Friday, February 29, 2008

Why Are We Proud of Our Local Collectors?

I had an epiphany of sorts just now. An honest to goodness epiphany about something that seems so obvious in hindsight (is it a true epiphany if it's already widely known to others?). We have discussed the seeming penchant many collectors have for collecting regionally before (which I attributed to patriotism, but really should have just seen as local pride, which isn't necessarily the same thing). But in reading two reviews of a new book on collecting, something else...something new...dawned on me.

Jori Finkel (whom we adore, by way of a full disclosure) has reviewed for
Art+Auction the new book Great Collectors of Our Time: Art Collecting Since 1945 by James Stourton. You can read her review on In her review, however, she notes:
American connoisseurs get little play compared with their European counterparts.
Fair enough, I thought; James Stourton is the chairman of Sotheby’s U.K.

Then, however, looking for other reviews of this book, I found one by John Martin Robinson, in which, reviewing the Stourton book with another on collecting, he noted:
Both these books are dominated by the American connection, over half of each being devoted to transatlantic collecting in the 20th century.
Both reviewers see an imbalance here. The source of the stark difference of opinion as to which way the book is slanted, though, seems obvious. Finkel, you see, is writing for an American-based magazine, whereas Robinson's review appears on the UK's Spectator website.

Robinson's other subject (a book by John Harris that "paints a hilarious picture of the earlier 20th-century trade in historic interiors and architectural bric-a-brac when ‘period rooms’ were a must-have in American houses and art museums, though most of the latter have now been de-accessioned as fake") does suggest to me that perhaps his reading of the Stourton book was a bit more influenced by his choice to review the two titles together (i.e., his structural need for a parallel in the quoted sentence above perhaps led to an overstating of the balance in the Stourton book), but not having read the books, all I'm left to work with here is the fact that an American review and a UK review had virtually opposite takes on whether or not American collectors were equally represented. This suggests a regional bias to me, similar to the bias in buying art.

But why?

I mean I understand the associations that play part in feeling one should support one's local artists. We are a competitive species by nature, and we love our champions to be home grown. A local artist who rises through the ranks reflects well on his/her community. I get that. But it had truly never dawned on me that there was a similarly widespread association with great private collections. I mean, I get that New Yorkers are as proud of the Met as Parisians are of the Louvre, but those are open to the public and reflect on their cities.

What I'm getting at here is that as much as people love to grumble and gossip about the Broad or Rubell or Saatchi collections, the locals (who know about them) in Los Angeles, Miami, and London are likely more than a little proud that such collections were assembled by one of their own. Again, this seems obvious to me now, but it had not been something I realized before.
Here again, though, the question becomes why?

I mean with artists it seems a bit clearer to me. Often a successful artist has a rags-to-riches or someone "beating the odds" sort of biography that warms our hearts, even if we're not particularly interested in the arts. Do we assume the same for great private collectors? Is there simply an appreciation for the work and achievement a great private collection represents? Or is there a genetic component to favoring anything superior that comes from where I come from? Help me here.

Labels: Collecting


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think being proud of local collections (or local anything) is a riposte to people from the big town who think we're all hicks from the sticks. New York had to defend itself against Paris in the last century, and everywhere else in the US has to defend itself against NY. Coming from San Francisco, I have a feeling about great collections (actually it's mostly about artists, not collections, but more broadly about culture in general) I wouldn't exactly call it pride, but it's more like evidence proving to those ignorant people who think there is no culture west of the Hudson river that there is.


2/29/2008 09:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect, Edward, that it's also more personal. I have found that I appreciate art more when I know more about the artist (not always, but often enough to note it). So I tend to collect art by artists I know because of that broader understanding. It's not necessarily regionalism as much as it is supporting your network. The wider the network, the wider the circle to buy from.

2/29/2008 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 9:43,
Sort of the "Think Globally, Art Locally" concept?


2/29/2008 09:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, that was supposed to say "Think Globally, Act Locally", like the bumper sticker, but the mistake works fine too.


2/29/2008 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

On the topic of this thread- I think for the local population, if you live near something great- you can go see it and take advantage of it- if not, you have to make a piligrimmage to travel and see it. And like anything about contemporary art- it may be tough to rally support for the begninning phases of a collection but if it turns out to be a success- then the locals will champion it. One great collector you never hear enough about is Rene di Rosa-

2/29/2008 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It's not necessarily regionalism as much as it is supporting your network.

That makes sense for supporting artists, but for favoring collectors? I guess I was assuming that the collectors one would favor would be those whose taste best matched yours (and perhaps that's connected to what you're saying here), but given my choice between some of the best collections in the world, I'd have to list only 2 from New York in my top 5 (and probably at positions 4 & 5). Then again, my "network" is arguably broader than just New York, so again, perhaps you've nailed it.

2/29/2008 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

There are as many reasons for collecting art as there are for making art. Some might believe they need a global selection of say, monochrome painting. Others might like sculptures of fish. Still others want only work by red headed women living below Fourteenth Street.

Historically the Germans are the best collectors, and I know that a lot of them stay under the radar. In troubled times, being known as someone with a multi-million dollar collection can draw unwanted attention.

If nationalism is such a prime force why are so many locals picking up the New Chinese and Leipzig School artists?

2/29/2008 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger andreamgs said...

I suppouse that the fact that we are not anarchists helps to understand this.
We have nations, so as you said, is a natural instinct, but I think that it might also exists more reasons.
I don't really know about collectors in USA, but in my case, since I am Spaniard, I would support our collectors because in general, at the end, they usually hand over their collectios to a public institution, or they create their own (like Baron Thyssen)wich is good for the community

2/29/2008 12:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

andreamgs said pretty much what I was thinking - the main reason to have good feelings about local private collections is that some of them usually, eventually wind up in local public collections.

(Hence the disappointment in LA when Mr. Broad made his recent announcement, although much of his collection will apparently be on view there.)

There are other (minor) reasons to feel good about fine local collections: you might get a chance to visit them, especially if you're a member of a museum group which takes such tours; if the local collectors often buy from local galleries, that can support a more vigorous local gallery scene; and if you are a collector yourself, having other collectors around to compare notes with can be stimulating.

2/29/2008 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger bgfa said...

I think there is another aspect to this. Good, strong collectors in a specific area may or may not restrict their acquisitions to local artists, or even show their collections publicly, but many of them do provide support to local institutions in one way or another, either as donors, patrons, or outright museum founders.

For all Eli Broad has done in Los Angeles, helping to found MOCA, BCAM, support of LACMA and the lending collection that travels the world, it's a small matter that he won't actually leave his art to the museum. They now have a fantastic exhibition pavilion, and enormous reach.

The history of all US cities with significant cultural depth depends on this type of patronage, from the high to the low (most of the collectors at my gallery are middle class collectors, ordinary people who simply love art).

Oh, and by the way., I just noticed the "Hussein" name change. Good for you.

3/02/2008 04:40:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I love the Clevland Browns, don;t you?

3/03/2008 11:49:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts just had a major exhibit of works from local collections. I think you're definitely on to something, Ed.

3/04/2008 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Miles said...

I don't think it is a matter of pride but of local civic duty. If you want something to live, you must feed it. If a community wants culture, it must participate in it. That means seeing theater (not just when you visit NYC), or buying art from your local art gallery, not just from the big city galleries.

3/04/2008 02:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No man is a prophet in his own land.Ergo, success in your own land means you beat the odds. You somehow rose above the petty, the jealous and the sniping.

3/06/2008 03:10:00 PM  

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