Simon Franks founded the Franks-Suss Art Collection with Robert Suss in 2001.
The Franks‐Suss Collection first focused primarily on Chinese artwork. How has the collection evolved since it was founded in 2001? What do you find unique about work being produced in countries that are undergoing social, economic, or political change?
When we started collecting in China, it was by far the most exciting country in terms of producing wonderful and original art, at prices that we could afford. China was at the vanguard of the emerging art scene, and also, as it happened, one of the catalysts for the creation of the Collection. As time went by, China became hot and as the prices of Chinese work rose and indeed our own resources grew, we widened the net and started looking for the other countries that were also not focussed on by the collecting world. It is hard to imagine now that in 2001 almost no Western collections had Chinese art works. What is so exciting about China and indeed most countries that are undergoing change be it social, economic or political is that it provides a catalyst for artists to say something to tell a story, to protest. From my perspective, some Western art from the most developed countries had become crass, shallow and lacking in any poignancy. That is not always the case obviously, but I still find countries like China, Angola, Zimbabwe or Brazil create exciting art.
Part of the Collection’s raison d’être is the highlighting of exciting talent trying to do something different. The artists you mentioned are all doing that, including one of my absolute favourites, Brad Kahlhamer. In regard to Kasper, I cannot take credit for discovering him. It was actually Rob who started following Kasper’s work after an introduction and became a big fan very quickly.
Many artists you’ve collected go on to have long, vibrant careers. What’s the biggest success story you’ve seen over the past twelve years?
Yes I am very proud of this fact. I think our curators have been exceptional in finding artists that are committed and for the long term and have the X Factor, the Magic Dust that helps their work consistently evolve and stay on as the zeitgeist. To answer your question directly about the biggest success story, you would have to first define success for me. I suspect you mean in terms of value of the work having grown. In today’s world where art has become so commoditized and is treated as an investment product, rather than a work of beauty, this seems to be the most focused on. According to this metric, I would have to highlight Zeng Fanzhi. We first bought his work, of which we have many, in the low tens of thousands. As you know, today his work trades in the millions. Zeng is the real deal and on a comparative basis he is still not fully valued as an artist, by Western collectors.
You’ve said your collection is about a shared passion for art and those whom create it rather than investment. Can you expand on why you think this is important for the long term?
I cannot speak for Rob but when I started the Collection I knew nothing about art, but I have always had a passion for people who create art in all its forms whether it be poetry, writing, painting, film making or music. There is something beguiling about watching an artist at work, artists consumed by their passion and skill. But as the Collection has grown and the numbers become bigger and more meaningful, it is hard to not consider art in an investment sense. The media is so full of investment articles about art and a whole eco system has developed to monetize and commoditize art. We at the Collection really try to resist seeing art this way. Ultimately we’d like the Collection to function as a global beacon which calls a wider community to engage with the arts and expands the engagement with the art and the artists we care about. That is our goal.