art collecting, the 21st century way

“Of course, collecting is more than just buying objects. It is a disease with no known cure.”  -Guy Trebay, for the New York Times, on Eli Broad and art collecting.

Is art collecting a disease? That’s a bit hyperbolic. An obsession? Maybe. An adventure? Absolutely. Potentially heartbreaking? That too. If art collecting is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

francesca woodman photo of sloane and the sun

Nowadays there are a ton of ways to go about collecting art. You’ve still got your high-end galleries, your mega art fairs and your offshoot fairs, and within the last few years, a whole slew of art and e-commerce startups have emerged for purchasing art online. There’s Artspace, which cleverly partners with art museums and galleries to give their back storage a second chance to make it on a collector’s wall. (And it is an impressive roster of artists–Richard Tuttle, Jenny Holzer, Tomma Abts–can you guess my aesthetic?). Then there’s Paddle8, run by an ambitious group of former auction house employees, as an invite-only website featuring online exhibitions curated  by artists like Marina Abramovic. Upping the ante, last month they partnered with Nada Art Fair in Miami, giving collectors early access to works being sold at the fair. The galleries who listed their works on Nada Art Fair must have done well, as rumour has it there are more art fair partnerships to come for Paddle8. (This could be very exciting, and throws a whole other wrench in the regular red-dot-but-has-it-truly-sold art fair scandal. So much drama.)

Catering to a markedly different audience is Artsicle, which has taken the “Netflix approach” to renting art online, (generally by young MFA’s), while the mega-invested and much buzzed about has linked up with some pretty heavyweight galleries (museums are next), and is attempting to classify art into genes and help users discover their tastes, and link up to galleries where they might actually purchase a work that suits them. (An ambitious project that if pulled off is really going to be something extraordinary, for collectors, novices, educators, and students alike.) The collecting landscape is changing, but you know what hasn’t changed yet? The delivery. Remember back in October when I mentioned that Francesca Woodman I’d purchased at FIAC? Well, that photograph has gotten a lot of mileage since then, from London, to Paris, to London again, to some regional office in the US of A, and finally to me in NY. Yes, yes, dear readers, I am happy to say that after some shipping delays and snags at customs, my photograph has finally arrived. Color me excited. Now I just have to decide where to hang it, but that, my friends, is a challenge I am very much looking forward to facing.

notes on francesca woodman

francesca woodman is one of my fave photographers, ever. she produced over 800 photographs over a very brief lifetime (only ~120 or so have been published). woodman’s portfolio stems largely from her years at RISD, before her death at the age of 22. this is some of the most impressive student work out there, and critics, collectors, and historians alike agree that she likely would have produced a tremendous body of work as a mature artist.

i wrote about fw in college for a seminar on contemporary female artists and have been hooked ever since; i find her use of space and her play with patterns, texture and materiality really wonderful, esp. how she played with long exposure times to blur bodies in with their surroundings. there’s a lot of feminist criticism on this (some good, some bad), and her work is also often read with a heavily psychanalytic lens (to varying degrees of success). visually, her photos are dark, funny, playful and whimsical, sometimes slightly disturbing but somehow oddly sweet.

this year marks the 30th anniversary of her death, so expect big retrospectives coming to a museum near you. the san francisco moma kicks it off this saturday, and seriously, if you are around, you should really go. the show will hit the east coast in january at the guggenheim in 2012, so i’m happy to say i’ll be able to check her stuff out come winter when i’m back in the states. in the meantime, i can content myself with a little photograph i bought last week at the fiac au grand palais. (!!!!!) the fiac is paris’s alternative to london’s frieze. it’s older (some say wiser), larger, has a greater mix of modern and contemporary, as well as a greater range of prices (says the humble newbie collector). like frieze, neon was a big hit at the fair. unlike frieze, there was also a lot of video and, yep, photography. let’s just say my heart skipped a beat when i saw the francesca woodman’s on display.

i won’t flash mine, but here are some of my fave francesca woodman photos:

at frieze, it’s hip to be square

the anish kapor@ lisson + your resident blogger + a whoooole lotta strangers

This weekend I hopped on the Eurostar to London for Frieze Art Fair. Frieze features the crème de la crème of the gallery world, while offshoot fairs like Moniker and Sunday offer alternative, more affordable pieces by lesser known artists. Though much of what was shown at Frieze wasn’t exactly revelatory per se, it was still and unsurprisingly a Pretty Good Show. Unfortunately Moniker and Sunday Art Fair were severely underwhelming, which was disappointing as it left little purchasing room for the neophyte collector. (I did really like the space @ Ambika for Sunday, though.) Multiplied Art Fair, Christie’s fair in South Kensington, was supposedly a good one for the mid-range collector, but unfortunately I missed that one.

