WARNING: Don’t use this blog as a drinking game and take a drink every time you read the root word “collect”. You won’t make it through the whole thing.
While contemplating the subject of this blog, Collecting, I started playing with words. What does it mean to collect? When we collect something is it because it makes sense in a wider scheme? Before we collect it, do we covet it? I’ve never really coveted a picture. Certainly there are pictures I’ve really wanted for different reasons. As a dealer, that is usually for financial reasons. But for the really great pictures, it’s the thrill of being in the chain of provenance of an important work of art. To be part of that story. To hang it in your gallery. To be alone with it. I remember handling a painting I had once seen in an exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when I was a child. Owning and then selling the painting was wonderful, but being a part of the provenance of that particular painting, which would still have been great had I never experienced its greatness as a child…well, that made it special.
But “covet” seems a bit strong for most collectors. “Want” seems a bit weak. “Yearn?” Too passive. So, how is it that we decide what we want to have, to live with? Does it remind you of something you saw long ago? Does it just make sense in the scheme of things as you’ve arranged them? I think that often the urge to collect is as appealing as whatever we are collecting. I have been known to get into a collecting mood, and it’s just about as exciting as whatever I eventually collect.
I don’t have all the answers, but I have a story about something I just collected.
I recently acquired a painting for my own collection. I haven’t purchased anything for myself in a long time. Normally, I am buying artworks for the gallery…always keeping in mind certain artists and movements, clients’ wish lists, always looking for the best works I can find.
There are many ways I acquire artworks. I get excited first by finding the work. Then I come to realize I might actually be able to purchase it. This happens all sorts of ways: I come across it in an auction catalogue; another dealer may offer it; or my favorite…the random phone call or email from someone you have never met. Some of the best works I have ever collected for the gallery have been pieces that started their journey to Aaron Payne Fine Art from a random phone call. Once I came into the gallery earlier than usual to pick something up before dropping my kids at school and there was a message on the phone from someone calling from Paris. They had a group of paintings that had ended up in their collection over a journey of almost 100 years. They had come to France by steamer in the possession of American socialites in the 1920s, later belonged to Anaïs Nin and then passed down to the current owner via a succession of writers. The story was almost as fascinating as the paintings were beautiful. I quickly dropped the kids at school, and returned to call the owner in Paris, using my broken high school French. I bought all four paintings.
But I didn’t keep any of them.
When I buy a painting for my own collection, it’s a long dance. It’s never something I bought for the gallery and then decided to take home. It’s something I see and it is almost like dating. I’m interested, but know there is going to be some work involved in getting comfortable.
Where I’m going to put the things I buy for myself are important, too. They are always bought with a place in mind. It’s like I’m bringing home a new puppy or a stray cat I’ve found. The new art will have to be introduced. Everything will change, but soon it will be as if it has always been here. The painting I just bought will go over my bed, a place where very few people will see it. And not in a place where one will ever sit and admire it. It will have a conversation with the other paintings in my bedroom. Most of the time I’m in that room, I’ll be underneath it and unable to see it at all. It’s a large painting and will take up most of the wall above the headboard.
I like big spaces with few things in them. It helps to emphasize my love of minimal, clean spaces. For a long time I told myself I’d be happy in small, intimate spaces as I don’t like to have a lot of things. I imagined myself with a tiny two room apartment in Paris which you’d access by 5 flights of twisting stairs. Excellent light on the top floor, but the apartment itself would be tiny, and I would dance with it as I moved about, brushing its door frames, the walls and I listening to each other breathe and creak.
But I’ve never lived in a space like that. I like big spaces and high ceilings. So, this painting will have its own grand space to breathe and carry the day.
Paintings always need something when we buy them. I can’t remember the last painting I bought and just hung on my wall. Cleaning, a new frame…that’s part of the appeal for me. Something to make it my own. I know what I like about it now…but what will I like about it when it’s been transformed? This piece is very atmospheric. Lots of glazes and washes. It’s an abstraction, but painted with the sun and sea in the artist’s face.
I promise in a future blog I will show you the picture (maybe even in situ if I am brave enough to invite you in). One hint I can give is that another work by this artist hung in the residence at the White House when President Obama and his family were there. But I own mine…while he borrowed his. Perhaps he owns a work by this artist now, too?