Oliver Elst. © Oliver Elst

Meet The Art Collector Oliver Elst

Kudzanai Violet Hwami, Eve on Psilocybin, 2018. Courtesy Tyburn Gallery
Kudzanai Violet Hwami, Eve on Psilocybin, 2018. Courtesy Cuperior Collection

Behind Cuperior Collection you will find Oliver Elst, a young German car designer. With a clearly identified ambition to establish a collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diasporas in order to have a real impact in promoting this market segment. He selects his future acquisitions of works by considering their place in the collection in dialogue with the other works. In this way, his approach is similar to the one of a curator of a private museum collection. In this interview, Oliver Elst shares with us his personal experiences of art, his ambitions and advice for collecting.

Oliver, what is your first memory of art? 

Coming from an art and design background and working as a car designer, I started sketching and making art myself at a very early age, at the age of 13, mainly cars, graffiti, comics and, later in university, painting and nude drawings. This is the reason why I can say that I know first hand how difficult it is to achieve a quality painting and create an exceptional work of art. After university I focused more on my day to day profession in design but never forgot arts.

What was the first work of art you bought ?

At the beginning of my first job I bought two lithographs from the famous german artist “Gerhard Richter” which somehow moved me to buy art and become an art collector. Later, I sold the lithographs and acquired my first original work: a painting of Aboudia.

Lithographs were a good point of entry into the market, but at a certain point I wanted to buy an original and unique piece of art, so I started thinking about the type of art I liked, the segments of the art market where good investment opportunities existed and what should be the focus of my collection. Eventually I came up with the concept of my “Cuperior Collection – Oliver Elst”, focusing on contemporary African art and its diaspora.

How would you describe yourself as an art collector in one sentence? 

Passionated and driven to have an impact.

Can you tell us more about some of the reason(s) why you collect art and why particularly Contemporary African art? 

My main motivation is to support young and talented artists to make themselves known and my personal goal is to have an impact as a collector. Finding an artist’s work in a strong collection with a real focus helps these artists to emerge and establish themselves on the market.

In the beginning, I started with editions but I didn’t have the feeling, the magic of an original work. So I did some research. Deep down, I wanted to be part of an emerging market to make my contribution as a collector and I discovered contemporary African art. I saw enormous potential and opportunity. For a long time, Africa was not really considered in the art world, wrongly so, which started to change a few years ago. The continent is beginning to receive the attention it deserves in contemporary art. Many works are still very accessible, and there is a huge potential for growth.

Zanele Muholi, Vile, Gothenburg, Sweden, 2016. Courtesy Cuperior Collection
Zanele Muholi, Vile, Gothenburg, Sweden, 2015. Courtesy Cuperior Collection

Can you describe your art collection in two words 

The word “Cuperior” consists of two words and best describes my aim and philosophy. It is a combination of the Latin words “cupere”/desire and “prior”/precursor. I intended to give the collection a specific name that best describes its purpose and is easy to recognize. I have combined these two words to give the collection a name. The theme “desire” is related to the selection of the best works by talented artists, as these works always have the greatest potential to retain and/or increase in value over time. And the market is always looking for the best. In general, not all expensive art is good, but the best is always expensive.

The Prior/Precursor is linked to the purchase of artists with potential early in their career, some artists have just had their first solo exhibition or are just coming out of art schools.

With this concept and ideation, I think it is always easier to guide interested people towards your vision and philosophy. Your own name can mean a lot but says nothing about your aim and focus.

Would you tell us more about the criteria involved in the selection of works for your collection? 

For me, quality is the key, rather than quantity. To identify quality, it is important to see as much art as possible to create a certain eye and sharpen one’s vision.

It seems like you have a strong interest for figurative paintings. Aren’t you interested in other forms of mediums or creative works, are you ?

It’s true that at the beginning of the collection, I acquired a lot of abstract and mural installations, but in 2018 I decided to add more figurative art, which gave a completely different twist to the collection.

