The Courage To Collect: Falling In (Art) Love

As an arts and culture blogger, I spend most of my free time in galleries across the region, loitering with a Dictaphone scavenging choice quotes from artists, or if I’m lucky, drinking coffee black as street tar in the back room where work is stored in broad wooden coffins.

Once or twice a year I fall in love with a piece of art. We’re talking heavy velvet dark chocolate love, not the puppy-eyed giggly variety. It’s heartbreak hotel if I can’t afford the object of my affection.

The quintessential Parisian expat, Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) was also an art collector. Starving young artists and writers like Hemingway frequented her Saturday salons for critique and free food. Portrait: Getrude Stein as painted by Pablo Picasso, 1906.

The quintessential Parisian expat, Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) was also an art collector. Starving young artists and writers like Hemingway frequented her Saturday salons for critique and free food. Portrait: Getrude Stein as painted by Pablo Picasso, 1906.

Often I am lucky enough to witness someone else fall in love at first sight. A young collector—usually someone in banking who works long hours and owns an urban loft with blank walls— enters the gallery and instantly locks eyes with a painting. He crosses a crowded room as if in a trance and the two of them dance together for an instant, lost. The gallerina in heels and a tasteful black dress politely takes down his details and the engagement is made official.

Dorothy and Herb Vogel worked as a librarian and a post office clerk, earning a meager salary their entire lives yet were able to amass one of the most illustrious collections in America.

Dorothy and Herb Vogel worked as a librarian and a post office clerk, earning a meager salary their entire lives yet were able to amass one of the most illustrious collections in America.

Unfortunately, the fellow sometimes returns to the gallery in his Range Rover the following day with an entourage of friends all of whom keep their sunglasses on inside even though the gallery light is dim. He is hoping to receive the group’s approval, but instead of oohing and ahhing and confirming his taste, the critical friends shake their heads: It’s too melancholy. It’s too disturbing.

Russian businessman Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin (1854-1936) was a prominent collector of mainly Impressionist painting, particularly Monet. Portrait: Sergein Shchukin as painted by Cornelius Krohn, 1915.

Russian businessman Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin (1854-1936) was a prominent collector of mainly Impressionist painting, particularly Monet. Portrait: Sergein Shchukin as painted by Cornelius Krohn, 1915.

Strong art collectors display courage, scrupulous thought, and a certain bored indifference to what anyone else thinks. A great acquisition is not about status or competing with friends by publicly rolling out a small fortune at an auction or opening (though props to you if you work hard and you can afford to do that!). Trends and artistic brands are irrelevant and time can often deal with them in a fickle way. In my own opinion, unless the work is above a few million dollars in value it cannot be considered a potentially wise investment.

What matters is the deeply intimate gut emotion, the feeling of completion I experience each time I walk by the photograph I binged on last year because I couldn’t imagine life without it. If art love at first sight is the real thing (and only the collector can know if it is), a collection cannot be weighed and second-guessed.