HOW TO COLLECT ART WITHOUT *COLLECTING* ART
HOW TO COLLECT ART WITHOUT *COLLECTING* ART
Three art buyers why they own art and what they look for when adding to their collection.
The body of art acquired by a person over time is usually referred to as their collection—and that word might seem intimidating at first. 'Collection' has several connotations: that there are many artworks included; that every work is of exceptionally high value; that you have to be extremely knowledgable to own those artworks; that you have to already "belong" to the art world in order to build one; that it requires a tremendous amount of very deliberate planning to complete; and much more. But it doesn't have to. To learn more about the experience of collecting art without collecting art, Platform spoke with three art buyers—award-winning author Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, developer and entrepreneur Michael Wang, and attorney Megan Noh—to figure out what makes them decide to bring a new work into the fold.
What are some of the reasons you buy art?
I tend to think about artwork in relation to other pieces I own; it's important to me that each piece adds to the larger story the collection is telling.
I will never buy a work that I don’t love looking at, and I appreciate a wide range of work aesthetically. But aesthetics aren’t all that matter to me. Through my work as an art lawyer, I am extremely lucky to have worked with or otherwise befriended a fair number of artists; I have often been even luckier to be able to learn from them about what drives their practice. That specific insight and human connection can of course make my purchase of a work more significant. And in particular, I’m interested in supporting that community of artists who are a part of my extended social network, many of whom are focused in various ways on broadening the diversity of perspectives represented in the ‘mainstream’ art world, including by making work depicting people who look like them or have shared experiences around race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. Those narratives are so powerful, and it’s important to me to support and amplify that, as well.
When you find a work of art you want to bring home, do you consider other artworks you already own when making that decision?
I really make decisions about works on an individual basis. There’s no real aesthetic cohesion to the body of work I own; it ranges from figurative (Emma Kohlmann; Phoebe Boswell; Ho Jae Kim) to geometric (Amanda Valdez, Jason Wallace) to abstract (Carmen Neely), and from muted (Ruth Ige) to wildly colored (David Heo); from photography (Laura Aguilar) to tapestry (Erin Riley) to drawing and painting. And sculpture (including by Layo Bright) is on my next-to-buy list as well! So it’s really a crazy potpourri, with the only common thread being things I love, usually by people I love and/or deeply respect.
Are there any specific ways you hope to grow your art collection over time?
I am really interested in emerging artists of color and LGBTQ+ artists who are navigating multiple cultural and aesthetic landscapes and whose work blends these influences to create a third reality. Often, the artists I am drawn to have a surrealist bent or are interested in exploring transformational experiences: migration, exile, death and rebirth. I'm also really intrigued by minimalist and abstract art and its relationship to absence and reimagination.
For now, not really. I guess I'm going with the flow and also taking my time to consider where I can put any new additions.
Prints have been an incredible way for me to acquire art at a price point that’s manageable for me. Over time, I hope to also acquire original works by the artists in my collection who are currently represented exclusively in print format.
Do you ever feel that your collection has to have any kind of goal or purpose, or are you solely driven to purchase art based on what you enjoy?
I do think about the larger purpose and how I might consolidate that purpose over time, but at the moment, my collection is small enough that my main consideration is personal enjoyment and whether or not a work inspires me in ways I can't fully articulate when I look at it, even if I get to look at it every day.
I am currently buying what I really like, but I think it would be a fun goal to have guests over and be able to tell them in-depth about some of the art I own.
What resources do you look to to find art that you want to collect?
I tend to look at Artsy, Platform, the Basel Art Festival and the Dubai Art Festival. BOMB Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail and 4Columns are also good resources I rely on, along with artist friends who alert me to shows.
Mostly through word of mouth and suggestions from friends. And, more recently, Platform.
There are some amazing educational resources through which you can gain exposure to incredible artists. The Here and There Collective, a non-profit focused on uplifting and connecting contemporary artists from the Asian diaspora, is an organization with which I’m involved and through which I have made so many cherished connections. Instagram in general was an amazing source of discovery and connectivity for me, particularly during the first year of pandemic lockdowns–I’m always browsing and tracing the web of connections from artists I love to other artists who they are interested in.
I would also say that art sales in the context of charitable initiatives can be an incredible collecting opportunity, truly a win-win. There’s very little that is more rewarding than buying a work you love and supporting a cause you believe in.
Next, I would say never turn down a studio visit. If an artist invites you into their space to see how they work and to learn what makes them tick, do it! I was recently fortunate enough to visit the Silver Art Projects studio residency program and was blown away not just by the caliber of the program itself but also by the openness with which the artists there greeted me and shared their work-in-progress.
But studio visits weren’t practical for many during the darkest days of the pandemic, and on the other end of the spectrum, I’d be remiss, of course, not to mention the way that online platforms have made it easier to connect with art and artists. Going into the pandemic, many of us were already familiar with Artsy, and know some galleries who use that site really successfully to reach a broader audience–not to mention the important role they have played in facilitating a lot of the charitable art sale initiatives I mentioned above. Newer, of course, is Platform, which has done an incredible job of cutting through the opacity I think a lot of people can be frustrated by when dealing with independent galleries, in terms of how one gets on the right list to buy something from an up-and-coming artist. The curation is on point and the transparent pricing is also key. I really look forward to seeing the new selections each month, and in some ways, Platform has also changed how I visit galleries, as well. Platform serves a different purpose than See Saw, but if I see works and artists that I like on Platform, I’m just as likely to want to go check out that gallery’s program in person as if I had seen the show highlighted on See Saw or in the New Yorker’s gallery show round-up. And in a way, more so because partnering with Platform tells me that a gallery is open to forming a relationship with people like me, who may not be in any young patron’s circle for any museum or who don’t yet have a significant collection but who are genuinely passionate about engaging with art.