Israeli art collector Galila Barzilaï-Hollander

Israeli Art Collector Galila Barzilaï-Hollander


75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War on 8 May 1945 in Germany and Europe and the liberation from the Nazi regime.


‘It was a great honor for me as a German – on this special day, May 8th, the day when the nazi regime ended – to meet the wonderful Israeli art collector Galila Barzilaï-Hollander. The conversation was full of humility and harmony. Art and culture heal the world.’ Barbara Dietrich


A collector is often perceived as having this sort of ‘social status’, however, this ‘social status’ is something that I never sought out in starting my collection. For example, in the press you see many articles appear with titles such as: ‘The 200 best collectors in the world’ or ‘The most interesting collections.’ I do not feel the need to be part of any of these lists or play these sorts of games whatsoever. To me, being surrounded by art is my own daily nourishment, it feeds me and keeps me healthy in spirit. This is also why I like to keep in touch with the creative minds that created the pieces, just today I was emailing with one of the artists about his latest work. So, in a way collecting is also about forming human relationships to me.


Though, I don’t understand why art became so vital to me. I like to think that I am a very ‘black and white’ sort of person. Sometimes, I yearn to have ‘everything’, yet at the same I can also live with having ‘nothing’ at all. My home here in Belgium is about 1000 square meters and filled with all sorts of things, but when I travel to Tel Aviv in Israel, I reside in a small apartment with almost no furniture in it. I simply haven’t found any time to furnish it these past few years. I have a mattress to sleep on and a kitchen to cook in. Ultimately, my sister even ended up giving me two chairs to sit on. There is almost nothing there, yet it makes me feel good.


With the many artworks present at Galila’s P.O.C. (Passion Obsession Collection) however, it is quite the opposite situation, here there is an ‘Overdose’. This is also the very reason why I decided to name the first exhibition ‘Overdose’. Though, the set-up is still not quite finished, maybe it will even never be completely ‘done’ as I enjoy bringing in more and more works. Moreover, I like to combine certain pieces, to create little families. For instance, works that in reality have nothing to do with one another can generate deep dialogues when brought together. To me, all these different pieces can be part of one big installation.


My collection is not organised ‘intellectually’, rather in a personal and intuitive way. This is also how I buy artworks; I don’t really like to think about it. Nonetheless, my sub conscience guides me into a direction of connection and resemblance. It enables me to form relationships between works created by artists of completely different backgrounds and generations, somehow bringing this harmonious atmosphere when brought together.


Actually, I think that ‘harmony’ is one of the keywords to my life. I can survive any sort of stress, but I cannot live with a situation where there is disarray. Then I don’t really function correctly. The way I got into art was also pure intuition and coincidence. It was never a conscious decision, it just happened. But for me it was like a revelation. I didn’t know anything about art, yet I somehow had the confidence that my choices were the right ones without needing the judgement of others (experts and knowledgeable people).


In the nineties my husband and myself were the first ones in Belgium to introduced the so-called ‘apart- hotel’; these were fully furnished and equipped apartments that guests could rent on a monthly basis. It was the perfect alternative to a long stay in a hotel room. You came in with your suitcase and you were just as comfortable as in your own apartment. Back then, I was the one who furnished everything, and I liked making every apartment different, adding unique pieces of design furniture and accessories to each one. Today, many of the items that I chose are displayed in design museums as ‘icons’. Yet these choices were also very spontaneous. I didn’t really think whether they were ‘good’ or ‘bad’, I just ‘liked’ them.


I enjoy this way of collecting, it is interesting and creative. You get the opportunity to connect with artists before they become known, before they are ‘recognized’. Though, confidence is something that you grow slowly, you are not born with it. It is a succession of successes. When one of the artists I collected became recognized, I thought: “Okay, …”, but when it happens again a second and a third time, … Nowadays, I am starting to think that maybe I do have an ‘eye’. Perhaps, it does not all happen by chance. When I was a student at university and I had passed one of my examinations, I used to tell myself: “Oh, it is normal because you knew the answer to this particular question, but if they had asked you another question, then you wouldn’t have known the answer. It is just a coincidence that you got the right question.” But maybe it is not really ‘coincidence’.


In 30 years, when I will be over 100 years old, we shall see if I am the so-called ‘Belgian Peggy Guggenheim’. If, let us say 10 or 15% of my artists become part of the art historical canon, then I will indeed be like Peggy Guggenheim. However, I will have to wait another 30 years to get an answer to that question. Be that as it may, from the regular correspondence with the artists I have the feeling they are happy that I collect their art. They often prefer that works go to me rather than to another buyer. Perhaps they feel that the piece will be more loved.


