George Ortiz II

Como a Apollo Magazine é de acesso limitado, fica aqui o artigo inteiro, da mão de James Stourton, autor de Great Colletcors of Our Time e chairman da Sotheby’s UK.

“To befriend George Ortiz is to know one of the most extraordinary collectors of the past half century. His energy and compulsion are legendary and a visit to the Ortiz collection at his home outside Geneva is quite unlike a visit to any other. You are left with a feeling that you have been through – indeed lived through – several thousand years of art that is as alive and vital as if it had just been created; there is a sense of having not only your eyes opened but also your mind expanded. Today Mr Ortiz has reached a stage of Buddhist contentment and peace. For over 60 years art collecting has consumed him, but now ‘it’s all over’ he tells me – ‘the pieces don’t mean anything to me any more’. This Zen-like detachment reminds me of the great Japanese collector Eiichi Ataka, whose compulsion was not dissimilar to Ortiz’s. Once his collection was complete his life’s work was done. ‘I don’t want to die regretting material things’, says Ortiz, who then points to his 7th-century Tibetan Buddha – ‘pure spirituality’, he muses, as a little of the legendary enthusiasm returns.
Now 82, Mr Ortiz is the last survivor of an era of collecting the ancient world that included George Spencer-Churchill and John Hewett, but he is individual in the way that he has evolved a humanist philosophy around it. When he began, André Malraux’s Musée Imaginaire (1952-54) had made cross-cultural relationships fashionable, but Mr Ortiz’s approach to works of art is more visceral. With astonishing perception he can look at a group of works of art and find the most interesting piece, even when outside his field of collecting. This ability shines across the collection in areas as diverse as Byzantine icons, furniture and Italian renaissance bronzes. The world shrinks and time elides in the Ortiz collection. The quality that unites so many of the pieces is an archaic simplicity that reveals the birth of a spiritual life. Birth and spirituality are two of Mr Ortiz’s obsessions, and the collection is more than anything else about these transitional moments in the art of mankind or, as his son, George Jr, puts it: ‘art on the cusp’.
The Ortiz ancestry is exotic, a mixture of tycoons and aristocrats with a dash of South American Indian all filtered through the avenue Foch, Paris. Mr Ortiz’s grandfather was the legendary ‘Tin King’, Simon I. Patiño. Francophiles and international to their finger tips, Mr Ortiz’s parents furnished their Paris home with the best French 18th-century decorative arts – his mother, Graziella Ortiz-Linarès, born Patiño, was the outstanding silver collector of her time – and from them he not only learned about craftsmanship but also was exposed to a certain perfectionism. Where he was to profoundly differ from his parents was in his search for the animate in art – or, as he puts it, the search for the absolute.
How did this happen? Mr Ortiz’s parents were cultivated socialites who lived in high diplomatic circles but this life left him unsatisfied. Having studied philosophy at Harvard, the first stirrings of change came when he attended a postgraduate course in Aristotle’s metaphysics under Professor Harry Austryn Wolfson, and although he had no inkling of its importance to his future, some small, strong embryo was conceived. Years before, his school teacher, with prophetic understatement, had said, ‘I hope that Greece will be a consolation for you in the future’.
Florence was Mr Ortiz’s first European destination. He spent two intense months in Tuscany. In the Uffizi, as he told me, ‘I spent hours looking and looking, trying to understand what it was about’. He has retained a lifelong pleasure in the simple forms of latemedieval Florentine and Sienese architecture as it turns from defensive to domestic.
It was in Greece in the summer of 1949 that George Ortiz found his life’s quest. Having shed his fashionable Marxism, he devoted the rest of his life to collecting and under-standing that extraordinary moment in the history of art when the human spirit emerges and man breathes life into art. An intense education followed in the great museums of the world, where Mr Ortiz learnt osmotically all he could, but there was a dimension missing – touch, feel, and the strange and intense love affair that comes from ownership. He met a dealer in the Herakleion museum to whom he spoke the sacramental words, ‘I want to collect Greek art, will you help me?’ Mr Ortiz was later to say, ‘I hoped that by acquiring ancient Greek objects I would acquire the spirit behind them and that I would be imbued with their essence’. The consummation was a visit to Professor Vladimir Simkhovich, a marchand amateur at Columbia University who understood the young man’s hunger and would feed him one piece at a time from his stock cupboards with Mr Ortiz screaming ‘More! More! More!’ From Simkhovich came many of the most entrancing small bronzes, animals and figurines still in the collection, including the Peloponnesian Boxer (c. 675 bc; Fig. 3).
African art was already expensive in 1950s London and Paris when George started to collect it but he recognised the energy and magical potency of the pieces made before European contact. Two favoured dealers were Charles Ratton in Paris and John Hewett in London. Ratton was shrewd and less likeable than Hewett, but he had the goods and would consult Mr Ortiz on antiquities. Mr Ortiz remembers first meeting Hewett at a Sotheby’s sale in 1951 and was struck by his impressive bearded appearance. Hewett became a close friend (Fig. 4). If the Paris dealers in the 1960s were more intellectual and focused, London dealers such as Hewett were broader and more aesthetic in their interests. You were as likely to find a Francis Bacon painting propped up on Hewett’s floor as a Fang mask. He enjoyed teasing Mr Ortiz by hiding things for him to find and then pretending that they weren’t for sale.
