IBEX Matronage: The ‘Slow’ Art Patronage for the 21st Century

IBEX Collection supports artists and fosters creation of great super-realist art

Significant innovations in the practice of art collection are few and far between. In recent years, though, the IBEX Collection has built a credible claim due to its uniquely crafted “matronage model”. It’s a new type of slow patronage specially customized for the contemporary super-realist paintings that the three IBEX Collectors focus on.

In six years, since 2013, German businessman and art connoisseur Albrecht von Stetten and his co-collectors—Kiki Kim from South Korea and David Willson from Australia—have built up the world’s largest active collection of figurative, super-realist paintings noted for their exquisite rendering of human micro-expression and contemporary commentary.

Willson, IBEX Executive Director: “Market failures come in all sorts of guises, but they rarely come in the shape of empty gallery walls where contemporary super-realist master works should hang—if only they had been created. Under the current market structure, the high cost of such finely detailed paintings, typically clocking up hundreds of hours of conceptual planning and thousands of hours of painstaking work, means they will neither be commissioned nor spontaneously created”.

“With art investment on the rise in North America and Asia,” says von Stetten, IBEX Chairman, “there was clearly a demand for contemporary big-ticket works, but apparently the supply was not coming through, due to a lack of art dealers with a bold enough vision and funds to boot. Back in 2013, that looked like an opportunity worth pursuing, so that’s how we decided to establish IBEX”.

Don’t paint, yet!

“Actually, we do not collect art,” emphasizes Kim, IBEX Chief Curator, “we collect artists, whom we offer long-term financial support with very few strings attached.” In most cases, the IBEX Matronage model means generous advances on works that may take two or three years to create.

With the upfront cash-flow, the artists suddenly get a wealth of time and a carefree mind to devote themselves purely to the creation of their grand works, christened IBEX Masterpieces. They get an opportunity to travel, meet fellow artists and visit international exhibitions and new cities for inspiration, or experiment with new techniques or tools, such as tinkering with 3D printing to make model props. All expenses are covered by IBEX.

Too good to be true? This VIP treatment of artists isn’t lightly given. Between them, the three co-collectors have screened over 4,000 super-realist artists worldwide, visited 400 of them in their studios from Beijing to Buenos Aires and from New York to Tokyo. Over time, 23 painters and one drawing artist—arguably the greatest super-realist artists alive today—were selected and supported by IBEX. The three collectors have also bought works from more than 100 other super-realist artists they deem interesting.

50 criteria and one X Factor

Von Stetten, Willson and Kim use a set of about 50 criteria across six categories, ranging from socio-graphic factors, anticipated returns, technical proficiency, to painting ‘quality’ (a mix of conceptual value and depth, composition skills, feeling, etc.) and an ‘X Factor’ derived from the opinion of each of the three IBEX Collectors. This systematic assessment tool is the brainchild of Willson, a seasoned global business consultant.

Matronage works

The term “matronage” spontaneously emerged in the communications among the collectors, the artists, and the technical support staff of the IBEX ArtLab, reflecting the relational rather than transactional nature of the collaboration. “Together, we are all one organism,” remarked Emanuele Dascanio once, the collection’s only graphite drawing artist.

Does this high-trust, low-control art collection approach work? von Stetten: “Absolutely. Overall, we see our IBEX Master Painters move toward greater experimentation and innovation in their artistic approaches and a deepening meaning and growing eloquence in their works. They’re contemporary and forward-looking, redefining what super-realism means today. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

Investors, collectors, and private wealth management divisions of major banks are starting to take note. In fact, IBEX has introduced, and is efficiently developing,  a new model of supporting artists, a new type of a collaboration between artists and collectors, a sheer innovation in the art market. And no wonder: the German von Stetten family is related to the House of Medici, the grandest art supporters in history. “In a way, it was a blood call to launch our IBEX initiative. And yes, an ibex – a kind of a mountain goat known for its ability to climb sheer cliffs – has been part of the heraldry of our family for more than 600 yeas,” adds von Stetten.

After six years of building a cohort of super-realist artists and shaping its organizational system, the IBEX Collection is now ready to meet the market. Its PR team is ramping up its social media presence and producing a documentary to introduce the works and worlds of the IBEX Master Painters. From seaside recluse to urban socialite, each IBEX artist now enjoys an expanding platform to share their gifts with art lovers worldwide. A new #IBEXwatchlist hashtag has been launched on social media to inspire and encourage other artists’ creations, and to fuel the global super-realist community. This hashtag also allows the IBEX Collection to identify artists to potentially work with in the future.

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