Nick Leech chats to pho­tog­ra­pher Mario Testino, who has just auc­tioned off part of his eclec­tic art col­lec­tion

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A chat with pho­tog­ra­pher Mario Testino; and a re­view of five head­phones

L ast month, on a crisp Wed­nes­day a er­noon in Lon­don, al­most 400 lots from a pri­vate art col­lec­tion came up for sale at Sotheby’s, in a much-an­tic­i­pated auc­tion re­plete with firsts. Not only was it the first time that an oil paint­ing by the highly re­garded Ger­man ab­stract artist Tomma Abts had ever come up for auc­tion – Zaarke (2000) more than tre­bled its pre­sale es­ti­mate of £35,000 (al­most Dh174,000) – but it was also the only time that any of the works from the much-cov­eted col­lec­tion had ever been sold.

The col­lec­tor? The world-fa­mous fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher Mario Testino, a man who has launched mod­el­ling ca­reers with the lens of his cam­era, but also helped to sus­tain artis­tic ones thanks to his pas­sion for con­tem­po­rary art.

The rea­son? A good cause. Testino will use the pro­ceeds from the sale to sup­port the con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum he founded in 2012 in his home town of Lima, with the aim of giv­ing lo­cal artists a plat­form for their work and ex­hibit­ing in­ter­na­tional con­tem­po­rary art in Peru.

Thanks to two sales and an on­line auc­tion, Testino’s MATE – Museo Mario Testino will ben­e­fit from a healthy en­dow­ment. The a er­noon sale, which fea­tured works by Cindy Sher­man, Wolf­gang Till­mans, Thomas Ruff and Ugo Rondi­none, gen­er­ated a cool £6,285,375 (Dh31 mil­lion), while the day sale, which also in­cluded works by Tracey Emin, Urs Fis­cher, Luc Tuy­mans and Shirin Ne­shat, re­sulted in sales of £2,423,313 (Dh12m). The top lot in the on­line sale was Richard Mosse’s Lac Vert, which sold for £28,000 (Dh138,000).

Although the di­verse works were, un­doubt­edly, con­tem­po­rary, they were also linked by the eye of their col­lec­tor, which has proved it­self to be as brave as it is as­tute, guided more by the need to be pro­voked and chal­lenged than soothed. “Peo­ple al­ways say: ‘You have to buy what you like’, and I’m not so sure of that phrase. I think you al­most have to buy what puz­zles you, what at­tracts you and what, at the same time, con­fuses you, be­cause there needs to be a space for growth,” Testino tells me be­fore the auc­tion.

“What you like is some­thing you’ve al­ready con­sumed. And once you take it home, it has no space to grow, so you get bored of it quite quickly. Whereas what at­tracts you, but con­fuses you, has a long time to grow, and so you can live with it for a much longer time,” says the pho­tog­ra­pher, who has cre­ated cam­paigns for fash­ion la­bels such as Burberry, Dolce & Gab­bana, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Valentino and Versace.

Guided by such im­pulses, Testino has been col­lect­ing art ever since he started mak­ing money from his pho­tog­ra­phy in Lon­don in the 1980s – his work first ap­peared in Bri­tish Vogue in 1983 – and has ben­e­fit­ted from the feed­back of a trusted in­ner cir­cle of aes­thetic ad­vis­ers, in­clud­ing the pho­tog­ra­pher John­nie Shand Kydd (step­brother to Diana, Princess of Wales) and the art dealer Sadie Coles, whose artists fea­ture heav­ily in Testino’s col­lec­tion.

The re­sult is an art col­lec­tion that is still housed world­wide, much of it in stor­age, but some of which Testino has also lived with. Works from the sale, such as Anselm Kiefer’s col­lage H20, hung in the pho­tog­ra­pher’s kitchen, while Richard Prince’s pic­ture of a girl astride a mo­tor­cy­cle, Un­ti­tled (Girl­friend), was not only mounted above the head­board of Testino’s bed, but also fea­tured in a photo shoot with the su­per­model Kate Moss.

If Testino’s col­lec­tion fea­tures stel­lar works by in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised artists, it also con­tains lesser-known pieces by ones who are just at the be­gin­ning of their ca­reers, which means that some of his in­vest­ments now seem in­cred­i­bly well-judged, while oth­ers ap­pear as acts of pa­tron­age.

The sale not only con­tained in­cred­i­bly rare and sought-a er paint­ings by 36-year-old artist Tauba Auer­bach and works by Laura Owens, whose mid­ca­reer ret­ro­spec­tive is just about to open at the Whit­ney Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art in New York, but also con­tained pic­tures that were es­ti­mated to sell for as lit­tle as £400 (Dh2,000).

“The very im­por­tant thing is that I col­lected artists young. The in­ter­est­ing thing for me was that I be­came so ob­sessed with it – that my buy­ing was as­so­ci­ated with mak­ing young artists stay alive al­most, be­cause I was buy­ing them quite early on and bet­ting on peo­ple that had no proof,” Testino tells me.

“My money was go­ing into things that could make it or couldn’t make it. But I was ex­cited by the process with the artists, par­tic­i­pat­ing with the artist’s ca­reer and de­vel­op­ment and growth. They also all sur­prised me with what they did.”

When I ask if the sale rep­re­sents an end to his col­lect­ing days, the pho­tog­ra­pher responds with an em­phatic “def­i­nitely not”.

“I’ll con­tinue to col­lect and sup­port young artists. The art world is where I feed. It opens my eyes to new things and shi s my con­scious­ness. What I love about it is that it’s con­stantly chal­leng­ing us to look at things dif­fer­ently, not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause you like them, but be­cause you are sur­prised and cu­ri­ous,” he in­sists.

“Just as pho­tog­ra­phy is a ve­hi­cle for me to live a new mo­ment, to go to a new place, meet a new per­son and so on, art is a process of en­counter and dis­cov­ery. Art is never static.”

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