to choose three for Torino and three more for Madrid. In Torino, we started this project seventeen years ago and in Madrid, four years ago. They travel with one of our foundation’s curator everywhere in Italy to visit around 150/200 artists studios, their respective galleries and museums. Including Italian living abroad via Zoom calls. Once this process is finished, they return to Torino to work on an art exhibition. The synergy we created between international curators and Italian artists, offer new horizons for Italian artists when new projects are developed outside Italy. This residency is a fantastic project.
We created eleven years ago a curatorial course for Italian curators open to anyone interested in becoming a curator. We receive yearly more than 100 applications. All students are interviewed. Our foundations curator then chooses ten candidates to join the 9 months program. They study in Torino as well as other countries with established curators and professors. The educational Dept as well as the curatorial Dept, the social Dept, the technical Dept, the press Dept all get involved on this program. The basic scope concerning artists studios visits, etc, remain otherwise the same.


JS: Reading and following your many art endeavours, one sees how education plays an important role for you. How responsible do you feel when you are giving artists new commissions, following the entire journey until the artwork is accomplished? Is this a passion or your own way to express creativity?

PSRR: Let’s approach the concept of commission. This has always been since the beginning so important for me. In 1999, for example, we produced a work with Doug Aitken for the Venice Biennial. I really do believe in commissioning. There are different ways of commissioning. Sometimes we invite the artist to exhibit in Torino, we commission the work of the exhibition, it could be good to show you what we did in 2015 and 2016 with Ian Cheng, for example. We did the same with Adrian Villar Rojas. Often what we do at the Foundation is to invite artists to realise a completely new exhibition with a new body of work. In November we invited Paulina Olowska and offered all spaces including cafeteria and bookshop for new work. It is also important when the artists ask us to support them, to be part of their project. A good example is the film Phillippe Parenno and Douglas Gordon did about Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Sixteen cameramen from all over the world, including one from the NASA, were invited to film Zidane during a game in Madrid. The 17 different perspectives created fantastic 17 different films. I felt great to be involved in the film’s production. I still remember when the first steps and decisions were shared with me… or how they would go to Paris to work on the realisation of the film.


JS: In other words, it is a passion for you.
PSRR: Yes, foremost a passion! I could say the same reason why I decided to make the sculpture park in Guarene. It was 2019, just before Covid. Why is it important to have artworks indoors and outdoors? Contemporary Art is not easy and we don’t want to make it easy either. We want however to give people the possibility to understand it. So we decided artists to realise site specific sculptures for our park. In 2023 we commissioned Marinella Senatore to work in Guarene with elderly people and students thinking about words and names. The installation will be ready on 6th of May to be placed in the sculpture park.


JS: What are you teaching?
PSRR: Yes! When we finish this interview, I am going to drive to Milano to teach my students of IULM.


JS: Could you talk about your Library? What are the 30’000 books distributed in two different libraries about? Are they accessible to students and the public?
PSRR: My Libraries are important because it has been a way in the past 30 years to grow and learn more about the world. To collect contemporary art is not a hobby. You have to study. I have learned a lot through my books. All the persons working at the foundation have access to the books. The library is open to Students but not accessible to the public. I have been working in finding a new place for my library which would make the books accessible to anyone.


JS: Two books that are part of your library called my attention. One of them is called “The art collection between private passion and Philanthropy” and the other “Art wealth management: managing private art collections.”
PSR: I really think that art can help people with different sequels arising after strong diseases. Art helps learning to focus and talk after an aphasia for instance. It helps people with Parkinson disease. We give a lot of support to teachers. We work close with children and elder people. This is part of my mecenate. I am the president of a foundation that fundraise to fund research at two hospitals: Fondazione IEO Monzino.


JS: And then you say the instinct make my choice. Is this your life motto? Being one of the most elegant patrons in the art world, how do you combine your aesthetic comprehension with the flair of making your own fashion?
PSRR: I have a tailor and he is a friend of mine. He is making my dresses. Often we start from my jewellery. The dress has to be sometimes made for that specific jewellery. In other occasions I find a fabric. We work together.


