Imagine you have a few hundred thousand euros left and you’re looking for that one thing for your living room that will set you apart from the gray crowd of the wealthy that no one else really has. It is really unique. OK, maybe that’s too hypothetical now, but who or what are you heading to? In Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy, there is a place that specializes in such requests. Here Theater Mundi – Latin for world theatre – offers extravagant and secret services to millionaires from all over the world. Visiting is by invitation only.
Luca Capelli opened the gallery in 2015. The self-proclaimed “Impossible Collector” gave VICE a peek inside his curiosity closet. With his snakeskin sneakers and a tailored suit, the 49-year-old is one-of-a-kind.
After the salutation, he showed us the highlights of his set: the original Wolverine Claws from X-menSurprisingly expertly dressed movies, dinosaur fossils, T-Rex teeth, original lightsaber star WarsOne of Harry Potter’s wands and a real Soviet spacesuit. After that we had some questions.
VICE: What exactly is Theater Mundi?
Luca Cappelieri: The idea for the Theater Mundi came from the so-called rooms of curiosity – groups that noblemen and scholars collected from the 16th century to the Age of Enlightenment to delight and wow guests.
With this project, I wanted the same thing: to surprise and delight the visitors. The things shown here come from far away. I look for it and present it in a new context.
Basically, I move real estate from the niche market to the broader luxury sector. For example, you can find a piece of a meteorite in a market in Namibia, and here I present it along with other cool things in a room with a mural on the ceiling. It’s like taking a picture of a zebra on top of Mount Everest. When you know how to bring different worlds together, you don’t create chaos, you create wonders.
How did it all start?
I am from a small town near Gorizia in northeastern Italy. I studied law and started buying and selling my first business at flea markets. For fun. After graduation, she started working at Christie’s auction house in London. It made me realize the true dynamics of the art world.
And then I got into the sale of dinosaur bones. Where did you get all these fossils?
You might think that dinosaurs belong in museums, but the world is full of fossils. Some are very rare, while others are very common.
In places like Wyoming or North Carolina in the United States, there are plenty of them, just like in Mongolia. The problem is much more in getting them off the ground. The remains of the dinosaur itself can sometimes be 500 to 600 meters away.
Is it even legal to dig up dinosaur bones?
Depends on. Some US states allow this, and Italy does not.
But there are rules for importing?
There are very strict international rules set by Interpol. This is especially true of artifacts, but I rarely deal with such things. I only had a few coffins here in the past. In principle, the import and export of all items over 50 years old should be allowed. We buy everything from abroad and have to get clearance from Italian customs for trade.
What about spacesuits and meteorites? Where do you find things like that?
all over the world. For a Soviet spacesuit, for example, the best place to look is Korolev, the Russian space flight center, or in Moscow. For meteorites, you go to Namibia or Morocco and contact the people who collect them.
The hardest part is always getting to the source. Take meteorites for example: The first time you tried to buy one, you went to a trade show. With a little patience, I then reached out to people who are driving their jeeps into the desert and looking for them.
So there are full time people out there looking for meteors and then calling you…
It took years to make these connections, but yes.
Well, to buyers: what does your regular customer look like?
Without wanting to name names, my regular customers are versatile collectors. You have a beautiful house and you want to decorate it with something unusual like a triceratops skull, which always looks good. Or they are looking for a Batman suit for their office. These are usually very successful businessmen, but they are also important names from the world of fashion and cinema.
How much money do you sell these things for?
Prices range from a few thousand euros to several million. If you want to buy a piece of Martian meteorite, you will have to pay about $1,000 per gram. For comparison: gold costs about 50 euros per gram, and generally the value of these things increases every year. The market is growing.
Do you know where things end?
Yes in some cases. Then send us pictures.
But where do you put a piece of Mars?
There are many beautiful solutions [lacht]. For example, a customer displayed three meteors on a brilliantly lit wall. Another buyer from France put a big dinosaur in his castle. A client from Indonesia chose his living room for this. These are great for starting a conversation with your guests.
How do you choose objects for your gallery?
As long as I don’t get special commissions from the client, I choose things that mean something to me. It has to be unique, something special. I travel a lot, go to exhibitions, read books, and if something catches my interest, I look for it.
Each object has its own story, which I also communicated to buyers. They usually know a lot about it already – although there have been a lot of new wealthy clients lately who have only bought things based on their aesthetics.
How can the authenticity of things be guaranteed?
It is different in every category. Let’s take the meteorites. There are three main types: from the Moon, from Mars, and other species with an interesting aesthetic appearance.
If a meteorite is found, we cut off 20 grams and send it to Washington. They have a lab there that examines the sample and determines whether the meteorite came from the surface of Mars or the Moon or somewhere else. If all goes well, he gets certified and the find is included in the Meteoritical Bulletin, a database of all known meteorites.
As for things like spacesuits, there are specialists who confirm their authenticity. Unfortunately, there are a lot of fakes. For movie props, I always ask for a Certificate of Authenticity. However, in the end, I always return to two or three trusted contacts. It’s a forest there.
What are your favorite things to collect?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. Space suits are just crazy to me.
At the moment, I’m mostly interested in American cinema. When I first brought these things to international fairs, people raised their noses. It was not art for her. In my opinion this is a huge misunderstanding. Lots of things like Captain America’s shield or Alien from alien Designed by true masters of their craft.
What is the best seller?
Natural history pretty much sells itself, and there’s already a market for it at international auctions. A skeleton of Tyrannosaurus Rex goes to auction at Sotheby’s for 30 million euros. With dinosaur fossils, you can usually attach zero to the price and you’ll still sell.
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