Collecting art has become a luxurious hobby for many wealthy Poles. Piotr Bazylko, journalist turned public relations specialist, is one of them. He has been collecting new and contemporary Polish art for the last 15 years. Recently I had the chance to meet him in his office for a very insightful interview.
15 years ago, art collecting was an abstract idea in Poland. People did not have the money nor, more importantly, the knowledge of and interest in collecting art. Since then, this trend has been slowly but surely changing. Poles have become more wealthy and, perhaps most significantly, the impact of visual art is becoming more and more an intrinsic part of daily life in Poland.
Mr. Bazylko, what is the most significant artwork you purchased?
Bazylko: For me, it was the first painting that I bought… by Marek Sobczyk, a Polish painter from the famous 80s Polish art group called “Gruppa”. Another one – or nine actually, which come to mind are a series of paintings by Wilhelm Sasnal. Back when I bought them, Sasnal wasn’t famous yet, so I didn’t buy the works from a gallery, I bough them directly from him, and he actually brought them over to my home and we hung them up together. These aren’t the best paintings by Wilhelm Sasnal, but I have a personal attachment to them.
When and why did you start collecting?
Bazylko: It was in the mid-90s. But collecting became a real passion around the year 2000. What happened was that I took this photography class back then, after which I still wasn’t a very good photographer, but instead it inspired me to start collecting photography, mainly classic black and white photography. And this led me on to other art forms like paintings, sculptures, and videos.
Have you ever been to VIENNAFAIR?
Bazylko: Yes I have, in fact the VIENNAFAIR in 2005 was the first art fair I ever went to. I thought it was huge and overwhelming, but that feeling only lasted until I went to Basel. I plan to go to VIENNAFAIR this year because I am interested in Central European art, and this is the place to see what is going on in the region artistically. This is also the only place where you can see young galleries.
Do you only collect Polish art?
Bazylko: I am still mostly focused on collecting Polish contemporary art, but I am also interested in artists from other Central and Eastern European countries. And also artists from all over the world who combine music and visual art forms.
What makes Polish contemporary art interesting?
Bazylko: That there is no one way of making art in Poland, it is very varied and diversified, and that’s what makes it so interesting.
How do you think Polish contemporary art has changed over the past 20 years?
Bazylko: It has changed dramatically because ten years ago there was no art market here. Now there are more artists who can make a living from their work. That was impossible 20 years ago.
Do you think Poles are becoming more interested in collecting art?
Bazylko: Yes, although it is a very slow process. On the other hand, when I talk to galleries from Prague, they perceive Polish art collectors as role models. So compared to the Czech Republic, for example, I think we are doing pretty well.
What is the decisive factor when you purchase an art piece?
Bazylko: It is very simple, I buy with my heart and with my mind. My heart tells me what I like, and my mind tells me whether it fits in my collection.
What are your favorite art galleries in Poland?
Do you ever sell the pieces you bought?
Bazylko: No… not often. Sometimes you buy a piece and then you realize you don’t really like the piece after a while. And I don’t see any reason to keep an artwork that you don’t like anymore. But the Polish art market is still relatively under-developed, making it pretty difficult to sell art. So I sell from time to time, but not very often. All in all I think I’ve only sold ten pieces.
Which are your favorite pieces in your collection?
Bazylko: It is hard to tell as it changes often. I have quite a good collection of the late works on paper by Andrzej Wroblewski. They are all hung up together in one room in my house, which has now become the “Wroblewski Room”. And these artworks are very important to me, and I like them very much. I like to look at them, I like to study them, and each time I look at them I discover something new.
Are there pieces in your collection that you really don’t like anymore and therefore regret buying?
Bazylko: No, I never regret buying an art piece. I do regret, however, not buying an art piece. There were these several paintings by Rafal Bujnowski, which I really liked, but they were too expensive for me then.
Who do you think are the most important Polish contemporary artists?
Bazylko: If you think in terms of influence on painting, I think there is no other painter as influential as Andrzej Wroblewski. I think if you look at the paintings of artists from Gruppa or if you look at paintings by Wilhelm Sasnal or Jakub Julian Ziolkowski, you see Wroblewski in them. So I don’t see another contemporary artist as influential as him.
Who is your favorite Polish contemporary artist?
Bazylko: I have several. I have a collection of works by artists who are considered “new surrealists”, like Jakub Julian Ziolkowski or Tomasz Kowalski, Pawel Sliwinski, Piotr Janas, and others. I like them very much. I also like Michal Budny, who makes very fragile pieces. So fragile, you want to keep them in your storage.
Born in 1969, Piotr Bazylko is a former head of the Polish Thomson Reuters newswire service. As journalist he worked for Życie Warszawy [Warsaw Life] and as an intern for the Washington offices of the Wall Street Journal and the Voice of America. He is co-author of the famous book “Bitwa o Belweder” [The Battle for Belevedere] which is about the first presidential elections in Poland in 1991. He is co-founder of the media consulting company Bridge.
For the last 15 years he has been a passionate contemporary art collector and co-author of the ArtBazaar blog as well as co-author of the books “Przewodnik dla Kolekcjonera Sztuki Najnowszej” [Contemporary Art Collector’s Guide], “77 Dziel Sztuki z Historia” [77 Art Works With a Story], “Sztuka Musi Dzialac! Rozmowy o Andrzeju Wroblewskim” [Art must work! Conversations about Andrzej Wroblewski].