Home Art collection What I Buy and Why: Borlem Prize Founder Roberto Toscano Shares Rita Ackermann’s Moving Tribute to His Late Wife

What I Buy and Why: Borlem Prize Founder Roberto Toscano Shares Rita Ackermann’s Moving Tribute to His Late Wife


Art has been a balm for Roberto Toscano. The collector, music composer and researcher has suffered hard knocks in recent years, including the loss of two close family members.

In recognition of the power of art to help those struggling and to inspire productive conversations about mental health, he recently founded a new $40,000 art prize, the Borlem Prize, which annually recognizes a artist whose work raises awareness of mental health issues and struggles. He created the award in memory of his brother, Fernando Toscano, who died in 2018.

Over the past decade, Toscano, who splits his time between Miami and Brazil, has amassed an enviable collection of contemporary art. It is the proud repository of works by artists such as Donald Judd, Paul McCarthy, Hiroshi Sugimoto and James Turrell, among others.

We caught up with Toscano about the unpleasant need to store artwork, artist Rita Ackermann’s moving tribute to his late wife, and the Miami apartment that became a tribute to her memory.

Tomas Saraceno, Arachne’s hand-woven Spider/Web card from Perseus A, featuring a duo of Argiope anasuja – two weeks, three Cyrtophora citricola – three weeks, one Cyrtophora moluccensis – two weeks and one Tegenaria domestica – ten weeks (2021). Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and Los Angeles. © Photo: Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2021.

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?

My first purchase was from Gemini GEL – it was a monochrome etching by Richard Serra. I just looked at the date in my email to see exactly when it was: February 8, 2012.

What was your last purchase?

I have just acquired two large pieces by Tomás Saraceno from his current show at the Tanya Bonakdar gallery, which takes place at the same time as her investigation at The Shed. These are large-scale, hand-woven tapestries that continue his exploration of cobwebs and architectural structures from nature and physics.

I have a huge interest in contemporary architecture. I follow the terrain closely and was looking for two large works to put in the living room of my apartment in São Paulo, a building designed by Jean Nouvel. Tomás’ work connects well with the themes that I try to highlight in the collection of this apartment, which is mainly focused on nature, in particular the environmental sculptures and wall reliefs of Frans Krajcberg.

What works or artists do you hope to add to your collection this year?

I add as much work as I can to my collection every year. Since moving to Brazil, I’ve mostly focused on Hiroshi Sugimoto’s and Krajcberg’s marines, as I mentioned earlier. I really hope to add something from John McCracken.

Rita Ackermann, Mom for Nadia, 2021. Photo by Monica McGivern.

Rita Ackerman, Mom for Nadia2021. Pictured: Monica McGivern.

What is the most expensive work of art you own?

The most priceless piece of art in my collection, and it doesn’t even come close, is a painting Rita Ackermann gave me after my wife passed away in 2021. The painting is named after my wife: Nadia. It was painted by Rita after learning of my wife’s passing and is a tribute to her life and energy. No work of art can ever top that, as far as I’m concerned.

I lost two of the most important people in my life to suicide, my little brother in 2018 and my wife in 2021. These events led me to focus on raising awareness about suicide prevention and mental illness; for these reasons, I have devoted much of my time and energy to creating and managing the Borlem Prize, an international prize that will be awarded each year to a single artist whose work raises awareness of mental health issues and struggles. The first, announced in February, went to Daniel Turner.

The prize totals $40,000, distributed as a $20,000 unconditional grant paid directly to the winning artist, as well as a $20,000 donation made in the winning artist’s name to charity. renowned organization whose goals revolve around suicide prevention and mental health advocacy.

Where do you most often buy art?

It’s a fairly balanced mix of auction and gallery buying. Some works may come directly from artists and some pieces come from art fairs, but Covid-19 made that more complicated as I was traveling a lot less.

Is there a work you regret buying?

No, I regret that I don’t have space for all the large scale sculptures I collect – having to store works is painful and goes against what I believe in. My goal is to acquire more and more space to show art over the next few years. . I currently have premises in Lisbon, which I am in the process of fitting out; the Nouvel apartment in Brazil, under construction; and my apartment in Miami, which houses my Miami collection in memory of Nadia.

There are more than 100 works in this apartment. After Nadia’s death, I couldn’t bring myself to move anything… Everything is more or less as she left it. I would like it to stay that way forever.

Roberto Toscano's Miami Salon.  Works by Sterling Ruby, Larry Bell, Thomas Hirschhorn and Oscar Tuazon.  Photo by Monica McGivern

Roberto Toscano’s living room in Miami, with works by Sterling Ruby, Larry Bell, Thomas Hirschhorn and Oscar Tuazon. Pictured: Monica McGivern.

What work have you hung above your couch? And in your bathroom?

In Miami, Thomas Hirschhorn’s collage It is now in ruins (2017) sits on the sofa in the living room. In Nadia’s office, Rita’s painting made in her memory hangs above Donald Judd’s daybed, which looks like a couch. In my office, above a sofa by Daniel Libeskind, there are two empty frames that normally house a pair of Pixel-Collages, also by Thomas Hirschhorn, who are currently in Rome to participate in the MAXXI “The purple line.” Finally, the guest bathroom has a design by Paul McCarthy.

What’s the least practical piece of art you own?

I am forced to store very large scale sculptures – I have extremely large works by two of my favorite artists, Daniel Turner and Oscar Tuazon. I would love to get these pieces out, but I just don’t have the right place for them right now. The largest of Daniel’s pieces measures over 12 feet by 8 feet (two sets of Formica and steel sinks), and Oscar’s largest piece weighs over a ton.

Thomas Hirschhorn, Pixel-Collage N.117.  Installation filmed at MAXXI/ROME.  Photo by Giorgio Benni.

Thomas Hirschhorn, Pixel-Collage N.117 (2017), as it is currently installed at the MAXXI in Rome. Photo by Giorgio Benni.

What work would you have liked to buy when you had the opportunity?

The manuscript of György Ligeti’s 1961 orchestral masterpiece Atmospheres.

If you could steal one piece of art without getting caught, what would it be?

Let’s make it a real impractical answer: Burri’s Burri Cretto.

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