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October 5, 2009 Art Thoughts No Comments
"Stone free" a 2002 work by Brian Smith in the Microsoft Collection

"Stone Free" a 2002 work by Brian Smith in the Microsoft Collection

What belongs in an art collection?

The mission and direction of Microsoft’s art collection emphasizes emerging and mid-career artists from around the world.  The Brian Smith seen above belongs to that collection.  When cosmetics heir, Ronald S. Lauder bought Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch- Bauer, he did so because the painting complimented his already existing collection of German and Austrian fine and decorative arts.  Similarly, when the American billionaire Eli Broad and his wife Edythe began collecting art, they did so with a very specific goal in mind – to assemble one of the premiere contemporary art collections in the world (Broad Art Foundation).  One does not need to have created Fortune 500 companies in order to become a collector.  What one does need, however, is a sense of vision.

"Adele Bloch-Bauer" by Gustav Klimt 1907 in Lauder's Neue Galerie, NYC

"Adele Bloch-Bauer" by Gustav Klimt 1907 in Lauder's Neue Galerie, NYC

A sense of vision is what separates the art collector from the art buyer.  When exactly this subtle metamorphosis happens is impossible to pinpoint.  This is a personal journey which involves crossing the bridge from an emotional reaction (I like it! I love it!) jump-starting the purchase catalyst to a more intellectually fueled catalyst (I love it!  Now who is the artist and how does it fit in with the rest of my pieces?).  This is not necessarily a Newtonian apple-fell-on-my-head revelation.  For most, the evolution from art buyer to art collector is a winding path in which one stops to read, to listen, to discuss, to look, to grow… until, consciously or unconsciously, the art you buy begins to form into a collection.

Who is a collector anyway and what is a collection?  A collector is someone who has an innate drive to amass.  No one tells the collector to collect, much in the same way no one tells a reader to read.  A collection is a grouping that is tied together by some sort of commonality – be it theme, period, country.  The commonality of a collection is usually driven by individual taste and interests.  The books we read tend to share similar themes; the places we visit tend to have common “attractions”; the clothes we buy define our style (or lack of it).

So what happens when you find yourself liking art more than you realized?  What happens when you start reading art magazines, begin visiting various galleries (never restrict yourself to just one or two), begin talking to gallery directors, begin going to art shows?  Chances are your tastes and interests eventually evolve into a well-defined vision driven by a more discerning and informed outlook.

If you find yourself buying one piece because you love it, that’s fine.  So you buy a second and maybe a third and suddenly you’re reading, listening, discussing, looking, growing –  and really it isn’t any more complicated.  Most importantly, you don’t need unlimited funds.  Begin by focusing on what you like, expand your knowledge by reading and talking to people in the field, most importantly get a feel for living with art by inviting art into your home.  Many galleries carry works by emerging artists.  Many galleries can break-up payments.   Many museums “lend” art out for a nominal monthly payment.  In New York City, the Artist of the Month Club by Invisible Exports makes collecting not only affordable (membership is U.S.$2, 400.00 for the year) but also fun.  Every month, a new work (aprox. 17″ x 22″) is sent to the collector.  The collector never knows what they will get, but the works are chosen by different curators and are supposed to represent what the curators consider “vital and long lasting”.  By the end of the year, you own twelve new works by artists you may or may not have heard of.

Someone once said that collecting is like a voyage of self-discovery.  Like any voyage, you have to start.

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