Number Von Lady’s Aesthetic Agency
Great contacts, German efficiency and a strain of diplomacy that runs in the family have all helped make Bettina von Hase one of the world’s most sought-after Contemporary art advisers, says Christopher Silvester
THE ART ADVISER’S job is generally seen as one of helping to build art collections for wealthy clients. Bettina von Hase, whose art advisory business Nine AM was founded in 1997, sees the role as more complex than that. When she came into the art world in the early Nineties, there was what she describes as a cultural revolution under way, propelled by four factors: the establishment of the National Lottery Fund; the Young British Artists (YBAs) such as Damien Hirst; the birth of Tate Modern; and the founding of the Frieze Art Fair.
‘Previously the British had looked backwards rather than forwards in art, unlike America and Germany, where Contemporary art had always had a very healthy business,’ von Hase explains. ‘From a few motley Contemporary art galleries to… Boom! Now there are three or four hundred Contemporary galleries and it’s a billion-pound market and more. That’s all happened since 1990.’
Nine AM is a hybrid, whose overlapping activities mirror the continuously evolving global art scene. ‘We work in three areas,’ says von Hase. ‘Firstly, we enable cultural institutions to think about the way they present themselves to the world. Cultural branding is a way of defining yourself, articulating your mission and communicating with your audience. Nowadays cultural institutions have competitors — theatres, department stores, cinemas — consequently, they have to perform like businesses.
‘The most profound change, however, is during architectural interventions. When a museum physically changes, it has to reinvent itself. Secondly, we broker relationships between companies and cultural institutions, or artists. Sometimes a charity is also involved. Everyone benefits from the resulting art programmes; companies like Contemporary art because it’s cool, it gives them press coverage that otherwise they wouldn’t get; artists can do projects that otherwise they would not be able to do; and charities complete the virtuous circle. Thirdly, we are focusing more and more on advising individual collectors, because they are increasingly driving some of the most interesting initiatives. Nine AM has always been at the forefront of these developments. The phenomenon of private collectors building their own spaces is fairly recent. They have become a driving force in the art world and collaborate more with public institutions. Collectors have the means with which to build comprehensive Contemporary collections, which museums often do not have.’
Von Hase was born in Germany but educated in the UK from the age of twelve. Her father, Karl-Günther von Hase, was West German Ambassador to the UK from 1970 to 1977. After reading history at Oxford, Bettina entered the Reuters trainee scheme and was posted to Vienna and Paris, but after three years she decided to work for the film producer David Puttnam, and as a television producer for CBS News and ARD German TV. ‘I’m always interested in the word and the picture and the juxtaposition of the two,’ she says. ‘That’s the red line that runs right through my career.’
HER CAREER-DEFINING moment came when she joined SRU, the marketing and management consultancy founded by Dennis (now Lord) Stevenson, where she not only learned about the importance of branding but also first worked for a cultural institution. ‘When Dennis became chairman of the Tate in 1991, he loaned me out to the museum on a pro bono basis,’ she says, ‘and I helped them adapt to a new era, teaching them good business practice with marketing and management issues, ancillary areas that in the late Eighties and early Nineties were not at all clearly defined in cultural institutions.’
After SRU she worked for the National Gallery for three years, the second person to serve as the museum’s head of development, at a crucial time when the Sainsbury Wing had opened, which meant that the museum suddenly had a new commercial engine. ‘That was when I saw how incredibly important a major museum can be in people’s lives. I’m very non-elitist about art. I feel art is transformative for everybody and if you ask me why I do what I do — and I’m very passionate about my work — it is because I believe art makes people’s lives better. Also, it really works against prejudice. As a German arriving in England in 1970, I found that understandably there was a lot of anti-German feeling in this country. The Second World War was not so far away. Times have changed, but to some extent there still is resentment, particularly again in present-day Europe. But German culture is unassailable.’
Von Hase understands, too, that art and money are inextricably linked: ‘They always have been. Many great works of art have been financed by enlightened collectors,’ she says. Clients have included Diego della Valle, founder of Tod’s, for whom Nine AM explored the way an art collection can fit into the overall expression of a fashion brand; Paul Allen of Microsoft commissioned Nine AM to help get planning permission for a music, film and art space in Covent Garden called the Hospital. ‘I worked on the very early stages, showcasing two charities with fantastic cultural projects involving young people. It showed the possibility of what can happen with the right amount of spirit and finance.’
One long-standing professional relationship has been with the family of Galen Weston, whose family trust owns Selfridges. She met Alannah Weston at a dinner with two other friends in 2002, and they hit it off straight away. The following day Alannah called and invited her to Florida for the weekend to look at a potential exhibition space.
A chance meeting with Selfridges’ then marketing manager landed von Hase a role as art adviser to Selfridges, just after the store had been acquired by Galen Weston’s family trust in 2003. ‘Alannah arrived as creative director a short while after I had started. I worked very closely with her and her team, because the art projects had to align with the creative expression of the store. We did a series of really fantastic projects with unknown, emerging, and well-known artists. Art and retail has become a really important platform for artists, because again it has a non-elitist vibe. It is for a general audience, not an art-literate one. It has to appeal to the average customer, and therefore as an artist you have to have a strong idea, nothing too conceptual. Artists either rise to the challenge or they don’t.
Von Hase’s latest project with the Westons is a three-year collaboration between the Gallery at Windsor in Florida and the Whitechapel Gallery in London. The latter’s director, Iwona Blazwick, is curating three shows at Windsor, co-inciding with Art Basel Miami Beach. Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes (see Jamaica (2007), above left) is the subject of the first show, on until the end of April.
Another exciting development for Nine AM is that now, for the first time, it is working for an artist on a continuing basis, the Lancashire-born painter, sculptor and stained-glass artist Brian Clarke. His stained-glass collaborations with celebrated architects are internationally well-known. ‘He is at the height of his creative powers, has a distinguished career, and he has a very well run studio,’ says von Hase. ‘I am helping to connect some of the dots. I curated a show of his drawings at the Phillips de Pury rooms in the Saatchi Gallery last year. There are so many possibilities that come his way and it is about editing these and defining a strategy for him.’
As far as collectors are concerned, Nine AM prefers to be slightly under the radar. ‘We have a lot of private projects. It’s all about knowledge and access. Art is aspirational for anybody, but there’s only so much available.’
Bettina Von Hase photograph by Priscilla Rattazzi
Christopher Silvester is Spear’s deputy editor