Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Invest in Art. Yes, Artists, I Mean You.

Roberta Smith's review of The Phillips Collection's current exhibition (The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America) reminded me of something I had wanted to blog about when I saw this exhibition at the Hammer last summer, before a truly brutal heat wave evaporated it from my brain. Now that the show's on the East Coast (don't miss it!), and my memory's been jogged, I'll try to reconstruct it.

The exhibition is taken from the phenomenal collection built by artists Dreier and Duchamp. "Who?" you ask. Roberta explains:

As dynamic artist duos go, the pairing of Katherine S. Dreier and Marcel Duchamp does not have the familiar ring of Picasso and Braque, or Johns and Rauschenberg. But it should, and “The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America” at the Phillips Collection here may begin to make it so.

The show presents about 150 objects, all from the amazing 1,000-work art collection that Dreier assembled with DuchampÂ’s help and gave to the Yale University Art Gallery in 1941. It was organized by Yale and had its premiere at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in a larger version. Rife with unfamiliar names, this exhibition is both a WhoÂ’s Who and a WhoÂ’s That? of modernism that can change the way you see it and history in general.
As impressive as this collection is for its historical and aesthetic value, it is also impressive for what it represents in terms of self-confidence and, ultimately, self-promotion. As Modern artists of reasonable but nowhere near astronomical means, Dreier and Duchamp's investment in the art they believed in stands as an example of putting one's money where one's mouth is and having that pay off big time.

I'm not just talking about financial pay off here, although there are precedents dating back to Alexander the Great's time (when the emperor's official portrait artist, Appelles, who convinced the felloProtegenes'tegenes's townfolk to cough up a good deal more money for a painting by offering to steal it away for a price that stunned them, set the since oft-repeated trend of increasing the value the public placed on art by treating a huge price as if it were a bargain). There's a conservation pay off as well, in that even the most skeptical of authorities must look to any collection of this scope as at least potentially important and worthy of protecting. There are also karma, promotional, and enjoyment pay-offs to collecting the work you believe in as an artist. Most folks who pay attention to such matters understand well that artists see and recognize important work long before the rest of us do, and I always look toward what artists cogauge to guage their sense of things.

"But I can't amass a collection like that," you're saying. "I hardly have room in my studio and home for my own art and barely make my rent." I don't doubt that, but if art is important enough to make the sacrifices that put you in that financially challenging situation, isn't it important enough to save up for or, better yet, trade for? Nothing will convey to the rest of the world how serious you are about your own art more than how serious you are about the art of your time.

But speaking of your own art, don't forget to collect that too. Many artists who are beginning to have success and manage to (finally) get a waiting list often learn too late that they must keep some of their own work. As a dealer, I can tell you there is enormous pressure by collectors to secure a piece by certain artists, and that translates into pressure by dealers on artists to cough up anything available at all, but I tell our artists to resist that pressure and keep back something from each series for themselves. Something good. Why this is important becomes clear when (God willing) the work is shattering auction records, but it's also important before that happens. Artists should be their own best conservators and historians (believe me, your biographer will thank you).


Blogger kurt said...

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10/24/2006 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Why should a producer have to be a consumer?

Have to? No one has to. I think there are advantages to it though.

Collecting makes one a de facto advocate. For work that's pushing the envelope (i.e., challenging), setting a precedent by collecting it yourself will demonstrate to would-be collectors that they can too.

It's not a matter of taste either. It's a matter of demonstrating its importance.

And isn't the tendency of artists to trade work just part of the "ambition network" used to get ahead, to augment artistic merit with networking skills?

I know artists who collect work by other artists they'll never meet because they love it, so no, it's not just part of the "ambition network." It is a passion. And passions are contagious.

10/24/2006 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Good post Edward. I have a reputation for selling anything not tied down. My wife is always insisting that I hold on to work, just as your suggesting. Over the years we have worked out a system, when something moves her I sell it to her! The price is negotiable and since I am forever indebted to her actual money never changes hand. As for buying the work of other artists, trading and barter is how our collection grew. Since we're in the loop we also know where the deals are, all around the country.

10/24/2006 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger That Broad said...

I am surprised at the cynicism of the remark that trading work among artists is part of the ambition network. I have a great collection of small works that I have acquired mostly through trades, and I agreed to trade because I had a personal relationship with the other artist, liked their work enough to part with some of my own and enjoy having art in my home that wasn't all made by ME!

10/24/2006 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous J.T. Kirkland said...

If artists don't have to collect art, why should anyone? For an artist to expect someone to part with thousands of dollars for their work, but then to be unwilling to at least trade with another artist is sad. We all should be collectors of art. And I stress ALL.

This coming from a young artist (28) whose collection totals about 100 pieces at this point.

10/24/2006 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger kurt said...

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10/24/2006 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger kurt said...

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10/24/2006 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

appreciation and collecting have nothing to do with making art.

I wouldn't disagree, expect to point out that much of what makes art relevant/interesting in a contemporary sense is its participation within a dialog, and that appreciation is merely a product of being actively involved in that dialog.

Even that (being involved in the dialog) isn't essential to making art, obviously, but if an artist is involved, and believes the dialog is important (the way many Modern artists did), it helps to support that dialog in the most concrete way one can, no?

10/24/2006 03:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...


Oh, wow, I like that.
Where ?!! Where??!!

Yoohoo, Bruce !!! Bruuucceeee !!!!
Yes, you !!! Nauman !!!

Do you hear meeeee ???!!!!!!!!

Youuu--Hoooo ????

Cedric Caspesyan

10/24/2006 11:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Hey I see 8 times more shows than Mr. collector.

The only reason I look bored and ignorant in galleries is because I've seen it 7 times already.