Hewett was fond of what he called ‘George moments’, when Mr Ortiz’s collector’s urge burst out with all the force and passion of a hurricane. One such moment was in 1967 when Hewett invited Mr Ortiz for dinner. Saying ‘I have something to show you that you do not collect but I would like to show it to you anyway’, he went upstairs. Mr Ortiz recalls ‘I remember the shock as he came down holding this bronze head which he put on the table. I was overwhelmed; the shock was total and I knew I had to buy this Benin bronze head that had belonged to General Pitt Rivers.’ The price was an exorbitant £20,000 but Ortiz felt at once what Chinese collectors refer to as a yen or destiny with the piece (Fig. 5). He named it ‘Bulgy Eyes’ and told me ‘it is the strongest work of art I own, an image of naked power’. African art led to Pacific and Oceanic art, which was scarcer but provided beautiful, utilitarian artefacts as well as more obviously powerful, figurative pieces, such as the Aumakua from Warwick Castle that may have come from Captain Cook’s 1779 expedition (Fig. 6).
In October 1977 Mr Ortiz’s daughter was kidnapped for ransom. His mother lent him the money to pay the ransom, which he delivered himself as instructed 11 days later on a highway outside Geneva. To pay back his mother Mr Ortiz held a heartbreaking landmark sale of part of his tribal collection at Sotheby’s, London, in December 1978. He was an admirer of Sotheby’s Chairman, Peter Wilson, who personally took the sale. When it was clear that it was going very well George was able to buy back several pieces, including, much later, the cover lot, the Aumakua.
The social life of the Ortiz family revolves around collectors and dealers. Catherine, Mr Ortiz’s wife, a continuous and intelligent support to her husband’s activities, objected only to the dealers in African art who were too insistent. Mr Ortiz has always had a gift for friendship. One of his most interesting relationships was with Bruce chatwin, who nicknamed him ‘Mighty Mouse’. in 1968 chatwin went on an offi cial tour of the ussr, to visit museums and meet soviet archaeologists. With him went his professor at edinburgh, Stuart Piggott, together with one of Piggott’s students, ruth tringham, now a distinguished anthropologist., and George Ortiz, disguised as Dr Ortiz of the Basel Museum.
Chatwin recalled: ‘For the first days he behaved like Dr O. He listened patiently – although he nearly exploded afterwards – to the rantings of an orthodox Marxist archaeologist. the museum impressed him greatly… (and) on our last day (George) got carried away. the mask of Dr O vanished. He burst out “this is the greatest museum in the world, right? i am the greatest collector of ancient art in the world. if i give you my collection, will you appoint me director of this museum?”’ the astonished offi cials didn’t know what to do. During the trip Mr Ortiz and chatwin clashed with ruth tringham, who later told chatwin’s biographer, ‘i argued that artefacts are things which have meaning only in context: they don’t have any value for themselves.’ this is the opposite of everything that Mr Ortiz believes.
George Ortiz returned to russia in 1992, when his collection was shown at the Hermitage. this was closely followed by exhibitions in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, the royal Academy of Arts in London and the Altes Museum in Berlin. these exhibitions had an enormous impact. everybody agreed that the pieces were profound and beautiful and the display, in which Mr Ortiz was involved in every detail, was perfect. Mrs Ortiz found the St Petersburg exhibition particularly moving, ‘it was just after perestroika – the queues of hungry visitors with children and old people were all mesmerised by the works of art’.
The four exhibitions also brought a backlash. the eminent archaeologist Lord renfrew wrote, ‘the collection of Mr George Ortiz was recently shown in the royal Academy. it is our job collectively to deprecate this and to ensure that Mr Ortiz goes away a little more ashamed than when he came since he is doing great damage by fi nancing the large scale looting which is the ultimate source of so much of what he is able to exhibit’. it would be an understatement to say that Mr Ortiz was upset. Much of his collection was formed long before such things mattered and renfrew seemed happy to make an exception for Mrs Goulandris, whose collection he had catalogued. in the rows that followed between the archaeologists and the collectors, Mr Ortiz became a passionate if sometimes intemperate voice defending the latter. in particular he was dismayed by the 1970 unesco convention and 1995 unidroit convention, which categorised art as national patrimony. He argued for the cross-border movement of art on the grounds that it is the shared heritage of mankind and leads us to understanding each other and safeguarding the past.
Mr Ortiz’s children accepted works of art as their siblings. George Jr remembers, ‘whenever my father bought something the love affair was total. He would stand enraptured in front of his new possession – he would tell us what he felt, without ever lecturing us.’ Away from art, Mr Ortiz has always had a passion for trees, has never cared much for music (except Bach) and hates having to lie on a beach. it is through collecting that he comes alive. He has always believed that instincts are his best guide – ‘One can learn too much and feel too little’, is one of his favourite catchphrases, although it doesn’t do justice to his knowledge. A glance at his enormous library reveals the trouble he takes to be informed about art, but to hear him describing, for example, his 2nd-century Siddhartha from the Peshawar region (Fig. 2) is to understand the tactile pleasure that he derives from such pieces: ‘he is still the sensuous young prince with a beautiful wife and son but one morning he wakes up and abandons all and goes forth into the world in the pursuit of truth. He is the future Buddha.’ Visitors to the collection recall the extraordinary experience of having their eyes opened not only to works of art but also to a sense that art was the answer to Gauguin’s question: ‘who are we, where have we come from, and where are we going?’ As to the future of the collection, it will be kept together, with an element of public exhibition, but Mr Ortiz is not yet ready to reveal his plans.”

3 thoughts on “George Ortiz II

  1. When I lived in Geneva in the 1990s I met George Ortiz and visited his home and it was unforgettable. I hope he continues to show his art collection and that he and his lovely wife Catherine continue to dazzle the art community.

    Alexander Walker, Los Angeles, California (alexonthenet1@aol.com)

  2. its my aspire to make meeting with george otriz,kindly if any one have his contact infomation ,do share with me,i will be thankfull to you
    best regards

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