Wall Street Journal Photo Editor Rebecca Horne interviews gallery director Robert Grunder.
Prior to taking on the directorship at blue-chip gallery Joseph K. Levene Fine Art in Manhattan, Robert Grunder trained his expert eye as a painter. Mr Grunder earned his MFA at the Andy Warhol founded New York Academy of Art, and studied closely with such painters as Mark Tansey, Eric Fishl, among others. Mr. Grunder has also held management positions at the Marlborough Gallery and artnet.com. Here he shares some of his considerable insights as a gallery director on collecting and finding what you love.
RH: I’m curious how you began your own collection. Can you tell me how you got started?
RG: My collection started in 1999, an artist gave me a small painting that was a study for a larger work in an exhibition I curated. The painting is by Peter Drake and depicts, in his signature style, a father and son watering a suburban lawn. He uses a reductive technique, sanding away the paint on a thickly gessoed surface to create light. The surface resembles old photos.
RH: Has the way you collect changed since then?
RG: It has changed immensely. Collecting art can become downright addictive. I started bidding and buying works from auction, benefit auctions, Oxbow and from artists themselves.
RH: What is the most satisfying thing about it?
RG: Supporting the arts in any capacity has always been fulfilling for me, but there is even greater satisfaction in surrounding yourself with beautiful and challenging works of art. At times it seems, the only limitation is wall space, especially for a New Yorker!
RH: How do you guide other collectors in building their own collections?
RG: The first thing I always ask a collector is “show me the one thing you can’t live without”. It may sound simple, but it’s important to buy art with your eyes and not your ears.
For example, for a first time buyer of Warhol prints I recommend browsing the Catalogue Raisonne to discover which prints the collector responds to most. It’s better to purchase a signature work, subject matter the artist is most known for, rather than the lowest priced.
If possible, you also want to buy the right work at the right time, there are opportune moments. For example, Jasper Johns prints, he is arguably America’s greatest living artist and the most skilled printmaker since Pablo Picasso. Given the limited number of paintings and drawings he has created his prints are, in my opinion, undervalued.
The Bottom line is you must love it.
Wall Street Journal Photo Editor Rebecca Horne interviews renowned architect Glen Coben.
You may not know Glen Coben, but you probably know his work. During his 48 years as an architect, Mr. Coben has built many familiar spaces. Among Glen & Company’s recent projects are 59 restaurants, with 47 of them in New York, such as Mario Batali’s Del Posto. Before opening Glen & Company in 2000, some of Mr. Coben’s projects included: The Four Continents Bridge and The Isuzu Space Station in Japan; domestic and international NIKETOWNS; The Theater for the Academy Awards and The Hacienda Football Stadium in Los Angeles; and The Coca-Cola Sky Field in Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Coben takes a collaborative approach to designing interiors, and sees artwork as an essential element.
RH: When planning spaces, how do you think about integrating artworks?
GC: We begin by understanding the mission of the project….what are the goals, what is the function, what will the guests experience in the spaces/spaces? Once we have the “outline” of the story, we begin to solve the problem spatially. Once we have the flow and spaces defined, we look at focal points and what nuances will assist us in adding layers to the narrative.
RH: How does this work–can you give an example?
GC: We designed a hotel which originally opened as “fashion 26 – A Wyndham Hotel” (it is now referred to as Hilton Fashion District). Our focus was to bring the notion of American Garment-making into a narrative. The front desk was designed as an homage to a sewing table….we commissioned an artist to create cast aluminum “bobbins” that are used to create a screen to hide the computer monitors. We also commissioned the artist Devorah Sperber to create a wall hanging piece as a focal element in the Lobby. Devorah works in spools of thread, which were the perfect complement to the theme! We also commissioned several photographers to create a series of images for the guest rooms….these images are of details of garment making….from a close-up of a sewing machine’s needle to a pile of buttons and the knot of a tie.
RH: Can you elaborate a bit on what you mean by “story”?
GC: The “story” of a project is the narrative we use to create a connection between the project and the guest. We always strive to “localize” and customize the guest experience…whether it is a retail store for Nike that tells the guest all about the product and imbues the space with the values of the brand, or a restaurant for a chef such as Dr. Miguel Sanchez Romera, where the story told was all about him–where he studied, where he practiced his medicine and what his passions are. The hard part is creating the narrative, but once it is established, all future design decisions are based on that “story”.
RH: How does art change the identity of a space? Do you work with images that play off shapes or colors already built into the space?
