IF YOU WANT TO IMMERSE YOURSELF in the art world, there’s no splashier way to do so than as an eager collector, and if you’re looking for a particular venue to jump into, none is more turbulent than the art fair. Those in Basel, Miami, New York, and London offer an opportunity to schmooze and be schmoozed at dealers’ stands, chic dinners, and late-night parties—bonanzas of social opportunity where you can check out the price tags and see and be seen by other collectors and art advisers. Long gone, if it ever really existed, is the quiet profile of the discreet and disinterested connoisseur-buyer who carried out his or her business in an atmosphere of clerical silence: Church mice are out; peacocks in.
All of which makes Andrea Dibelius—a former marketing executive who left a position at Daimler Chrysler Bank six years ago to pursue a career as an entrepreneur, investor, and consultant to a handful of lifestyle companies—something of an anomaly. For one, she seems to have little interest in promoting herself or in using her philanthropic organization, the Emdash Foundation, as a vanity vehicle. And though the Salzburg, Austria–born Dibelius is far from a novice when it comes to collecting, her plunge into the contemporary art world has come not via the usual route of buying and selling and amassing a collection of work by young artists, but rather by directly supporting those artists through her foundation.
The only constant in her story may be the importance of the art fair, or of one in particular: London’s Frieze, which each year has staged the sharpest and smartest of the annual international contemporary art extravaganzas—less stodgy than the white-shoe Basel, less arriviste than big and brassy Miami, and less tedious than New York’s business-as-usual Armory Show. It was there, last October, that the thirtysomething Dibelius had a serendipitous meeting with Frieze directors Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, which led to a partnership and a jump start for Emdash.
One year later, the foundation, still in its infancy, is sponsoring, in conjunction with Frieze, its first award to provide support to a single emerging international artist. The Emdash Award includes a residency at London’s Gasworks studio and a copious stipend to realize a work for presentation as part of Frieze Projects, the not-for-profit section of the fair that has become a sensitive barometer of significant young artistic talent. (Nearly half of last year’s selected artists in Frieze Projects—including Shannon Ebner, Nick Relph, and Karl Holmqvist—went on to show in this summer’s Venice Biennale.) “Frieze offers an excellent platform, and as a new foundation, we are benefiting enormously from its expertise,” says Dibelius when I meet her on a sleepy Friday morning in the leafy outskirts of Munich, where she lives part of the year (she also has residences in Saint-Tropez and London) in a stolid, sun-drenched villa—a faithful reconstruction of the home of Nobel Prize–winning novelist Thomas Mann that once stood on the spot. Her work in preparation for Frieze had trimmed short a holiday in Southern France, and she entered the room in a dappled red dress that managed to be attention-getting yet modest, even casual.