"Painting a Collection" (or Collecting as Dialog) Open Thread
Warhol is credited with saying (and I paraphrase): The most sincere form of art appreciation is writing a check. Of course Andy would think that---being an artist---but I'm not so sure that's as true today as it was when Andy offered it. The "art" of collecting has evolved since then, and writing a check doesn't seem as sincere in some ways as it had been. When I start to think about how it's changed, the parallel that keeps coming to mind is the practice of fishing. Collectors used to spend the time getting to know the work, the artist, the movement, etc., much as a person with his/her fishing pole had to learn what weight of the line is needed, what bait is best, and what conditions are most ideal to land that big one. Collecting for some folks today is more akin to trawling. Sure you have to toss out all that seaweed and release the occassional dolphin, but the sheer volume of your haul guarantees something in your net will be worth the effort.
I know that's not how dealers are supposed to talk, but if my reason for opening up shop was merely to move merchandise, I'd be selling digital cameras or iPods or whatever. What I love most about running a gallery is the dialog. That's why I was delighted to read the profile in the NYTimes today of the Herberts:
When Anton and Annick Herbert began collecting art in this medieval Flemish city [Ghent, Belgium] more than 30 years ago, he was a textile machinery salesman and she worked in the fashion business. Now, as the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art devotes two-thirds of its space to showing what they have acquired, the Herberts still hardly fit the conventional profile of collectors.Of course I'm not meaning to suggest that, in comparison, all of today's younger collectors are less sincere; the Herberts were able to amass a good portion of their collection when collecting was easier. Today those collectors who wait until they have befriened an artist who has not yet gained fame won't be able to afford the work if it's as good as most works in the Herberts' collection. But there's something that rings so true in the Herberts' approach that I can't help but wish there was a way to inject more of the dialog into the overall process. And yes, that does seem to mean slowing it down:
Reflecting the collection's standing in the contemporary art world, the show's opening this month in Barcelona, Spain, attracted leading European museum directors and gallery owners, as well as many artists whose works the Herberts have bought. Yet they have never sought public attention and have exhibited part of their collection only twice before, in 1984 and 2000.
Further, they are not rich. True, they are also not poor, but they neither inherited nor earned a fortune. Rather, they worked to buy art. And since they acquired works by experimental artists they befriended who had not yet gained fame, they were able to build up a collection tightly focused on artists of their own generation.
"I've always said it's very bad for a collector to be rich, because he can buy anything; he can buy badly," Mr. Herbert, 67, said in an interview in the loft of the converted factory here where he and his wife are usually surrounded by their collection. "I don't think you need to spend huge amounts of money. The challenge is to achieve high results with little spending."
"It's a slow process," Mr. Herbert said. "Every year, two or three times, we discuss what the collection should be and what it should not be. Finally, we decided that if we have Mike Kelley, we absolutely need Baldessari. We also make an imaginary collection, 10 or 15 artists who are not in our collection but in our head. Then you see Sigmar Polke in it."Indeed that's a increasingly common complaint these days. Still, with the market as hot as it is, how can the budding collector with a modest budget and not too much free time slow down the process and increase the opportunities to engage in a dialog? If slowing everything down doesn't seem realistic, perhaps a more direct route is the ticket. Here are three quick ideas:
Unsurprisingly, then, they also see collecting as an art. "That's what Duchamp said," Mr. Herbert said later over lunch, "You can 'paint a collection' together by choosing your works and bringing them into a context. We try to do that, and I think that in Barcelona you see a kind of vision of a whole."
In the current art market, though, they feel like loners. "We think that today the art world is too art-fair-minded, too money-minded, too market-minded," Mr. Herbert said.
Open Studio tours: Whether at a local art school or some artist studio district, such tours are generally organized to offer quick surveys of lots of studios (and possibly tip you off to emerging trends), as well as an opportunity to engage the artists you find intriguing in a quick and painless conversation and see where that leads. Depending on where you live, you can probably learn where and when such tours are available through a local arts council or school. UPDATE: As Mr. Gursky rightly notes, open studios of undergraduate artists should be understood in the context that what you're seeing is often very different work from what this artist will be doing by the time they tuck that MFA under their belt. I think you can still enjoy undergraduate open studio tours (and possibly find work you love), but keep this in mind.
Private Studio tours: Many younger collectors don't know that your friendly neighborhood art dealer is often very happy to take you to the studios of his/her artists. It can take a while to organize, so ask well in advance, but if the open studio tour seems too unstructured, a guided tour might be for you. There generally will be an assumption that you're looking to buy if you request studio visits, but that's easy enough to clarify if you're just starting to look (just mention that you like to take your time).Blogs: OK, so you've already figured out that you can read about the art world and see images on blogs and add to the conversation, but why not start your own (Blogger.com is free!!)? I'm not sure you won't attract a good deal of artists who are very sure their work is perfect for your collection despite all evidence to the contrary, but if you post images of your recent acquisitions and write about what interests you, eventually (through the magic of google and links) you might start up conversations with artists whose work you love but wouldn't have found otherwise.
Feel free to offer other ideas for how collectors without tons of free time or cash can engage in a deeper dialog with artists they like...but note: suggesting they just call you and come to your studio isn't exactly what I'm looking for here ;-)
UPDATE: Very happy to see that a collector in Indiana has run with the idea of bringing the dialog about his collection to a wider audience. Show him some love.