by D. Dominick Lombardi
Over the years, a few artists have made a point to tell me they care little, if at all, about ever selling their work. Whenever I hear that sentiment, I always feel this twinge of suspicion, as I know what it is like to sell one’s own work. In point of fact, there would be little art to see if there were no collectors. Commercial galleries would not exist and a lot of very creative people would be stressed, repressed and totally misunderstood if there were no patrons or collectors.
Richard Smolin, creator of the website artcycle, is a private, New York based collector who sees collecting as “a happy convergence of events.”
In speaking of how his passion for collecting started, Mr. Smolin said, “The first 'new' New York Armory Show started just about the same time I had some modest funds left over after paying bills. That was 1994. The Armory Show was held in the Gramercy Hotel -- a very intimate and modest show where you shuffled from room to room. I went with a friend who was very interested in the work of a Tracey Emin. To be truthful, the work seemed very odd to me at the time. I don't remember being bowled over -- just challenged. Thinking, OK my friend found this stuff fascinating -- so what am I missing? This was the beginning of a journey of discovery that lead up to purchasing a Tracey Emin work of art for the princely sum of $150! It was significant for me, in both monetary terms and the fact that it was my first step in art collecting. The whole process of finding something new, learning about it -- the community of art, artists, galleries, art shows -- was all very new to me.”
Mr. Smolin, who was hooked right from the start, continues to collect art to this day. “My eye is a lot keener now and I'm less hesitant to pull the trigger. I still pretty much buy art by 'new' artists that do not have a huge following. I’ve had artists tell me they remember me because I was the first person to buy their work. I like that. I prefer to be the first or one of the first when it is more significant to the artist. I would say my $150 purchase in 1994, when only a few souls were purchasing Emin's work, was probably more important to her than a $50,000 sale today. I’d like to think so anyway!”
For some collectors, there is lots of speculation when buying art. For Mr. Smolin, it’s more about believing a work of art is significant, and that the artist is in need of recognition. “As most passionate collectors will tell you, they collect first because they think the art work is important or meaningful to them. What happens to it, as an investment, is secondary. Especially when it comes to emerging artists, it is almost impossible to predict with any certainty what will happen to their career and market value in ten years time. If the artist happens to get anointed by Gagosian or the likes, the market will follow and the career and market value will be strong, at least for a while. Or, sometimes the fates aren't as kind and they become a full-time house painter. Both have happened to artists in my collection. So I am talking from experience!”
In speaking of his selection process, Mr. Smolin stated: “I like it when an artist’s work is consistently strong, or they can change direction and still have something to contribute. So I guess that means that I follow the artist first, then I select the work.”
Art/Trek NYC, courtesy of CJ Follini.
CJ Follini is the founder and CEO of welcometoCOMPANY.com, an online curated art market and community for people that are passionate about emerging art. And it’s the face-to-face events where artists and collectors come together that makes welcometoCOMPANY.com a cut above the rest. In 2011, CJ Follini created and directed Art/Trek NYC, premiering in January 2012: a docu-series that explores NYC's five boroughs in a quest to showcase new and emerging artists.
In discussing the amount of impact collectors have on the market, or on an artist's success, Mr. Follini said: “It certainly depends on the collector and their profile which, in my opinion, is given too much importance. But without a paying public it wouldn’t be called an art 'market' would it? But I’m consistently disheartened by some collectors' lemming-like mentality of making choices. 'So and so bought this artist so you should too' is an all-too-common refrain at art fairs. Please. I believe in a simple criterion espoused by some of my favorite collectors such as the Hort family: buy what you love. Period.”
Fahamu Pecou, “Like Boomerangs When U Throw ‘em”, Acrylic and Oil, 2007, 60 x 56 in.; Collection of CJ Follini.
With regard to an investment strategy, Mr. Follini made it quite clear he gave up a long time ago on purchasing art for profit’s sake. “Every time I bought anything that I did not have an immediate lightning-bolt connection with, it turned out to be a mistake. ‘The buy what you love strategy’ sometimes overlaps with the investment grade strategy but I believe that’s only in coincidence. Take the Vogels for example – God rest Herb’s soul – they probably never understood the value of their pieces a day in their life. A perfect synchronicity of passion, taste and value.”
When asked if he was more interested in the product or the artists he said: “For me, both are equal. I should print T-shirts proclaiming, 'No Dead Artists' or maybe a circle with a line through it. Anyway, the persona and their thought process is equally captivating as the work they produce, but I never fall in love with artists first. It’s the work that grabs my gut before I acknowledge the artist.”
Collecting, when done for the right reasons, is a passion we all can admire and appreciate.
—D. Dominick Lombardi
(Imageon top: Anselm Reyle, Untitled, 28 inch x 24 inch, Foil & Acrylic on Canvas, 2004; Collection of Richard Smolin)