In Conversation with Irene Boaventura

11 October 2021

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Irene Boaventura is a hotelier by profession, working for one of the top luxury hotel groups in Africa. In all other aspects, she is an art enthusiast!

Irene’s art experience is quite unique – she works amongst it, and with other collectors on a daily basis. Irene shared with us some insights into her journey as a collector as well as an all-round art lover.

NNP – Irene, what was your introduction to art? How did you come to learn about art and become so passionate about it, and how did this evolve into you collecting art yourself?

IB – I would say my introduction to the gallery space came about seven years ago. I used to work in a hotel that showcased art from Everard Read (a South African gallery) in the restaurant and one day I met the Gallery director in the bar. We talked for a bit, and he invited me to an exhibition opening.

The bug bit.

Three years later, I joined The Silo Hotel, which is the poster child for a true Art Hotel, and my journey has continued ever since.

I have an amazing relationship with my boss, the Founder & Owner of The Royal Portfolio hotel group, and a lot of my collecting habits are influenced by some of the best advice I get from her. When I spoke to her about the very first artwork I collected, she was so proud that I had started collecting.

My motivation for collecting art is so complex because I see art not just as something that hangs on a wall or has monetary value but as a medium for human connection, interesting conversation, a cultural barrier breaker and space beautifier.

Your relationship with art is quite different to a lot of people’s as you work amongst and with so many significant art pieces in the hotel setting, would you describe your relationship with art as being based on this exposure? Do you have any specific thoughts about the role of art collections in hotels and/or corporate spaces?

You are quite spot on in this observation. The Silo Hotel has about 400 artworks, from a variety of artists in many mediums. Being exposed to that has given me a far richer, more abundant insight into what art is or can be. My experience with art is definitely linked to my hotel experience. They go hand in hand.

The role of an art collection in a hotel or corporate space is to create intangible human connection, that is not seen but one can feel it.

Have any of the collectors/art lovers you’ve come across in your career passed on any advice in terms of collecting art – or about art in general?

The best art advice I received was from Liz Biden: “You don’t know what you like if you have not seen it, so expose yourself to art, visit galleries, just see what is on offer. Go to graduate shows at Universities around your city”.

Visit art events. It’s like dating until you find what you like.

Also, she did advise me to buy an editioned work, print series, or photography due to my limited budget. I promise you once you start, it’s difficult to stop.

What was the first, or one of the first works you acquired? Is there any particular story around why you purchased or how you purchased that work?

I was very patriotic with my first acquisition. I was doing an internship at a non-profit art origination and the artist Nelo Teixeira from Angola was the artist-in-residence. So, between being his Portuguese translator and installing his show, I got to know him more and bought an artwork on the opening night of his exhibition. He was a Venice Biennale artist so that’s that. 

Generally speaking, how would you describe your collecting habits, or your thought process when you decide to buy a work?

It’s important when collecting to understand that you’re spending quite a bit of money, so some sort of planning and budgeting is needed to keep yourself on track.

I do have a thought process. Firstly I buy from our private gallery, The Vault at The Silo Hotel. That already limits me to two acquisitions per year because the gallery does two exhibitions annually. When I venture outside this space, I look at work from fine art graduates, followed by limited prints or editioned works from museums such as Zeitz MOCAA and Norval Foundation. 

 What are your favourite art spaces to visit? (You’re allowed to say the Silo if you like)

My favorite art space is definitely the Silo Hotel.

Based on your experiences with other collectors, and on your own collecting experience, do you have any advice for anyone thinking about starting a collection or buying a work?

Africa has about 54 countries, diversify your collection. South Africa is not the only country on the continent. The mindset of buying to flip is unhealthy and should not be your priority when collecting, art grows in value with time – like all investments – so keep it, enjoy it.