by Rome Celli
Reprinted with permission from Art House Press | Copyright 2018
There are probably as many ways to collect art as there are collectors. Collectors bring unique goals, methodologies, biases, predilections, responses, backgrounds and budgets to their endeavor. Some art collectors are mindful while others end up with a collection more‐or‐less by accident. Many collectors discover the theme(s) in their collection long after they’ve begun buying art. Most collectors – including me – buy the work so they can enjoy it in their most intimate space: home. Only one of the people I interviewed for this article told me they think of themselves as art collectors even though all have purchased countless works of art over time. I wasn’t surprised. Most people who own art don’t self‐identify as collectors. They told me they buy art for personal reasons as though actual collectors are motivated strictly by calculated financial, intellectual, professional or academic interests. This isn’t surprising either. Not many mere mortals can live up to the stereotypical image of Art Collector.
When the average person thinks of collector‐types they conjure one or more of the classic caricatures: Those select few with money‐to‐burn piling up expensive art objects alongside other extravagant hobbies; investors with hermitically sealed storehouses of art treasures ready to cash in or pay out when the auction gavel falls; obsessive art hunters armed with tightly clenched lists of works prized for their incremental contribution to a body of related collected works; social climbers who slather their lives with high profile artworks to impress. Put another way - most people don’t think they own enough art, spend enough on art or purchase art for the right reasons to be considered a REAL collector. However, if you ask me, whether or not you are willing to admit it, if you own original artwork, you are a collector in some form or fashion.
I have collected for more than thirty years. The objects in my collection were chosen because they stimulate, challenge or provoke me. They engage my aesthetic sensibilities. They evoke meaningful memories and deep emotions. Most also bring to mind my relationship with the artist. I believe the objects I own have something important to say that will be revealed over a lifetime.
Artwork may be found throughout my home and office. Pieces are placed on horizontal and vertical surfaces where I can experience them. Some pieces are set carefully aside nearby so that they may be rotated into view when I’m ready to re‐engage, while others are taken out of rotation when other works call. A work of art rarely remains in one spot for long. When I move a work – even from one area to another in the same room ‐ it comes to life again and the relationship is refreshed. These works are not decorations; they are part of my everyday existence.
I have many rules around collecting, too many to chronicle in detail here. I’ll share one rule: I never buy a work of art I see for the first time unless I am familiar with the artist and I have seen their work over time. I process slowly. It takes time for me to build a relationship with the work; to find out if it resonates. I usually like to meet the artist in person at their studio or wherever their work is on display so I can get a sense of the artist’s methods and ideas. (Sadly, some artists don’t respond to my inquiry and that makes it hard for me to feel comfortable purchasing a work of art.) In addition, I’ll also do some research. If the work stays with me, I’ll go back to see it at least one more time before I make a final decision. Occasionally, I find myself drawn to the artist’s vision, but I’m not ready to buy – for whatever reason. Then the artist goes on my wish list. The process from first contact to completing a purchase can take anywhere from a few days to a few years. On the other hand, when I know the artist and I am familiar with their work I can move quickly.
If you are an artist reading this article, I encourage you to respond promptly to all inquiries. Don’t be afraid to engage non‐artists. Invite them into your world. Share your ideas and your passion freely. You don’t have to “sell” the work. The more people who know about you and your work, the more they will appreciate it. Appreciation for your work will lead to sales. Don’t be discouraged along the way. Each inquiry, each interaction, is a new opportunity.
For the past several weeks – at the request of this magazine ‐ I’ve talked to other art collectors about their collections, why they collect and how they collect. I also asked them if they had any advice for emerging collectors. The following is what I learned.
Amanda Chestnut is decisive.
She doesn’t have to linger long in an exhibition before she knows which pieces rise above the others. She has a trained eye resulting from advanced degrees including an MFA from the Visual Studies Workshop. Beyond her formal education, she has on‐the‐ground experience as an arts administrator and years as a practicing artist – added together, you get a well trained eye. Her professional life and her private life are suffused with art. It’s always on her mind. She doesn’t have to work too hard to find opportunities to experience art let alone to be exposed to art buying opportunities. Her art acquisition budget is modest and her wall space is limited, so new pieces have to be pretty strong to make it into her collection.
Amanda grew up in Binghamton, New York ‐ about 60 miles south east of Rochester where she currently lives and works. She’s of African and European descent. Hang around her long enough and you’ll probably hear her refer to herself as a “little Italian grandma.” She has a big welcoming smile and a compelling personality. She speaks with confidence and conviction. It’s easy to be drawn into a deep and often intellectual conversation with her.
It’s rare for Amanda to pro‐actively seek out new work for her collection. She tends to see exhibitions during the normal course of her life. When she sees a particularly strong work by an artist she respects that is priced in her range she’ll take out her wallet. On occasion she’ll trade works with another artist. A personal connection to the artist is nice but it’s not required. The work needs to stand on its own and because space in her home is so limited, it must be “wall worthy”.
Her collection doesn’t have a particular focus in one area or another, one medium or another or one style or another. When a new work comes into her collection it isn’t usually installed right away. Once a work is hung it tends to stay where she puts it. So, she’s careful before she starts measuring and hammering. Amanda’s advice to emerging collectors: Trust your judgement. Don’t buy a piece of art because you expect it to go up in value. Buy art because you are engaged by the work, because you are provoked by the work and because you are inspired by the work. If you do this, you will never regret your decision.
Jennifer Miglioratti is impulsive.
