Welcome to “Miró, Monet, Matisse – The Nahmad Collection”. The more than 100 pictures that feature in this exhibition belong not to an individual but to the Nahmad family, who are second-generation, international art dealers based mainly in Monaco.

Like many museums, the Kunsthaus has frequently received loans from the family's collection in recent years, latterly for the major Picasso exhibition staged to celebrate the centenary of our institution. About one year ago we approached the Nahmad family to ask whether they would consider exhibiting a representative selection of their collection at the Kunsthaus. After some consultation, the family gave their unconditional consent, aware of the fact that it would mean taking an unprecedented step into the public eye. Following an initial selection it was already clear that we would concentrate on the period from Impressionism to the end of Modernism. The list of works was reviewed, amended and condensed until the final selection of just over 100 paintings and sculptures was determined.
These pieces form the core, as it were, of the family's considerably more extensive art collection, and represent the quintessence of five decades of working with art. Five different artistic periods between 1870 and 1970, illustrated by large groups of works, can clearly be identified. The exhibition does not set out to present every facet of the art of this period, but will focus on Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism and Abstraction, Surrealism, and Picasso.

For the Nahmad family, for you as visitors, and indeed for the Kunsthaus, the exhibition of the Nahmad Collection is a premiere of a very special kind. No doubt you are eager to discover what awaits you. One thing is certain: this is a world first. The Nahmad Collection is on show for a short time only, and only in the Kunsthaus Zürich. And the works by Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Miró just have to be seen “live”.
There are two reasons for showing the Nahmad Collection at the Kunsthaus. The first is the outstanding quality of so many of the items it contains. The selection we have made is more than an anthology, for it reveals preferences – for a certain period of art history, individual artists or certain works. Perseverance (and the necessary funds) was undoubtedly needed to acquire some of the pieces, to enrich and consolidate the existing collection, and to render visible the interconnections. The show therefore meets the essential criteria for an exhibition: a sufficiently large number of artistically distinctive, museum-quality works, as well as a stringent selection process that brings out the collection's characteristics.

Second, with this first presentation of the Nahmad Collection the Kunsthaus Zürich will once again focus on private collecting. We have approached each of our projects on this theme from a different angle: the Merzbacher Collection (shown at the Kunsthaus as “Feast of Colour” in 2006) is a private collection built around an extremely high-quality nucleus dating from the first decade of the 20th century. The extraordinary ensemble that it has become today was created over the past four decades by Werner and Gabrielle Merzbacher, and it is one of the world's most important private collections of its kind.
Within a mere decade in the mid-20th century the entrepreneur Emil Georg Bührle, who originally studied art history, built a collection that fulfils high aesthetic criteria while also representing his own personal taste. Focusing on French 19th-century painting, the collection was shown at the Kunsthaus in 1958 and 2010. Most of the works are housed in the private E.G. Bührle Collection, for which dedicated spaces are to be created in the future extension to the Kunsthaus designed by David Chipperfield.

The Nahmad family collection also sheds light on another topic. In the 20th century, art dealers often kept certain works, frequently for very long periods, yet did not sell them despite having wealthy clients. The effects of this continue to this day. Additionally, they sought and found matching works, often with a great deal of effort over long periods, thus creating harmonious groups whose size, coherence and artistic quality ultimately made it difficult to break them up. Separate documentation in the exhibition will provide insights and information about the causes and consequences of the recurring phenomenon of the marchand-amateur. In the catalogue you can also read a detailed and highly entertaining interview with Helly Nahmad about the vicissitudes of trading in the art world, the inherited love of art, and being spoilt for choice. An extract can be found here.
An interview with Helly Nahmad

How did everything begin?
The story of the Nahmad brothers started in the early 60s in Italy. At that moment there was a very vibrant artistic scene, cinema was booming with Fellini and La Dolce Vita. In Rome la via Veneto was packed late into the night with actors, intellectuals and paparazzi. Contemporary artists such as Lucio Fontana were pushing the boundaries of creativity and today's world famous Italian fashion designers were just emerging. There was a very big culture of art appreciation. One of the brothers, Joseph, was an art collector living in Milan.

The family were originally from Aleppo, where they had a respectable banking business. They were hard-working and lived in a traditional Jewish environment. However, after World War II, Middle East tension began. The political situation in Aleppo became difficult so they left for Beirut, where Ezra and David were born in 1945 and 1947. Beirut was a bustling metropolis, very cosmopolitan and had a mixture of cultures and religions. There they had a happy childhood. Their father Hillel was an extremely hard-working and very good humoured patriarch. He was a real pillar of his community; very well known, loved and respected. His wife, Mathilde, was 100 percent a mother, she had eight children and she devoted her whole life to them. She was very European in outlook. Together they provided a stable, hard-working environment and gave their children a lot of confidence. They knew their value and they knew the value of work. They were encouraged to pursue their dreams, despite the fact that their way of life was not excessive in any way. A very down-to-earth life, but spiritually very rich. The family stayed there for several years and left in the mid 50s.

How did the idea come to go to Milan? What was the family's link to Italy?
Joseph had already left and was living in Milan. The family suffered an enormous blow when the eldest son, Albert, who had left home as a teenager and was making successful career in banking, was killed in a plane crash in South America. For his parents this was obviously a massive tragedy and they were heartbroken, so because of the situation in Beirut and because of this event, they all wanted to go and be together with Joseph in Milan.

