Collector of the month: Sabine Ritter

by Unseen May 23 2018

Private collection © Sabine Ritter

In this series of interviews, we explore the lives of various collectors by looking at what, why and how they collect. Focusing on a range of collectors, from art advisers to personal collectors themselves, we find out what drives their fascination with collecting photography.

This month, we talked to Sabine Ritter, whose thoughtful approach to collecting has resulted in an eclectic yet distinct collection that goes beyond the traditional distinctions of art, design, fashion and crafts. A veritable art enthusiast, Sabine Ritter is not only moved by the joy of owning a piece of art, but is also highly motivated by the opportunity to engage, and potentially build a relationship, with the artists she collects.

You are not a typical art collector. What does it mean for you to be a collector?
I’m not sure what makes a "typical" art collector, but I simply love art. For me, it is really important to understand the inspiration, the search of the artist, the context for the creation as well as the quality or mastery of the artwork. "Collecting art", if you want to use that term, is about the privilege and opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the artist about the work and potentially even build a relationship or friendship with them. 

For someone interested in art, I also search and am always curious to see work that matches or echoes my questions and touches my passions or completely surprises or shocks me – it is really about how resonant a piece of art is. Especially photography has a unique ability to express something special, to tell a story beyond the obvious and inspire your imagination.

Furthermore, owning a piece of art is a tremendous joy - being able to look at or experience a piece of art on a daily basis - and being able to share that pleasure with others!

How would you describe your collection?
My husband Walter and I have always been interested in art and design; we have a bit of an eclectic collection of antiques, paintings and design objects like an old Bauhaus chair from my grandparents, as well as a library of artist books, photobooks and portfolios.

I am not sure when we actually really got into "collecting" photography, but surely Indra Wussow, who set up the Sylt Foundation, as well as Nigel Bagley and Lorraine Dean, who invited us to join them to the first edition of Unseen back in 2012, were key inspirations and still are. Not to forget Christophe Guye and his passion for Japanese photography and clearly Unseen too! 

We know of your soft spot for Japanese art and culture, tell us about your fascination and how it fits within your collection.

If I were to try and summarise the key themes of our collection:

1. Japanese art and photography

My interest in Japan, its art and culture started very early, when in 1970 my father came back from a trip to Japan – with wonderful ceramics, lacquer ware and black and white photos of incredible gardens, architecture and landscapes! Since then, I have been “hooked” on key concepts from the Japanese culture such as reducing everything to the bare necessities, deliberately allowing space "in between", the mastery of imperfection, the contrast of light and shadow and many more. 

We have been following the "first generation" of Japanese photographers, well known in the West, like Hiroshi Sugimoto or Daido Moriyama. More recently, we have been very taken with the "second generation", specially the female artists again; for instance, Rinko Kawauchi has touched us both profoundly with her ability to infuse gentle images with spiritual power. Similarly, Lieko Shiga has moved us with her work about the extraordinary situation of the people living in the Fukushima region, as well as Miho Kajioka. Also, Risaku Suzuki’s Stream of consciousness series inviting us to look beyond the obvious and reflect on what it is to "see" and Syoin Kajii's meditation on waves, NAMI. And there are so many more names I could mention!

web_Lieko Shiga Rasen Kaigan 45_courtesy Christophe Guye.jpg#45, from the series Rasen Kaigan, 2012 © Lieko Shiga /Christophe Guye Galerie

2. Nature.

Another key topic is nature – landscapes, water, mountains and trees – we both love nature and are very much attracted by this aspect in the works of the artists mentioned previously, but also by the work of Darren Almond, notably his Fullmoon series, Chrystel Lebas revisiting landscapes and capturing them beautifully, as well as by Jungjin Lee and Stephen Gill.

3. Climate change and social change.

Given that I am working on addressing climate and social change, I have become very interested in how artists are responding to these topics. Art, and specifically photography, plays such a key role in documenting the unfolding of current crises, providing a mandate and raising broader awareness - in many cases, artist initiatives have been the foundation or catalyst for further action by governments, companies and civil society.

I respect deeply the work of Jimmy Nelson and Edward Burtynski not only for raising awareness on critical issues but also for engaging with the affected communities. Recently, I have discovered excellent and important work such as Arko Datto's series Shunyo Raja documenting climate change refugees or Mandy Barker's work on plastic pollution in the oceans.

In my opinion, artists could play an even more significant role in these matters than it has been the case recently. 

web_©Arko Datto SHUNYO RAJAAccess to many islands is still possible only via water, rendering them quite remote. Boats ferry people only once a day in certain places.jpgShunyo Raja, 2017 © Arko Datto/East Wing Dubai

What motivates you to collect? How is your own creative aspiration reflected in your collection?
My choices are driven by my curiosity and research, as well as by the desire to discover and look at things in new ways. For example, I found L’étrange cité, the work of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov on the utopian city, very insightful and inspiring.

And yes, most certainly, my own creative aspirations influence my choices. Last September, we were on the Japanese island Yakushima and I was trying to capture with my camera the beauty of the thousand-year old trees and moss gardens – only to discover back home the incredible work of Thomas Struth, Jacqueline Hussink and Chrystel Lebas on Yakushima. 

What is the most treasured piece in your art collection? 
Art pieces are like family members– it is really difficult to identify the "most loved one" as you love them all differently for their respective qualities, don’t you? But, if I have to choose the one currently most treasured, it has to be a present from my husband – Rinko Kawauchi's Untitled from the series Halo

web_Untitled from the series Halo 2017 Rinko Kawauchi Christophe Guye Galerie.jpgUntitled, from the series Halo, 2017 © Rinko Kawauchi/Christophe Guye Galerie

What were some of your highlights from Unseen Amsterdam 2017? Is there a particular work/ artist you discovered that you still carry with you?
Actually, we were drawn to the work of some "old friends" like Rinko Kawauchi and Stephen Gill, but also discovered the work by Yoshinori Mizutani as well as Nadav Kander and Pentti Sammallahti. I loved the concept of CO-OP (Martine Stig’s portraits have a rare quality!) and the opportunity to meet so many artists!

 Study for ‘Profiles’
, 2016 @ Martine Stig/Radical Reversibility