Oasis Magazine talks to Dr. Alfredo Gysi, BSI Bank’s CEO, about the BSI art collection, the importance of art, and the exciting projects and artists that BSI is involved with.

Why is it important for BSI to present and showcase art works to the public and also to support and sponsor major art and cultural affairs?
Our commitment to arts permeates our identity, our way of liaising with clients, our working environment as well as our communication and sponsorship activities. We are deeply convinced that art enriches people, shows new perspectives and gives emotions. Having this in mind, in 2000 we created the BSI Art Collection, in fulfillment of BSI’s desire to approach contemporary art world through the acquisition of works made by internationally renowned artists. Many of these artworks are now displayed, according to tangible exhibitions concepts, in our locations around the world, as we want to create an interesting and inspiring environment both for our clients and our employees.

We are also used to lend artworks of our collection to Swiss or international museums as we believe that any heritage beyond financial assets is valuable to the community in which the bank operates. For the same reason, we support and sponsor art and cultural organizations – such as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, of which we are the sole institutional partner, or the Swiss Institute in Rome – or major exhibitions or cultural events as the Progetto Martha Argerich, a stunning music festival we created from scratch with other important institutional partners 12 years ago, or the BSI Swiss Architectural Award. In most cases – and the latter are very good examples – we do not limit our involvement purely to sponsorship but we take a proactive role in the conceptual, organisational and promotional aspects. Last but not least, our commitment to culture and arts pass through the work of our foundations.

What makes the foundations of BSI unique in their vision and reach?
Our Foundations range a variety of topics from contemporary art to architecture till financial research and the promotion of intercultural relationships.
Each one of them stands out for its own specific purpose and activities but a common feature which makes them unique is the purpose of raising awareness on the importance of culture, art and science both in our day-to-day lives and for the sustainable development of our society. Another important feature that makes our foundations unique is the theme of challenging. With the BSI Art Foundation a number of renowned artists took up the challenge of creating site-specific works for our branches around the words. Each work results from the interaction between the artist, the building’s architecture and, in some cases, also the employees working in the location. Without any doubt a fascinating experiment. Another example which I hold dear is the BSI Architectural Foundation, chaired by one of the most prominent contemporary architects of the world: Mario Botta. Among other activities, the Foundation presents a biennial architectural prize, the BSI Architectural Award, which is garnering increasing plaudits and emerging as a landmark in the cultural debate on contemporary architecture. For sure, the prestige of the jury and advisors, the growing interest of the public opinion and the quality of the works presented have sustained the reputation of the award. But the credit of this great success is also attributable to the far-sightedness of its objective: to sustain architecture that is attentive to the context in which it is set and sensitive to environmental issues, without neglecting the aesthetic factor.

In three editions we have awarded architects under 50 coming from quite a few parts of the world: the Paraguayan Solano Benitez, Diébédo Francis Kéré (Burkina Faso/Germany) and Studio Mumbai, based in India. That’s another fascinating challenge.

Do you remember the first work of art you purchased?
Sure. A drawing by Fernand Léger. My interest in arts turns up into the habit of collecting as a result of confronting myself with the development of the world of art and thanks to my natural curiosity, which pushed me to find out and understand more and more….

Do you have a collecting philosophy? Have any particular themes or aesthetic tendencies emerged over the years?
I’m too curious to focus on a single period, geography, movement or media. I have encompassed quite a few paths and I love to put together different artists, periods, movements and media. I love to dialogue with them and to let them dialogue between themselves. Nevertheless, while reviewing my collection, I discover that some themes become more and more recurrent.

If you could own any work of art, what would it be?
It’s difficult to give just an answer and the answer would continuously change. Today it would be a wonderful work by Lucio Fontana which I saw yesterday in a private collection.

What piece of advice would you give anyone starting his or her very own art collection?
First of all it is important to really understand the work of an artist and the way one reacts to it, both emotionally and intellectually. It is also useful to try to understand the relevance and the impact on the development of the history of art and, for established artists, the way they are represented in internationally renowned museums.

Then it is necessary to understand the art market and its functioning in order not to fall in the trap of those creating and profiting from passing trends. It is crucial to invest time in studying and understanding artists, movements, artistic languages so that to focus on those close to your own sensibility and interests. One has also to keep in mind that the quality of each individual work is crucial to its value, which means that the relevance of the work in the artist’s production, the year of creation and the state of conservation are decisive for the real value. And finally each choice has to be a personal one. You have to really enjoy each work of art that you collect and it has to reflect your personality and sensibility.