What Art Do The Artists We Collect, Collect?

I had a wonderful evening at 192 bookstore in Chelsea, listening to authors Stacey Goergen and Amanda Benchley talk about their new book, Artists Living With Art. The authors shared riveting stories about visiting top blue chip artists’ homes and seeing what art artists themselves choose to collect. As someone who regards collectors as the unsung hero’s driving the art world, this subject held a special appeal.  Unlike many contemporary art collectors, artists are not buying art for investment. Artists have cultivated and confident eyes and are not ‘wowed’ by the retail value of a work of art. In fact, Brice Marden placed his Rauchenberg on the floor leaning against the wall in his dining room. The Marden’s home, in Tivoli New York, like the other artists featured, present a showcase for the artists many years of worldly travel and varied artistic interests.

This new and stunning  book, published by Harry Abrams,  surveys 25 New York based artists’ homes, through photographs and interviews of 10 women, 10 men and 5 couples. The authors considered  also covering Los Angeles based artists but found it to be a very different city with very different light. As a result, the authors decided to hone their focus on a very “New York” asthetic. Even within that confine, there is an exciting variety.  Some artists like Sol Le Witt have over 9,000 pieces in their collection, while someone like Tauba Auerbach, live in a meticulous sparse space. Rob Storr, in his forward, breaks it down, stating, that some artists have the collector gene, “many artists don’t want clutter or visual noise around their personal living quarters”.

Of course in many cases, artists have acquired artwork through doing trades with their colleagues. Cindy Sherman gave Chuck Close a portrait of herself as a nurse when Chuck Close was in the hospital. She felt grateful to him because he was one of the first people to see, purchase and support her work early on. Trading art work with other artists however can prove tricky in terms of establishing equal or unequal retail value, which then triggers ‘gift tax’ considerations. So, more often than not, artists actually go out and purchase art work. It is their pleasure to show their financial support for a younger generation.

Surprisingly, most artists do not hang their own work in their home, although in some cases a unique or very early piece of theirs will be found on display. Instead, artists tend to collect art that reflects and informs their practice. For example, John Currin has a late Picabia of a pin up girl right beside an old master drawing. Chuck Close has shelves lining his foyer filled with tightly cropped head and shoulder portraits all done by other artists.   Andre Serrano, who lives in a duplex in the village, has paneled his home with limestone from old churches. He creates a very gothic ambiance with religious icons and old oak doors. There is a stillness in his home that mimics the quiet stirring nature in his photography. Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham live in what could be described as a doll house.

What do artists like Joan Jonas, Glenn Ligon, Cindy Sherman and Mary Heilmann have in common? Chinese scholar stones! Almost all the artist homes display relics from nature that have formed over time. Begs the question of art’s relation to the creativity of nature. There is also a proliferation of ceramic and textile pieces in many of the artists collections. You may wonder if there are specific artists that seem to crop up in a majority of collections. The answer is yes. Ray Johnson, Kiki Smith, Alex Katz, Lisa Yuskavage and a relatively unknown color field painter Steve Mueller, are among a few of the names most artist’s own. 

Artists Living With Art is a beautifully produced book, filled with gorgeous interiors that make you salivate as well as ogle over the who’s who in who’s house. Even the artists who participated were anxious to see the book’s completed publication. They too, share the simple intrigue and salacious pleasure of seeing the private collections and homes of today’s great artists. 

Words/Photo: Lizanne Merrill © Artlyst 2015

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