A forest made of modern sculpture

Simon Spierer, an Italian-born art collector of Jewish descent, used to say that he could not imagine his life without art. In the beginning, that art was paintings, then sculpture. Spierer had built up a substantial collection of 20th-century painting but sold it in its entirety to focus on sculpture. His collection includes 40 works by some of the most classic, prominent names in the history of modern sculpture, among them are Jean Arp, Alberto Giacometti, Barbara Hepworth, Andre Masson, Isamu Noguchi, Henry Moore, Tony Cragg, Louise Bourgeois, Anthony Caro and Constantin Brancusi. A year before he died in 2005, Spierer donated his collection to the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt, Germany. To make the collection better known internationally, the museum, which is temporarily closed due to restoration work, decided to organize (in collaboration with the Institute for Cultural Exchange in Tubingen) a touring exhibition. Athens is the first stop (to April 14). «A Forest of Sculptures, Collection Simon Spierer,» which opened yesterday at the Athinais Cultural Center (34-36 Kastorias, Votanikos, 210.348.0000) and is curated by Takis Mavrotas, is an impressive display of classic, modern sculpture. The sculptures have been arranged close to one another to create the idea of a forest of sculptures: This was how Spierer wanted his collection to be shown and is how it is displayed at its home museum. The show resembles more of a open-air installation, is more engaging than a conventional display and effective in giving the elegant, monumental sculptures an even livelier presence. Spierer’s portrait by Andy Warhol is the only painting. It seems that Spierer had an inherently trained eye for art. Born in Italy, he fled at an early age to Switzerland to avoid the fascist persecutions (his mother and sister, who remained in Trieste, were taken to a concentration camp) and subsequently worked in the USA. Spierer made his fortune in the tobacco business and lived in Hamburg and Geneva. He began collecting art in the 1950s. In the 60s, he and his companion, Marie-Louise Jeanneret, opened an art gallery in Champel, close to Geneva. In Boissano, an area between Genoa and San Remo, Italy, they established a center for the arts, a workshop and residency that drew famous artists from all over the world. When Marie-Louise died in 1994, he closed the gallery. His decision to donate his collection to a museum was a long-held wish. Spierer was a man with an appreciation of and love for art. The touring exhibition that begins in Athens now makes his vision known worldwide.