“Because Sylvio is courageous, I was able to buy more hamburgers to keep up my strength, and more paint to continue painting,” said artist Robert Ryman about collector Sylvio Perlstein, who was a patron of his at a time when few others were interested.
Born in Belgium, Perlstein grew up in Rio de Janeiro, where his family moved when fleeing the Nazis in 1939. Perlstein bought his first work of art from a florist in Brazil; over the course of the next five decades, he would add more than 1,000 works to his collection by artists including Man Ray; Duchamp; Carl Andre; Diane Arbus; Hans Bellmer; Magritte Solowitz; Donald Judd; Hannah Kirk; Max Ernst; Bruce Nauman; Edward Shea; and Andy Warhol—to name just a few.
“For me, it was not even a collection. It was things that I saw, and I liked,” Perlstein says. “To tell you the truth, I never count them. I’m not well organized.”
A selection of works from the Perlstein collection is now on show at Hauser & Wirth, New York (“A Luta Continua”, until 27 June). Reflecting on the differences between the art world then and now, Perlstein tells host Charlotte Burns: “Today, it’s not so much art anymore; it’s a real business. At that time, you could easily acquire works from the artist because it was more about friendship.”
From exchanging diamonds for art with Man Ray to hanging out with artists in New York in the 1970s at the legendary Max’s Kansas City, Perlstein talks about a life in art and his tastes (“ugly can be nice, too,” he says).
“What does it mean, art? Anything. You can make art from shoes, from a nice bag, from a hat— it’s also art. Everything is art,” he says. “Buy what you like.”