COLLECTOR // Victoire Mbala

After a few years in Amsterdam Victoire Mbala was looking for a house to make a home. Away from the city center filled with trolleys and tourists, a place that felt like a breath of fresh air and where her art collection would thrive. Victoire found such a spot on Ijburg, a newly built island on the outskirts of Amsterdam. “It wasn’t until I moved to Amsterdam that I really started to focus on collecting photographs, whereas my home in New York is full of paintings, sketches and lithographs.”

You’re originally from Lyon, you’ve lived in some of the biggest capitals of the world like London, Paris and New York, why Amsterdam now? 
I originally moved to Amsterdam for my job at an entertainment company and I like it here. Life is easy and safe. I’ve always been a very nomadic person so I love living in different parts of the world and exploring new cultures. Besides that, Amsterdam has some of the best museums in the world!

That’s a huge compliment, better than New York’s Guggenheim?
I mean, that’s a big statement, but I really love the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk and Foam of course. Whenever I feel nostalgic I go to a museum, it’s where I feel most at home. When I was a kid I would always go to museums, meet friends there or just hide out from the world. There’s something soothing about being surrounded by art. Museums are not just to get inspiration, but also to learn the stories of the old masters and new artists, centuries of history are kept in one place. Every piece of art connects us with different parts of our history, that’s why it’s so important that we keep investing in art, museums and culture. 

Is that why you’re now investing in young artists like Tyler Mitchel, Derrick Ofosu Boateng and Denisse Ariana Pérez?
Absolutely, they are telling the story of the next generation. It’s not just about different cultures, but also about ways of living, freedom of choice and equality. They are part of a new chapter and I think Derrick for example is an entirely new movement on it’s own. The way he works with colors and compositions really makes me think of the Parisian Dada movement from the 20’s

I had my eye on Tyler Mitchell ever since I saw his work at Foam. I’m a member of the museum and told them I was interested in this particular image, but it was already sold. A month later I got a call from the museum that the buyer never paid for it or came to pick it up. I bought it on the spot and put this neon frame around it, to me the frame really elevates the picture.

Where did your love of art come from?
I don’t come from an artistic family, my parents aren’t really creative, so it’s not something that’s in my genes. But when I was very young my godmother would send me these postcards of impressionists like Monet and post-impressionists like Picasso. I really fell in love with Matisse, I would stare at his postcards for days. That is how I really got into art and started to open up to creativity.  

Why do you think you are attracted to certain pieces?
I will never buy something because it looks pretty. When I have a blue wall I’m not looking for a blue picture, I'm looking for a piece of art that vibes with me. Every piece has a story behind it, even the most simplistic art has a bigger narrative. I’m obsessed, for example, with Mark Rothko’s work. I’m not just attracted to the look and feel, but also to the entire narrative. I always say the greatest artists are the most psychotic, and Rothko really was one of them. He wasn’t making art for the sake of finishing a piece, he was very precise about the journey of his work after he finished it. How far you had to hang it from the floor, from the ceiling. He was an artist who understood that a piece of art is nothing without its environment. Rothko wanted to make sure the environment brought his art to life, he thought beyond his own pieces. 

I’m guessing he’s your dream artist for your wall?
Of course, but my latest artist crush is definitely Zanele Muholi. They’re really re-writing the black queer and trans history of South Africa. They’re engaging an entire movement with their work and telling a very relevant and important story. But I’d have to rent another house to create a room just for their work, it’s so big. 

I’m also a big fan of Gordon Parks, his work is almost like a social study. His images capture art, race, class and politics across the United States from a different century. I think that’s the biggest power you can have as an artist, to not just inspire but also to educate. 

Any advice for young collectors?
Look for art that makes you tick. That gives you life, don’t think of investment value. I actually buy most of my art at auctions, but not the big fancy ones where every piece is a lifetime's salary. I always go to Drouot in Paris. I’ll be browsing the rooms with furniture and vintage fashion pieces in the morning while visiting the auctions in the afternoon. It’s where you can still find really great art for reasonable prices. Big banks and equity funds stay away, it’s a place for real collectionneurs like me, or people who just love art. 

Is there a show or artist we should check out right now?
Just coming out of lockdown I really need to find out what’s going on in town. But if there’s anything you definitely should watch it’s Virgil Abloh’s newest video for Louis Vuitton Men. He’s such an incredible artist, with his artistry going way beyond all the amazing things he’s doing with Louis Vuitton.

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