You belong to me
Why collecting art is like falling in love
“Every piece of art has its owner, but you have to get the two in the same room together for it to happen,” said Liz Donner, the 27-year-old proprietor of Fools Foundation. She laid out her theory early one Saturday morning, before the public began meandering in to see that month’s show of glass mosaic portraits by Jessica Henry and drawings by Troy Mighty. Her voice echoed off the concrete walls of the gallery, lending extra weight to her observations.
“It is like meeting someone when you find a piece of art on the art walk,” Donner said in a confiding tone. “It’s like, ‘Oh, he’s cuuute.’ And you walk over: ‘I’m gonna take you home.’ By chance, you run into this thing that’s got to be in your house and has to be close to you. It’s really intimate.”
“It’s like something you shouldn’t be able to own, that’s the thing,” Donner continued. “Someone else did this completely by themselves, it’s the only one out there and you get to buy it and take it home.”
Put that way, finding a piece of art you truly love seems akin to finding a soul mate. An artist, very often a stranger to you, labors to create a unique object that expresses his or her personal life and somehow that piece strikes a similar chord with your own inner workings. Factor in the odds that the work happens to be on display in your town, and happens to be for sale, and art collecting becomes less an act of commerce than an act of faith.
Not just faith that you will find the right piece for you, but faith in the person who created it."[Buying art] gives the artist a lot of positive energy through a person who’s going to take their work home and look at it all the time,” Donner said. “They have someone looking at their work thinking, ‘God, that’s beautiful and that artist is going to do really well and the one that I picked will be worth more later.'”
If buying art is born of love, then collecting solely for investment potential or name recognition can take on a suspect quality, like marrying for money or acquiring a trophy wife. The practice breeds conflicted emotions in the hearts of local gallery owners, many of whom are avid collectors themselves. Financially motivated collectors do pay the bills, but the exchange loses that loving feeling.
“I like to see people buy art because it does speak to them, however it does,” said Pamela Skinner of the Pamela Skinner Gwenna Howard Gallery, a 15-year veteran of gallery ownership, “as opposed to someone buying something because it has a name attached to it or because their friends know who the artist is.”
“We have some clients who don’t even buy what they like any more,” said Lynda Jolley, who runs JayJay gallery with art consultant Beth Jones. “They just play the market, period. Beth’s bought a couple of things like that recently but it’s no fun, because she didn’t even look at them and they’re just hidden away.”
“It’s really sad that people would buy art and just put it away,” Donner agreed. “That’s like not wearing a diamond, ever. It just sits there in its jewelry box all alone.”
So how do you meet the art of your dreams? A lot rests on timing and the mysterious laws of attraction, but there are ways to increase your odds. The first is to know what you like, and the best way to do that is to get out there and see what’s on exhibit in Sacramento.Jolley recommends visiting nearby galleries, over a three-month period, to see how their shows change month to month. “I would introduce myself to whoever was at the galleries, because nine times out of 10 it’s going to be the owner. It’s going to be someone who has a lot of knowledge,” she said. “We’re very chatty about it, very happy to share.”
“Don’t be intimidated. We’re here to educate as much as we can about art,” Skinner advised. “You don’t have to know what the title means. You don’t have to know everything about a painting. People think they have to be able to say, ‘Oh, this work does …’ I think they just have to like it and that’s all that matters.”
If you’re too shy to talk with gallery owners, lurking in the Second Saturday crowds decreases your chance of being personally approached until you’re ready to make your move. “Especially if your budget is $100 or less, try going to Second Saturday in Midtown and going to all the salons and boutiques,” said Olivia Coelho, whose clothing store Olipom features monthly art shows. “You have a better chance of finding something that’s going to be less expensive than in the galleries. It’ll probably be from someone local who’s just starting out, and then you can be supportive of the artists in your community.”
Just make sure the artists are supportive of you. Like any relationship, buying art requires a balance of give and take between creator and collector—in essence, a fair price. “A lot of times people are right out of college and they’re confused,” Coelho explained. “They think it’s more prestigious to price work high, that that makes the work more valuable. When I see someone right out of college pricing their work in the thousands of dollars, I just think it seems pretentious."Sometimes artists get drunk after shows,” Coelho continued, “and start giving away art like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ As your customer, I don’t want to be the schmuck that coughed up the money. If I would have waited until you had two more beers in you, it would have been free? I think it makes an ass of the people who are trying to support you. And if you just would have picked a fair price, most of your work would have sold anyway and you wouldn’t have gotten pissed off and wanted to give it away.”
No one said the path to love—of art or people—was easy, but the rewards are many. “It’s really a neat experience to buy art, especially if you’ve never done it before,” Donner said. “It’s kind of a rush, like getting a tattoo. And once someone buys something once, I usually see them again.”
A trick of the camera
The abstract photography of Marguerite Schaffron