Jen’s been plugged into the Rochester music and art scene for decades buying work off the walls of clubs, galleries and arts organizations. Certain works will grab her attention and she buys based on impact and instinct. She doesn’t so much acquire a work of art as pounce on it. Jen is a native Rochesterian and grew up in the southeast area of the city near University Avenue. Educated under the watchful eyes of nuns through high school, she studied graphic arts and communications in college. She currently leads the communications department of a prominent real estate development company, LeChase Construction, Inc. Jen is a single mom working in a male dominated environment. She thrives because she has a take charge personality. She works with photographers, writers, graphic artists, and performers. In addition, Jen is responsible for choosing the artwork displayed at the LeChase Construction offices. Making sound, effective and creative decisions is an everyday occurrence for her.
We met recently at Fifth Frame Brewing Company in downtown Rochester on St. Paul Street at just about the same coordinates as a former bar called Club Zero where we crossed paths thirty years earlier. Jen is an animated conversationalist and she engages with a forward momentum that melts time. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she bobbed and weaved her way through the answers to my questions. While her art acquisition budget isn’t as restrictive as some, like most people the size and configuration of her living space imposes a harsh discipline on her collecting inclinations. Normally once a work is installed in her house it stays put. However, she recently moved into a new home and that has given her the opportunity to rethink and then rehang her collection. In the process, she identified some prime display space for new acquisitions. She’s in the hunt!
Jen’s collection includes paintings, weavings, drawings, photography, prints, as well as functional and fine art sculpture. Her aesthetic impulses lead the way. Jen has at least one hard and fast rule about buying art that she was willing to share, “I don’t negotiate the price of artwork with artists. I can either afford the work or I can’t.”
Jennifer’s advice to emerging collectors: Instead of buying impulsively (like me) take your time. Think deeply and look at a lot of art before you buy. Enjoy the process of finding the right artwork for your wall, your collection and your life.
Jeana Bonacci‐Roth Is emotional.
For Jeana collecting is all about the emotional connection she feels to the work and to the maker. It can take her awhile before she purchases a new work of art. She needs some time to allow the work to seep into her – to get into her heart and under her skin. If she doesn’t know the artist, she’ll reach out to the artist, whether the artist is local or not. However, if the work or the artist is local, she does give it special attention. When she buys a piece of art it’s a lifetime commitment.
Jeana is a graduate of SUNY Purchase with a master’s degree in literature. She’s married to a restaurateur, an artist and a collector in his own right, John Roth. In recent years she has been exploring her interests and skills in the visual arts realm by making and collecting art. The very first public exhibition of her own artwork was this past fall at Lovin’ Cup in Henrietta near the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Jeana has collected aggressively for the past three years or so. During that time she has accumulated quite a bit of art, buying mostly from artists directly. She does not feel at all constrained by the available wall and floor space in her home. If she feels the emotional connection, she buys. It is not her goal to accumulate some particular number or type of artworks. Her collection is growing and happening organically; she loves that fact.
The work in her collection is hung salon style: floor‐to‐ceiling. She has a fair amount of work stored around the house as well, waiting for her to choose the best spot for its display. It can take her a fair amount of time to choose the right place to hang work. How does she decide? She considers the relationship between the individual piece and the available spaces, the surrounding works, the purpose of the space, the light in the space and so on. Once the work is hung it’s there for good unless, heaven forbid, she moves.
Jeana’s advice to emerging collectors: Allow yourself the space and time to get to know a work of art before you buy it. Don’t be afraid to talk to the artist or visit the artist’s studio. If you’re in a gallery and the artist isn’t available, talk to the gallerist. Give yourself permission to buy art. You’ll love it!
Rebecca Rafferty is sentient.
To be more accurate Rebecca is acutely sentient and profoundly verbal. She is an art critic as well as the Arts & Entertainment editor at City Newspaper in Rochester, New York. One would expect these traits from a professional art critic and editor. Still, when in the presence of Rebecca discussing art and Collecting, it was easy (for me) to become a bit light‐headed. I was out of my depth and I admit I’m a fan ‐ a huge fan ‐ of her writing. I nearly swooned.
Rebecca was raised in Rochester. Her mom, Bev Rafferty, is a well‐known painter who has exhibited extensively in the region. Rebecca graduated from Nazareth College. She was taught by the likes of Ron Netsky, Kathy Calderwood and Maureen Brilla among other notable and accomplished artist‐educators. She reached an academic crossroads at one point and chose a path focused more on writing about art than making art. Yet, she is an avid maker as well as a gifted writer. Some of the work in her collection comes from trades and co‐commissions with other artists.
Although by her own admission Rebecca experiences darkness on occasion, there was a playful sparkle in her eyes when we sat across each other in front of Cure restaurant at the Rochester Public Market. She thinks of herself as a “punk‐rock‐beer‐and‐whiskey” sort of person. This is apparent in her general affect which I see as an updated mid‐1960s SDS/Velvet Underground vibe. The pall itself is only vaguely present in the way her cigarette hangs from her mouth and it dissipates quickly whenever her trademark impish smile emerges.
Rebecca has what she describes as a fairly large collection of art. Multiple interests drive her collection. She is drawn to work that depicts wolves or other wild animals – particularly when the animals engage or are otherwise in conflict with humans. She is also drawn to mysteries of the moon and dark fantasies akin to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Her political interests are never far removed from her mind or her collection. So, it’s not surprising to find out that a good bit of the work she collects is either explicitly or implicitly political. The spirit of David Bowie is also a presence in her collection. Like Jeana, she hangs the work salon style in her home. Lately, she’s looking forward to an upcoming move that will give her the chance to reassess and then reinstall her collection.
Rebecca’s advice to emerging collectors: Art is not a frill. It’s an essential element of the human experience. Owning art – living with art – will enrich your life.
Rome Celli is a co‐organizer of RochesterArtCollectors.org along with Sarah Webb.
Header image © Roy Sowers 1999
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