Artists who care about their work want their works to go to the right people. When I worked at an art advisory firm in New York, I encountered several situations where an artist wouldn't approve of certain collectors, and would turn down A LOT of money. If they had any suspicion that the work would get lost or forgotten or not be properly appreciated — or now and then, if they didn’t want their work associated with other artists in a particular collection — then the purchase was denied.
This is why certain artworks are worth millions of dollars. It is about the journey — the provenance — the artworks take once they leave the artist’s studio. Ideally they go to collectors or institutions who are prepared to share the work with museums and universities so the public can experience them too. Buying a piece of art doesn’t mean finding something attractive to put above your sofa (although it's fine if it looks cool above your sofa). The artist and collector become intertwined in a way, a part of the developing story within the work — which ultimately contributes to the artist’s overall success.
Now back to Mike. His body of work is riddled with various homages to his family and his upbringing in Tennessee. But it is only in "Norm" where he directly references his father. It is far more typical for artists to express some sort of anger or dissatisfaction with their parents if they choose to address them in their art. Robert Melee comes to mind instantly — when he presented his flashy bibulous mother in one of his first New York solo shows at Andrew Kreps Gallery. Making a point of her exposed breasts and crass behavior, Melee exhibited her to his audience as a living joke, or like an animal at the zoo, and claimed her to be an art piece. Artists have a tendency to work through a variety of complexes — Oedipal and otherwise — in their work. "Norm" is the rare piece that exposes the familial bond as a source of pride.
Side by side with last month's purchase, “Hidden,” by Jessica Wohl, I am seeing a theme in my art collection: family. A second similarity: This is another piece where the subject’s face is obscured. Together, these ideas have given me insight into something about my own identity.
I am currently drawn to a wry brand of pathos that is linked to the concept of family. These pieces come into my life at a time when I am constantly self-reflecting on my return to my hometown of Nashville. I never thought I would be back. I used to cringe when my high school friends anticipated their return to Nashville after college because it was “a good place to raise a family.” I was not interested in that at all. But now after all my adventures, I’m back during the year that marks my ten year high school reunion, and I am collecting contemporary art about family. The art seems to watch me from the walls, whispering, “You too will join this legacy.”
Veronica Kavass recently returned to her hometown of Nashville. Most recently she was the guest contemporary art curator at Cheekwood. Prior to that, she was a freelance oral historian and the director of an artist residency in New York. She got a master's degree in curatorial practice (i.e. "art history lite") from Chelsea College of Art in 2007, where she assisted with Tate Britain and Venice Biennial exhibitions.