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Culture
Jānis Zuzāns

A Day in the Art Life of Jānis Zuzāns

Photography by Jury Oleinik

Our series 'A Day in the Art Life' is a glimpse into the daily life of figures in the art world to get a sense of their routines, imagine along with them their perfect day in the city they live and work in, and hear some insights into their philosophies of art and life.

We asked Jānis Zuzāns to give us a sneak peek into his daily life. Jānis is an art collector and philanthropist, the founder of Zuzeum Art Centre in Riga, Latvia.

Exterior of Zuzeum Art Centre. Photography by Norbert Tukaj.

Zuzeum is a unique place where audiences can encounter and engage with contemporary Latvian and international art. The art space in the center of Riga is a venue for debate and cultural exchange. With over 1,100 square meters of space, Zuzeum hosts exhibitions and public events, a studio for artists, the storage facilities of the Zuzāns сollection, a public zone with space for meeting and working, a cafe, and a shop.

Jānis has been supporting and contributing to the art scene in both Latvia and internationally for two decades and has the largest private collection of Latvian art in the world.

His range of activities is broad — providing funds to help the art world, taking part in the Tate's Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee, funding the Latvian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, as well as supporting art and music festivals and publications.

The Zuzāns Collection began collecting only Latvian art and became the largest such private collection in the world. Over time, the focus has moved to international contemporary art as the primary focus in expanding the Collection.

Courtesy of Jānis Zuzāns.

Janis Zuzans is reading a book, wearing glasses, an orange shirt and an ocher shirt, holding a small white coffee mug.

Photograph of Jānis Zuzāns.

My day begins with… Sports and art. First, a workout in the gym five days a week. My routine has been like this for quite a long time. I find physical exercise to be the best start to my day. And, of course, stopping in Zuzeum to get a coffee, because, let's be honest, Zuzeum is the best contemporary art space and coffee spot in Riga!

Therefore, in the morning I can also look forward to how Zuzeum is supporting international art through our projects. Our exhibition plans for the next few years will feature some of the most prominent contemporary artists. We will also start doing solo exhibitions, which we have never done before at Zuzeum.

Over the years I have understood there is nothing that can spark inspiration more than what is inside me.

When I need to feel inspired, I take some time for myself. Over the years I have understood there is nothing that can spark inspiration more than what is inside me. It's important for me to be in touch with myself and have time for solitude.

Some of my best ideas come… early in the morning, between 7 and 8 a.m., to be precise. I live about an hour away from the city, in a khutor — a farm — so during these early hours of the day I enjoy being on the road and having time to plan and generate new ideas. Most people are still dreaming their last dreams while I am on my way to Riga. I find that to be my time.

The art spaces I enjoy going to… There are a lot. I have been collecting art for more than 30 years. I attend many art fairs here in Europe and work with different galleries and institutions. Over time, I have developed closer relationships with some art people and artists. We all know art pillars such as the Tate Modern, MuseumsQuartier in Vienna, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao or the Centre Pompidou. These are a must-see in everyone's lifetime. On the other hand, I also love places that aren't so crowded, like Amos Rex in Helsinki, the Boros Foundation in Berlin and Benesse Art Site Naoshima in Japan.

Jānis Zuzāns enjoying in his farm in Latvia.

The place that means a lot to me… is my farm in Latvia, I mentioned it before. It brings me the serenity that all Latvians crave — the countryside. I am also fond of Venice. I would like to stay and live there for a month or two, experiencing the city's one-of-a-kind sweet sadness.

I have a collection of… all the artworks that have ever spoken to me. It is important to understand that a private collection is ever-changing. In my case, my values have grown and changed over the years.

This is an organic process in each collection — to keep the best and give others a chance to enjoy the works which are not strong enough for the museum collection.

Now as a collector, I am most excited only by contemporary art, and I always wonder what will get people excited in art centuries from now. Over the years I’ve realized that I’ve been buying a lot, and now we’re working on narrowing the collection’s focus. The main goal is to keep the most iconic works by artists who are already represented. This is an organic process in each collection — to keep the best and give others a chance to enjoy the works which are not strong enough for the museum collection.

This year at Art Basel we acquired a few works by artists who refined my vision in art and changed my own criteria a bit. The works are by Cheyney Thompson and Kat Lyons. I also feel very excited about works by Vojtěch Kovařík, who uses the ancient mythological imagination and plays with it in a very contemporary way.

A person sitting on the floor looking at the TV over their shoulder in a room filled with books, paintings, and ornaments in yellow tones.

Jānis Zuzāns’ archive.

The artwork/object/thing that I could never part with… my black, worn-out everyday planner. It's small but is one of the most important things in my life.

If I could, I would collect… in a way that would bring international attention to my collection. I would love to have not only the biggest but also the best private collection of Latvian art in the world. I believe that art is global and Latvian art is a part of this process.

My idea of happiness… is that it's not a state that you can suddenly be in, it is constant movement and improvement.

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