GC: Art selected or commissioned carefully adds to the overall narrative of the design. Conversely, art hung on a wall just for the sake of it is like a bad music soundtrack–it is obvious that it just wasn’t thought out!
RH: Are there guidelines you can use for both kinds of spaces- a home and a hotel room, or are they at odds with each other?
GC: No rules. Except the pieces need to “mean” something. Just as our designs are meant to tell stories, each of the parts of the puzzle need to add to that narrative.
RH: What is the most important function art can have in a space, in addition to adding to the design narrative?
GC: It shouldn’t smack the guest in the face–it should be in harmony with the space and surroundings.
Today we are thrilled to introduce Rebecca Horne a new contributor to the Lux Archive blog!
Rebecca Horne is Photo Editor on the weekend edition for The Wall Street Journal and contributor to the Ideas Market and Photo Journal blogs on WSJ.com. Previously she was the Photo Director at Discover Magazine. At Discover she produced photography that garnered awards from PDN, American Photography, and Folio Magazine and launched and wrote a photography blog, Visual Science. Her own work in photography has been exhibited in the US and internationally.
Rebecca will take it from here — introducing the subject of a recent interview she did with renowned art collector Douglas Nielsen:
Douglas Nielsen’s art collection has attracted attention not just from people lucky enough to see it in his Arizona loft, but also from museum-goers. The Douglas Nielsen collection was the subject of an exhibition “Thanks for Being With Us: Contemporary Art from the Douglas Nielsen Collection” at the Tucson Museum of Art in July 2010. A former dancer, Douglas Nielsen has been a guest teacher and choreographer at more than 40 universities throughout the United States and abroad. Among the numerous awards and honors Nielsen has garnered are four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a performing arts fellowship from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Nielsen’s work in dance influences the way he appreciates visual arts, and how he has built his personal collection. He took some time out to discuss his approach with me for Lux Archive.
Rebecca Horne: How do you feel about the works in your collection over time? Has the work aged well?
Douglas Nielsen: In a word, YES. I re-appreciate the collection every time I review it. I couldn’t part with any of it. Before I acquire a fine art photograph I ask myself (as Avedon once said), can it ‘hold the wall’. If I don’t think so – I buy the book. I have way too many books – monograms and museum catalogues. In a way it’s a shame to have so many closed books around with fantastic images hidden inside them – but there is no need to ‘own’ everything – or have it in full view. But, back to your question, yes, what I do collect has definitely passed the test of time.
RH: How has your work as a choreographer influenced the way you look at art and built your collection?
DN: Choreography is such an ephemeral art form. Now you see it, now you don’t. The body is necessary in dance. A writer can write alone, and a painter can paint alone, but I can’t choreograph by myself. I need people. When the curator of the Tucson Museum of Art chose various images from my collection for the exhibit, I realized, that many of my photographs have reference to the human condition.
The frozen moment of a majority of my photographs capture the body in various circumstances: Bruce in his car by Nan Goldin, A man with a fan by Jo Ann Callis, Two men with colored circles over their faces by John Baldessari, The fat lady in the circus with her little dog troubles by Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman as pregnant, a man with a Zebra skull over his face by Herb Ritts, The beauty composites by Nancy Burson– they all inspire and trigger my imagination. Gesture is essential to my work. I’m as much interested in ‘pedestrian’ movement, as in technical ‘dance’ vocabulary. To me, a dancer is primarily ‘human’, and secondarily a ‘dancer’.
RH: How do you feel about collecting photography vs. other types of art like painting and sculpture? What is your favorite photo or photographer from your collection?
DN: Favorites are fickle. I don’t have ‘favorites’. Seriously, I treat every part of my collection equally. There is a trick to that though – I move things around a lot. If an image stays in one place too long, I stop seeing it. By rearranging my collection, I rediscover it, and see it fresh again for the next while. In my loft, painting, sculpture, and photography all live intermingled equally.
RH: You’ve talked about trying to steer away from the “hierarchy of ‘what’s important’ ” –how do you do this, in practice?
DN: I remember seeing Andy Warhol at the flea market on Sixth Avenue one Sunday morning in the early 1970’s buying a cookie jar. I thought how refreshing that was that he could see the value in that. I have often been accused –especially by designers – of placing a five dollar hula doll next to a Burtynsky photograph – as if that breaks some rule of thumb. To me, they both have integrity. I absolutely do not perceive or measure anything by it’s ‘market value’. In my mind’s eye there is no ‘hierarchy’.
RH Do you look specifically for work that you feel will continue to be strong and relevant over time? If so, how do you try to do that?
