We asked Zsolt Somlói from MindShare media agency why he collects art and he thinks art, especially Hungarian contemporary art, is important to support.
Zsolt Somlói began his career at MAHIR, the major Hungarian advertisement firm, in 1986. Two years later, he was among the founders of GGK, while completing his degree in international marketing. In 1992 with four of his friends, he founded Partners/JWT advertising agency where he worked as the media director. He has been the director of MindShare media agency since 2000. He has been collecting and supporting contemporary art for over two decades. In 2013, he was invited by the Tate Modern Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee in London. He is also a founding member of the Group of the Friends of Photography in Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Collecting art is a long-term adventure that I would compare to raising kids. By the time your results or failures become obvious there is no way for making changes retroactively. Collecting is a true intellectual challenge, my choices will be evaluated 10-20 years from now. I think the most important part of collecting is the road that leads to buying something. On this road, I need to learn on my own, gather information, talk to more informed people until I can get to decide and select the piece of art that I buy. Selection is also a reflection of one’s intellect and way of thinking. I buy art works that I think will stand the test of time and I am convinced that they are good intellectual, moral and financial investments. Collecting art takes place within a social network. This activity brings social connections, gets you into a relatively closed social circle, it is a bit like the Free Masons, and I love to be in.
Those of us who work in business are well aware of our “tunnel vision.” I think, for working out long-term business concepts or managing policy of a company, we need new ideas, inputs that are coming outside of our own profession. One of the advantages of collecting art is that, thanks to the network, the art collector gets into contact with outstanding theoreticians, intellectuals representing different views, attitudes. If we, business men are open-minded and interested enough, we can apply this new knowledge in our business decisions, management, or simply in everyday life. A couple of years ago I was sitting in an art symposium in Madrid where speakers focused on the questions of centre and periphery in contemporary art. From these presentations, I could draw quite a few conclusions for my own company, how a small company working in a small country, at a small market, can still be an integral part of a huge multinational group, what kind of strategies we can follow to be equal partners of incomparably bigger, huge British, French, German, etc. agencies. These ideas helped me when I positioned my own company and worked out our strategy.
As a business man, I see the Hungarian Art scene rather “navel gazing.” If Hungarian contemporary art wants to integrate into the international scene it should act as we do in business. The basic tenet of business is that international integration is feasible where the local conditions, the local market are ready to develop. Art does not have a good infrastructure in Hungary.
This is why I said yes when I was approached to participate in the fund-raising work of OFF BIENNIAL (see our earlier articles in IBS blog). What was at stake, whether we could leave behind the state support system inherited from the times of Socialism, and whether we could step ahead and create a new marketing and financial model in Hungarian contemporary art. OFF BIENNIAL, with its 120 exhibitions in April and May, 2015, was realised from a budget of 60 million HUF, exclusively coming from private sources. The actual success of this business model meant that we could set up an absolutely new type of cooperation, we worked along a clear aim, clear message, and with the participation of different actors of the art scene, artists, gallerists, businessmen, curators and the civil sphere. The Biennial was also supported by those regional artists who participated without any financial compensation.
During the last decade, I broadened my collection with works by East European, regional artists. Hungary is not really visible form the big world centres of art, so Hungarian contemporary art can be positioned in the international context through a dialogue with other countries within our region. This is what I experience during my work in the London Tate Modern, or the Centre Pompidou, Paris. My latest acquisitions are Sic Transit Gloria Mundi by Romanian artist Mircea Cantor, and the photo series TheOther Type of Prison by Polish artist Zbigniew Libera. From my own generation of Hungarian artists, I like the painting by Péter Hecker Busó sailing on a boat with plastic shopping bag. This picture is the essence of our relation to our own history and culture, a grotesque and sharp reflection of our consumer culture.