Monday, March 9, 2009

A petty étude

I had the opportunity last week through my Armory VIP pass (Very Indulgent Person) to visit a number of the choicest New York City art collections. I started to wonder what was the real purpose behind these visits? Is it really the chance to to see great art that is usually hidden from the public eye because it's privately held? Yes, probably sometimes. Is it a chance to peek into some very tony addresses and see what a 25 million dollar townhouse looks like on the inside? Yes, I suspect there's plenty of that, too.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that a larger majority of the time a much pettier activity is taking place. It is a petty pursuit to which I found myself falling prey more than once: second guessing collecting choices. One walks into a private home, looks at the art the owner has chosen to buy, and one thinks, "I wouldn't have bought THAT!" I am embarrassed to write it and see it in print, yet I have no doubt that I'm not the only one. I looked at my fellow visitors and wondered how much grading and judging was going on. One can just hear the internal dialogues about that not being the best Rothko, or who buys photography anymore?, or so-and-so isn't really the best Ukrainian painter.

I confess I ended up not getting a lot of satisfaction from simply seeing art I wouldn't ordinarily get to see. These were obviously such hierarchical social rituals and the art just happened to be vehicle to make them happen. I refer back to my previous post about the definition of a collector. I'm sure there were internal or whispered questions along that line, too. Does this person collect for love?, for investment?, for status?, for tax havens? We don't know, but we wonder. And all the time, we're not really looking at the art.

I'm increasingly convinced that, save for a very few cases, collections (like dreams) are really only interesting to the one who has them. Parts of them may sell for fantastic prices, museums may desire them for various reasons, but they are rarely kept whole after the lifetime of the owner. I think this is because it is is only in the mind of the owner that they have cohesion as a body. I love the work in my collection and I've tried hard to maintain a sense of theme(s) and quality. Yet I have no doubt that anyone who owns these works in the future would slice the pie differently; see the parts as parts of a different whole. I guess this is both part of the fascination and part of the game. But even having this perspective walking in, I felt twangs of pettiness as I walked through my étude of collection visits. Were you more magnanimous? I wonder.....

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