This spring I moved to Nashville from New York to be a guest curator at Cheekwood, and within a few weeks I was introduced to the collections of established local art patrons. Their art possessions come with serious provenance — they have traveled through prestigious museums and major auction houses. Some own single paintings that cost more than an average person's home. If you ask these people about their collections, their lips tighten into a straight line and you can almost see an inner alarm system going off. It's sort of like asking about a stock portfolio, which, essentially, is what art collections of that caliber are.
I, on the other hand, can be transparent about my modest collection, most of which has been donated to me by artists themselves. But I'm also the kind of budding collector that looks at Herb and Dorothy Vogel — the famous librarian and postal-worker couple who cultivated an enviable collection of contemporary art with their modest incomes — for guidance. I don't have disposable income, I work in the arts and therefore make scratch, but in the interest of putting money where my mouth is, I invest in artists.
I don't just buy their work because I think it looks good, although that certainly counts. First I consider the way it fits into my already existing family of art works, and I think about the influence the new piece will have on my future trajectory. And, yeah, I consider it an investment, because as it stands now, the monetary value of my collection could fund a no-frills trip around the world.
Now that I’m in Nashville, I plan to purchase works by primarily regional/local artists. I believe the only way to keep advancing the local art community is to support it. Rather than looking for ways Nashville reminds me of, say, New York, L.A., or another major art center, I am interested in seeing Nashville be Nashville. I think it does best when it basks in what it is known for.
My first Nashville gallery purchase is "Hidden" by Jessica Wohl. I decided to buy it after attending the opening of the Zeitgeist exhibition SUB URBAN LEGENDS. Having grown up in Nashville, I am all too familiar with the theme of this exhibition. Family disillusionment is evident in Wohl’s eerie sewn-over found photographs. It follows in the tradition of artists like Anne Collier who play with notions of the banal via exhausted conceptualism. I am a big fan of artists who can cleverly answer the million-dollar question in art: What can you do when nothing is new anymore? It is a relevant challenge, and Wohl’s work dryly faces up to it while incorporating a personal historical narrative that doesn’t dominate the work.
The culture of collecting is instinctual. As the art historian Maurice Rheims explained, “For the child, collecting represents the most rudimentary way to exercise control over the outer world: by laying things out, grouping them, handling them.” This point remains true now. I am nearly 30 and rather controlling over my own little microcosm of the world. Art collecting allows me to add people and other ideas to this unraveling (but contained) personal narrative.