Collector Spotlight

Michele Bondoni, Italy

INSTAGRAM PROFILE June 18, 2021 By: Adenike Cosgrove

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a 40 year old Italian, born and raised in Brescia, a city between Milan and Venice. I work in the communication sector and I’ve been collecting African art for fifteen years.

How did you discover classic African art?

As often happens, the strongest passions are born randomly. My country has very few historical links with Africa, so the passion for African art is not common. But in the last thirty years, many people from African nations have come to Italy, especially to the north, searching for opportunities.

A small group of people from Senegal, Mali and Guinea opened an innovative restaurant with an exhibition space in my city in the late 90s. They held cultural activities and workshops on African art and music. The menu was great and the atmosphere very new for me. After a short time, the business closed but the interest in African culture was born in me. In 2003 a super exhibition, 'Africa Capolavori da un Continente' took place in Turin and that visit struck me.

Since I was a child I’ve always collected. When I have a strong passion for something, collecting is a natural outcome. For me, more than possessing, collecting means being a temporary custodian — taking care of the piece in my collection.

What was the first piece you bought?

I consider the beginning of my African collection to be 2005. Until then, I was only collecting fake items. My first bad piece — a giant reliquary Kota. My first authentic piece was a nice Zaramo doll from an Italian collector.

What was your biggest mistake when you first started collecting?

Africa is a continent so vast and so rich in different cultures that talking about African art is already a conceptual error. So the first unintentional mistake for a European guy is to approach, without respect, distant cultures. It’s necessary to approach the work with enormous attention as one would, stood in front of a Caravaggio canvas.

So the main mistake was to start collecting before having studied and well-observed African objects. Authentic objects have a unique aesthetic spirituality. Before collecting, it’s necessary to understand aesthetic canons, traditions, and to compare many different pieces. It’s a gradual, difficult but fundamental path. Otherwise many fake objects are collected with the illusion of collecting culture.

My approach was immediately aesthetic. A traditional object has an aesthetic, spiritual and conceptual synthesis and power that I consider unattainable for many other cultures. My illusion as a collector is to be able to add a small brick to the history of African art.

What types of artworks do you now collect?

I made an extreme choice very early on in my collecting. I only collect ritual axes or similar items. A choice that started by chance, buying my first axe, but continued as a choice, precisely for aesthetic and historical coherence.

What is your favourite piece in your collection?

I love many items in my collection but the answer to this question is very simple. An object I saw for the first time fifteen years ago. I totally fell in love with it. At that time, I didn't even remotely have the economic possibility of buying it. I took a photo and that photo was my computer desktop image for over twelve years. By chance, I found that object again for sale three years ago and with enormous sacrifices, really huge for me (!), I managed to take it home. For me, the Lele adze is the symbol of beauty, utopia and passion.

How often do you add to your collection?

As often as possible. But it all depends on the availability of money and objects. Unfortunately, so far I have always had more difficulty in having money, not finding objects!

I made such a specific choice precisely to focus much more on aesthetic quality and rarity rather than quantity.

How do you add to your collection?

Approximately 70% galleries, 15% auctions, 15% online private collectors.

What steps do you take before a purchase?

'Patience' and 'collecting' are two very difficult words to combine. For the type of my collection and for my way of collecting, after falling in love aesthetically with an object, I study the quality and the ethnic coherence, ritual uses etc. Then I reconstruct the collecting pedigree as much as possible and at the end of everything, I decide. But if an object makes me fall in love, the described steps rarely make me change my mind.

What star piece are you still looking for?

I have a folder in my computer archive named 'dreams.' It contains about twenty ritual axes, all in known private collections. In recent years, I have moved four axes from the 'dreams' folder to the 'my collection' folder. I don't know what the next one will be but I hope to be able to make this step again! If I close my eyes I see a little Kongo ritual adze.

How do you live with your collection?

I need to live “into” my collection. Surrounded by objects. And I really love exhibiting the axes in the most possible balanced way. Often when I'm on the couch relaxing while watching TV or reading a book, I find myself watching the axes that create architecture on the walls. The balance and beauty of the forms relax me more than anything.

What are some of the reactions you receive on your collection?

For me, collecting is sharing, even if I rarely share with people who know African art. My friends are fascinated by my collection, not all of them obviously, but when I point out patinas, brilliant choices of African sculptors, and ritual significance, they understand the reason for such a great passion.

What advice would you have for collectors starting out in African art?

Buy many books, visit many galleries and fairs before you start collecting. Touch a lot of objects with great attention to understanding the true quality. And look for four to five people — gallery owners and experts — to trust. And don't start collecting the most fashionable ethnic groups because you almost certainly won't have enough money to purchase top quality. Better to acquire a few objects of top quality than many objects of medium quality.

Related Articles

New Book: 100 African Blades
Knife Groups
Exposing, Analyzing, & Understanding Inauthentic African Knives

Share this