COLLECTING AND SELLING/ A LIFESTYLE
Silvia Dorfsman (Havana, Cuba, September 1963) does not fit the profile of the rich collector who collects art to have a certain prestige corresponding to a status or to diversify a portfolio; neither is she like the peddler selling with indifference for the piece and for whom it is just a way to make money. This entrepreneurial and charming woman thinks of herself as a temporary collector who enjoys having the pieces on her walls while promoting them: “…selling to be able to buy and enjoy pieces by new artists I am passionate about – she affirms –, even if I own them for short periods”.
Interviewing her is easy; on one hand, because she is the perfect host who learned how to distinguish and cater for people's taste, and on the other hand, because in many ways she is a direct and practical modern executive with alternate touches of familiarity and refinement:
As a child I took pleasure in looking at the paintings, glassware and porcelain we had at home. I used to hide in my grandfather's studio to open the closets and look at the little figures they kept there – Silvia explains. It was an immense delight to leaf through the books and see their illustrations as I showed a penchant for drawing and dance, though I never studied them. Even when I never showed abilities for sports, my parents were determined to “discover“them and after years of intense practice of rhythmic gymnastics, my biggest accomplishment was to carry the flag before a baseball game. If I had become a dancer, today I would be like a Tropicana dancer.
Where was all of this?
I spent my childhood and adolescence in Havana – she answers –, between La Puntilla, Playita de 16 and Ferretero: lots of sea and little responsibilities. Silvia confesses that her universe full of happiness and innocence ended all of a sudden when in 1980, at the age of 16, she boarded a ship during the Mariel mass exodus to move to the United States with her family: her parents, maternal grandparents and siblings. Everything swiftly changed for her and that experience destroyed her innocence, turning everything around, starting a very different existence from that in the Havana neighborhood: “…there we would hang out on the street or my house, whose doors would only close after midnight – she remembers –, even in Miami, which is very Latin, people live differently, inside, they really care about privacy”.
Of course, Miami is not the United States, and since I came here I have never lived elsewhere. I sort of visit the American culture, but I am full of the Cubanness from both places: salsa over rock, rice with chicken over hamburgers. The first year was extremely difficult, I didn't speak a word of English and I had to work during the day and study at night, a challenge that I managed to overcome.
“The first fever a collector must overcome is that of possession” — AMBROISE VOLLARD. Recollections of a picture dealer.
I studied International Affairs at Florida International University (FIU), with a minor in Art History and I took some painting and sculpture courses.
I also took private painting classes and my professor took me to the studio of two painters I deeply love, Luis Marin and José Iraola. It was a great way of signing me up – Silvia states –, and the beginning of my love affair with art. At that time I was working in the field of medicine, interacting with many doctors, so I started to organize private cocktail parties to promote and help both painters sell their work. Then Marin suggested paying me a commission, I accepted, and from there on I became addicted to the constant challenge of finding an owner for the pieces. A friend of Silvia's expresses incomprehension to her detachment, and with a smile she points out that that is her greatest virtue, knowing how to let go of what she highly values and is part of her lifestyle.
On occasions I attended social gatherings in her cozy home. She also sold one or two of my works and even invited me to give a lecture about Cuban art from the 80s in her backyard in Coral Gables. While contemplating her walls covered with works you find, most of all, artists that emigrated in that period and
In the 90s I opened my own gallery… and since 2002 I work as an independent dealer. I had the privilege of meeting masters like Jose María Mijares, Cundo Bermúdez and Rafael Soriano…
continued to create here. She avoids mentioning names not to forget anybody, but throughout her career she has often sold the work of Bedia, Aguilera, Lorca, Carlos González, Pepe Franco, etc. For Silvia it was the first decade away from her homeland, an unresolved matter, a cycle she intends to resume because
– as she puts it –, “…it's a generational matter”.
Because I identify myself with them. I understand them,
I admire them, I appreciate them. This is no reason for me not to represent artists from the diaspora, from the avant–garde, as well as local artists. In the 90s I opened my own gallery and I curated for two others, and since 2002 I work as an independent dealer.
I had the privilege of meeting masters like José Maria Mijares and I positioned many of his works, as well as Cundo Bermúdez' and Rafael Soriano's. Nowadays, I work with Cuban artists that live in the United States, in Cuba, or anywhere else in the world, and whenever possible I choose people I know well…
Do you mean – I can see it in her face – approachable to provide a certificate of authenticity? Silvia nods and brings up the subject, due to the great number of forgeries of Cuban paintings in recent years: “…I bought pieces that turned out to be fake – she shows her annoyance – with authenticity certifications from alleged experts. I was taken advantage of so I decided to focus on living artists, on the primary market. I had the privilege of going into their studios, choosing the pieces with them, and often ended up with a new friend – it is the same with collectors. I cannot stand snobbery, I love clients that are delighted by the art, ask fearless questions and, if they do not have enough money, ask me to set the piece aside to pay for it in installments.”
She likes informal negotiations and confesses that she has closed some of her best deals: “…barefoot right before going to bed at 11pm or in the morning with an apron on while making coffee”. Silvia admits that Miami is a tough marketplace, even with grants, loans, awards, foundations, patronage, etc., only a few artists can live off their art “…there is always more art than collectors and artists pay the consequences, – she declares – many have to work to support themselves and be able to create with less financial pressure. We must not judge the courage of the artistsbut just support them when possible, that is why my mission is to find a deserving home for as many works as possible.
CARLOS RODRÍGUEZ CÁRDENAS Key of New York City, 1998
Acrylic on linen
68 x 120 in
OFILL ECHEVARRIA Golden Wall, 2016
Oil on canvas
57 x 57 in
Silvia Dorfsman's house with part of the collection