Coherent Collecting

art in context, "All Tastes the Same to the Cat" by Laura Kerr

Big in the news here this week is the reopening of the expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  Among the attractions, the Doris and Donald Fisher collection, so vast it needs a multimillion dollar museum to house it.  Sort of puts art collecting into a sphere that most of us can’t relate to.  Art collections are started, built and shaped one object at a time.  Many people have acquired one almost unaware, or at least unlabeled as such.  Whether purchased, self created, or collected passively by gifts, it reflects its owners.
Luckily I get to see this process often.
Some things stand out for me about collectors’ choices.

  • Self Awareness

“I know what I like.”  I see this statement of self confidence in choices more often with actions than words.  If you have ever purchased an original unique art object, I believe you’ve crossed into that confidence.  Trust it.  When art is collected honestly, a coherent and multifaceted collection emerges.

  • Story

Story is a powerful connection.  Artwork joins a collection beautifully when there is story, and telling the story isn’t necessary.  I learned that by working art shows.  Imposing my story on a viewer could crowd out their own reaction; though eventually sharing a story is fun.  The potential for conversation is a vital piece of the fun of a collection.

“All Tastes the Same to the Cat” cover art by New Mexico artist Laura Kerr

For example, here’s a closer look at that drawing in my collection.  I love seeing it every day over my work sink.  It reflects aspects of myself that have nothing to do with house cats.  It has memory, story, and links to me and its surroundings that are personal.  And still it is so well done that it connects, without explanation, to other people, including in ways that have everything to do with knowing and living with house cats.

  • Time

Collections are always a work in progress, reflecting you, a living changing being.  Smart collectors will take the time they need.   Just like people, some pieces it’s love at first sight, others grow on you and take hold.  I love it when people come back to a piece over time, proving those high-pressure “don’t let ’em leave without it” salesmen wrong.

  • Design

The tenets of good design apply to an individual work of art, as well as to a collected group.  With the addition that the collector is reflected in and is the heart of the collection.  It is personal.   And the artwork all gets to work together to this end.  What a joy to walk into a home where this synergy is at work.   Design concepts include unity, balance, emphasis, scale, rhythm, shape, line, texture, illusion of space,  illusion of motion, color, value.

  • Juxtapositions

Following from general design, I’m drawn to the way people choose works that interact with each other and their space.  Some say they know exactly where a piece will hang, others are confident that placement will present itself.

Recently, I was in a home where the owner/artist said so much with the juxtaposition of just a few objects.   In one large abstract painting, one small representational drawing and a table, a bright coastal mood is conveyed.  The group conveys unity because it comes out of an honest facet of the collector.

  • Flexibility

While some objects find their place and occupy it essentially permanently, a lot of fine collections have places of flexibility.   One couple has marked out wall spaces for future “finds” with deliberately temporary pieces.  And they allow themselves the flexibility to abandon the plan if the right “find” requires it.

Another form of flexibility is rotation:  moving or temporarily storing some work on a regular basis.   Practical rotation methods will be the subject of a future post.

  • Evolution

The willingness to shape a collection factors in coherence.   Reflected  are changes in finances, space, household members, or an evolving taste and art knowledge.  One of the most difficult things to do is to cull.

One client told me that being on a budget, she had mainly posters on her walls and was making purchases slowly.  She says of her choices “I value the hand of the maker being present in my art” and so tends toward small original works, intaglio prints, and similar hand crafted work as the posters are phased out.  I thought this was a great way to focus an evolution.

Thanks to all of you who have invited me into your homes and shown me your unique collections.  And a special thanks to the many of you who have included my work in these collections.  Read about specific examples in the August 2014 post “Art at Home”.

1 thought on “Coherent Collecting”

  1. Thanks, Anna, I enjoyed revisiting “Art at Home” and seeing our painting pictured. It continues to greatly please us and has been much admired by family and friends. We love it!

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