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The Robb Reader: Santiago Barberi Gonzalez

  • Jill Newman

As the president and creative director for the global luxury brand Nancy Gonzalez, Santiago Barberi Gonzalez travels the world in search of compelling art and design, both to fuel his creative vision and to enhance his personal collections. Gonzalez, 37, has a well-trained eye as the son of Nancy Gonzalez, the Colombian designer whose namesake company is known for its lavish crocodile handbags and accessories. A man in perpetual motion, and admittedly obsessed with time, he recently paused to talk with Robb Report about what makes him tick.

What is your philosophy on collecting?
Collecting is my hobby. Some people play golf or ride horses; I collect. I buy very particular pieces—a specific style, artist, year, or period. My art isn’t glittery, and many people won’t like it. I will go for smaller, more serious, more historical pieces versus larger, newer, more impressive pieces that will be easier to sell in a few years. My collection covers conceptual art from its beginnings, with a 1965 piece by Joseph Kosuth, and is followed by other hard-core conceptual minimalists like Lawrence Weiner. I have a large collection, and most of it is in storage or on loan for exhibitions. I change the art in my New York home every six months.

Are particular subjects attractive to you?
I’m obsessed with time, space, and travel. The concept that you can’t control time pisses me off. So I look for art that expresses concepts in time and space, like the large egg sculpture [by Elmgreen and Dragset] I recently bought. It has a knob like the one on a safe, and represents breaking the code of life. The egg is fragile but it gives life, and it is the beginning. I also have pieces by the Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara, who creates “date” paintings that are made in a single day. They revolve around the date they were made, through letters and newspapers and graphic descriptions. These are small pieces, understated and rare. I also have a piece by Hiroshi Sugimoto, a photographer who opened his lens on a seascape for the day and captured time, time exposed, in a single day.

You must also be a watch collector.
I love the machinery of watches, and I have about 50 in my collection. I love the Breguet double-tourbillon watch because it is so clean and simple, and seeing the two tourbillons moving is like sculpture, a true masterpiece. When I put it on, I smile; it makes me happy. I have the Patek Philippe perpetual calendar with a moon phase and date for 100 years, but I set it for New York time and I never travel with it, because it is too complicated to reset the time. Last year, I was obsessed with vintage Rolexes. I bought the Paul Newman Oyster model with a black dial from 1973, which was the best Oyster model because they only made a few with the black dial. I have it in the original box, so I tracked down a second one to wear, because I want to keep the first one like brand new in the box. I also like the Rolex GMT-Master. It isn’t expensive, but I adore it because it is easy to use and change time zones, and I bought it in four different models.

Tell us about your furniture collection.
I have hundreds of chairs, from the 1930s to super-contemporary Marc Newson stuff. They say that people who buy chairs don’t like to sit, which is probably true for me.

How has collecting shaped your life?
Collecting comes with a community. You meet art advisors, museum directors and curators, and other collectors, and it is nice to share these hobbies with people who get it. You end up meeting incredible, lovely people who share your interests, and you make lifelong friends. 

What is your biggest luxury?
I think the biggest luxury is not to be in a hurry, to be able to wait to find the right watch or piece of art, or even to wait for your custom-made suit or shoes. It takes patience.