Oranges and Lemons

Vicente Todolí, ex-director of the Tate Modern, reflects on his passion for citrus fruit

My grandfather was a farmer who specialised in citrus. Together with my father, he developed new ways of pruning his trees and built a nursery near Valencia, selling cuttings to local farmers. When, in 1985, I returned from studying in New York, I fell back in love with the culture and landscape where I grew up and bought a piece of land next to my father’s, to start a small citrus collection.

Some years later I happened to visit a nursery in the south of France that grew an amazing variety of citrus but kept the trees in pots so they could be brought indoors between October and March. I thought about how, in Valencia, we have one of the best regions in the world to grow these plants (when the Arabs were here in the Middle Ages they referred to their citrus orchards as paradise on Earth), but we had no place to grow and celebrate the diversity of the fruit. So, in 2010, I expanded my father’s and my land and started a foundation.

We now have over 400 examples of the genus, and recently we were recognised for our efforts to preserve the environment from development. Our aim is to focus on the history of citrus plants. Most of the bioengineers and universities that specialise in this area are commercially led and only know the types that are sold in supermarkets – oranges, lemons and limes – but the diversity of the fruit and the way it has evolved and mutated is fascinating. The varieties that existed a hundred years ago, for example, were different to what is available now, because farmers would graft on to less commercial plants. In studying the core of the trees, you can uncover this history; working this way, I discovered a new pear-shaped blood citrus that has never before been recorded.

The foundation is dedicated to research and to preserving lesser-known types, but it is also somewhere people can discover the beauty of the fruit and its culinary possibilities. I’ve done projects around art and food, such as with Ferran Adrià of elBulli and the artist Richard Prince, and we hope to continue this work at the foundation, inviting chefs to learn about the different varieties and ultimately to hold a citrus dinner.

Curiously, there’s a long-established relationship between citrus and art. Cosimo de’ Medici, one of the greatest patrons of the arts in Renaissance Florence, collected the fruit and commissioned paintings of it. It became an elevated, fashionable pursuit for the aristocracy, who built elaborate orangeries alongside their picture galleries. In many ways, I am returning to that tradition.

As told to George Upton.

Vicente Todolí was director of the Tate Modern in London between 2003 and 2010. In addition to founding Fundació Todolí Citrus, he is currently artistic director of Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan and advises the director of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art.

Photography Suzie Howell

This is an extract from issue 22 of Port. To buy or subscribe, click here.

Port Issue 22

The Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Port – featuring writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf and David Hallberg, the greatest male dancer of his generation – is out now

Photography Mamadi Doumbouya

Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the foremost intellectual voices in the United States today. The author of Half of a Yellow SunPurple Hibiscus and Americanah – as well as of one of the most-viewed Ted talks ever, sampled by Beyoncé, no less – Adichie transcends the barriers between literature, art and music. For the cover story of Port issue 22, she met Catherine Lacey in Washington DC to discuss her extraordinary books, the complexity of recent gender movements and to give a hint at a next big project.

Photography Suzie Howell

Elsewhere in the magazine, we speak to 6a – the most exciting architecture practice in London; discuss Netflix and race with the director of Mudbound, Dee Rees; and travel to rural Netherlands to meet the pioneering Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. Also featured: The photographer Christopher Payne visits one of the largest flag factories in the US, and we uncover the secrets and beauty of space with astronaut Nicole Stott.

Photography Tereza Cervenova

In the fashion section, celebrated photographer Kalpesh Lathigra and Port‘s fashion director Dan May travel to Mumbai to shoot a 40-page story around the sprawling, seaside city; Scott Stephenson styles this season’s collections and Pari Dukovic shoots the greatest male dancer in the world, David Hallberg, wearing Saint Laurent.

Photography Kalpesh Lathigra

Commentary pieces come courtesy of Will Self, Lisa Halliday and Jesse Ball, as well as Samuel Beckett‘s seminal Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit. Highlights from the Porter include Tilda Swinton remembering her friend John Berger; an interview with the British artist Gavin Turk; foraging with chef Nicholas Balfe; and ex-director of the Tate Modern, Vicente Todolí, on his passion for citrus fruits.

To buy Port issue 22, click here.