Helga de Alvear

A reference in Contemporary Art

More than three thousand works currently make up the Helga de Alvear Collection. However, the collection is not conceived as a closed and definitive set. On the contrary, it remains in constant growth to respond to that desire to accompany current and future transformations and developments in contemporary art.

Helga de Alvear

Helga de Alvear, the driving force behind the Museum that carries her name, was born in 1936 in the city of Kirn/Nahe (Rhineland-Palatinate) in Germany. She recalls how when she was a young girl, she liked to collect hard rocks that she would find in the Nahe River. The rocks originated from a deposit near her house, and possibly the shapes, textures and colors of that first collection of natural objects paved the way for her fascination with abstract art.

After World War II, which ended when she was 9 years old, Helga studied at the Salem School in Lake Constance, as well as in Lausanne and Geneva, Switzerland.

Later, she would further her studies in London for one year. In 1957, when she was 21 years old, she travelled to Spain in order to learn the language. On May 27th, 1958, while enrolled as a student of Hispanic Culture at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, she met architect Jaime de Alvear, whom she married just one year later, on the same day in 1959.

Along with her husband and their three daughters, Helga frequently visited the Prado Museum where she became fascinated by works such as Annunciation by Fra Angelico or the latter work of Goya, whose first edition of Los Caprichos she would acquire decades later. The Reina Sofía Museum would not open until 1992 and at the time, in 1960’s Spain, the social and cultural environment was very different from the internationally open artistic context she would go on to contribute toward creating.

The origin of the Helga de Alvear Collection dates back to 1967, a moment when Helga de Alvear met Juana Mordó, came into contact with artists from the Cuenca and El Paso Groups and became increasingly interested in the Spanish artistic scene. Her first acquisition was a painting by Fernando Zóbel which she paid for in installments. From that moment onward, Helga continued to acquire works of art which in many cases she gifted to her friends and loved ones.

In January of 1980, she started to work at Galería Juana Mordó: years of learning ensued in terms of management and a greater awareness of the international artistic world, especially through art fairs such as Art Basel, Fiac in Paris or the Cologne Art Fair. In 1982, Helga de Alvear would become one of the gallerists who fostered innovation within the Spanish artistic scene through the creation of ARCO art fair.

In time, Helga de Alvear’s involvement would continue to increase until, with Juana’s passing in 1984, she took the reins of the gallery. During the next 10 years, she would follow the teachings and the artistic and managerial models of her mentor. Nevertheless, in 1995 she decided to shift her career path by opening a new gallery under her own name in a 900 square meter space near the Reina Sofía Museum. For this new project she focused on international contemporary art with a special interest in photography, video and installation at a moment when these genres were almost unknown in Spain.

Currently, Helga de Alvear’s gallery is internationally renowned for being one of the most solid and longest running galleries within the Spanish artistic landscape. Art Review Magazine placed Helga de Alvear among the 100 most influential people in the international art world. Likewise, she has received numerous prizes and awards, such as the Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts by the Spanish Ministry of Culture in 2008, the Cross of the Order of Civil Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande) awarded by the Federal Republic of Germany in 2014, or the International Medal for Arts of the Comunidad de Madrid awarded in November 2020 to De Alvear and four other female gallerists, highlighting her role as a key figure for the development of the artistic ecosystem, along with many more acknowledgements.

Many of the works within the Collection have occupied the galleries of museums worldwide through loans the gallerist and collector frequently facilitates. Nevertheless, the desire to share her passion for contemporary art with the greatest possible number of people in a permanent way led her to go one step further. The Collection required a space of its own that would not only allow for it to be preserved, researched and made available to the public, but also would contribute toward democratizing access to culture in an inclusive way, stimulating critical thought, generating cooperation networks with similar institutions and enabling the development of people’s own sensibility toward contemporary art. The creation of a nonprofit institution, with a public, participative and transparent vocation became a necessity: The Collection needed a 21st century museum.

Cáceres became the ideal place where to make her dreams come true and time has proven the efficacy of collaborations between public and private entities in the achievement of this project. In 2006, the Helga de Alvear Foundation was constituted, in 2010 the Visual Arts Center was open, and now in 2021, a purposely built space is ready to host a collection that will become public thanks to its donation. In the past year, Helga de Alvear has not only donated 1 million Euros to coronavirus research, but also, in collaboration with the Regional Government of Extremadura and other local entities, has been able to open a Museum that will enrich society as a whole.