Contemporary Art

Style Authority Nina Garcia Talks Art, Fashion and Her Friend Santiago Barberi Gonzalez

By Sotheby's

NEW YORK – Newly appointed editor in chief of Elle magazine and well known as a formidable judge on the long-running hit TV show Project Runway, the Colombia-born style authority Nina Garcia is also an avid art collector. “There is an emotional response that happens when you see an artwork you love,” she says. “Art moves you, but art also finds you.” With her famously discerning eye, Garcia has curated Sotheby’s 27 September Contemporary Curated auction, including works from the collection of Santiago Barberi Gonzalez, her close friend and fashion-world colleague who died earlier this year. As a key force behind luxury accessories brand Nancy Gonzalez, “Santiago had an unmatched sense of creativity,” says Garcia. Ahead of the auction, Garcia spoke with us about fashion, art and what she believes makes a great collector. 



What about art inspires you the most?
Art is something so personal. You get a feeling from it. There is an emotional response that happens when you see an artwork you love. Art moves you, but art also finds you. Art is also a reflection of our time – it’s a window into what is important and relevant in society. For me, it’s so much more than just decoration; it’s about the artist’s ability to capture the zeitgeist and to transfer it onto a canvas or into an installation. It’s about society being able to take that piece of work and translate that into meaning. It’s an incredibly powerful cycle of meaning. 

Who’s your favourite artist?
I admire so many artists, past to present; there are too many to name. But Picasso has always been one of my favorites. If you look at his evolution: from the Blue and Rose periods, to Cubism, Surrealism and so on, you can see how he successfully tackled most of the styles of the 20th century. Currently, I’m very inspired by all the Latin American artists like Carmen Herrera – her art is incredibly striking. You can’t look away.


Can you describe the current relationship between contemporary art and fashion? 
Art and fashion have always been great friends. From Dalí to Schiaparelli, to Karl Lagerfeld and the Memphis group, if you look close enough you’ll almost always find some sort of connection. I recently re-watched the documentary about Pierpaolo Piccioli, the creative director of Valentino, and he reiterated just that. Many of his collections were inspired by art, from Piero della Francesca to the punk movement. If you visit the Calvin Klein store you will see an amazing art installation by Sterling Ruby. Raf Simons, another lighthouse in the fashion world, has always established a dialogue between art and fashion. I also have to mention the Louis Vuitton and Jeff Koons collection of handbags that sold incredibly well. Art and fashion both have the ability to explain a particular moment of time and history. If you see a mini skirt from the 1960s you can understand a lot about the cultural changes that happened during the decade.

Do you collect art? 
Absolutely. I hate a bare wall, and I love filling my home with pieces of personal significance. 

Have your tastes changed over time? 
Yes. I don’t believe in approaching art collecting as a sprint. It is a marathon. Just as we develop in life, so do your eye and your taste – as it does in fashion.

What do you think drives a great art collector? 
I think it’s important to have a point of view and the guts to follow it. A great example of someone who definitely has both is Leonard Lauder, and that is evident from the amazing Cubist artworks he collected and later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


Do you feel that fashion is art? If so, when do you feel a fashion piece becomes a collectible? 
Absolutely! I can’t wait to go to Paris and visit the Christian Dior exhibit. Fashion pieces can become collectibles in a variety of ways. One way is when something is incredibly valuable to an individual personally – in that sense, I am a true collector of fashion as art  – especially shoes!. Another way is when they are deemed indicative of the time we are in by society as a whole and they become valuable in that regard.

Why do you think so many fashion designers are drawn to collaborate with artists? 
Fashion always establishes a dialogue: between past and future and also between fashion, architecture, sculpture and painting. That’s what I love about fashion: all the arts are sewn together into a garment.

Can you tell us about your relationship to Santiago? 
Santiago and I have been close forever—he was one of my dearest friends. We were so connected with each other on so many levels – from our taste in art and fashion to our families vacationing together throughout the years. We understood each other very well.

Did you get to witness Santiago’s passion for art and collecting? 
All of the time. Santiago had an unmatched sense of creativity and that was reflected in his art collecting. He had a fascination with language, with meaning, and his favorite pieces showed that in a whimsical way.

What attracted you to the collaboration with Sotheby’s and Contemporary Curated? 
The collaboration is wonderful, and it was Santiago that really made me aware of it. His collection, memorialised here, captures his spirit and passion for creating, and for bringing incredible meaning to the world.  

To discover Nina Garcia’s favourite works from Contemporary Curated, click below.

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