Imagine that you still have a few hundred thousand euros left and are looking for that item for your living room that will set you apart from the gray crowd of the super rich that no one else really has. A truly unique piece. Well, that’s probably really very hypothetical right now, but who or what would you turn to? In Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy, there is a place that specializes in such requests. Here the Theatrum Mundi – Latin for world theater – offers its extravagant and discreet services to millionaires around the world. The visit is by invitation only.
Luca Cableri opened the gallery in 2015. The self-proclaimed “collector of the impossible” gave VICE a look inside his cabinet of curiosities. With his python sneakers and a tailored suit, the 49-year-old himself is unique.
After the salute, he showed us the highlights of his collection: the original Wolverine claws of the X-Mensurprisingly expertly dressed movie, dinosaur fossils, T-Rex teeth, an original lightsaber Star Wars, one of Harry Potter’s wands and a real Soviet spacesuit. After that we had a few questions.
VICE: What exactly is Theatrum Mundi?
Luca Cableri: The idea of Theatrum Mundi came from the so-called rooms of curiosities, collections put together by nobles and scholars from the 16th century to the Enlightenment era to delight and amaze guests.
With this project I wanted the same thing: to surprise and delight visitors. The objects exhibited here come from distant places. I look for them and present them in a new context.
Basically, I’m moving properties from the niche market to the larger luxury segment. For example, you can find a piece of meteorite in a market in Namibia, here I present it along with other large objects in a room with a frescoed ceiling. It’s like photographing a zebra on top of Everest. When you know how to unite different worlds, you don’t create chaos, you create wonder.
How did it all start?
I come from a small town near Gorizia in the north-east of Italy. I studied law and started buying and selling my first items at flea markets. For fun. After graduation, I started working at Christie’s auction house in London. It made me understand the true dynamics of the art world.
And then you started selling dinosaur bones. Where did you get all those fossils from?
You would think 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 many, just like in Mongolia. The problem is much more lifting them off the ground. The remains of the same dinosaur can sometimes be found at a distance of between 500 and 600 meters.
Is it even legal to dig dinosaur bones?
Depend on. Some American states allow it, Italy does not.
But are there any import rules?
There are very strict international rules established by Interpol. This is especially true of archaeological artifacts, but I rarely deal with these things. I’ve only had a few sarcophagi here in the past. In principle, all objects over the age of 50 must be authorized for import and export. We buy everything from abroad and we have to obtain customs clearance from Italian customs to trade.
What about spacesuits and meteorites? Where do you find stuff like that?
In all corners of the world. For a Soviet spacesuit, for example, the best place to look is Korolyov, the center of Russian space travel, or Moscow. For meteorites 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 I tried to buy one, I went to a fair. With a little patience I then came into contact with the people who drive in the desert with their jeeps and look for them.
So there are people who search full time for meteorites and then call you …
It took years to establish those contacts, but yes.
OK, to buyers: what does your typical customer look like?
Without wishing to mention names, my regular customers are versatile collectors. You have a nice house and you want to decorate it with an unusual object 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 also important names in the world of fashion and cinema.
How much money do you sell these items for?
Prices range from a few thousand euros to several million. If you want to buy a shard of a Martian meteorite, you’ll have to shell out around $ 1,000 per gram. To make a comparison: gold costs around 50 euros per gram, generally the value of these objects increases every year. The market is growing.
Do you know where the objects end up?
In some cases, yes. Then send us the photos.
But where do you put a piece of Mars?
There are many beautiful solutions [lacht]. For example, a customer exhibited three meteorites on an ingeniously lit wall. Another French buyer placed a large dinosaur in his castle. An Indonesian customer chose his living room for this. Things like that are great for starting a conversation with your guests.
How do you choose the objects for your gallery?
As long as I don’t get special commissions from a customer, I choose items that mean something to me. They have 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 communicate to buyers. They usually know a lot already, although there have been a lot of nouveau riche customers lately who have only bought things based on their aesthetics.
How can the authenticity of objects be guaranteed?
It is different in each category. Let’s take the meteorites. There are three main types: from the moon, from Mars and others with an aesthetically interesting appearance.
If a meteor is found, we cut 20 grams and send them to Washington. They have a lab there that examines the sample and determines if the meteorite is from the surface of Mars, the moon, or somewhere else. Hopefully, he gets a certificate and the find is included in the Weather Report, a database of all known meteorites.
For items such as spacesuits, there are specialists who confirm their authenticity. Unfortunately, there are a lot of fakes out there. For film sets I always ask for the Certificate of Authenticity. In the end, however, I always resort to two or three trusted contacts. It’s a jungle out there.
What are your favorite items to collect?
As a child I wanted to be an astronaut. Space suits are crazy for me.
Right now, I’m mainly interested in American cinema. When I brought these objects to international fairs for the first time, people turned up their noses. It wasn’t art for her. In my opinion this is a big misunderstanding. Lots of items like Captain America’s shield or the alien alien they were designed by true masters of their craft.
What sells best?
Natural history practically sells itself, there is already a market with international auctions. A skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex changes hands at the Sotheby’s auction house for 30 million euros. With dinosaur fossils, you can usually add a zero to the price and they will continue to sell.
Scroll down for more photos of Theatrum Mundi.
Follow VICE on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.