Modern Patrons: Hussam Otaibi
Private art collection is not simply about ownership... passion and philanthropy play a part. Hussam Otaibi (founder of Floreat and Modern Forms) speaks to Art Basel about sharing works and supporting new talent. As told to art critic Skye Sherwin.
‘Art has given me so much. It has enabled me to expand as a human being, enriched how I relate to the world – and I want to give back. My interest began at a young age, when I used to travel with my mother to Europe from Saudi Arabia. The first time I went to a museum in Greece and saw ancient sculpture, I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “Who has done this? How did they do it?” I’ve witnessed this in my own children. When my son was six, I took him to the National Portrait Gallery in London and he was mesmerized. I never planned to become an art collector though. It all happened organically.
‘Some of the first contemporary artists to have a big impact on me were the Chapman brothers. I first encountered their work at the ‘Apocalypse’ exhibition in 2000. It was harsh and difficult. As a result of that experience, the collection includes two large ‘hellscapes’ and Great Deeds Against the Dead , one of the first pieces that Jake and Dinos created with miniatures based on the plate of dismembered corpses from Goya’s “The Disasters of War”.
‘My view of collecting has changed over the past 10 years – I’m no longer just an owner of artworks, I’m a custodian. Warhol or Picasso would not have become who they were if they did not have patrons who believed in them and helped their careers. When I met Nick Hackworth – the director of my collection and curatorial platform, Modern Forms – he was running Paradise Row, a gallery in east London. Through him, I met many artists, such as Shezad Dawood, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Margarita Gluzberg, and Douglas White, whose work I connected with. It wasn’t a commercial roster, but I collected what I loved, regardless of how practical it was to own the pieces.
‘When we started Modern Forms in 2016, we thought, “What is really important to us?” There are a lot of private spaces in London already. Modern Forms had to be a platform for sharing works and enabling new projects. I didn’t want it to be about me. It’s about the art, with a focus on emerging and mid-career artists. There are three elements that developed chronologically. Firstly, there is the collection. Secondly, there’s a curatorial platform. This has included facilitating the exhibition of Emeka Ogboh’s sound installation The Way Earthly Things Are Going  at Tate Modern, supporting Sophia Al-Maria’s current sculpture commission, Taraxos , at the Serpentine Galleries, and the gift of Oliver Laric’s film Betweenness  to the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, where it will be shown later in the year. Lastly, Modern Forms is a platform for social impact through projects engaging with NGOs or other entities. Credit, our recent project with Central Saint Martins art school [in London], seeks to help young galleries – which are essential to the flow of art and ideas – to reach collectors and new audiences. We’ve begun by creating the only online map of the emerging art scene in London. The aim is to foster a community that will deliver concrete outcomes for new spaces, increasing collaboration and community and turning the map into an app, which we hope to do soon. We’ve also collaborated on a module focused on real-world projects within Saint Martins’ Culture, Criticism, and Curation MA to further Credit’s remit.
‘There are a number of strands within the collection itself, including African art, though that wasn’t planned. It began with Ibrahim El-Salahi, who Toby Clarke of Vigo Gallery introduced me to and who has made some of the most powerful, elegant, and calming work I know. In the London office of Floreat, the investment group for which I'm managing partner, we hung Godfried Donkor’s painting S.t Bill Richmond – The Black Terror . We also built a four-meter by eight-meter wall to install a work by Pascale Marthine Tayou at my home in the Berkshire countryside. African art is one element within an overall picture, however. We’ve always supported emerging galleries taking risks and, as such, we have a number of difficult installations by young artists including Leo Fitzmaurice and Yuri Pattison. It keeps things exciting, otherwise what is the point?
‘We want to refresh people’s eyes, get them asking questions – “What is this work? This is weird!” – engaging and understanding. I see that at my office where some of the collection is displayed and we regularly change the hang. It’s a listed building in Mayfair – one side is original, with wood paneling and so forth, the other is contemporary, and it’s quite a significant space. I hate things being in storage and there is a work on every wall. One example of our commitment to showing ambitious art in a working environment was Samara Scott’s Lonely Planet II . It’s a huge tray of colored water and detritus that sat on the floor in the largest room of the office.
‘Art also helps you learn new things about people you may have known for a long time. When we installed Douglas White’s Elephant Totem Song , a big metal armature with hanging chunks of fallen tree that resemble bits of elephant, some hated it, some were amazed. It all opens new channels of connection and changes people’s behavior for the long term.
‘You start collecting. The ideas come. You don’t want to stop. You build, you build, you build. It’s about progress.’
Original story: Modern Patrons: Hussam Otaibi (artbasel.com)
Skye Sherwin is an art writer based in Rochester, UK. She contributes regularly to The Guardian and numerous art publications.
Top image: Hussam Otaibi with part of his book collection. Photo by Thierry Bal.
Middle image: Emeka Ogboh, The Way Earthly Things Are Going, 2017. Photo by Andrew Dunkley. Courtesy of Tate.
Bottom image: Kapwani Kiwanga, Turns of phrase: Fig 8 (Wivu), 2015, installed at Floreat. Photo by Thierry Bal.