DN: I very rarely search or ‘look’ for a specific work. The work finds me – and when that happens, we become friends. I trust that it will last, and so far it has. Like a relationship, the loyalty and respect continues as long as there is no betrayal. And, as of yet, nothing in my collection has betrayed me.
The goal of the Lux Archive Blog is to inform and educate people like you about fine art photography. Whether you’re a university student or long time art collector you’ve come to the right place.
Here you’ll find thoughtful, engaging content including interviews with artists, curators, collectors, and interior designers about a range of topics related to fine art photography. You’ll also find occasional announcements related to the photography prints that we sell on our sister website Lux Archive. Nevertheless, this blog will stand on it’s own as a valuable resource for fine art lovers; regardless of whether they’re looking to make a purchase.
We are excited to introduce our very first interview on this blog! We spoke with the very intelligent and accomplished Karen Irvine, Curator and Associate Director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. She has organized over forty exhibitions of contemporary photography at the MoCP and other institutions and is a part-time instructor of photography at Columbia College Chicago. Our discussion follows below.
Let us know what you think! Join the conversation on our Facebook page and on Twitter @LuxArchive
LUX ARCHIVE: You consistently produce interesting new topics for exhibitions, how do you come up with ideas for curating a show?
IRVINE: Most of my ideas come from meeting an individual artist and seeing what they’re working on and then thinking ‘wow, what a great idea, what a great topic.’ Most of the group shows I organize stem from one person’s work and expand on it. For example I’m working on a crime show right now which opens at the end of October and although I had been considering the topic for some time, the impetus for organizing the show this year was a book project I began working on with Christian Patterson of his Redheaded Peckerwood work [about crime]. I built a group show of eight artists who look back at crimes, mostly historical but some more recent, and revisit violent stories. So that’s a very typical scenario. And then sometimes ideas come from looking at what’s happening in the world and then thinking ‘okay, this seems like an important topic.’ We also want to keep our programming fresh so we try to do a variety of things to appeal to different people and different audiences.
LUX ARCHIVE: Do you fee like there are certain photographic topics or content that appeal to certain audiences?
IRVINE: Our general audience still likes very classical photography. We have an amazing collection of historical work and I think sometimes people expect to see work by extremely well-known photographers such as Ansel Adams when they come to a photography museum. I think at its broadest, our audience is typically looking for that sort of work. What they think of as fine art photography is typically black and white, very sharp photographs of an exotic place or some grand scene.
LUX ARCHIVE: What about the people who are in their late twenties or thirties, who didn’t grow up with Ansel Adams or black and white photography, do they respond more to the ‘contemporary’ works?
IRVINE: That’s a good question—I’ve never measured it in any way, but I wouldn’t say they respond more to contemporary works, but are perhaps more open to them. Possibly because everybody’s hooked to a screen and used to looking at a lot of imagery all the time on the Internet, I do think that it makes sense that there are certain types of artwork that that a younger generation would respond to a little bit more easily. I’m very interesting in challenging, conceptual work but I also have to keep in mind that a lot of people walking into this museum perhaps don’t engage with contemporary art or photography on a regular basis, so I’m always looking for artists who make work that is accessible on some level, and then has multiple layers of concept and complexity. Work that can be appreciated if you know about art history or not, if you know about the political situation of this place or not, or what have you—but there should be something that can touch everyone.
LUX ARCHIVE: Do you have your own personal collection of photography that you collect?
IRVINE: At home I have mostly small membership prints like the ones our museum commissions from artists to sell and raise money for our programming. Since photographs are editioned artists often are able to produce large editions at smaller sizes for various purposes. I’ve bought some from because it’s a good way to get nice pieces of work cheaper—but the end result is that everything is a bit more miniature. Working as a curator I have the pleasure of collecting vicariously for my institution. I also keep a collection of bad photography in my desk, just really cheesy stuff that comes in as mailers, for example. At one point I am going to make all my colleagues Christmas cards with images from that collection.
LUX ARCHIVE: Do you have any recommendations for younger collectors out there who are interested in starting a collection or adding to one?
IRVINE: It’s all about just getting to know the medium and what you like. So I think the best advice is to travel and look at shows, visit galleries, and start by buying things like the membership prints I mentioned. In general the rule is never buy for investment but buy because you love it. I think if you love what you buy you can’t make any mistakes. And the great thing about collecting contemporary work is that you can meet the artist. I would encourage people to reach out to the artists, often they’re very accessible and it will likely enrich your experience with their work.
Find out more about the exhibitions at MoCP >>