“The structured part of the work is how I am, organised like Bauhaus. The more chaotic part of the work is like my aura— an organized mess.”
Chef extraordinaire Kai Loebach runs an exclusive catering company in Los Angeles. He has come a long way from the 21-year old who first arrived here from Germany homeless and with two suitcases. Kai is a passionate art collector who travels extensively to see new artists—he is a collector that always trusts his instincts.
FAM: Your home in the Hollywood Hills is beautifully adorned with your art collection. How do you view your own collection?
Kai Loebach: My artworks are my trophies, I don’t collect “blue chip” art. I have a personal collection and a unique relationship to every piece. Each piece has a story to tell, and I can recall each of these stories. When I look at an artwork, I know exactly where it came from and why I picked it and what inspired me. I see the art and the experience behind it, the hunt and the success of the hunt, if I talked to the artist or if the gallery tried to convince me. Most wealthy people have an art adviser or they have a decorator. And the decorator usually has no clue about anything. Nobody really is interested in the background story. It’s only important to have the name on the wall, that status. I know I'm a real collector and these are my babies! It would be amazing to show them somewhere, I think there are about 600 pieces. It’s not a large collection but it’s me, my personality. At some point in my life, I will donate the collection. It’s not just going to rot until I die.
What was your first piece?
My first piece of art I bought in Germany when I was 16 years old. Two oil paintings by Otto Friedrich Weber from 1953, I still have them. They are not on the wall because I graduated from that. Do we wear the same clothes that we wore 30 years ago? No, you evolve. I really like the process of collecting, I get so involved and I’m always interested in seeking out the artist, seeing how they live and create. Sometimes it can backfire if you’re in love with work, and then you meet the artist and get disappointed if the artist is harsh, unfriendly and not very social. There are a couple of pieces which I bought, but after when I met the artist I was disappointed, and I still love the work. This beautiful beaded curtain is by Californian artist Kori Newkirk. These beads are the same type as those worn by some African American women in their hair as ornaments. The artist stringed the beads with synthetic hair, that’s what holds the curtain together. This work represents African-American culture and some of its history through its use of hair beads.
How did you come across this work?
I have other works of Kori’s who I’ve known for 15 years. This piece took several years to get because he doesn't work on curtains any longer, so this was commissioned. Kori picks an image and interprets his vision onto the curtain. The first work that he made for me, I didn’t like, it was a waterfall. He said, “I can tell you’re not happy with it, what can I do to make it up to you?” I said, “You know, I’m into the trees, so why don't you make me a tree?” And he made this beautiful oak tree and before it was finished he gave it some glimmer so there's a whole bunch of beads in there that are sparkling, depending on how the light hits it; just amazing. I love it! This next piece is by Australian-British artist Polly Borland who is famous for photography, but also known for her needlework which is produced by prison inmates in London. Such incredible craftsmanship! Normally you don’t show the front but the back of the work, because of the meticulous needlepoint. Polly is an unbelievable artist, very dark and very deep. Sometimes there is an uncomfortable feeling when I look through her book and I like that, it makes me wonder, “What was she thinking?”, it begins a whole new thought process for me.
How did you meet?
I met Polly through a mutual friend in LA and also she is my neighbour, she lives three houses up the street and we have become very close friends. Once I really love the artist there is no holding back.
What’s your craziest art story?
These two pieces are my biggest headache! (pointing at a work by Alejandro Almanza Pereda). It almost came to the point when I said, I'm gonna give up art collecting! I don’t collect for the value because if you do this, you can never succeed. I collect because it’s my passion. And if you buy something for the sole purpose of making money, then you're not an art collector, you’re a businessman. I was fooled by a gallerist, because he grossly overcharged me for the piece. They tested the waters, threw out bait and I bit. It’s not like I can go and sue them for overcharging me, I’m the one willing to have paid the price that they asked. It was my fault that I didn’t investigate this more because again I was already in love with the works. The artist was no longer working with them and had no idea that they were still selling his work. I reached out to Almanza Pereda when the gallery wouldn’t issue the artist’s certificate of authenticity. I told Alejandro right away how much I paid for these works, to make sure that he got his fair share and he said, “Oh, my god, they so grossly overcharged you and with me, they're pretending that they charged you a lot less.” I was so determined to make sure that Alejandro got paid. I could have immediately said to the gallery, “You know what? Take these back. I don’t want them,” but I stuck to it. I said, “Listen, if you don’t send me the real certificate of authenticity, then this whole deal is going to go south.”
Do you have an immediate connection to a work of art or does it develop over time?
I think a connection comes automatically. If a piece is not meant to be for me it wouldn’t be talking to me, so if I see something and it fascinates me—whatever the piece represents—that’s what draws me. So if you look around the house everything is a mishmash of things and I don’t really think there is a straight line to being a focused collector. I collect with my heart and I collect with my senses. This photograph over there is by Pieter Hugo, it’s called Mimi Africa. I am a big fan of Hugo and these expressions of people from Africa, are just so absolutely fascinating, they talk to me every single day. Look at these eyes—they are so piercing, unbelievable, look at those wrinkles, the years and what this person has seen in her lifetime. I doubt she is that old, it’s just that in different parts of the world people age differently.
How did you come across Pieter Hugo’s work?
Through my annual trip to Paris Photo, I work with Stevenson’s gallery. I love them, they have been very good to me. I am honored to be invited to their annual artists’ dinner at Hotel du Nord. They always have their artists there and I love talking to them.
Do you have pieces that reflect your inner state?
When I saw these pictures by American-Argentine artist Analia Saban I thought this is perfect for me, because this really describes me. The structured part of the work is how I am, organised like Bauhaus. The more chaotic part of the work is like my aura—an ordered mess. She always presents the unexpected. I am very fond of these pieces and have been in love with her works for so many years. We shipped them from a gallery in Paris (laughs) even though they were originally produced here in L.A.
Have you seen them in real life before buying them?
No, I only have seen a picture of them, but I know the work Analia produces, I am very familiar with her entire practice. I love the way you hang your artworks.
Do you have a special way you arrange it?
There’s no right or wrong way for this because when I know what I want in this room, it just gets hanged one by one. I don’t curate it, it just works.
Is there a particular piece that is more important than others?
No, they are all my children. And, yes, there are some that I have grown to like more than others, but in the grand scheme of things they’re equal. They're all so different and I tried to rehang every 8 to 12 months then something new comes out, and it shows a totally different side of my personality. Over the years, it has grown so much. When people come here every other year, they’ll say, “Oh, my god, this is all new,” and I'll say, “It’s not new. They’ve just been retired into storage.”
So I’ll definitely be back next year!
Interview by Marina Kurikhina