The extensive private art collection of the legendary photographer Mario Testino is to go on public display for the first time in the UK.
More than 400 works by artists including Tracey Emin and Gilbert & George will go on show at Sotheby’s in London, before being sold at auction.
Testino is known for his glamorous, vibrant photos of the rich and famous.
He describes his art collection as “precious” and “a document of my time, of my eye, of the people I believe in”.
Born in Lima, Peru in 1954, Testino came to London in 1976. Initially he struggled to make a living as a photographer.
“When I arrived in England I really had no knowledge of anything to do with art,” he explains. He knew, he says, that he needed to learn more about photography, “to train myself” and “by looking at other photographers I was inspired by them”.
Eventually he started making money and he bought his first photograph in the early 1980s. It was a picture of the actress Vivien Leigh by the surrealist photographer Angus McBean.
“I like beauty and I think she was one of those women gifted with beauty.
“Beauty today is considered a bit banal and a bit empty and a bit superficial. In the art world you probably can’t mention that word, because it’s not interesting or not deep enough. But I’m just always amazed by it.”
His collection grew from there. He purchased works by Cecil Beaton and Richard Avedon – men who had first inspired him to pick up a camera.
Later, under the guidance of the gallery owner Sadie Coles, he started buying fine art. And while most of us are advised to buy what we like, Testino adopted a different approach.
“I was collecting things that amazed me. Things that weren’t like me.
“What you like, you know already, so the time that it’s going to last in your head is limited. Whilst things that you don’t understand, but that attract you and puzzle you and confuse you, those are the things that you need to be looking at, because those are the things that will make you change your point of view. Those are the ways we grow.”
Over the past 30 years, Testino has built up a wide-ranging collection of work by artists from 45 different countries.
The most valuable work in the sale is by the American Sterling Ruby, called SP114. Created using spray paint, it was inspired by the graffiti scene on the streets of Los Angeles. It is expected to fetch between £600,000 and £800,000.
Abstract art by the Brazilian Vik Muniz rubs shoulder with more figurative works, including a huge oil painting by the German Georg Baselitz.
The collection is particularly rich in Latin American art, including works by the Argentine artists Pablo Bronstein and Amalia Pica, the Colombian Oscar Murillo and, not surprisingly, Peruvian artists such as William Cordova.
Testino says art has inspired his own work.
“We must always remember that to produce, you need to eat somewhere and this has been where I’ve been feeding myself.
“I’m too obsessed with myself, my life, my worries, my needs. But fine artists have really helped me free my mind. They have opened the way I think, they’ve opened the way I look.”
In all, Testino has accumulated more than 1000 works. The decision to sell half of them has been “hard”.
“It’s sad to part,” he says. “I’ve never sold anything. I’ve been too attached to my collection.”
But he says: “I have a mission.”
All the proceeds from the sale, which is expected to raise £8m will go to support the Museo MATE, which Testino set up in Lima in 2013 to promote culture in Peru.
“I’m selling because I have a unique opportunity to change something in the country I come from,” he says.
Testino addes that he can’t maintain the museum “with the money I have. I can’t carry on worrying every month if I have the money or not”.
He says “getting sponsors today is quite difficult” so he wants to create an endowment to ensure the centre has financial security in the future.
But he is not giving everything up. The works he is keeping, will continue to decorate his homes around the world.
“There is something magical about a collection, but I still have some, thank God.” They are, he says, “my precious thing”.
Shake It Up – Works from the Mario Testino Collection exhibition will open on 8 September at Sotheby’s New Bond Street ahead of two auctions on 13 and 14 September.
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