How to Start an Art Collection
We talk to local experts about places to buy, ideas for framing your magnificent masterpieces, and more.
Patrick Collins, with wife Lindsey
How it started: Sometime in high school I got really interested in art. When my friends were writing history papers on wars and political events, I wrote mine on Dada. I went to Columbia as an undergraduate and took a class with Rosalind Krauss, as well as many other art history classes. I was a history major, but art history was my minor, kind of. I got very interested in it then. When I was in my mid-20s, I picked up the phone and called Deitch Projects and bought a painting.
When we became “collectors”: Very quickly it became something that I was very passionate about. At some point, just about a couple of years ago, my wife and I thought, we really don’t need more stuff just for ourselves. We really care about the artists and the relationships we’ve made—and helping people of our generation realize what they want to do in terms of their work. We still buy, but we’re more interested in doing things on a project basis or working directly with artists on projects and building something that could be important for them.
Changing course: Our collection took on a different bent—it was a collection for a collection’s sake. It just wasn’t what we wanted to do. I’m trying to not get too caught up in the frenzy of the commercialized art world. We started working with two young consultants, Baker Montgomery and Spencer Young, who both have advanced art degrees and have worked in the gallery world. I still don’t know what the ultimate goal is. I just want the work to be seen as much as possible. So we’re always trying to help artists get their work in shows or show the work that we helped them make. A lot of this is still taking shape.
Our advice: We started by going to a lot of art fairs, because I think you need to look a lot before you buy. I definitely made some mistakes early on, not knowing enough. I’d buy things and later find out it was a little too easy or I should have thought a little more about it.
Favorite local spot: Grange Hall. They always find amazing, interesting, and very different items from all over the world. I find great presents for Lindsey there, and I buy gifts for many of my friends and family there as well. And when I need to send flowers, that’s where I go.
My first purchase: A Bridget Riley painting from 1982. I was beginning to collect, and I really connected to this piece of art. It is when she began to explore color and contrast after a trip to Egypt.
When I became a “collector”: Ten years ago while working with my art consultant, Aphrodite Gonou, I learned that collecting was an integral part of buying art. Although one should always buy what one loves, it is important to have a sense of the art and how the pieces relate to each other. Collecting helps you focus on that relationship.
My collection: I have collected contemporary British art, and fortunately, I have had personal, unprecedented access to these artists. The Goss-Michael collection not only focuses on the Young British Artists (YBAs). We have collected works by artists such as Richard Long and Bridget Riley that represent the previous generation. I am a great admirer and personal friend of Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, and all of the YBAs. I am very keen on what they do and still represent in the art world today. With that said, we are equally interested in new artists and have been working with dealers and advisers to gain access to this new generation. My interest—and that of the Goss-Michael Foundation—is to promote these talents, both old and new, in America.
My advice: Buy work you love and have a focus. Learn about the artist. Enjoy what you buy.
Favorite local spot: Grange Hall. It encompasses creativity for the home and for gift-giving. And it brings an elegant, Euro-centric selection of items to Dallas.
Howard Rachofsky, with wife Cindy
How it started: I was introduced to an art dealer, Ralph Kahn, who ran the Contemporary Gallery. He was primarily a dealer in prints of modern masters, and that’s where I started collecting. He became a true mentor to me, this going back to the early ’70s. I didn’t really have any inclination; I never took art history, but I was reasonably visual. I credit him with really beginning to urge me to learn a little more and to go to New York and to go look to galleries. Early on, it was about dealing with the names that you sort of knew, because everyone knew Matisse and Picasso and Calder. But you could buy a print, and it was not too dear. You could learn that this is a good one, and this is a better one. It was very much a hobby and certainly not an immersion. It starts out as a curiosity and winds up being an obsession.
When I became a “collector”: I don’t know if there was an “aha” moment, per se, but I do know there was an “aha” moment when our house was realized. As a collector, I became more interested in being a real collector, that this was going to be a passion, that this is something that is part of a bigger conversation with myself, what I wanted to get out of the art and architecture experience. Much of that was driven by this house, and much of that dates all the way back to 1983 when I first met Richard Meier [the architect of the Rachofsky House].
My collection: This building was a late 20th-century, 21st-century vision of classical modernism; it came out of the Bauhaus movement. The first logical commitment would be to artists who espouse that aesthetic sensibility. So you’re talking about Agnes Martin, Donald Judd, Robert Ryman, Carl Andre, Richard Serra, Frank Stella—a certain type of artist. There was a connection to this reduced aesthetic. For the last 15 years since the house, I’ve worked with a curator in New York, Allan Schwartzman. And it became more expansive than just that minimalist vocabulary. Interestingly, the collection has never had a pop art focus. I’ve never really caught the bug.
My advice: You have to look at art. You have to go to galleries and museums. See what strikes you and read about those things. Use the curators at your local museums because they are always anxious to teach and cultivate new collectors. Curators are a relatively inexpensive way of getting art advice without the formality of an art adviser. Just don’t be completely preoccupied with buying—be preoccupied with looking.
Favorite local spot: My daughter works at Forty Five Ten, and I love to see what Brian Bolke buys for that store across a range of categories—home and jewelry, or what I call “art jewelry.” Plus, you get a good sandwich there.
Alden Pinnell, with wife Janelle
How it started: My first purchases were actually black light posters—like velvet posters, which I bought as a kid. I went to Spencer’s and bought panthers and leopards and things like that. Then I remember in high school collecting psychedelic Fillmore posters, a lot of Grateful Dead posters. Luckily my mother would give me a framed photograph of her work for every birthday, so I had some nice things. In my mid-20s, I bought the first painting for real money. I remember going to the Chicago art fair and buying some German artist that was no doubt a mistake, but I remember it was on plaster and of a wolf, and I thought it was so serious and painterly.
Getting serious: I’d say seven, eight years ago I got serious about thinking about the type of collection I was building.
My collection: I’m most interested in collecting artists who are responding to our contemporary world. In the beginning, I purchased work by artists of my parents’ generation—wonderful artists like Donald Judd, Lucas Samaras, Anselm Kiefer, and Ed Ruscha. These guys had a different life experience and lived in a different time. It’s much more fascinating for me to collect work that is a reaction to or a response to a world in which I am currently living.
My advice: Start out slowly—that way you won’t end up with any German wolves. Borrow as many books as you can, see as many shows as you can, and talk to as many collectors as you can. Collectors are very generous with advice to new collectors. I would become a member of as many local institutions as you can and take advantage of their programs. Finally, it doesn’t hurt to take an art history class.
Favorite local shop: Collage
Derek Wilson, with wife Christen and children
Our first purchase: The first real art purchase was a painting in 1997, Richard Phillips’ Eye from the Turner and Runyon Gallery.
When we became “collectors”: On a small scale—1997. But Christen and I really started focusing on it in 2004. Now we can’t stop.
Our collection: It’s a meaningful collection spanning from 1960s minimalists to the artists of today. We encompass all media, including painting, sculpture, new media, photography, and works on paper.
Our advice: Visit your local museums to get a sense of the type of art you are visually drawn to. Join that museum and get to know the curator. They are there to help you. Go on Art Museum Day or a weekend trip. Visit collectors’ homes and see how people live with art. Go to an art fair that represents the art you like. Find an adviser to help you.
Favorite local spots: I think many of the local art galleries are good. Another great source for art is the annual Two by Two for AIDS and Art event.
produced and styled by Jamie Laubhan-Oliver