Sunday, May 16, 2021

How Should I Collect?

This is a follow up to a Missive I wrote almost a dozen years ago. In fact, it was one of my first and it was titled, “What Should I Collect?”

You may be thinking, what’s the difference?  The difference is, once you have decided, what kind of art you want to collect, what are your goals in building your collection. If your interest lies in photography, do you wish to acquire Black and White photography or Color or both.  Do you want to concentrate on still lives, landscapes or portraits?  Are you concerned about how many images are in the edition?  Possibly, if the artist is well known and for one photo of which she only made ten prints. It might or might not be worth more than the one where she made hundred  prints. Is rarity important to you or is it the image or the photographer?

Oh, did you say it was for investment.  This is what I tell everyone to stay away from, yet many do it anyway.  We have collected in many fields where, by the time we were ready to sell, the value went down.  If you insist, however, you need to figure out (or is it guess) which artists will be remembered 25, 50 or 100 years from now.  Of course, Picasso comes to mind. In London recently the art market decalred “Picasso week”. It was  led by an auction sale and art dealers pulled out whatever they might have that related to the artist.  However, I consigned a Picasso drawing to a friend in London and after that week it still sits where it was! A family friend gave a Picasso ceramic plate to my wife and some years ago I looked it up and saw another version had brought $16,000!  I am sure it originally cost a few hundred.  But that is only for that specific artist and that specific plate.

Picasso working on one of his ceramic plates

Are you trying to collect a complete set? I just read a book by Leonard Lauder, eldest son of Estée Lauder. Leonard ran  the cosmetic company for many years. In the book he said he felt strongly that he had to collect the entire history of Cubism and he searched high and low for what he felt he needed to do so.  He did not bargain.  He could afford to buy what he wanted and did.  He finally donated the collection to the Metropolitan Museum where his concerted effort to acquire a chronological history of the period with noteworthy works of art by well-known artists were of particular value. 

Then do you want to collect only at auction, or at art fairs or from art dealers? From my point of view, you start at art fairs where you can get a taste of a little bit of everything and find dealers that you would feel comfortable with.  Then you visit the dealer in his or her gallery where they have more time to talk to you.  A collector once said to me it is the only place of business that you can walk into, where the owner will take a long time to talk with you and it won’t cost you a cent.  I also read that one dealer gave his prospective client a reading list!  When you have enough confidence in your knowledge of the field you wish to collect, only then venture into the art casino known as the auction house.

The European Fine Arts Fair 2019

Then, of course, comes the big moment.  You take the plunge and believe me it is scary!  You suddenly think, “What have I done?” Why did I spend this money on a piece of paper, canvas, or piece of wood etc.  I have probably told this story before, but it is pertinent here.  The first photographs I ever bought were a pair of still lifes by Edward Weston, a very important artist.  The dealer who we bought it from, Lee Witkin, a preeminant dealer of his time, believed that the important part of a photo purchase was the image.  Coming from a different art world we believed it had to be totally original.  The two still life photographs  we acquired were images  taken by Edward Weston but printed by his son Cole, a serious photographer in his own right. Still the images were most enjoyable and we kept them until the entire collection had to go.  Though we made a small profit in the intervening fifty  years, they did not bring nearly as much if the had been printed by Edward Weston.

My wife and I have been able to work together and make “discoveries” that we enjoyed for many years and learned a lot in the process. Collecting for us has been a very rewarding experience.  

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