No big smile, no warm hand, of course that must mean I'm not doing anything good for art and that I'm art's worst participant.

Hey, I even laugh at Dia.
"Still keeping up that old broken kilometer up, heh?" Haha.

At least saatchi knows how to sell his crap back,

Cedric Caspesyan

10/24/2006 11:39:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You want a bagel to go with that cup of steaming cynicism you're drinking there Cedric? :-)

If you don't like any of the work you see, then, duh, don't buy it.

My point is that if you do believe in what you see, then, duh, support it.

That's all.

10/25/2006 08:20:00 AM  
Blogger hlowe said...

I am an artist and I collect art.
I barter, buy and beg.
Also, I rarely let go of my favorite pieces, or I put a very high price on them and I have never regreted doing so. It's not so much that I don't want to sell them, but I like having them around for various reasons.

On another note: This show was extraordinary. The Lotte Reininger
shadow play film alone is worth seeing.

10/25/2006 09:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

My point is that if you like the art, Beware.

You might regret it in 3 years. '-)


10/25/2006 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You might regret it in 3 years. '-)

Like any other choice in life, though, no?

10/25/2006 10:25:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

My solution to the artist/collector imbalance is to require art grads, at least BFAs and MFAs, to sign contracts that part of keeping their degree is either to continue producing art or to purchase art. This would be the equivalent of the refresher courses attorneys and doctors are expected to take to maintain their credentials.

10/25/2006 11:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Basically I'm saying that art is not always a good investment and when it is sometimes the art is already pricey and reserved for.

Someone with a lot of money in their hands is able to buy art without risks but I wouldn't encourage a young artist to buy the little pieces they can afford (though friendly trades are welcomed) with the promiss that something will come out of it.

I seriously do no think that how engaged one can be about art discourse should be judged by someone's collection, but more by how people participate in art's criticism, be it through participating in symposiums, magazines, or festivals, means which are settled for discourses, or simply show their faces in other gallery shows than theirs (and talk with artists when they can).

It's the old dichotomy again about art being an experience that you can discuss about, or an object that you are willing to buy.

Yes, it's great if you got in your home a little conceptual sketch by Koons but to me that never beats the final realized project, and that final project is not necessarely something that can be bought easily, and is probably best bought by devoted collectors experienced with showing the work around.

Hanging the small Koons conceptual sketch on your wall for me is just a detail, nothing that can give one any advantage in discourse when comes the time to meet the real meal (say, at Guggenheim).

I agree that artists should not all sell their works as soon as they are desired. Wait til
you are sure your friend artist neighbor is not able to buy it before selling it. That is usually a good sign. ;-) (haha...I'm evil today, it'll pass)

Cedric Caspesyan

10/25/2006 02:13:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

...to require art grads, at least BFAs and MFAs, to sign contracts that part of keeping their degree is either to continue producing art or to purchase art.

When they find that their degrees are worthless, they may decide to forfeit them and use that extra money to pay their rent :)

Actually, I realize you're joking, ml, but do we really want people who aren't driven to create work producing it anyway because of some obligation? It's not like there's a shortage. Might be better to take the money that used to go to the NEA, and put it into something like the program they have for farmers. Grads could sign up for a monthly stipend in exchange for not producing art. It would weed out some of the people who are making art for the wrong reasons.

Regarding artists collecting, the artists whose work I own have no more money to spend on art than I do. Everything in my collection is the result of a trade, and I have no intention of ever selling it.

10/25/2006 04:19:00 PM  
Anonymous ml said...


LOL: That's a great idea - paying people not to do art work. Unfortunately those of us who do it for reasons other than money would once again be left out.

I guess what I was trying to say is that those who truly love art will continue supporting it, even when they aren't producing it themselves.


The idea of buying artwork for investment purposes is not in my vocabulary. The great collections were not built for investment, they built out of passion.

And as for regretting a purchase three years later, all I can say if you grow visually, that's a good thing. Artwork you've outgrown makes a great gift to others. And there's a secondary market.....

10/25/2006 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What comes to mind?

I think Roberta (Smith, wife of VV Jerry Saltz) of The Times is worried for/about her job or something. So many new names writing reviews and "culture" articles makes you wonder. Old alliances are breaking up. A new order is coming.

She seems distracted and her stories/reviews are the most un-generous and off since I can remember. Her obituary for Mrs. Marcia Tucker was pathetic. This woman single handedly (Dear Marcia, yes, very much alone) opened up the art world to so much more. From 10 or 20 names tops you had a Decade Show that anticipated all these biennials and funky fairs. You started thinking in the hundreds and more global. The simple, mostly white male dialogue of the city became a beautiful and diverse chorus. New York started looking outside its ass, in other words. After she did it took a while but everything/body else followed. She was in the future, advanced. Yes. She did so much more. I guess that only those in the margins, looking from outside noticed. She was a great woman that very soon history will forget. So unfair. Shame Mrs. Smith. Shame on you. You know the history better than all of us and still you choose to minimize a great human being and another woman. I will never forget

Thank you Marcia. From the bottom of my heart I thank you. Many found their voices and an audience because of you. Specially women!

Katherine S. Dreier was a visionary, a fundamental part of the history of modern art in the United States. Her talent, taste and money made much of what we study now possible. Why so little about her and so much about the patrician artist Duchamp. She made Duchamp. I bet my head on that.

Do you follow?

I don’t know why you women allow this to happen! Why do you take it!!!???

You have to stop it. Enough!

Wake up! This is the 21st century! Another Century! Take it!

Stop allowing whomever from taking the credit for your accomplishments!!!


P.S. Ironic isn't it? The husband says differently (I wonder...)but the real power stays the course.

10/26/2006 03:25:00 AM  

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