Comments about Collecting Criteria

2006

In my experience there tend to be three major tendencies in collecting.

First, and happily foremost, is that of the impassioned private collector. This is the pioneer and risk-taker, putting his or her money where the heart lies. Such people buy what they like because they are personally moved by what they see. They buy for the sheer love of the thing. As with any developing and ongoing path, this practitioner is also on a learning curve. It isn’t a matter of criteria, so much as an evolving vision of the art and its possibilities. Growing, progressing, changing, the collector moves deeper into his subject. Yesterday’s treasures may remain so forever, they may also wind up on the trash heap. This is as it should be. The process of education inevitably raises the bar, and the discernment of the buyer becomes more evident. Sometimes this happens in real life. Sometimes not.

As an artist, I would say the only valid criteria is to buy what you love because you love it. Oversimplified? Maybe. But the other criteria, which inevitably follow, are a downer.

The second major collector type buys not necessarily what he loves, but with a view toward having some of everything, a view toward completeness. This is apt to be a matter of power and prestige, and the original motivation of passion may gradually wither.

The third major type is the art investor. Buying art as a means of long term financial gain. Real estate, the stock market, art. Apparently they go together in the definition of a fulfilled and successful life. As an artist, I admit to disliking this motivating factor above all, and yet I recognize that I am inextricably woven into the plot. The artist whose work is purchased because it is a sound long-term investment is an artist who has truly arrived, who is at the pinnacle of power as a living artist. All artists dream to arrive there, and some actually do.

What makes art worthy of long term sound investment? Agreement in the marketplace. This is often – but not necessarily – based on the quality and originality of the art.

And then there are the museums and their collecting behavior. These are occasionally brave and act from the heart, especially the smaller, more idiosyncratic ones. There are several, and we have been privileged to work with some of them. But for the most part museums are profoundly conservative institutions, the more so the bigger they are. This is understandable. A museum is a showcase of culture, and culture is pretty much what the people say it is. The majority of museums outside the United States are run on taxpayers’ funds, and thus are obliged to reflect the taxpayers’ perceived majority’s tastes. When they don’t, they usually get holy hell for their pains! Risk aversion is endemic to the system.

A museum does not participate in the creation of a cultural vision (artists of all stripes do that), but rather acts to confirm perception of what that vision is. Thus does the V & A have a Chihuly in the window. In this respect a museum is a mausoleum. But it is also a library. Both are critical components of a cultural whole, and museums everywhere struggle with these competing forces in the choices they make. We feel great sympathy for the work of the museums, and in an odd way as artists we inevitably are bound up in their tasks – especially when we are successful! The museum, in it’s own right, follows all the paths the private collector does, but on the heels of the collector, following his lead, and seeking security in the ensuing consensus generated over time.

Monica Guggisberg with Philip Baldwin
Paris, January 2005