Should you meet the artists whose work you collect? Collecting as patronage.

For someone who lived in Manhattan for 12 years, I have too few “celebrity sightings.”  The problem is that I don’t really care for celebrities.

My “celebrity sighting” stories are more like “the time I didn’t see that celebrity.”  For example, I was next to Leonardo DiCaprio on three separate occasions during Frieze Week in 2017.  (Or so I am told.)  Twice we were in the same booth on Randall’s Island.  And after the third occasion, when we were in Acquavella Galleries on East 79th Street (admiring Miró’s Constellations series), my husband exclaimed, “Wow.  You really didn’t notice Leo standing next to you?  Again!”

More recently, my husband pulled me out of the street and onto the sidewalk in Sag Harbor.  There was a car coming.  The gentleman driving said car rolled down his window and joked, “You saved her life!”  My friends walking with us then laughed that Alec Baldwin had almost hit me.  My reaction: “Huh? Where did you see Alec Baldwin?”

So no.  I don’t notice celebrities.  I’m incapable of seeing them.

Artists, on the other hand, I always manage to spot.  At a show, at a party, at a restaurant, on the street.  No matter how crowded, I can zero in on them.  What’s worse is that I have an over-the-top fan-girl reaction when I meet an artist.

Last December, in Miami, when artist Hugh Hayden introduced me to Cy Gavin, I screamed, “No way!  Oh my gosh!  I love your work!  Wow, I can’t believe I’m meeting Cy Gavin…”  Thankfully, I stopped short of requesting an autograph or a selfie with him.  But I think Cy (who was very kind) was embarrassed for me nonetheless.

Detailed view of Hugh’s work at Lisson Gallery, Art Basel Miami Beach, 2019
Jazz 3, 2019 by Hugh Hayden, Lisson Gallery, Art Basel Miami Beach

Which is why I’m surprised when collectors have such mixed reactions to getting to know the artists whose work they collect.  Forget studio visits; some collectors don’t even want to meet the artists in passing, as they worry it’ll ruin the aura of the work.  One collector said to me, “the artist as a person doesn’t matter.  The work should speak for itself.”

I disagree.  Yes, the work speaks for itself, but the person behind the work matters.  An artist is a human, after all, not a derivative or a debt instrument.  And one of the benefits of collecting contemporary art is that most of the artists whose work we collect are still alive.  In other words, you as a collector can have a dialogue with them, learn from them, and—for me—get the opportunity to appreciate the work in your collection in a new way, with added context.  As an added bonus, many times, artists have introduced me to work by their peers, which I may not have found on my own, but which very naturally fell into my collecting preferences.

No, I don’t expect (or want) an artist to over-explain the work in their studio.  But I am generally interested in learning about their process, what they think about, and what problems they are trying to resolve.  And I like to know that the person I support isn’t a jerk.

Do you prefer to meet the artists whose work you collect?  And what does it mean for collecting as patronage when you don’t?  (Also, have you ever seen Leo?)


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