What Collecting is Becoming
- by Bruce E. McKinney
Selections from Freeman's and Christie's magazines
Collecting has been, to my way of thinking, about acquiring material within a focus and the discussions I’ve heard over the years invariably focused on the collecting of categories, be they records, postcards, paintings, or books to name a few. Collecting in that way mirrored the way dealers approached their material which was important because they knew how to build focused inventories and collectors learned to interact with them. For decades such an approach worked.
Beginning with the advent of the Internet the dealer’s critical role as aggregator of categories began to see their veils raised on what had been mainly secret: many of their sources. The outcome was the proliferation of collector-dealers who used this knowledge to find appealing values for resale as well exceptional examples for their own collections.
Along the way the collector’s footprint evolved as they were among the first to see that the Internet, that was undermining the old ways of buying and selling was also exposing hitherto unrecognized or unfindable material that fit very well into ever more focused collections. And that’s where we are today, now moving into the era of uniquely focused subject collections that, only a few decades ago, were beyond the imaginations of all but the very few. Today this collecting emerges as the new gold standard, the deeply satisfying integration of collectibles of many types.
Apropos of this trend two of the slick collecting and showcase magazines issued by auction houses; Freeman’s of Philadelphia and Lyon and Turnbull of the United Kingdom marketing together, and Christies of New York, London and various other cities, countries and continents, showed up in my mailbox.
They both project a sense of collecting as a deeper, more sophisticated engagement than mere categories.
In Freeman’s recent International View the following stories appear;
Across the Continents. Property from the Collections of Ambassador & Mrs. Alexander Weddell – The Virginia House Museum
Modern Made. Michael Ayerton and Kenneth Armitage
An Interview with a Champion. The Collection of Victor Niederhoffer
Depths of Reality. Antoni Tapies’ El Dolor de Brunhilda
Joan Eardley. Capturing the Essence of Scotland
Cecilia Beaux. Portrait of a Philadelphia Artist
The Christies’s Magazine provides an even more lush offering:
I bought it at Christie’s. Robert Cooper on a favorite bureau and set of dining chairs
On Show. Our pick of this month’s must-see art exhibitions around the world
My Space. At home with David Collins Studio Founder and CEO Iain Watson
Artists in focus. Four distinctive contemporary artists – from Germany, Japan, Ethiopia and the UK – whose work explores urban landscapes
The way I see it. The 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death inspires Andrew Graham-Dixon to take a fresh look at his tumultuous masterpiece, The Night Watch
Innovator in ink. Artist Chloe Ho has made a splash in the Hong Kong art world and beyond with contemporary works that are part of a great Chinese tradition
Collectors & collections. Four collectors based in Texas share their passion for illuminated manuscripts, mechanical toy banks, antique dolls and Japanese armor
Reach for the stars. Beth Moon’s photographs of trees around the world resonate with cosmic significance
Minimal interference. Forward -thinking Swiss gallerists Gianfranco and Annemarie Verna have been showing work by the pioneers of minimalists art for more than 50 years
Double vision. Tobias Rehberger’s art creates unlikely pairings, from a flagship fashion store covered in razzle-dazzle camouflage to an art gallery with its own butcher’s shop
That was then. Alighiero Boetti with friends (and owl) at his hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, 1971
And what do all these stories have in common? They convey eclectic taste, choices and inclusion, A place where you can find your place. And that’s significant because the boundaries between collecting categories are disappearing as collectors literally invent their take on how these elements fit together.
These magazines are worth obtaining for how they recast assumptions about collecting. As a collector I’ve been encouraged to rethink my collecting objectives and acknowledge that narrower, deeper collecting is not only possible, it’s also more challenging and satisfying.
Left unsaid is how such collections will be disposed. For some years I’ve thought they will logically go to institutions but we are living in the era when the great institutional collections will also be refocused, many seeking unique perspectives they can dominate worldwide from a single college, university, institution or collector’s aerie. The era of a little of this and a little of that without focus is ending.
These are wonderful and unsettling times and the next ten years will see seismic shifts in what collections encompass as well as how they are shared. But for that to work out we’ll need to enfranchise a thousand new collectors to define their focuses and begin to own their unique territories because such collections, while absorbing thousands of items, will be narrow and that may weaken support for the category approach that has been the bedrock of the dealer approach to selling.
In the meantime talk to Christie’s and Freeman’s in the United States and Lyon & Turnbull in the UK. Their magazines are must reads for understanding what collecting is becoming. If they offer subscriptions, subscribe.
Here's a link for Christie's Magazine which can be purchased for a single issue or for a year, 6 issues.
Here is a link for Freeman's Magazine published twice annually.