Thursday, January 02, 2014

To Earn That Uppercase "C"

What does it take to make someone a "Collector" (with an uppercase C) of contemporary art?

It's more than merely having enough disposable income that you're able to spend some of it on art. That makes you a shopper.

A Collector of contemporary art is a participant in the dialog. A patron of the visual arts, who has the same obligations to the quality of our collective legacy as do artists, curators, critics, and dealers.

And so it's also more than merely having enough disposable income that you're able to spend some of it on an art consultant who makes all your purchase decisions for you. That makes you a check writer.

No, to become a Collector of contemporary art, one must join in the conversation oneself. One must form opinions, share those opinions (if only via one's acquisitions), defend those opinions (if only via not flipping artwork like penny stocks), and put one's money and growing expertise where one's mouth is. 

It's not a game for the faint of heart. It's not a status you can buy with money alone. In fact, as many have proven (such as the Vogels), it need not require all that much money at all. 

In short, it's predominantly a commitment. It's a commitment to work toward the collective goal of ensuring that the best art of our generation is preserved for posterity. 

I'll write that again: ensuring that the best art of our generation is preserved for posterity. 

It's not about how hip or young or smart you look standing in front of some work by one of the Top 10 Rising Art Stars of 2014. It's not about the glamorous dinners you get invited to or the celebrities you get to take your photo with. It's not about checking off some trophy wishlist, or being seen by all the right people paying more than everyone else in the room at an auction house. In short, it's not about you. At least, it's not about your ego.

It is about the position you take on the art being made today. And to earn that uppercase C, you have to take a position. You have to look around, develop a pretty good sense of what contemporary artists are making and why they feel it's important, then look some more, use your noggin, think about the future, imagine your great, great grandchildren and their contemporaries judging you (YOU!) based on the art collection you left behind, and then support the art that you're convinced is important to preserve. You'll notice, none of those steps are possible using only your ears.

More importantly, to earn that uppercase C in the most meaningful way, you must be of your time. You must push yourself to see past fads or trends, past fleeting popularity, and gain insight into what makes some works of art more significant than all the others out there you might acquire. You must become an authority (again, if only voicing it via your acquisitions). 

It won't be easy. Nearly everyone out there will disagree with this or that opinion you develop. So what? If you reflect on that a moment, you'll see that you too will disagree with this or that opinion of everyone else out there as well. The point isn't to be 100% right all the time, but to be committed to the art you support for reasons you can defend to yourself, when you're alone, looking at it in your home, and no one else is there to see you... (except perhaps those clever great, great grandchildren of yours, who've invented a looking-back-in-time machine and are smiling at the quiet confidence with which you're able to enjoy the art you've supported, because you put some time and thought into why you would acquire it for yourself, for your family and for all posterity).

See, it's easy. Now, as you were...


Anonymous Jeff Jahn said...

patron and collector as intersecting venn diagrams = Collector

1/02/2014 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger STEFAN HAUS said...

here are my two comments on the subject, from last year: ,

1/03/2014 04:44:00 AM  
Anonymous artisamore said...

The Collector rarely has disposable income. It' a contradiction in terms.

1/03/2014 10:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember when you record your record collection was your pride and joy? You had to have talent to get a recording contract. not to many bands to spoil a good thing.

You would meet someone new and the the first thing you would do was check out their record collection , that future friendship could depend on their record collection . you would try to reconcile in your mind what the fuck is going on , Ok you have a Molly Hatchet record and Blondies latest hmmm...

Visual Art in 2014 there is so much product a lot of it is good on a certain level but there is nothing underneath it , no foundation. you know its nice but who realy gives a fuck.

Another thing there are few Blue Chip artist out there that are realy folk artists outsiders.

They just don't know it.

If I was to build a art collection the first thing I would ask myself before purchasing something is will this art get played on the radio 50 yrs from now?

1/03/2014 05:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course it takes money more than anything to be a COLLECTOR, just like it takes critical hype to be an ARTSTAR. I totally agree with your comment regarding the importatn role of collectors both big and small - However, I find your emphasis upon capital C collectors as absurd becasue you can only be talking about the super wealthy (what kind of budget do you think it takes to acquire the best art of your generation?) Anyway, this reminds me of your "toughen up" type of comments to artists who complain becasue of the politics of the art world. Only now you are brow beating collectors for not being COLLECTORS, when much of this is out of their control. By the way, I have bought something (less than the finest art of my generation , although I did and still do like it) at your gallery in the past. Hey if I could afford to be a capital C collector I would be ED!

1/04/2014 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

what kind of budget do you think it takes to acquire the best art of your generation?

Well, "Herb Vogel never earned more than $23,000 a year," and while you have to adjust for inflation, that still suggests you can play a huge role as Collector without being super wealthy.

By the way, I have bought something (less than the finest art of my generation , although I did and still do like it) at your gallery in the past.

Thank you for supporting that artist and the gallery. It all contributes.

Only now you are brow beating collectors for not being COLLECTORS, when much of this is out of their control.

My critique isn't really aimed at those who try but have limited resources (although I would encourage them to participate in as meaningful a way as they can within their resources), so I reject your assessment that I'm brow beating anyone (and I haven't used all caps here...I reserve the all caps COLLECTOR status for a handful of die-hards I know and admire). My critique is aimed at those who buy with their ears and for reasons other than ensuring the best art of our generation is preserved. I certainly can't stop them from doing so. I'm merely drawing a distinction between them and the type of collectors I would like to see more of.