I also try to create many possibilities for the artists by lending as much as possible their works to museums. In the past I have already had quite a few beautiful exhibitions. For artists these opportunities are important as reference, that is why I tend to propose more artworks than originally asked for. A while ago, I received a request from Stockholm. They wanted to loan a specific work, but then I said: “Okay, however if you want more, I do have more.” I then sent them some pictures of other works and they quickly became excited accepting some of my suggestions. I find that it is very important to recommend the artists that I collect.


Another characteristic of my collection is the presence of themes. This is something that I can’t quite explain, it is probably another sub conscience mechanism. Everyone can have their own psychoanalysis on the symbolism of these themes. To myself, some themes are more obvious than others as I known the hidden reasons behind them, however others’ meanings are, even to me, more floating in nature. Nevertheless, they exist. There are about 20 different themes in total. Most, though not all of them, can be seen at Galila’s P.O.C.; like chairs, eyes, books and works on paper for example. The presence of these many different things gives the place a rather bizarre atmosphere. In the beginning you might think: “What is this?” You know, it kind of reminds me a bit of a souk (marketplace in Arabic culture). Yet, there is once again coherence. For instance, with the themes: ‘money’ and ‘obsession’ as money can perfectly go together with obsession. These themes also enable me to learn a lot about myself in an indirect way. As I, all of a sudden, through my collection discover that I maybe have a bit of ‘obsession’ in myself as well.


People sometimes only read on the ‘first level’, but there are so many more levels of understanding and meaning than people express verbally. This collection is actually a non-verbal story, you have to really look closer to derive its meaning, I don’t have to talk about it. This is the message. You yourself have to search for the connections and the sensitivity between all these different works. Sometimes, there can be something like magic between them, but you might not be able to put it into words. Again, I like to connect things; maybe this should also be the motto for the future. If people learn how to connect despite all their differences, it could perhaps be the solution.


My father was born in Israel, Palestine at the time. He grew up in a small village in Galilea. Next to it, there was an Arab village. Back then, the kids of both villages used to play together in the tobacco fields. Barefooted they ran through the fields hand in hand and they actually knew how to speak both Arabic and Hebrew with each other. When my father became older, he actually had the wish to become a diplomat in an Arabic country as he felt a strong connection with their mentality, culture and background. He knew how to dialogue with them, with understanding and mutual respect.


I feel that, with my collection, I am trying to create a substitute for a family as, to my regret, I do not have one in Belgium. Though, I don’t have any inhibitions or complexes whatsoever about it to tell you the truth. I know that a family can’t really be replaced, but to me art is a proper substitute.


What saves me on all levels in my personal life are the relationships that I have with people, both with work relations as in friendly connections. To me, everything comes down to one main attitude; having some sort of mental flexibility, empathy and a mutual understanding. Though, you need to be creative to possess these capacities. A creative mind breaks down the barriers of the ‘do’s and don’ts’. There is nothing that you cannot do if you have respect for the other. You can always find other ways when you disagree. People often look at the world with a straight vision, but in fact we should be able to mentally turn this vision around by 360 degrees and perhaps then the solution will be there. Maybe this is the very reason why I collect ‘eyes’, to possess all these different kinds of ‘visions’. This is also the way that I would describe creativity; it is having the ability to see many options. If I am dealing with you and you say: “Nyet.”, the first time, then I can try to find another option where you won’t answer: “Nyet.”, at. This is the core of my thinking.


Through art you can convey certain messages. I might not be an artist myself, but sometimes I use art to express what I think in a non-verbal way. In having this need for connection, I feel just like my father when he was a 10-year-old child and dreamed of becoming a diplomat. You need some sort of emotional intelligence to understand the other, to put yourself in someone else’s place, to understand their needs and to be able to compromise, to be generous. I remember when I had the hotels, it sometimes happened that there were misunderstandings with the personnel. I had to deal with 50 or 60 people and every single person could have their very own problems with you. Back then, the only practical and realistic way I found to settle these issues was to tell the other side a very simple phrase: “Let us take off our shoes and exchange them with one another; you put yourself in my shoes and I shall put myself in yours. So, I will start to understand your position and you will start to understand mine.” Why do people and nations not apply that in the diplomatic world as well?


Maybe this is the common sense of a woman, of having this down-to-earth mentality and not to make theories, having a connection with reality. I am not a theoretician nor a physician, I don’t do abstract, unapplied science. To me, something needs to be concrete and applicable, it should be able to work and if it doesn’t function properly there should be the flexibility to say: “Okay, it did not work, but this is not the end of the world; we will make changes and we will improve.” Just like children, they can start to cry one second and then become happy again another one. You should be able to move on. This is the way I function.

The interview was taken by Barbara Dietrich


Galila Barzilaï-Hollander and Barbara Dietrich


Galila Barzilaï-Hollander


Barbara Dietrich and Galila Barzilaï-Hollander