At Home With The Directors: Why (And How!) We Collect Art
A SUPERFINE! GUIDED HOME TOUR
At Superfine! in Miami this past December, we hosted a lively panel discussion entitled "Sorry, I'm Not A Collector." The title, a reference to a quote from a Seattle-based Microsoft exec at an art fair out west, belies the actual point of the conversation: to challenge what makes someone an art collector, and encourage people at all stages of life to either begin or expand their own collection. Collecting original artwork is a bug that my partner (and Superfine! creative director) James Miille and I have certainly caught, and I for one think we're all the better for it. One of the central aims of Superfine! is to inspire collecting among people at all demographic and income levels, and we feel very strongly about doing all we can to help illuminate the path to being a mindful and supportive art collector. On top of that, collecting allows us to immerse ourselves in the market we're helping grow, and gain an insider's perspective on what makes art-lovers tick as well as the concerns of artists and galleries.
To show you a bit of what we love, and provide some pointers on how best to grow a meaningful collection of your own while still staying within your budget, we decided to bring you home with us! We hope that our own personal experience with art collecting will be of some help to budding and experienced collectors alike. So read on, check out our collection, and enjoy!
EXPRESS YOURSELF, FIND YOUR NICHE(S)
One of the very cool things about collecting art is that each piece is so limited that you're often the only one who has it (in the case of an original work) or even if it's an editioned print, you're one of very few. It's a way that you can truly express your own individuality within your home or any other space you live or work in, and one of the exciting parts of starting to identify favorite artists and collect their work is that you'll begin to see patterns and trends not only in the work but in the ways of thinking that drew you to it initially. It's important and rewarding to identify these trends and follow them as you'll ultimately end up with a collection that's uniquely suited to you rather than a house full of regrets.
ALEX: Our collection is all over the map from street art illustrative pieces by Ramiro Davaro-Comas to faux-naïve painted pennants by Peyton Freiman, and a great breadth of work by our local Miami artists, but we've definitely identified a few loosely defined categories that tend to embody our tastes. Queer/gay art that still feels classically motivated is a big cornerstone of our collection. I came across a Taschen book about "godfather of queer art" James Bidgood, a New York photographer who painstakingly turned his Manhattan apartment into a myriad of highly stylized tableaus. In his scenes, he'd execute these photo shoots with attractive young men that are at the same time sensual and completely innocent. By researching, I came across his representing gallery ClampArt. After emailing the owner, Brian Clamp, we were able to obtain one of Bidgood's photographs and can't wait to showcase it (side note: we're also very excited to have ClampArt on board as an exhibitor in Superfine! NYC this May, where they'll be showing work by Scott Daniel Ellison). We also have works by painter Gio Black Peter, who's been compared to a modern day Gauguin and was also a Superfine! exhibitor this past December. His works are part S&M, part Sundays in the park with George. Both vibes at once - they're really something unique.
We also really love locally relevant art that fits into our own narrative. We're back and forth between New York and Miami and my heart exists in both places, so our collection embodies that. One of the first pieces I bought while living in NYC was a distorted perspective landscape of Central Park by Joshua Benson, and it now hangs above our dining nook in our Miami Beach apartment. From a Miami standpoint, we've got works by Stuart Sheldon, a master of literary collage and mixed media paintings, along with pieces by Jenny Perez, Luis Lazo, Jean-Paul Mallozzi, Santiago Garza, and our very own Superfine! Director of Exhibitor Relations Deming King Harriman. We even had our friends from the artist duo Nice'N Easy (who did an incredible installation and backdrop at Superfine! Miami in December) show our stairwell some tropical vernacular love with our very own in-apartment swimming pool!
JAMES: Beyond queer/gay art and locally relevant art, our home collection also includes a great deal of deeper and more emotional artwork--art that puts a picture to a narrative and elicits thoughts and feelings you can't quite describe. One of my favorite pieces hangs in our office from Moroccan-born, Paris-based artist Mina El Bakali. We bought it in Paris during a show at Galerie 55Bellechasse that both Mina and I were a part of. The work is both drawing and mixed media collage, and it depicts a swarm of wolves with the cutout of a human fetus glowing inside of one of the beasts, and at the bottom reads the words, "Depuis que je suis née, je n'ai jamais cessé de hurler ma douleur"-- ever since I was born, I have never ceased to yell my pain. It's very deep and moving. We've curated a majority of this narrative-based artwork into a salon-style wall in our bedroom that doubles as art that is very personal to Alex's and my life stories. The wall includes works from the likes of Miami artists Lori Nozick and Alex Zastera, as well as an anonymous yet very captivating work Alex found on the streets of New York when he lived there--not to mention a handful of original Alex Mitow collages as well as a black and white photo I captured of Alex near the very beginning of our relationship.