Collector Oliver Elst founder of Cuperior Collection standing beside a painting by Cinga Samson. © Oliver Elst
Collector Oliver Elst founder of Cuperior Collection standing beside a painting by Cinga Samson. © Oliver Elst

You use the golden ratio to justify the quality or to predict a future success of an artwork. For those who are not familiar with the term, how would you define “Golden ratio”? Can you tell us more about it?

Our brain is too sensitive to see correlations and tries to recognize patterns, which are useful as a guideline in nature and society. Proportion and ratio are such guidelines. We can see them unconsciously in everything, whether it is architecture, design, nature or art.

To describe them in a more visual way, we can use this great tool, the golden ratio. The golden ratio describes the ratio between two lines, i.e. when the ratio between a longer line and a smaller line is equal to the total length in relation to the longer line.

What about other form of non-figurative work, does the golden ratio work also? Can you tell us more? 

It is a ratio that is very often found in works of art, whether figurative or abstract, if you look closely. Proportion and arrangement are the key and the basis of every work of art.

Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Bend, 2018. Courtesy of Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles. Courtesy Cuperior Collection
Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Bend, 2018. Courtesy Cuperior Collection

What is the most recent piece of art you added to your collection and why? 

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to acquire a work by one of my favorite artists, Jonathan Lyndon Chase. Currently, there are two works by him in the collection.

What topics are you interested in, while collecting art?

I would say for me the topic or context of the work is secondary. I am primarily looking for quality in a work of art. Quality, Character and innovation.

The quality I explained earlier. The other two important criteria are character and innovation. Basically this describes whether the artist’s body of work, whether his style is something new. In the art world, there are many artists who do similar things, so you have to identify the techniques and see if the artist brings an added value that brings something new and different or not.

Joy Labinjo, Untitled, 2018. © Cuperior Collection
Joy Labinjo, Untitled, 2018. © Cuperior Collection

Has digitalization changed the way you collect art? 

Not so much because I have always bought works of art through email exchanges, pdfs catalogs or through third party platforms specialized in art selling. In fact, almost all the works in my collection have been acquired through the internet and through digital means. From memory the only work I have not acquired online is a work by Moffat Takadiwa. It was on an art fair in the early days when he was not yet very well known.

You seem very much involved on instagram lately…

Recently, because of the pandemic we have just gone through, and with the desire to support the sector, I launched a new channel to give collectors, artists, galleries, curators and auction houses a new platform to present themselves. I conduct weekly interviews and discussions on my Instagram live account, to give them the opportunity to present themselves to a wider audience and give us a glimpse of their work and ideas.

Will COVID-19 influenced your future acquisitions of works or your 
acquisition habits? Please tell us more. 

Of course, everyone was impacted by the pandemic scene and I will collect even more carefully and think about my future acquisitions.

installation view in Oliver Elst home with works by Aboudia and Moffat Takadiwa. © Cuperior Collection
installation view in Oliver Elst home with works by Aboudia (Untitled, 2012) and Moffat Takadiwa (Educated Fulls, 2016). © Cuperior Collection

The coronavirus has impacted the entire art world. How do you see the future of the African art market following Covid-19? 

For once the entire world art market has been impacted in the same way as the African art market. Fairs and auction houses cannot function as they normally do and galleries have to adapt their exhibitions and sales channels. But I think this is a great opportunity and good things will come out of it. Digital strategies are becoming more than ever a reality and crucial.

Turiya Magadlela, Inzondo Zabalungileyo (Hatred to the Innocent), 2016. Courtesy Cuperior Collection.
Turiya Magadlela, Inzondo Zabalungileyo (Hatred to the Innocent), 2016. Courtesy Cuperior Collection.

Do you have a favourite artwork in you collection ? If yes which one? 

I love all my works, but of course, some of them move me a little more than others. For instance Cinga Samson, Kudzanai Violet Hwami or Jonathan Lyndon chase.

Name three artists that are on your radar.

Moffat Takadiwa, Devan Shimoyama and Firelei Baez. I also dream of acquiring works by Kerry James Marshall or Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

Give three advices for new collectors that read you

There are only two pieces of advice I’d like to give. First, train your eyes and second, listen to your gut feelings.

Cuperior Collection

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