JS: How are you supporting the textile industry or the fashion industry in Italy?
PSRR: In Como there are many Textile companies. I have a project that is an Art Collab. We invite designers, we invite shoe makers… We work together with the artist. Paul Kneale worked with Nicholas Kirkwood. There is the collaboration from Stella Jean who worked with Michael Armitage to make a sweater. The revenue goes to philanthropy.
PSRR: You have the flair for fabric patterns (Patrizia shows me the jacket that perfectly matches her dress with its exclusive abstractions of flowers.) I love to find the fabric for my dresses. The geometry and the phantasise make a difference.


JS: Which inputs could you give to new art collectors willing to start a similar journey? How and why could someone become a collector?
PSRR: Become a collector? You have to start to visit the galleries. You have to visit artists. In every city. I would say first of all you have to study, visit exhibitions, visit fairs, visit museums. Now a days, instagram and online events make it a bit easier. When I started, internet was not like today. After Covid, many Galleries invite you to visit artists studios from home. You can learn more and it is a bit easier. At fairs, you have the same artist in three different galleries. Speak with the artists, also at openings. You have to exercise your eyes!! The only way to understand quality, what is good, what is interesting, what is fresh and new. In the end, you have to listen to your heart and follow your intuition.
When I started there were less galleries and artists. My first Biennial in Venice I remember there were not so many parties like now. We would all go to a small trattoria with the journalists.


JS: Do you agree that your instinct / intuition has helped?
PSR: Yes but thanks to the fondazione I could do my research and source new artists. I would invite artists to the foundation to talk with us. Francesco Bonami was my director. We would meet with the curators and talk a lot. We would discuss the artists we would like to invite for bigger projects. The fondazione is a good endorsement to actual and new art projects. It enables strong support to the artists. We managed to create a complete infrastructure in every sense to facilitate planning and production of new artwork as well as the required network that brings visibility to artists and the network – on the short and long term.


JS: Thinking of how sustainable your foundation is, I would like to ask you how do you understand carbon reduction and renewable energy in relation to your foundation?
PSRR: We try to do everything in the most sustainable way since our first days. The electricity we consume at every sight is clean energy! We are quite aware. My husband has been working in this field of renewable energy since many years. Our artists were tackling the issue way in advance. Now everyone is talking about climate change. In 2008 we dedicated the whole program – one entire year – to artists working on this theme. I think it is crucial to recycle paper, live in sustainable houses, make use of sustainable energy. My collection has artworks which explain the urgency of this topic. The polemic in 2008 related to less airplane travels incentivising the use of trains was a sign of awareness. We reduced carbon emission at our park in Guarene. We planted a special kind of trees that reduce the CO2.


Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo created her own niche. She concentrates her attention towards establishing contemporary art in Italy – as an absolute priority. This is extremely sustainable. As a result she has amassed a long list of recognitions, numerous awards and titles. Just to prove that a real change maker must be extremely agile.
The happily married taurine, has two children and two grandchildren. She finds balance walking in the Park or swimming three times a week. A good wine cellar, her own wine are part of some of her hobbies. One of her dreams: to make a marmalade from a special pear from Piemont called pera madernassa. “We just planted many trees on the hill.“
Her drive, friendship and that good eye are her trademark… “the artists when they come to Torino they stay at my house.”
PSRR has been awarded several prizes and honorary titles, including the Recognition of Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana (2005), the title of ‚Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres‘ conferred by the French Republic (2009), the ‚Montblanc Arts Patronage‘ Award (2003), the ‚AIDDA‘ Award (2003), the ‚Marisa Bellisario‘ Award (2005), the LEO Award of the ICI (2019), the nomination as ‚Ambassador in the world of Turin’s excellence‘ (2020), the ‚Torinese of the Year‘ Award (2021), the ‘Rinascimento + Prize’ for her commitment in art patronage (2022).