Whether it was intentional or by accident, we've also grown very fond of artwork with a bit darker humor. We decided to turn one of our bathrooms into an ominous yet playful lavatory that appears to be straight out of an old-time Hollywood hotel room, complete with aging vintage portraits with their eyes scratched out by artist Nico Mingozzi, courtesy of Galleria d'Arte Raffaella De Chirico. Along our hallway, we've very fittingly hung a painting by Uruguayan artist Ana Braconi that we got at MACHETE while in Mexico City. The little painting depicts Annie's death scene (just before the act) in the movie "Halloween" above a series of painted "cassettes" by VHS Girl that we found at SCOPE Miami last year, in New Orleans-based Red Truck Gallery's booth. We've noticed with our collection that while we do have very noticeable niches in the artwork we're drawn to, those categories certainly overlap in any one piece. Take our "life box" by Jon Davis of 55Bellechasse, for example; the multi-layered collage on top of the living room from The Brady Bunch features some man-on-man action from the hyper-masculine Tom of Finland book series (gay, check) and a larger-than-life woman with her face shrouded in darkness (dark, check), which together definitely lead you to wonder what's going on in the scene (check)--not to mention, he's based in Miami (check!).
COLLECT WHAT YOU LOVE!
To the uninitiated, the idea of collecting art often conjures up images of auction houses and million dollar transactions on conceptual works designed to appreciate in value. However, the common thread in all conversations I seem to have with other collectors is simply to collect the work you love--and want to see on a daily basis. Unless you're operating a hedge fund whose parachute plan revolves around a couple dozen original Picassos or Keith Harings, buying original art is less of a surefire financial investment and more of a personal, aesthetic, and emotional investment. You're going to be the one seeing it every day, so you'd better be prepared for the visual language of the artwork you buy to seep into your consciousness in a way that's just as stimulating as any other art form. That said, it's not a scary thing! Many people say they just don't know what to buy or where they'd hang it. Simply go with your gut and if you love the piece, you'll find a place for it.
ALEX: Many of the pieces in our home have a deep emotional connection to our own life stories, and our life together. For example, this past Miami Art Week my family visited our fair and met the talented painter Alex Zastera, who paints (among other things) "nightscapes", which I'd describe best as night-time portraits of buildings or landscapes that highlight their ephemeral nature. Unbeknownst to me, my family commissioned Alex to create a painting of my recently deceased and much beloved grandmother's home, where I'd spent a great deal of time growing up. They had him go to my home town, visit the home, and then paint his unique hybrid of portrait and still life. When I unwrapped it I immediately knew that this piece was special, and regardless of its dollar value I'd never part with it.
JAMES: You may have noticed a certain shiba inu hidden in plain sight in the photos in this post--his name is Coda, and he's the shining, brushwood-colored beacon in both Alex's and my lives. During Superfine! Miami 2016, I reached out to our exhibitor Laundromat Art Space's Michael Williams to paint a commissioned portrait of Coda in his signature "overexposed" style, and after seeing the results, I couldn't be happier. Alex and I have a small handful of commissioned paintings in our home collection; if there's an artist whose work you love, consider asking that artist or their representative if they're open to creating personal pieces for you. It usually doesn't cost much more, and it can make the work you buy that much more special!
BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS + MEET THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Artists, fairs, galleries, curators, websites, pop-up shows.
It all feels a bit overwhelming but the best advice is to dive right in! Connect with your local galleries and find the ones who are showing what you love. For us in Miami, that's been &gallery, Dina Mitrani Gallery, Harold Golen Gallery, and others that all embody the same sense of passion and fervent belief in the work they show. You get to a point where you trust the galleries and they trust you and know your tastes and budgets. When you visit another city, do a bit of research in advance and find out which galleries align best to your tastes. In Paris, we love 55Bellechasse and have bought work by some of their more emerging artists, and in New York the aforementioned ClampArt consistently puts on shows with works that are well-priced and inspired. Most important in the equation is your own taste as well as the gallery's level of professionalism AND acknowledgement of you as a potential collector. We feel very strongly about those galleries that treat patrons with respect, and as Harold Golen so eloquently put it when we recently visited his Wynwood space: "The coolest gallerists are usually the ones with the coolest art." We've found that this holds true, and when you feel that genuine connection it usually goes hand in hand with quality work.
We can't say this enough, but attending high-quality independent art fairs that focus on highlighting emerging artists and galleries is incredibly key to both educating yourself and helping kick-start your collection. You'll meet artists and galleries that are far outside of your usual geographic reach and get a broad sense of what's out there, what's fresh and new, as well as second glimpses at work you might've seen online or in the past. At Superfine! in New York, we're hosting local New York artists and galleries but also artists from Barcelona, Japan, and Miami, as well as galleries like BoxHeart Gallery, a homegrown contemporary art program out of Pittsburgh, and NooxArt, which places the spotlight on emerging Mexican artists and is based in Mexico City. Visiting fairs is a way to take an international art-hunting trip without having to leave your home base (although you certainly should try, that's rewarding too!) It's also fantastic to forge personal relationships with artists and visit fairs (like ours!) where independent artists represent themselves alongside galleries. When you meet artists, you can often see works that might not make it to gallery shows, and can find something very unique and personal to you.
