Mauro Mattei is an art world Renaissance man. Since starting out working in tax and legal consultancy, the Italian collector has since moved on to founding an art advisory company, creating his own art trust, launching an art prize and curating exhibitions all over Europe. He’s everywhere, essentially, and uses his deep passion for art to fuel his seemingly endless projects.
How did you first get interested in art, how did your passion get sparked?
I was 14 years old and I was studying at a very tough, traditional and male-only school run by Salesiani Priests in Milan when a new young teacher came in to substitute for our old Italian literature professor. He was even more severe than his predecessor, maybe thinking that being unreasonably demanding and behaving like a total asshole was the only way to keep 30 hormonal kids a bit more quiet… and of course the entire class hated him!
One day he walked into the class with a very sad face and when asked what was the problem he replied “didn’t you guys hear the news? Andy Warhol has died”. Not surprisingly, none of us had the remotest idea of who the hell Andy Warhol was! So he decided to skip the literature lesson and dedicate one hour to Warhol’s life and practice. While the vast majority of my classmates were sleeping or secretly playing card games, I found myself captivated and fascinated by the story which rarely happened in a normal lesson! I found out that our professor was a huge art lover and besides teaching he was really into contemporary art. From that day, I began annoying him with many questions about art and he was patient enough to indulge my curiosity outside and inside the class. And every Monday morning he would start the lesson with 5 minutes about the exhibitions he had been to see over the weekend. There were so many and I can only remember an “immersive site specific sound installation” by Brian Eno in Milan. When asked “OK professor, but what’s the point of it?” he candidly replied “I don’t know exactly… but when I was there I felt good.”
Well, this response is still with me now that I’m much older: art, at least as far as I am concerned, is something that makes you feel good, and that feeling comes from your mind, your heart and your gut.
What were the first steps you took into an art career?
The very first step into an art career was a very fortunate occasion where, after a number of coincidences, I convinced a famous international curator, Jerome Sans (one of the founders of the Palais De Tokyo in Paris) to curate a big group exhibition at the prestigious Triennale in Milan. The show was called “It’s not only rock ‘n roll, baby!” and gathered a series of musicians who were also engaged in visual arts, with names like Yoko Ono, Patty Smith, Kembra Pfahler, Pete Doherty, Devendra Banhart, Anthony of Anthony and the Johnsons and many more. I had seen the show at the Bozar in Brussels and contacted Jerome to propose the same exhibition in Milan. After 2 long years of preparation, travels to Paris, meetings and exhausting phone calls we successfully managed to open the show: it was June 2010 and since then I can say I learned how to deal with every aspect of a big international group show in a museum!
You run BeAdvisors, what does the company do and what's your role?
As my background is in economics and I have been professionally working as an international tax advisor for many years, I was trying to find a way to get more connected to the art industry.
In 2017 I started to realise that, besides the tax and legal services related to art, I could potentially also offer “non juridical” services to clients and broaden the spectrum of our assistance to include proper art advisory services by creating a dedicated art advisory department. In my mind, this would trigger extremely promising cross-selling between the tax and legal services and the art department, and could create a one-stop-shop consultancy boutique exclusively dedicated to art.
So I created BeAdvisors Art Department and created a dedicated team of art advisors: the core services we provide are the ones related to primary and secondary market assistance but we pride ourselves on being deeply involved in very sophisticated activities like strategic consultancy to galleries and even also to artists. We also work with companies offering a wide selection of, as we call them, “corporate art services”. We are capable of supporting companies in the process of defining the best strategies aimed at reaching an active and positive presence in the contemporary art world through financing and sponsoring art projects. We help them in designing marketing campaigns that engage art lovers and those willing to support the production of new artworks. We are committed to delivering tools able to enhance the identity and marketing activities of our clients such as corporate hospitality in art venues, networking activities improving the connections in the art industry and special projects such as fellowship programs and guided tours to galleries, museums and art fairs.
