Art collector Solita Cohen remembers with great pride how her parents Sadie and Simy Cohen, instilled in her a passion for art when she was still a little girl in her native Caracas in Venezuela. The Cohens have been long time art collectors and have amassed an impressive selection of 19th and 20th century masterworks by Chagall, Renoir, Picasso, Botero, Manolo Valdés and many others. Likewise, Cohen arrived to the conclusion that collecting was part of her heritage and began her own collection of contemporary Latin American art. The lovely caraqueña welcomed us in her apartment in Bal Harbour, FL to talk abut her memories of her father taking her to galleries and museums to view and buy artworks, dedicating countless hours to the contemplation and understanding of art.
Known as an art patron of the highest caliber, she has also contributed to the recognition of emerging artists through her collaborations with world-class museums and galleries. Her presence in these art circles has a very focused purpose: to bring greater visibility to the art and artists from Latin America and their placement in museum collections, galleries and art fairs, alongside masterworks of the 20th and 21st centuries. “First we have to know who we are, support our art and then others will respect and admire it as well, as have done the Brazilians who lead the way in this field,” says Solita.
She keeps close relationships as a member of the acquisition committees or boards of prestigious art institutions like the MoMA, Tate Modern, Jacobo Borges Museum in Caracas, Montreal’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Israel Museum in Jerusalem, CIFO Miami, Bogota’s Art fair artBO, Museum of Latin American Art and is a friend of the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. Cohen received a bachelor’s degree in literature and law from Venezuela’s Andres Bello Catholic University (she also holds a master’s degree in political science). She started her art collection after her marriage to Colombian businessman Steven Mishaan, who is also passionate about art, they divorced in 2018.
Her first acquisition left no doubt of her smart eye and intuition. It was a stage painting, La Cruz del Sur, by Guillermo Kuitca, a relatively undiscovered Argentinian artist at the time. Her bet on the unknown artist paid off. Today Kuitca is perhaps Argentina’s most internationally recognized contemporary painter, and his work graces the collections of some of the world’s most important museums, like the Metropolitan Museum NY, MoMA NY, Reina Sofia, Madrid, and has represented his country in global events like the Venice and Sao Paulo biennials. “Kuitca was, and still is, an inspiration for my collection. I adore his humanism, his timeless approach to suffering, gender conflict and global unrest. Guillermo is a great friend of the family and we have shared, together, his success and relevance.”
Her collection includes established, mid-career and emerging Latin American artists from every part of this vast region, from Mexico to Argentina, but she also looks at art history to find those who have, at times, been neglected by the establishment after leaving behind a legacy of valuable contributions to art, like Brazilian master Anna Maria Maiolino. Her keen insight of the Latin American art scene has given birth to an impressive amalgamation of the most significant names of several generations of artists. She has reunited a group of artists that speak in different formal languages and media (painting, sculpture, photography, installation, video and performance art).
Each of them is an integral part of this curated suite of artworks bound by the collector’s accurate choices. The pieces establish a harmonious and balanced discussion among themselves, editing the cacophonous chatter that may arise from impulsive, subjective art purchases. This conversation is marked by an evolving dialogue between art and the collector, defined by her present interests and informed by the various stages of her life.
“Some of the pieces remind me of personal milestones in my life, like my marriage or the birth of my children,” Cohen recalls.And so the collection grows adding pieces that point to her evolution as an art patron and a human being. “Contemporary art allows us to understand our external and internal preoccupations. I can sit in front of a painting for hours and contemplate and reflect, depending on the mood, on my own existence. The artwork always responds. The day it stops talking to me, it becomes irrelevant,” said Cohen.
Some of themes highlighted in the collection are: man’s relationship with his environment as represented in the work of Kuitca (Argentina) and Ivan do Espírito Santo (Brazil). Memory, removed from nostalgia and as a witness of who we are, what we’ve done and where we are going (Iñaki Bonillas, Mexico; Daniel Senise, Brazil; Mateo López, Colombia; Carlos Rojas, Colombia) is perhaps the soul and the inspiration of this collection, which also addresses issues of identity as a vehicle to understanding herself and her roots. She has developed her own argument with an epic perspective and from there, a voice that is clear, unique and on point. “Knowing and understanding one’s origins is fundamental to developing our intellectual richness, our projection and success.”
A collector is more than the steward of a precise cultural or artistic model, but Solita is also a cultural actor, an advocate for the issues that involve the people who create art and those who inspire it. The utopia in the collection reflects her commitment and responsibility, her dreams of a better world, something that has eluded Latin America for centuries and now, at least in the work of Alfredo Jaar (Colombia) and Carlos Garaicoa (Cuba), among others, emerges as hope.Formal concerns and the geography of Latin American thought processes are also displayed in the collection represented by Marcius Galan (Brazil), Elias Crespin (Venezuela), Miler Lagos (Colombia), Leyla Cárdenas (Colombia) and Barbarita Cardozo (Colombia), to name just a few. The Mishaan collection presents a synopsis of the Latin American reality with its beauty, economic imbalance, social layout, guilt and why not, its redemption.
Sitting in her beautiful dinning room overlooking the Atlantic, Solita remembers how she had to alter the design of the residence to accommodate large-scale paintings and sculptures. At first the architect had reservations about the proposed structural changes, but she persisted: “My artwork comes first,” she said.“Either the artwork is correctly displayed, or I do not enter the apartment.” A compromise was reached, and new floating walls were built to display the monumental pieces. The result is a very livable apartment, not a museum, where the collection’s treasures are evident at first sight. Visitors can also discover new secrets with every move, behind every corner, in every room, even the outdoor terrace.
Solita’s efforts today are concentrated on the establishment of her foundation, Misol, which made its debut by the end of 2013. Misol is based in Bogota, Colombia with the mission of helping the development, diffusion and recognition of Latin American art around the world. It has created awards and scholarships for emerging artists, curators and book publishers, a much-needed contribution to a market that lacks this kind of infrastructure.
The joy of living with original artworks and documents is of course a blessing, but this collector’s commitment to the recognition of Latin American art and the issues and needs that affect the continent are indeed the most relevant facet in the life of Solita Cohen. ■
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