February 1st, 2006
Town & Country
Shopping Smart for Art
by Jori Finkel
Buying art is a huge gamble, particularly in today's overheated market. T&C sheds light on a few savvy acquisition strategies, from pursuing the relatively inexpensive prints made by top living painters to tracking the artists whose work prominent collectors currently favor.
FOLLOW THE LEADERS
It's hard to predict who among the current crop of working artists will really endure, becoming museum superstars and commanding fantastic sums for their work a decade or two down the road. But one thing's for sure: veteran collectors continue to lead the way as they travel far and wide to develop their eyes and fill their walls. We asked a few of the country's top contemporary-art connoisseurs about their recent discoveries.
These are folks who have anticipated market trends in the past. Investor Howard Rachofsky and his wife, Cindy, filled their Dallas house with blue-chip minimalism by Donald Judd and Agnes Martin long before the artists became art-world darlings. Los Angeles media executive Dean Valentine was buying John Currin almost a decade before the artist's recent breakthrough museum shows. And Miami real-estate developer Craig Robins began buying works by the South African-born painter Marlene Dumas five years ago and has already watched her prices soar.
So, what are they interested in today? What they're not interested in is anything that smacks of trendiness. As Cindy Rachofsky explains, "One of the things we ask ourselves when we travel to art show fairs like Frieze in London is who has been overlooked in the unbelievable frenzy for who's hot now." For the Rachofskys, that has meant supporting such Italian Arte Povera painters as Marisa Merz, who is not so avidly collected in the U.S., as well as sculptor Jim Hodges, no matter where he falls on the art world's thermometer. Valentine and fairs like Frieze in London is who has been overlooked in the unbelievable frenzy for who's hot now." For the Rachofskys, that has meant supporting such Italian Arte Povera painters as Marisa Merz, who is not so avidly collected in the U.S., as well as sculptor Jim Hodges, no matter where he falls on the art world's thermometer. Valentine and Robins, both known for taking risks on new and untested artists, are branching out by adding the works of historically important and midcareer artists to their walls. (Notably, both men say they are looking more and more at pioneering Conceptual art from the 1970s, work that is often underappreciated and thus undervalued.)
Of course, these collectors will go out of their way to explain that they do not buy for investment purposes. They buy what they love; they buy from the heart. But if you're trying to figure out where the art market is heading, it can't hurt to knowwhat makes their hearts beat faster.
"My husband and I own more work by Jim Hodges and Tom Friedman than by any other contemporary artist and continue to support both their careers. When we got married in 2000, we took down every piece of art in our house so we could give Jim a commission?he did the most beautiful, sensual work by filling an entire wall with silk flowers for our wedding. And we just bought a sculpture by Tom from his fall show at Feature Inc., in New York: a selfportrait he made out of paint and nothing but paint, layer after layer of it, until it formed a rubbery slab that was an image of his body on the floor. I'm married to an extremely obsessive man, so I totally understand Tom's quest for this intense level of perfection."
"I usually focus on emerging artists, but the prices are growing way out of control. So this year I'm continuing to collect in depth two historically important artists: Richard Tuttle and John Baldessari. I've bought several sculptures and collages by Tuttle, plus some photo-based works by Baldessari, a Conceptual artist who really taught an entire generation how to use words as art and words in art. Another great recent purchase I made was at Art Basel last summer: a suite of seven water-colors by Marlene Dumas?very erotic and very powerful."
"Lots of kids straight out of Columbia or Yale knock out a few figurative paintings, and all of a sudden they're on top of the art market. Amy Adler is different; she's had a serious but quiet career for the last ten years. The canvas from her Rainbow Hour series that I just bought at ACME in Los Angeles shows a young girl standing at a window. It's a very accomplished body of work, all done in pastels, which is really hard to do on a canvas that large. It's about girls who turn four or five years old and start to act like princesses?a bittersweet moment because you know the phase isn't going to last."