You also run an art prize, tell me about it.
The Mauro Mattei Art Trust Acquisition Prize is conceived of as an itinerant award aimed at supporting emerging art in all its forms. The main purpose of the prize is to allow young artists and their projects to grow with a view to discovering, valorising and highlighting the most disruptive new trends of international contemporary art. MMAT Acquisition Prize doesn’t have a fixed focus in terms of medium, nor does it have a predetermined selection committee, as its purpose is to be nomadic and adaptable to different contexts and countries.
The selection committee is headed by me, joined every year by a different jury (curators, art critics, art advisors, collectors etc.) connected to the prize’s context. The awarded artist’s artwork becomes part of the Mauro Mattei Art Trust Collection with the goal to valorise and support the work of artists born in the 80’s and 90’s. The first edition took place in 2009 in the context of FEA Lisboa, the 2020 Edition was a totally digital initiative where three international galleries showcased a number of their artists and the 2021 edition is focused on one specific element: the capability to combine artistic research on the most relevant current social and political issues with a solid presence in the art market and simultaneously with a significant institutional visibility.
Do you yourself collect art? Do you have a favourite piece?
I have been collecting art for many years but only recently I started to give more consistency to my collection and I have created an art trust to be more focused on my role as a patron and a philanthropist as I believe it is crucial in the art ecosystem. The Mauro Mattei Art Trust is focused on young and emerging artists: all the acquisitions are coordinated by the Scientific Committee of the Trust, composed of a curator, an art advisor and an art collector, selected among the most experienced and competent in their respective fields of activity.
I believe that identifying the best strategy for the conservation and enhancement of an art collection is one of every collector’s recurring thoughts. Art trusts are one of the best tools for efficient wealth planning and for the generational transfer of artistic assets; they are able to provide a unitary and organized management of the collection, protect their assets from external aggressions and, at the same time, satisfy collector's wishes in the field of patronage and philanthropy.
Not sure if I have a favourite piece… every single one is special and represents a piece of my research and of course of my personal life. I would say (as I used to say when I was much younger talking about my girlfriends) that my favourite piece is the next!
How do you find the art you collect?
I genuinely love art and there are many factors that can trigger my passion, which is more about feelings and emotional impact than aesthetics. That is why I do not have a preferred medium but I’m always looking for something that really connects with me in a way or another. Having such diverse taste and preferences it is really hard for me to tell which are my selection criteria. But if I have to pick one I would say that I focus on artists born in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, since dealing with artists in the first steps of their career is the most enjoyable part of being in the art business. The personal relationship with them is key when I decide on an acquisition and I always get passionate about their path throughout the steps of their practice, including the galleries they are represented by or the institutional shows and acquisition or prizes they participate in along the way. The relationship with the galleries is crucial, so my attention and my focus goes mostly on galleries capable of doing solid work in terms of research and at the same time in a position to invest and to support the artist in the most consistent way.
How has the pandemic affected your work?
Immensely. Without art fairs and with closed galleries I must admit it was a nightmare. As BeAdvisors Art Department we managed to be present digitally and organized a very successful series of “virtual walkthroughs” to art fairs and their viewing rooms and a decent amount of art talks on Zoom. It was a lot a work but worth every minute. I’m not personally a fan of the digital fruition of art… but as we needed to do it, we did it in the best way possible.
Do you have hopes for a post-pandemic art world?
For sure a few things have changed and my hope is to be back to see art in person! That’s the reason why in June we are starting a series of exhibitions in London under a format called “SUPER Preview”, all focused on showcasing the most exciting emerging visual artists carefully selected by our art department.
What do you see in your future?
Good question! I will be surely doing my best to support art and create ways to do valuable things for artists and the galleries they work with. If this would lead to the number one of Artreview Power 100 it would just be a pleasure!
Interviewed by: Eddy Frankel, author of ARTE Generali