Vanishing lines: the collector as curator?

For those who follow the sometimes tempestuous marriage between art and finance closely, there was not much new in “Wall Street meets the art world” (via Culturegrrl), even if the language was appropriately mercantile for an article in Fortune magazine. Describing her husband’s relationship to art, Chelsea dealer Marianne Boesky recalls, “He had never been in a contemporary art gallery until we met. But as soon as he started understanding the numbers and seeing the margins, he became serious about art.”

To me, however, the most interesting part of this article was the very end:

Glenn Fuhrman, who manages Michael Dell’s family money and has become an active collector and philanthropist, is opening an exhibition space in Chelsea to display works from private collections, including his own.

What’s noteworthy here is not the fact that a collector opens an exhibition space, something Saatchi et al have done, though rarely (never?) smack-dab in the middle of a gallery district. The weird part would be the showcasing of multiple private collections in that space. Assuming it actually happens, this is an interesting development and one for which I cannot easily think of a precedent. Although apparently, a Swiss friend just informed me, it’s an idea also being mulled in Europe by some loose coalitions of collectors.

When Los Angeles collector Dean Valentine curated “Now is a Good Time” at Andrea Rosen Gallery, it ignited a fair amount of private grousing among artworld insiders about some ethical-moral line having been trespassed. Then again, that was in 2004 – a long time ago in today’s amphetamine-speed ConArt world – before Charles Saatchi offered an Internet platform to connect thousands of artists without gallery representation to potential collectors, and before auction houses started buying galleries (again). So maybe people will now see this entirely differently.

That said, a collector actually opening a permanent space to display the collection of their colleagues (and their own) is an entirely different kettle of fish than curating a one-off show in a gallery. Much will depend on how this is actually handled. Is this a junior-varsity version of the private museum (a topic which Artworld Salon was debating over the weekend), allowing collectors to publicly show off their holdings without having to convince any museum curators of their art-historical interest? Or would these be essentially secondary-market exhibitions, allowing the selected collectors to bypass auction houses and dealers in selling their works?

And even if it’s ideally intended as the former, it’s likely to spill over somewhat into being the latter. As Tot Taylor of London’s Riflemaker gallery observed in a 2005 Art Review piece that I wrote on non-selling exhibitions: “We had one piece that was not for sale, but then a collector asked me its market value and then offered twice as much. Suddenly the owner decided he could part with it.”

Bonus material: Number Crunching

In the same Fortune cited above article, there was also this interesting tidbit of survey research (emphasis mine): “As more and more Wall Streeters discover collecting – a 2007 Prince & Associates survey of 200 Wall Street professionals with bonuses that averaged $5 million found that 12 percent was spent on art – gallery hopping has turned into a macho, competitive sport.” If you do the math, that means these survey participants spent (12% of 5 million=$600,000, x 200=…) $120 million from their bonuses on art this year. That’s an enormous amount of money, even these days, and frankly, I’m a little dubious about the figure. In my brief stint as a market-research analyst, I had hanging above my desk the quote Mark Twain (and Benjamin Disraeli) popularized, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” So I’d like to see the actual survey results and methodology before we start taking these numbers too seriously. Unfortunately, Googling for those got me nowhere, but I’ll keep looking.

3 thoughts on “Vanishing lines: the collector as curator?”

  1. I believe Glenn Furhman has a degree in Art History though (or at least studied art history), making the decision to open a space less an indication of a blurring between collector and curator as it might otherwise seem. Furhman also regularly hosts panel discussions with important artists and so, again, is as informed as many curators, if not more so, about where the edge is (cutting or otherwise) with regards to contemporary art. None of which is an endorsement of this pending space (haven’t seen it, couldn’t say), just that this idea is more interesting a venture than a vanity museum because of his background, IMHO.

  2. That’s all encouraging information. As I said, this could go in two (or more) totally different directions, depending on how it’s handled. And I’m always in favor or art being publicly available, especially as opposed to being in storage.

    Also, there’s nothing in that brief Fortune paragraph that says the Fuhrman space would show works from only one collection at a time. It could be interesting to play various collections off of each other, something curator Zdenek Felix did in 2005 with the collections of Ingvild Goetz and Harald Falckenberg, two of German’s most important collectors, with radically different personalities.

    But as I noted, Fuhrman’s not alone in having such a project. And I’d be willing to bet that if we see a few of these spaces, some will function de facto like the showroom of a secondary-market dealer.

  3. But if it were a secondary market space as you suggest, why bother in this frothy market? Surely if you wanted to sell there hasn’t been a better time to go straight to auction? Unless you are worried that soon more and more works will get bought in (unsold). In which case, I suppose, a showroom that isn’t a showroom is a less embarrassing way to display works that really aren’t for sale, except that they are…

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