At this time Ezra and David were teenagers. Milan had a very dynamic culture. There was rejuvenation and it was fun, there were movies and glamour and there was a bustling art scene. Joseph had become a success in business. There were many opportunities in post-war Europe and the modern world as we know it was just starting to take shape. He was investing in real estate and importing and exporting. He loved glamorous Italian cars, houses and art, and stayed in Portofino and Venice.
He never married, and was addicted to work. He was a risk taker, quite the opposite of his father, the conservative family man, and this is when he started to collect art. Joseph's father disapproved of his son's art collection and one evening, during a dinner party at Joseph's apartment, a small masterpiece by Gauguin was stolen! A few days later, when Joseph's father read about the robbery in the newspaper, he exclaimed that his son was not robbed during the party, but the day he purchased the painting!

What was the impulse for Joseph?
He loved art. In his apartment in Milan he had special commissions by Lucio Fontana and Wifredo Lam, the Cuban artist living in Italy, and from Arnaldo Pomodoro. He also had commissions by Giorgio de Chirico, with whom he later had a contract. He knew everyone. He knew all of Milan. He was very gregarious, very outgoing, and very bohemian in a way. There were always starlets in the house like Rita Hayworth and people like that! He had good taste and started collecting art in a meaningful way.

What about Ezra and David?
Ezra and David had been very entrepreneurial since their childhood. At school they bought and sold marbles and sweets, and then sold English novels to American Sailors stationed in the port of Beirut. Then in Milan, they would go to San Siro Stadium on Sundays, after football matches, and sell T-shirts and badges of the winning team. They knew that only the fans of the winning team would be in the mood to buy! They would watch the match in the local bar until half-time and then speculate on which team's T-shirt to have quickly printed! Working was in their DNA. This was their fun, not playing in the garden. At the age of about 15 they had started to borrow money and invest in the Italian stock market. At one point, they spent entire days trading on the floor of the stock exchange instead of going to school! That was their character. This commercial attitude combined with the cultural scene in Milan and the fact that their elder brother was a passionate art collector lead to a natural interest in the art market.

How did they enter the art market?
Ezra and David were just coming of age. My father, Ezra, went into partnership with an Italian art collector and opened a gallery, called Galleria Internazionale, and worked with this collector for a few years. Soon after, he was joined by his two brothers. They were all passionate about art so it made sense for them to join forces.

Extract from a discussion between Helly Nahmad and Björn Quellenberg
Read the full interview in the catalogue and learn more about the family, its role in the art world, and the Nahmads' experience of the preparations for the Kunsthaus exhibition.
General public tours
Tuesdays 12 midday, Thursdays 3 p.m., Fridays 6 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m. (in German)
Saturday 19 November, 11 a.m. (in English)

Themed tours
Wednesdays 6 p.m. and Saturdays 3 p.m. (in German)

Private guided tours
For groups of 2 to 20 can be booked by telephone: +41 (0)44 253 84 84 (Mon–Fri 9 a.m.–12 midday). Price: from CHF 175.
The interactive offerings for adults and children are available in German. For details see Kunstvermittlung.
The first catalogue on the Nahmad Collection is being published in English and German by DuMont (approx. 260 pages, 220 illustrations). It contains essays by art historians Robert Brown, Lukas Gloor, William Paton and Faith Chisholm as well as an interview with Helly Nahmad in which he talks about the family's history and the creation of the collection. The catalogue can be purchased from bookstores or (at a discounted price) from the Kunsthaus shop.
Kunsthaus Zürich, Heimplatz 1, CH–8001 Zurich
Tel. +41 (0)44 253 84 84, www.kunsthaus.ch, info@kunsthaus.ch
Open: Sat, Sun, Tues 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Wed, Thurs, Fri 10 a.m.–8 p.m., closed on Mondays.
24, 26, 31 December 2011 and 1, 2 January 2012: 10 a.m.–6 p.m. 25 December 2011 closed.

including audioguide: CHF 22.00 / 14.50 concessions. Groups of 20 or more CHF 16.50 per person. Children and young people up to the age of 16 free of charge.
Schools and groups are requested to register in advance.

Advance sales
SBB RailAway combination ticket, with discount on travel and admission: at stations and by phoning Rail Service: 0900 300 300 (CHF 1.19/min. by ground line), www.sbb.ch

Ticketcorner: www.ticketcorner.com, 0900 800 800 (CHF 1.19/min.). Fast-track admission.

Magasins Fnac: sales points in Switzerland: Rives, Balexert, Lausanne, Fribourg, Pathé Kino Basel, www.fnac.ch; France: Carrefour, Géant, Magasins U, 0 892 68 36 22 (EUR 0.34/min), www.fnac.com; Belgium: www.fnac.be

Zürich Tourism: overnight stay incl. entry ticket. Tourist Service at the Main Railway Station, tel. +41 (0)44 215 40 40, hotel@zuerich.com, www.zuerich.com/nahmad. Entrance only: book online here.

Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft
CH-8024 Zurich

Texts: Christoph Becker, Björn Quellenberg, Tonwelt professional media GmbH, Berlin
Coordination and editing: Kristin Steiner
Design: Hesskisssulzersutter

Citation should include mention of source.
© Kunsthaus Zürich 2011