Art En Valise: Three Collectors Join Forces and Pool Resources

By Sky Gooden, April 10 2014. 
On an early April evening, one of Toronto’s most unique gallery spaces was buzzing. Three of Toronto’s prominent collectors were initiating a significant and wholly experimental project, Art en Valise (a term taken from Duchamp’s traveling suitcase that contained miniature models of his artworks), and doing so with no small amount of sophistication and fanfare. Unveiling a solo exhibition of the rising Czech artist Eva Kotátková at Scrap Metal and hosting an artist talk with Frieze curator Cecilia Alemani, collectors Elisa Nuyten, Liza Mauer, and Paul Marks were introducing their project with marquee talent. And while a privately-invited crowd of museum directors, curators, and fellow collectors observed the talk in an annexed gallery, the surprises mounted.

Three child performers outfitted in strict school uniforms scaled the central work, Kotátková’s “Educational Model” (2009), and took their position atop the scaffolding to perform tasks of reading and writing in prim silence. The audience poured out of the presentation to find the exhibition complete.

“We want to take risks and be dynamic,” Mauer says of their initiative, gesturing to the expansive exhibition that forms their first endeavor. The trio, who met working on various boards and traveling in similar circles within Toronto’s artworld, agree that their organization – a non-profit and self-funded roving curatorial collective – only bears one organizational component: “that we need to agree on something,” says Mauer. “Apart from that, the whole fun of this is that we don’t really need to have a structure.”

All three members of Art en Valise are well-positioned to know where the want is. Both Elisa Nuyten and Liza Mauer have served on the Power Plant board, are members of the Tate Americas Foundation, and are founding members of Partners in Art. Mauer works with the AGO and Nuyten with the Power Plant’s annual fundraising gala, the Power Ball. Paul Marks is a well-known Toronto collector whose focus includes conceptualism and collecting “white and black,” as he puts it. Marks has served on the curatorial committee for contemporary art at the AGO, and the boards of directors at the Art Gallery of York University, the Power Plant, and the MOCCA collections committee. He is associate professor of surgery at the University of Toronto.

“Where it came from is that we’re all collectors and we all get to travel to see great art around the world. And you see that the depth of the presentation of art isn’t just about institutions. We wanted to do something in Toronto to give back to the cultural life here and create an alternative to what our institutions are doing. We decided to introduce interesting artists to Toronto that we get to see but who might not otherwise show-up here,” Mauer reflects.

“We don’t want our own space. We want to take risks, make mistakes, be dynamic, work with a lot of different people,” she adds.

Marks, who initiated Valise’s first project by discovering Kotátková and introducing her to Mauer and Nuyten (several of the works in this show are loans from his collection), agrees that they’re establishing something still unformed. “What we want to do at the end of this first show is sit down and look at this as a laboratory and think about how you do this. What the mechanics for putting on a show, trying to get an excellent curator to come in to interview the artist, installing? We’re looking at things that go right down to the basics of renting chairs.”

When asked about how they’ll navigate and reconcile their tastes, Nuyten says, “We have a lot of agreements in taste and collecting. We have our own visions too, but we have similar exposure to things,” she says, noting that she often travels with Mauer, and Marks flies to meet them and see new work. “We’re often seeing the same things,” she says.

Reflecting on this first project, Marks says, “I encountered Eva’s work at a fair five years ago, and it hit me strongly, in terms of the complexity and sophistication. It’s fun to see her work just as the flint hits the stone and there’s this spark,” he says. “That’s the hard part for us collectors, to find a young artist who looks like they have some promise or stick-with-it-ness and a trajectory they’re willing to commit to.” He attests, “you don’t come across this kind of artist often.”

While this first exhibition runs for a significant period of time, through June 28, future Valise projects will take various forms, potentially one-night screenings or similarly incidental events. Further, the collective wants to engage local artists for projects and find international artists “who might complement our local talent,” Marks says. Regardless they all agree that the imperative is to bring “high level” art to Toronto audiences.

On that subject, Mauer comments, “The further we push Toronto the better. And collectors have to deal with part of this – it’s not just up to institutions; they’re dealing with revenue issues. They’re strapped. But look at what great collectors are doing in Miami, for instance. We need to help in our small way,” she says. Marks adds, “It’s the forth-largest city in North America after New York, LA, Mexico City. We’re ready for greatness. But it’s all part of an ecosystem that comprises artists, galleries, and collectors. It’s critical not to be working at cross-purposes.” At that, the trio disperse to greet their public.

See more at Blouin Art Info.