1/04/2014 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous J.V. said...

Interesting thought, Edward. I think you're making the case that collectors should think of themselves as art-historical figures, and behave as if the eyes of history are upon them, no less than galleries, artists and museums do. Which means, as you're so fond of saying in the context of galleries, that they must define and implement some kind of program for themselves.

1/04/2014 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Much more concise than I put it, but exactly right, J.V. Thanks.

1/04/2014 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hard not to get emotional about all of this stuff when the art world is full of so much political nonsense getting in the way of whats really imporatnt. I definitely agree that Collectors need critics, so I'm sorry that I got so emotional when I read this the first time. the notion of everyone operating under a well thought out program makes sense. Unfortunately, the bottom line program is what so many people operate under and that F's up the whole damn system, so its hard not to get frustrated about that. Thanks for taking the risks to talk about these issues, the fact that I get so emotional and you remain so calm and cool says a lot - how do you keep your cool when the system around you seems so focused on peripheral BS?

1/04/2014 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous virginia bryant said...

This is a great post. Thanks. Will Share.

1/05/2014 12:25:00 PM  
Anonymous markcreegan said...

Ed I agree with everything you lay out here and also with J.V's astute comment that the same internal qualities needed to be a Collector/Patron are also needed to be an artist, curator, etc.
My question is how does one gain these qualities? Living in a city where I can count the number of people with your stated criteria on ONE hand, its been sort of a frustrating situation being an artist and having run a gallery. I often think of it like I am a trained chef living in a city that either never eats or, if people do, they eat junk food only.
As an educator I know education is key. I like the above comment about record collectors. When I am teaching my college courses I often think of my class as the cool record shop where not all of the students are there to become musicians, but some hopefully will gain enough interest and knowledge that they will want to have art around them for the rest of their lives. Which is why art teachers should be enthusiastic about (at least some) contemporary art!

1/06/2014 03:57:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

My question is how does one gain these qualities?

Great question, Mark. Although rather than put it on the collector to "gain" these qualities (which is really all down to a personal commitment), I think it's helpful to zoom out a bit and think about how communities encourage this approach to collecting. And by communities, I mean local governments, museums, galleries, and even artists. It's generally not until there's a "culture" of Collecting in place that you can really see progress on the numbers of people who get involved at that level, I suspect.

In short, we've seen communities emerge with a stronger group of Collectors than one would expect given their population size and/or overall cultural priorities with regard to the visual arts. How has this happened? Mostly through a complex series of high-profile events and attention for those events. Humans are human after all, and nothing sparks their commitment to something like good old-fashioned human competition.

So it begins at the ground level, where artists stay true to their visions and eschew the worst (for them personally) demands of the market. Yes, that's a gamble, but if artists don't resist the total commodification of their practice, everything else is moot.

Then dealers and museums must encourage and/or reward the behaviors that earn one that uppercase C. It's easy as a dealer to ensure Collectors gain access first to the best work of one's artists. This is their reward for keeping the collective legacy in their sights. Also, museums can ensure more Collectors become Trustees, which may mean scaling back on expansion plans and such, but again, the quality of the collective legacy must outweigh this or that director's real estate ambitions. And local governments can make a commitment to supporting contemporary art and helping Collectors who wish to share their collections with the public or sponsor events that educate the public find the government's support in their efforts.

I think this is worthy of a post on its own, so I'll welcome any feedback to the basic ideas above.

1/06/2014 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, I assume you've seen this

so the question is, when does Collecting cross over into manipulating the art market for your own financial gain and gratification?

1/06/2014 09:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Much as everyone admires Herb and Dorothy, I have to wonder if they crossed the boundary between Collectors and Hoarders. Apparently their Collection was so vast that they had no space to view more than a fraction of it, and they even stored some of their art by pushing it under the bed and hanging it from the ceiling.

At a screening of "H and D" a few years ago, I spoke to Herb, then confined to a wheelchair, and mentioned that I too had a small collection (small "c") of about 25 pieces. His response: "Oh, that's not much."

1/07/2014 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I like the sentiments/values expressed in preserving for posterity that which one (with big pockets) thinks worthy. As a ten year old I know I was influenced by original art work that Arkell (Beechnut)collected and preserved which otherwise a poor child in rural New York would
have no chance to see. I would assume far wealthier Collectors had advisors galore and so there are at least two main issues here
and both involve a degree of gatekeeping and culture shaping as well as altruism.

1/07/2014 10:23:00 PM  
Anonymous MendesD said...

The best art of this generation doesn´t seems to be with this collectors. Several artworks that this people have aren´t art.

1/09/2014 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous J.V. said...

I went back and re-read Adam Lindemann's book, Collecting Contemporary. Everyone says pretty much the same thing. To become a collector, buy something. Which sounds to me like a combination of "collectors collect" and "practice makes perfect".

1/09/2014 02:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have to be born with good eyes and then develop them by looking at copious amounts of art thru history to present. Were talking thousands of hours .

Any great collection has some geometry in it, painting or sculpture. You have to be careful, lots of artists who do geometry are geometric frauds.

1/09/2014 04:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But who is it that is awarding this "uppercase C"? and does a genuine collector really want to be highlighted that way?

1/16/2014 07:24:00 AM  

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