My takeaways from the James and Jennifer Nixon Symposium : The Art of Collecting, at The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art
Last weekend I attended the all day symposium on art collecting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. The event was planned and arranged by artist, art historian, museum executive, Ms Kimberly Camp. Click the link and see who she is. Ms Camp is a really Big Brain in the art world. There was no shortage of luminary collectors and academicians present.
The first breakout session I opted to attend was on getting started with your art collection. The panelists had an interesting and eclectic mix of collecting styles. One panelist, James Nixon (he and his wife Jennifer were the event's sponsors) collects exclusively women artists. The Nixons are amassing a collection with the specific intention of leaving an important legacy with a specific narrative to an institution that will continue to tell that story. Another of the panelists, Mrs Carolyn Lowe, collects abstract works with no apparent focus on specific artists. The third panelist Valeria Walker, PhD is partial to figurative works. “I like pictures of people,” she told us. The latter two collectors haven’t yet identified their legacy distribution strategies.
The Nixons are avid followers of emerging artists. They identify, follow and patronize artists who they think will be important contributors to the cultural conversation in the near and distant future. Both of the other panelists stressed that they buy what they like: Contemporary artists, Old Masters, established and /or emerging. Because of the Nixons' niche, they are often able to buy art directly from the artists. Studio visits are a big part of their collecting practice. Mrs Lowe and Dr Walker go where the art is. They buy from galleries, art fairs dealers, flea markets, estate sales, on the street… Wherever. The Internet is not just for research. Artsy.net, ArtNet.com, LiveAuctioneers.com all good resources for finding and buying art. Notably, there was no mention of auctions in the conversation. I don’t know that they don’t buy at auction, but clearly it is not a focus of any of their collecting practices.
These are serious collectors. They are sought out by curators and their artworks are frequently touring the country in exhibits. The important names are represented in their collections. That doesn’t keep them from buying good art by talented artists that we, and they, have never heard of. In all cases, they are art lovers first.
One of the commonalities among them was reading. They all have extensive libraries of art books and exhibition catalogs. If you like an artist get the catalogs from shows they’ve done. If you are interested in a particular style or period, buy the books. Buy art that you like, but then go study it. Learn about it so you can make informed decisions about buying more of the art that you like. Informed choices are the difference between being a buyer and a collector. The panelists and other collectors and academics suggested several art books for seasoned and new collectors. They are included on my Recommended Reading list.
Another interesting feature of good collecting is budgeting. If you are going to be a collector, you need an art budget. Know what you are going to spend on art this year. Don’t go over. If you don’t spend it all this year, you can make a bigger acquisition next year. Setting and maintain a budget will allow you to buy art and food. As important, a budget brings discipline to your buying decisions. “If I get this, I can’t get that.” That thinking will limit your impulse purchases and help to prevent passion from turning into regret or buyers remorse.
The final comments were about mistakes. James mentioned buying work from emerging artists who soon after gave up the practice. Dr Walker talked about bad conservation practices stemming from ignorance of materials and environmental reactions. Carolyn told of buying a painting and discovering later that they couldn’t fit it through the door to get it into their house. It's still in storage but no less loved than when it was acquired.
Art collecting is a lifestyle. It’s more than a notion and no mere hobby. Carolyn Lowe and her husband attend something like four or six art events a month. The Nixons schedule several studio events a month. Exhibitions, museum show openings, lectures… Then there's buying, conservation, storage, lending, shipping, framing, hanging, rotating… It is a serious commitment of energy and time and money. By all estimations and from all descriptions, it is work. From personal experience, it doesn’t feel like it. It's just life as we know it.
W Skeet Jiggetts