The big hype @ Frieze came from Foundation projects like Pierre Huyghe’s hermit-crab-homage to Brancusi and Christian Jankowski’s yacht, which, depending on who you asked were either silly or stellar. (I will admit that I was pretty skeptical about the hermit crab, especially after it was turned back at customs, but in the end I surprised myself by hanging around to watch that little crab do his thing.) LuckyPDF‘s project space was the most interactive of the bunch, with the young crew filming live and hosting open rehearsals all day. Their space drew a younger, dare I say hipper, crowd than those milling about the aforementioned yacht and/or hermit crab.

Aside from those project spaces, there was FRAME, a section dedicated to younger, emerging galleries, Frieze Talks by artists, curators, and the like, and of course the seemingly endless rows of the gallery world’s latest and greatest hits. This is where the average fair-goer becomes overwhelmed trying to 1. see everything, and 2. process everything he or she has just seen. The spectator’s experience is akin to watching a continuous photomontage of a wide variety of images; it is visually stimulating but hard to keep track of, and many young and new collectors in the end quickly forget what they liked or why. (This I think is a big mistake many aspiring collectors make; ie checking off every single work of art to ensure they’ve covered their ground before purchasing. It is an impossible and fruitless task, and better to just go with your gut, if you ask me.)

I knew I couldn’t possibly see everything in every stand (and à vrai dire did not want to), so besides checking out the must-see heavy-hitters of the gallery world, I only stopped when something really caught my eye. Off the bat I noticed what seemed to be an underlying theme amongst a number of stands, many of which featured geometrically-inspired work. This suited me, as I am often drawn to linear, colorful, geometric works (perso, I tend to prefer those on paper, in case you are looking to gift me). More precisely, squares made it into the spotlight, often superimposed on different media as a kind of cheeky throwback to modernist tropes of the flatness of the picture plane and the limitations of the canvas. This being 2011, these ideas had to be updated beyond paint on canvas alone.

Paul Chan’s Volumes at the Greene Naftali stand, for instance, featured 28 book covers, each home to a seemingly sporadic arrangement of painted squares, mounted on one wall of the stand and creating a striking visual display.

Unfortunately, the stand was packed when I shot this, so the work’s impact doesn’t quite translate here, but it was one worth stopping in front of. (If I had a nickel for every time someone stepped in front of me to take a photo…)

Next I spotted a series of Moyra Daveys at Greengrassi’s stand, and again a few aisles over in Murray Guy’s stand for c-prints and postage from Davey’s 2011 Trust Me.




I quite like these stamp and postage-peppered pieces, and especially the odd and nearly pixelated effect the bits of green tape give from afar.

Squares played a part also in Marine Hugonnier’s Art For Modern Architecture Glr Guardian Iranian Revolution/Hostage Crisis, at Max Wigram. Taking a series of 1970s/80s articles from the Guardian, Hugonnier uses decorative neons and square and rectangle shapes to redact sections of each story. The result is a colorful and clever censorship and was one of the few works on display at Frieze that came close to anything like political commentary (a rarity this year).


Luiz Zerbini’s aluminium and acrylic Typo (below), also at Max Wigram, took a decidely more neutral approach.

Me, I happen to like the sharp edges of a square (Joseph Albers, anyone?) and find them generally visually appealing. (Circles, not so much.)  But I’ll be curious to see if the square resurfaces as often at FIAC this week in Paris. Other than squares, neon lights and colors also made frequent appearances @ Frieze, though video art was conspicuously absent, aside from a few pieces. My hunch is there will be more video in Paris than London, but tune in this weekend post another round of fair-hopping for more on that matter.