Galila Barzilaï-Hollander takes stock of her collection

Galila's passion for collecting contemporary art and design began in March 2005 during a trip to New York City. She and her husband, married for 30 years, had made a close-knit, hard-working team. The couple shared a passion for collecting antiquities. After her husband passed away in 2004, Galila decided to escape Europe and visit New York – a city where, as she says, 'one is never alone'.

She made the trip in March, which happens to be the month of The Armory Show, New York’s international art fair. Her interest in antiques led Galila to presume the event was about armour. Following a few moments of hesitation – and realizing how ridiculously uninformed she was – she entered the unfamiliar territory and made her first purchase within 15 minutes. Unknowingly, Galila had landed in the heart of contemporary art, where she remains to this day. What’s more, she’s expanded that world to embrace contemporary design.

Known as 'the collector on the run', Galila flits from destination to destination: think Buenos Aires, Mexico, Stockholm, Milan, Vienna and London for starters. Her schedule includes an impressive series of annual fairs. 'Art and design were a sort of life-saver at the beginning. Now they are my oxygen.' Basel is a social must, she tells me. 'First of all, everyone is there, but I also go because of all the parallel fairs, where there are discoveries to make.' These smaller events are a means of encountering young and emerging talents – her main focus.

At first glance, Galila appears to have an outgoing personality and a wardrobe dedicated to clothing by Issey Miyake. Here at home, however, I find her leading a rather secluded life surrounded by her collection. Does she see these works as an extension of herself? Yes, the pieces she chooses help to explain aspects of who she is in a nonverbal way. The work of art at the door – 'Tell me who I am' – speaks volumes.

Certain themes in the collection have caught my eye. I see what she calls 'money work', such as Dutch designer Rolf Bruggink’s Penny Bench. The category incorporates a large group of objects linked to money, a subject that fascinates Galila, who holds a degree in psychology. 'All works relate to one another, and together they tell a story. Themes like eyes, paper, eggs and money were not something I planned; they simply happened.'

Are her acquisitions based purely on intuition, or does she have a shrewd strategy? When she started collecting, her lack of knowledge about contemporary art was an advantage. Her selections were not based on familiar names but on an intuitive feel for quality. This approach led to her purchase of work by Belgian designer Maarten De Ceulaer, as well as that of emerging Dutch designers Pepe Heykoop and Dirk Vander Kooij, still relatively fresh in collectors' circles. She relies on her business acumen and sense of fairness when considering prices. ‘I never ask for a discount but for the best possible price.'

The words of a woman who’s not really at home in the realm of design, but one with a keen eye. 'What I worship most in all aspects of life is creativity,' she says, ‘and design is the result of a very creative approach and corresponding attitude. Designers make you see things differently.' The term she uses is détournement, while pointing out an example from her collection: a chair that functions as a radiator and vice versa. ‘When we use the word “design”, we’re describing usable things, but some chairs can’t be used and some art is usable. I love the playfulness expressed in such work; it reveals a hidden part of me.'

Photos Wouter Van Vaerenbergh

Read the full article in Frame 109, alongside many other perspectives on people in design. Find your copy in the Frame store.

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Frame 109

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