A requiem mass at Brompton Oratory church in west London, sandwiched between a breakfast and a lunch attended by some of the leading names in contemporary art, was a fitting send-off for the inimitable, irreplaceable and highly sociable Delfina Entrecanales, who died on 31 March aged 94.
The Spanish-born philanthropist, who frequently dismissed the art world as “bullshit”, once famously declared: “I don’t collect art, I collect artists.” Nearly 1,000 artists benefited from her support over 40 years, whether from the free or subsidised studio space and artist residencies of the Delfina Studio Trust which she founded in 1988 at the age of 62, or more recently from the programme of artistic initiatives and exchanges instigated by the Delfina Foundation, established by the then-80 year old Delfina in 2007.
Aaron Cezar, Hew Locke, Gilane Tawadros, Louise Wislon, Mark Wallinger. Photo: Louisa Buck
The Delfina Foundation continues today under the able leadership of director Aaron Cezar, who yesterday movingly paid tribute to Delfina. “There was fifty years between us: we laughed like kids, quarrelled like teenagers and bickered like an old couple. We were a walking HR [human resources] disaster,” he said.
“She patronised art as an enquiry and an activity rather than a commodity,” says Mark Wallinger who also recalled his time at Delfina Studios as “the most fulfilling and exciting time” of his life.
Sonia Boyce, Zineb Sidera and Louise Wilson. Photo: Louisa Buck
Along with Wallinger many other recipients of Delfina’s special brand of patronage (which included a subsidised Delfina studio café charging £1 per meal) were in attendance at yesterday’s celebrations. These included Haegue Yang, Jane and Louise Wilson, Chantal Joffe, Hew Locke, Sonia Boyce, the duo Cooking Sections and Zineb Sedira. Museum directors in attendance included Tate Modern director Frances Morris, outgoing Whitney Museum of American Art supremo Sheena Wagstaff and incoming Whitechapel director Gilane Tawadros. Nicholas Serota, the chair of Arts Council England gave a speech praising Delfina’s “honesty, directness and determination, her charm and her selective and effective use of English swearwords”.
It is no overstatement that Delfina Entrecanales was crucial in shaping the boldness and internationalism of the London art world. And her absence will be felt greatly. But her legacy lives on through the residencies and thematic public programmes of her charitable foundation, which continues to reach out and offer hospitality to artists at home and across the globe.