With an ever-growing collection that’s started in 2004, wife and husband Maria and Malek Sukkar are currently two of the most important patrons and collectors in the contemporary art world. ARTUNER has been welcomed into the Sukkar household by Maria Sukkar to discuss their collection, what and why they collect, the importance of structure and depth within a collection as well as their passion for photography, young talents, women artists and Luigi Ghirri works.

Maria Sukkar4

AT: Maria, when did you start collecting?

MS: My husband and I lived in Beirut for a few years before relocating to London in 2004. At the time, we were collecting in an eclectic way but when we moved to London we gradually became more focused and the collection took the direction and shape it has today.

Now, we only buy what is relevant to the collection.

AT: When you say relevant to the collection, what do you mean?

MS: The collection has Existentialism at its core. It looks at the identity of human beings particularly in reference to the human condition. In other words, it encompasses all the themes that shape our life: love, death, birth, angst, sickness, agony, etc. Today we only acquire works that fit into this context.

Yet, there is a variety if you take a closer look across the collection. There are two distinct sides to it, the poetic side and the very raw and brutal side. The brutal side is what I call my husband’s side. It’s where the Jenny Saville, the Berlinde de Bruyckere, the Mc Carthy, etc. fit in. The poetic side, on the other hand, represents me. It’s the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, Akram Zaatari, Mona Hatoum, Luigi Ghirri etc. that are part of it.

AT: So it seems possible to see both yourself and your husband as two different forces in your collection. How involved is Malek?

MS: My husband is quite involved since the collection represents both of our tastes. The general direction of the collection is something we decide on together as well as when it comes to acquiring an important piece.

On the other hand, I’m particularly interested in discovering emerging artists. I’m the one who goes to the hidden places to find the gems so to speak. The prices are much more affordable and the discovery process is so exciting. Some young artists produce such amazing work!

AT: In your collection almost every medium is covered and artists are revisited. Is there anything that does not work within your collection?

MS: Over the years we have had to refine the collection process. Like I said earlier, what we collect now has to be relevant to the theme. Some pop art works for example do not completely fit in. We have to be careful with the selection process.

My husband loves sculpture. He is attracted to stone, steel and heavy bronze pieces whereas I like to experiment with different materials. We collect a lot of works by women artists too, and this has happened totally by chance. I think women underscore the theme of the collection as they have many roles in life. A woman can be your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, your lover, etc. With these roles experienced, works that are produced by female artists can encompass more than one theme within one work.

We also collect more than one work from the same artist. Buying several pieces from the same artist actually adds depth. This enables us to explore the many layers of the artist’s career. Over the years, or even in the same year, two works can be very different. That’s what we did with Ghirri.

AT: Speaking of Luigi Ghirri -which as you know has been our first curation- when did you start collecting his work? How did it happen?

MS: I was at Frieze two years ago when I brought my first piece. I saw it and instantly fell in love with it. We picked up the next one at Basel in 2012. Now we have six- included the last one “Comacchio”. It is a very beautiful piece.

AT: Our second exhibition will be focusing on abstract painters. What are your feelings towards abstract art?

MS: I think that I’m not ready for the purely abstract painters yet. I’m heading there, but it has to fit into the context of the collection. I know that I am very drawn to abstract art because when I see a simple line I’m in awe in front of it.

It’s all a learning curve. The Maria that came to London nearly ten years ago is not the same Maria sitting in front of you and talking today. I knew very little about contemporary art. Now I can understand the work and that is my biggest pride. I can go into an exhibition and I am not scared of or intimidated by it. Today, I want to know what is the story behind the artwork. I like stories. I’m like a child in that respect.

AT: When was the moment that your change in perspective happened?

MS: That is a very good question. I would say maybe four years ago? Joining the Tate was very helpful. Through the Middle Eastern Acquisitions Committee and the Photography Acquisitions, I’m introduced to new artists all the time. News names are brought in and in order to participate actively in the committee you need to research and understand the work first.

AT: Indeed collecting art is a never ending journey and continuous learning experience. Thanks a lot Maria for your precious insights and congratulations for your support and commitment to art.

Maria Sukkar: Besides with managing her collection, Sukkar is part of the International Council at Tate and sits on their Middle Eastern Acquisitions Committee and their Photography Acquisitions Committee. In the UK, she supports the British Museum, the Showroom, the Chisenhale, the Camden Art Centre and the South London Gallery. Whilst in Lebanon, she is supportive of the HomeWorks space and of the Beirut Art Centre.

Alongside her numerous positions in the art world, Sukkar is a trustee of the St Jude’s Cancer Center for Children in Beirut and of the GREAT Initiative in London and is an active member of the Chain of Hope, Al Fanar, Women for Women and The Art Room.