Sunday, 18 November 2012

Collectors and Change - collecting art in uncertain times

An installation by Lino Tagliapetra a maestro among glass artists.  This image came from the Schantz galleries.

I have been asked by some of you to comment further on my observations of collectors at the recent Chicago SOFA show.  So, here goes:

There is a remarkable difference between American and Canadian collectors in my experience.  At the risk of generalization, I will say that American collectors tend to be more upfront and less shy of being noticed and actually enjoy their share of the limelight.  By contrast, the Canadian collecting community tends to be more private and actually asks not to be mentioned in the press or to have their homes featured in magazines.  More than once, I have been handed hard cover books documenting an American collection and I still remember going to one party and noticing a Dale Chilhuly vessel being used as a soap dish in a bathroom.  Mr. Snyderman of the gallery by the same name mentioned to our group that he had actually "gotten out of the glass scene" because he found the competition between the glass collectors distasteful.  It was "well you got one, I've got two" style of one-upmanship.  On the other hand, I have had tea in more than one living room in Canada with a Monet hanging on the wall and I've been asked to not mention it in an article just because of security hassles.

Speaking of glass art, it was the most noticeable selling high-end art.  I had fun tailing one couple and watched them drop close to $250,000 by the end of the fair.  It was not unusual to see a piece of sculpture go for $65,000.  The sheer range of price tags at the SOFA intrigued me.  There was literally something for everyone –under $100 upwards.  I was also surprised by the overall quality–and I mean museum quality–of the art on display.  I did not expect to see such consistent quality over such a large show.  And the dealers came from as far away as the U.K. and Israel to sell.  It was truly a pleasure to see a Hans Coper that wasn't behind Plexiglas.
Another Lino piece.  This one is very similar to the piece chosen for the cover of the SOFA catalogue.

I wondered how many collections there are out there that will migrate from private to public collections.  With the graying of our population that is increasingly the case.  However, just like your bookshelf at home institutions have limited space available to store, maintain, and display them not to mention the human resources to work with them.  Even in Toronto, I have heard more than one conversation between a dealer and a collector where the collector asks for an institutional discount saying that is where the collection will ultimately go.  I think it will become much harder to donate to public institutions in the future as space shrinks and so do government sponsored budgets.

But there is an interesting new trend in Canada where collectors open their own galleries not to sell but just to display.  These are hands-on collectors who enjoy being their own curator and sharing their collections without the constraints of policy and budgets.  Ydessa Hendles  closed the doors of her Art Foundation on October 30th but others have already stepped forward to fill in the gaps.

Ann Rosen, the Trade Commissioner, made me smile when she answered one artist's question, which went something like, how to we spot the collectors?  She said, 'look for the power couples.'  A couple shopping together will make a decision.  The guy in the baggy pants and wrinkled shirt may be worth a lot more but he will need to consult his wife first.  I know exactly what she meant.  I used to work for a pair of brothers who owned an engineering firm that specialized in pulp and paper–Ben and Eli Cowan in Montreal.  Eli was a salt of the earth guy who didn't care what you thought of his attire.  He was a self-made millionaire who at one time was a lumberjack.  Unwitting visitors to the company would mistake him for the janitor.

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