Diana Baldon: How has your experience of attending Artissima evolved over time? Can you describe the major differences, or points of convergence, in comparing this important contemporary art fair to others you normally attend?
Rolf & Venke Hoff: We can’t remember the first time we attended Artissima. Years ago we were invited to travel to Rome and Milan but decided to visit Turin after we were told it was a city that loved contemporary art! We went with an open mind and open eyes, and have been coming back to Artissima every year since. Together with Art Basel and the Gallery Weekend Berlin, it is the third event we regularly attend. Why do we return every year? A combination of reasons: the art, the city’s architecture, its collections and museums, its history, its food and wine. Artissima does it the “Italian way” by making every year different, sometimes a little crazy, but always with high quality, and generosity in taking care of the visitors.
DB: How do you inform yourselves on the latest themes and trends—the development of specific artistic practices as well as the contemporary art world more broadly?
R&VH: After so many years in the art world, we have many friends around. We don’t rely on advisors, but travel and see a lot. We are art lovers, not just collectors. We are very open-minded and not so interested in trends. What keeps us going is a sort of hunt. Are there any “new” artists around the corner who could show us something different? You never know what can happen.
DB: In a contemporary art world dominated by hyper-stimulation, where the importance of research and focus is ever greater, how would you define quality in what you seek out and finally decide to acquire?
R&VH: It is certainly quality! That is so hard to tell. It consists of different “things,” combinations. At the ground level there must be an education and an earnest eagerness to be an artist—one who digs deeply and makes the art they want to make, not looking to trends, collectors, galleries, critics, et cetera. They will maybe starve and suffer in the beginning, but they are the heroes, in our opinion. The real collector buys with the heart and not the ears.
DB: What is the responsibility of a collector these days, to your mind, and how do you imagine it might change over time?
R&VH: Collectors have always been important. These days we see this ever more clearly. Without collectors we’d never have so many interesting museums. Today’s collectors are more important for young and upcoming artists. Collectors meet regularly around the world and inform one another of the latest news. We of course promote our Norwegian or Scandinavian emerging artists, facilitate contacts, and so on.
DB: It is evident that over the last twenty years, there have been important shifts in your agenda regarding collecting art: on the one hand, a recognition of the importance of collecting also international art, since artists often are inspired by ideas occurring beyond their geographic and cultural boundaries; and on the other, supporting and producing art in contexts outside of the art field in Norway, for example Telenor. How did these shifts occur?
R&VH: We started our company Signex AS in 1986, producing signs, vinyl, et cetera, based on the three strict principles of quality, design, and service. Later on we started helping artists and artist-run galleries produce objects, invitations, shipping, and when the rumor spread, the telecommunications company Telenor approached us to produce and install works by Daniel Buren (ninety-four sculptures), Liam Gillick (a huge hanging construction), Jenny Holtzer (212-meter-long texts), and many others. At first we didn’t have a clue we had started working as an art production company! After Telenor we worked with Statoil, the Norwegian oil company, to produce a large piece (1,100 square meters) by Pipilotti Rist.
DB: You’ve mentioned that the employees of Signex tend to stay at their jobs long- term due to the fact that it makes them happy to produce and realize artists’ ideas, and be surrounded by art in their workplace. You must be proud to know that your activity of collecting is having a positive influence on people.
R&VH: Yes, we are very proud of this. It is so hard to recruit competent people, and when we started hanging art in our offices and producing facilities, it made a change. Domestic and international artists visit our premises regularly and talk with our employees. We have developed a very special culture. Now the average time of employment at Signex is twelve and a half years! This is fantastic and also good economically.
DB: What motivated you to open your own Kunsthalle in a former caviar factory in a small fishing village in the remote Lofoten Islands?
R&VH: It was our family. In 1998 we bought a lighthouse in Henningsvær in the Lofoten Islands. Every member of the family loved it, as well as the small nearby fishing village, which at that time had only 430 inhabitants. A former caviar factory there came up for sale, and someone wanted to buy it to tear it down and build apartments, but something struck us about it, so we decided to buy it without yet having a clue what to do with it. We just wanted to preserve the building. After a couple of years our kids told us: “You have so much art, why not show it?” so we began the KAVIARFACTORY project. At the moment we are showing our fifth exhibition, Painting or Not, featuring works from our own collection. All the family is involved: Venke is the director, Rolf is the curator, Mariken runs the shop, and Petter takes care of the building. Next year we will host a solo show by one of the most important artists in the world, but the person’s name is still a secret!
DB: Reflecting back on your years of collecting, is there anything you would do differently?
R&VH: No. We have learned from our mistakes. We didn’t buy a Picasso drawing as my first piece.
DB: Will your children follow in your footsteps as important figures for the Norwegian and Scandinavian art world, and build on your legacy?
R&VH: They have to choose for themselves. But they have certainly grown up with artists, eating dinner with them in our kitchen. Our son Petter works at Olafur Eliasson’s studio, and our daughter Mariken is writing her thesis on how art can influence a company’s profile and bottom line.