INTERVIEW with Krzysztof Madelski by Katarzyna Dębek, FORBES (photo: Wojciech Robakowski)

Krzysztof Madelski, founder and the president of the YES jewellery company, has created two extraordinary collections: photography and abstract painting. He tells "Forbes" how he started his adventure with art, whether it is a good investment and what a collector dreams of.

Forbes: Is art the entertainment for wealthy people?

Krzysztof Madelski: Art is above all an intellectual luxury. Fortunately, access to culture is often free, open to the general public. It is worth reminding people of that, to help them overcome the biggest obstacle regarding contact with art, which is a mental one. So that they would not say in advance, "I do not understand, I will not bother".

You not only admire paintings and photographs but you also buy them. Do you remember your first purchase?

Yes. It was in the late 80s. At home, there was no tradition of contact with art. My mom was an accountant and my father was an electrical engineer. Money was spent on everyday needs. I was already a prosperous craftsman back then. And one night, as I walking around Poznan, I saw an abstract painting of Ewa Łunkiewicz-Rogoyska in the window display of the Ewa Polony's gallery. It made such a great impression on me that I felt I had to have it.

But from buying one painting to creating a collection there is a long way.

After that I started visiting artists’ studios. Jerzy Piotrowicz was a part of Poznan bohemia and visiting his studio was a great experience. There was a desire to go further.

Is collecting art an exciting pursuit?

Of course, extremely exciting. Sometimes, we want to rely on art experts and we want to buy something undoubtedly valuable, but sometimes we want to make a pioneering discovery. And we are glad when the value stands the test of time, when it turns out that the artistic value of our revelation is high. There are moments of joy that something has worked out, but also failures, when it turns out that the work which I was initially delighted with, begins to irritate me as time goes by. This is the life of a collector - the joy of the explorer and the bitterness of defeat.

Your greatest discovery?

I am pleased that 25 years ago I intuitively admired the paintings of Stanisław Fijalkowski and after so many years of dealing with his work, I have not changed my mind that this is great art. It was a success at the first choice. The same goes for the works of Leon Tarasewicz. Me and my wife met him shortly after his studies. He was little known in Poland but appreciated in Sweden and Germany. My wife organized an exhibition of his works in the Ego Gallery in Poznań. And I have already felt that this was a great phenomenon.

But a few years ago you completed collecting paintings and started to build a collection of photographs. Where did this shift come from?

In 2008, my and my wife together with our children became interested in photography, and that gave start to this smooth transition. We thought that the collection of paintings was complete and we felt fulfilled. We also got the impression that abstract art does not meet with a keen interest. And thus started a new, exciting task, with a completely different ideological basis.

The ideological basis which stirs controversy, because your collection concerns gender identity. You often exhibit your collection, and the works of Dorota Nieznalska or Katarzyna Kozyra continue to cause extreme emotions.

It was not our goal to cause a scandal, but some discussion. Our dream as collectors is to share. And that is also the reason why we chose social concerns. So that it had some resonance. The subject of our collection was related to female identity. It was the starting point. The female body was often the object of the photographs, and thus a tool for conveying ideas by artists. It was obvious that this would cause controversy. But over time, the field of interests has expanded. Our collection of photography is not only about equality, xenophobia, but a broader insight into all kinds of discrimination and intolerance. This is a global issue which affects all of us.

The decision to turn to photography took place at a specific moment.

Yes. The whole family was at Tate Modern in London. In a small room we found an exhibition of Claude Cahun, a French artist working in the 1930s. She struggled with her gender identity - she was both a man and a woman. Cahun made a series of photographs and we were so moved that we made a family decision that our interests would depart from abstraction to socially engaged photography. Shortly afterwards, we met Adam Mazur, a prominent photography critic, and with his great knowledge we outlined our area of ​​interest.

Your collection amounts to over 300 photographs. There are names of classics - Zofia Rydet or Wojciech Plewiński, and the younger generation - Maurycy Gomulicki or Anna Bedynska. How long did it take to create it?

There are a lot of exhibits, but value of the collection is not in the numbers. It is significant that it is very coherent and concentrated around issues related to equality. At the beginning, creating it was a kind of detective work. We had to get phone numbers or addresses of the artists by ourselves, because the Polish photography market was still in its initial stage. This period of intensive search lasted four years. Me and my daughter Anna visited photographers every time we had a chance, and we also reached them with support of the galleries. Buying classic photography was easier thanks to collectors' photography auction, organized by Katarzyna Sagatowska.

Is buying photography a good investment?

I think that photography is still inexpensive in Poland. If you can buy vintage, that is an old print, or sometimes even a unique piece, that is work done in some special technique, existing in one copy, for 2000-3000 PLN, it is a very good price. This reminds me of a good comparison: in the United States in the 50s a copy of a famous photographer cost $ 500, and today costs $ 100 000. I do not know what it will be like in Poland in thirty years, but I think the value of these unique, very valuable works will increase considerably. To be honest, we did not create the collection as an investment. The investment for me is the education of children and family business. Both went well, so there is no need to treat art as an investment. It's rather an investment in myself.

Is it a kind of an addiction?

It's a positive addiction of the bourgeois. Good bourgeois traditions are my ideal. The house should not be empty; it should carry traces which we pass on to the next generation. The collector knows that contemplation is very important, but the identity of the family is worth building on also by material goods. Our society has suffered a great deal - the times of war and communism when this material wealth was destroyed. For example, when you are in the Netherlands and go to a burgher house, you will see that the walls from the floor to the ceiling are decorated with graphics and paintings. You can react in different ways, but I would like to rebuild some of these traditions in Poland. What is important to remember is that when buying art work, we support the creative environment.

You are not only collecting but also showing your collection to the public. Does the Madelski family has a sense of mission?

I think so. Ever since our visit to France in 1990, when me and my wife went to Saint-Paul-de-Vence where we discovered the Maeght Foundation. These people devoted their lives to contacts with artists. Artists handed over their work and created one of the world's first private museums. I really like these kind of ventures. I am fascinated by private initiatives which aim at showing collections to the public. Only in Berlin there are 12 such museums. In Italy there are about 30. Even in Tasmania there is a man whose idée fixe is to build a museum of modern art. He invested his earned money and created an amazing museum. Of course, it may be a result of someone’s great ego and that ego wants to show off, but it often comes from the desire to engage in the building civil society.

In Poznań Grażyna Kulczyk wanted to build such a museum, but the city was not interested in cooperation.

Yes. Mrs. Kulczyk wanted to finance the entire investment, and the city was supposed to give relatively small funds for ongoing maintenance. The lack of belief in the sense of such a joint action made the city council members say "No, we will not be sponsoring a private venture with the public money". I think that is a huge loss. Especially because the project was designed by the legendary architect Tadao Ando.

And did you think about showing your collection in a private museum?

No, but my dream would be to see some people come together and create a common space where private collections would be exhibited. There are probably tens in Poland and it is worth showing them. This is a big investment and running costs - the employment of curators, organizing exhibitions, maintenance and conservation of the works. But I believe that it will succeed someday.