Collector of the month: Nicola von Roenne

by Unseen July 13 2017

In this series of interviews, we explore the lives of various collectors by looking at what, why and how they collect. Focusing on a range of collectors, from art advisers to personal collectors themselves, we find out what drives their fascination with collecting photography. 

This week, we talk to fine art consultant Nicola von Roenne about how she got into the world of collecting. She also reveals some tips and tricks on how to build your own photographic collection. Bringing collectors and a new generation of fine art photographers together, von Roenne helps collectors build and curate their own private collections. 

You were involved in collecting art before you started advising about it. Can you tell us about how you started your photography collection?
I come from a family of collectors, though not of photography. I have always been drawn to photography over and beyond painting, sculpture or other art forms. As a student, I started buying a bit at art school end of year shows and at small local photography fairs. I bought work because I reacted to the image in some way and because I enjoyed supporting the artist. The wonderful thing about photography is that it’s possible to find great work at reasonable prices.

What kind of work did you initially start to collect? How has this developed over time?
I collected rather randomly at first, depending on what appealed to me. As a trained art historian, my background knowledge has helped train my eye. I especially enjoy supporting young talent, and these days I limit myself to collecting only contemporary artists. One often gets to see how the artist evolves as well as tracking the value of their works. Price and the possibility of future increase in value does not dictate my personal selection.

What made you move into advising after collecting?
My development into art advising happened somewhat by default. It began on an informal basis when friends would come to my house and ask me about the work I collected. I now advise in several different ways; I either find things people are looking for, I brief them on what I think they should buy, or I lead them to artists they might not have known or considered. 

Do you find it difficult to both advise and collect at the same time? Have you ever had a clash of interests?
No I have never had a clash of interests because collecting and advising are separate things for me. Collectors come to me because they like my eye. While it is easier to be enthusiastic about what one personally likes, I have to put myself in the mindset of the client. I give advice, but I also try to adapt myself to their individual perspectives. The joy of photography is that many photographers work in series, often producing images with a select number of prints. There is something curiously bonding about knowing someone who has the same print as you. If there is a situation where there is only one print left, I will always give preference to my client. I do this especially for clients who are just starting out collecting photography, as it’s my job to affirm their choices and encourage them to take the plunge. 

Collecting young talent is something that you focus on within your personal collection. Do you notice any reluctance with collectors to collect names that are not yet established? If so, how do you persuade the client in doing so?
People who feel comfortable with their own taste and who are not buying something as a ‘status symbol’ have no problem with it. New collectors unsure of which direction to take might feel more reassured buying a known name, but this depends greatly on who they are, why they are creating a collection and what they intend to do with it. Collectors who enjoy developing a sense of their own taste might also get a kick out of the possibility of discovering new talent. 

What personal discoveries have you made at Unseen Amsterdam in previous years?
Unseen Amsterdam was one of the first to show work by Awoiska van der Molen, who has gone on to achieve great success both in Holland and abroad. I also saw the beautiful work of Catalan duo, Albarrán Cabrera for the first time at Unseen. They have achieved greater exposure since and were exhibited at Photo London earlier this year. There is always something and someone new to discover at Unseen!

What are your thoughts on the upcoming edition of Unseen Amsterdam?
I am aware of and very much support CO-OP, the new photography cooperative initiative at Unseen. It is something new to Unseen Amsterdam and reveals creative people working in new ways, with new techniques, and trying out new forms of collaboration. It is all part of a moving and vibrant art world in which photography plays a major role. 

Photo: #54 Barcelona, 2009 © Albarrán Cabrera/Valid Foto BCN