Collecting as Practice: an Interview with Jeremy E. Steinke of the Guggenheim Young Collectors Council
Jeremy Steinke bought his first piece of art right after graduating college. It was a poem on green xerox by Tracey Emin called Fighting for Love (1998). He was working at a gallery in New York City that was representing her, and, as he remembers it, didn’t really think of his first acquisition as collecting.
“I just thought, ‘I love this, it’s so interesting,’” Steinke remembers. “Once I framed it, it felt like a real piece of art – which it was, I just didn’t register it in that way. After that, I guess I’ve never really stopped.”
He left the commercial art world shortly after for the film industry, professionally speaking, but for all intents and purposes he is even more involved in the art world than he was as a recent graduate working in a commercial gallery.
He’s a long-time member of the Guggenheim’s Young Collectors Council, can count many artists, art advisors, and curators as friends, and collects several pieces a month (he has yet to resell a piece). He’s run out of wall space by now to display his entire collection, so his home in Brooklyn is in a continuous state of curation.
Steinke’s passion for art and collecting is incredible; he speaks of it with this sense of overwhelming gratitude that he’s fortunate enough to live a life full of art. He calls collecting a “practice,” not a task to be finished or a hobby but rather a lifelong pursuit.
Indeed, he takes every opportunity available to him as a member of a young patrons group to stay close to the pulse of the art world. He visits artist studios, attends panel discussions, and participates in the acquisition process for the Guggenheim Museum. This last piece, for him, is why he continues his membership at the Guggenheim year after year. No other patrons council, at least one that he’s been a part of, has young patrons actively engage with the acquisition of art for that institution. Twice a year he attends a meeting with curators and some sixty other young patrons to collectively decide what the Guggenheim should purchase.
CHRISTOPHER WOOL, My House I; II; III, the complete set of three screenprints in colors, 2000, on wove paper, each signed and dated in pencil, numbered, published by Counter Editions, London., 40 x 30 in.; Collection of Jeremy E. Steinke.
“After seven and a half years, I’m still startled by the ability to be able to take a part and practice in acquiring emerging artists for an institution at the scale of the Guggenheim Museum,” Steinke says. “It’s really, really interesting and exciting. It hasn’t stopped being exciting which is why I keep doing it.”
For other young collectors, he says joining a young patrons group is the best way to stay involved.
“It allows you to put yourself into the cauldron of what the art world is about and it’s not just about the transaction,” Steinke said. “You learn so much more from being around people that are your age and kind of going through the same things as you. It’s like being back in college in a way.”
His own aesthetic, he says, isn’t pretty, at least not in the traditional sense. He doesn’t select art because of its beauty, nor does he collect according to auction rankings or based on recommendations from advisors. He collects what he loves, what interests him, what challenges him to think differently. He says he never really collects pieces for their investment potential, though he doesn’t deny that he’s been fortunate enough to have made some smart choices.
This has freed him to seek out works that are the most meaningful to him from artists that he wants to support and see succeed. He says he’s a committed supporter of young and emerging artists, which make up most of his collection, and several have gone on to become big names in contemporary art, such as Christopher Wool, from whom he purchased a silkscreen piece in 2000.
“I don’t think people realize that buying a work of art that’s $1,500 or $2,500 or $5,000 can literally change someone’s life as an artist at a young stage,” Steinke said.
Now perhaps a veteran collector in the young collectors council, Steinke offers two pieces of advice for young people looking to start a collection: buy what you like and don’t limit yourself.
The first he says is integral to the joy of collecting.
“If you just look at auction results and you say, 'these are the five artists that are performing the best in the art market right now, I should have those five people,' I don’t think you’re going to feel a real connection to the process of collecting. You have to have your own connection to it. It can’t just be a bottom line,” Steinke says.
Jeremy E. Steinke; photograph by Ashley Barrett.
For this kind of collecting, you don’t have to have an advisor. Indeed, he encourages other young collectors to explore beyond the top of their price ranges. This means not hesitating to buy the $500 drawing as well as a work from a more established artist. The joy should come in finding pieces that inspire and provoke thought and such works can be found online, in a gallery, or from artists themselves.
The latest addition to Steinke’s collection is a drawing by Emily Roysdon, which is part of her exhibition that was on display in Russia and then in Venice during the Biennale. He also recently acquired a painting from Travis Boyer and a sculpture from Alex Da Corte.
“I have no idea what to do with it. I have no idea where it’s going to go but it’s totally exciting,” Steinke said of his latest Da Corte sculpture. In any case, it’s found a good home.
“Being able to live with art is such a gift,” Steinke said. “You look around and you see things that you love and are really interesting to you, and it just makes your life richer and more rewarding.”
(image at top: Alex Da Corte, Astral Vascular / Week 7, 2012, Plastic brances, silver foil paper, aluminium foil, copper wire, plastic flower and cord, 40 x 30 x 10 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Joe Sheftel Gallery, Collection of Jeremy E. Steinke.)