Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo only has one rug in her large turn-of-the-century home in Turin, and even that is an artwork. The oversized carpet rendition of a Bel Paese cheese label is by Maurizio Cattelan, the Italian artist known for darkly humorous work including a suicidal stuffed squirrel slumped over a table, a gun on the floor at its feet. Along with a chandelier by Cerith Wyn Evans and a monumental collage by Annette Messager of hundreds of images of body parts, the Cattelan carpet never leaves Sandretto Re Rebaudengo’s house, whose all-white walls and original parquet and marble floors serve as a seamless backdrop for exhibiting art.
The same cannot be said ofthe rest of her 1,000-strong contemporary art collection,which she began to amass 25 years ago, after a visit to Anish Kapoor’s studio in London. The economics graduate was accompanying friend and influential dealer, Nicholas Logsdail of the Lisson Gallery (itself 50 this year) and came away with a sculpture made of three bulbs covered in red, yellow and blue pigment.
On the back wall hangs Filament1, 2014 by Jeff Elrod, and by the door is Ron Arad’s Sofa
«I’ve never wanted to keep things to myself,» she explains. «From the very beginning, I’ve wanted to lend out the work as much as possible and for as long as possible.’ In 2012, a selection went on show at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, including that famous Cattelan squirrel, and in 2015, she participated in a project that brought works from private collections to public spaces in Sheffield. Sandretto Re Rebaudengo’s contribution included a Chapman Brothers piece called Cyber-Iconic Man – an upside-down sculpture of a male figure that, martyr-like, regularly disgorged «blood» into a bucket below. It was installed in the city’s cathedral.
On the back wall hangs Rudolf Stingel’s Untitled, Ex Unico, 2004; far right, is Glenn Brown’s Ariane 5, 1997
Upon meeting, you might not expect her to have such robust tastes. She’s the epitome of northern Italian elegance, subtly but exquisitely coiffed and often clad in fuchsia. She grew up, she says, ‘surrounded by antiques. My mother used to collect porcelain: Sèvres and Meissen.’ Sandretto Re Rebaudengo herself started out with pill boxes (she has more than 500), then costume jewellery (3,000 seminal pieces) and her world-class collection of photography goes back to the 1860s.
The Maurizio Cattelan Il Bel Paese, 1994, beneath Cerith Wyn Evans chandelier, ‘Los Suenos – El Mundo Por de Dentro’ by Francisco de Quevedo, 2007
But London, 1992, was the turning point in terms of art. «Nicholas Logsdail, whose gallery was such an important place to see new work, gave me some fundamental advice, but especially to follow my feelings and my instincts,» she says. «I went on to learn about art by visiting artists in their studios and getting to know them. I learned that art has the ability to communicate to us what is both strange and familiar.»
By 1995, Sandretto Re Rebaudengo had established a foundation and given it a home at her businessman husband’s family seat, the 18th-century Palazzo Re Rebaudengo in Guarene d’Alba, 40km from Turin. (Her husband, Agostino Re Rebaudengo, is from one of Piedmont’s oldest aristocratic families. In case one is in any doubt, Re means king.) Then 15 years ago, the London-based Italian architect Claudio Silvestrin was invited to design a new 3,500 sq m space in Turin for the Foundation, on the site of the old Fergat factory, which once provided wheels for Italy’s automotive industry.
Allan McCollum’s Plaster Surrogates, 1989
Today, it is not just collecting, but also commissioning new work that drives Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. A complex architectural installation of mirrors and steel frames by Alicja Kwade – one of the best pieces on show at the Venice Biennale this year – was produced thanks to her economic intervention. And she is currently working, in collaboration with the Museum of Philadelphia (where she sits on the board), with Rachel Rose, a young American artist, on a large-scale film installation. «She is an innovator, a researcher, a truly dedicated and different artist,» she enthuses.
The Ron Arad sculpture Sofa, beneath Tony Cragg’s EuropeanCulture Myth, Annunciation, 1994
From this November, Silvestrin’s minimalist building will be the central site for the celebrations of the Foundation’s 25 years, with an exhibition of work from the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo collection in dialogue with pieces from ancient Egypt and various oriental art museums. «It will offer a whole new way to look at art and objets and what they mean,» says Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. And who’s to doubt her. She’s yet to let us down.