ALEX: One of our coolest finds on an international trip was this little watercolor piece of a medieval snail-meets-knight battle by Alexis De Chaunac, a French-Mexican artist based in New York. We got it at the first Zona Maco fair we attended in Mexico City last February. It's a quirky little piece and we love it, and we made a wonderful connection with Alexis' Brooklyn-based gallery ART 3 and the director Silas.
RESPECT YOUR BUDGET, BUT THINK CREATIVELY
Budget is obviously a major concern, especially for newer collectors. There's no way around it, buying art is certainly a luxury. That said, it can be a very attainable luxury if you play your cards right. We allocate a small monthly budget for art purchases, and allow for a bit of a running debt as well for when we purchase art through payment plans. Here are a few great strategies that enable you to find artwork you love and actually buy it:
1. THINK IN CONTEXT - A work might cost more than you've spent on art before, but it's something that you'll carry with you for many, many years to come and will give you pleasure each and every day. Let's say it's a piece that costs $2000. That $2000 gets played out for the next 40+ years of your life (and maybe your kids' lives after that!) which makes it a paltry $50 per year, or under a dollar a week. Can you think of other things that you spend a dollar a week on that give you less joy than an incredible, personal piece of art?
2. ZERO IN ON WHAT YOU WANT - Find an artist whose work you love, then find ways to obtain more affordable versions of their work. It might go beyond visiting the gallery show and you might need to do some digging. Galleries often have back stock from previous shows by that artist, or smaller works. If you don't know, just inquire! Artsy and Instagram are incredible ways to identify the artists and galleries that feature work you love, and beyond that it's worth it to make a connection. Does the artist have prints? Can you meet them or do a studio visit? We provide year-round opportunities through our Collectors' Society program to connect with artists and their champions one-on-one and these are ideal situations for you to get to know an artist or dealer better, and find out how you can get your hands on a piece that you're keen on.
3. PAYMENT PLANS - When you establish relationships with artists and dealers, many will offer you a payment plan in order to make it easier to obtain the work without laying out a large initial sum. In some cases, if you've gained their trust they'll even give you the work first, but in most scenarios you'll receive the work when it's paid off. Every gallery and artist has different policies when it comes to this but it never hurts to ask. Some of the pieces we treasure most would have been far out of our budget if not for the friendliness of the artists and galleries we've connected with and their leniency with allowing us to pay off works over time.
4. PRINTS, EDITIONS, + MORE - Most artists create limited edition prints of their works. A piece that might go for $15,000-$20,000 as an original could be yours for only $150-$300 depending on how many they've made of it. What we look for when buying prints are primarily low runs (i.e. the total number printed is not very large, definitely under 100) and quality of printing (the paper should be archival, and retain a similar luminosity/integrity to the work itself). It's always incredible to own an original work, but when you can't, a print is a really great and very accessible substitute.
ALEX: Besides prints, there are other ways to bring artists you love into your home. We love the work of Maurizio Cattelan/Toilet Paper but it's far out of our price range, so we have enamelware plates and collectibles made by Italian brand Seletti using Toilet Paper imagery, as well as a comprehensive collection of Toilet Paper magazines. James and I are also big fans of art book publishers like Rizzoli, Taschen, and Assouline and we have books of works by Hernan Bas, Dali, and others that we display as works of art to be flipped through and enjoyed.
OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH COLLECTING
ALEX: I've always loved collecting things, and I'd say that my style before I met James was a hodgepodge of early to mid century oddities and concept kitsch, mixed with a bit of ephemera that I put together in what I thought was an interesting way. I didn't consider myself much of an art collector, but early on in my stint in New York I started to accumulate pieces that went with the décor and overall vibe of my exposed-brick duplex in the East Village. One of the first pieces I bought, which I remember vividly, was a signed + editioned print of a jazz album cover designed by Jim Flora, which I picked up from East Village mainstay Dorian Grey Gallery (now a pop-up and online project). Much of our early East Village art (that's what I'll call it here!) currently resides in our Miami living room -- a throwback to more cramped quarters and a loose, bohemian vibe. Around the time James and I met and started dating, we began to bring more and more work into our home and as we moved on to Miami we only expanded our collection.
JAMES: Beyond being the creative director of Superfine!, I'm also a photographic artist specializing in composite images depicting surreal, parallel worlds. While I've always collected assorted items in my life (gems, minerals, and an array of props), I had never even considered collecting other artists' artwork up until a few years ago--I figured it would be easy enough and less expensive to fill my home with my own work. However, since starting Superfine! and offering a platform for others to collect art at all levels, art collecting has become an attainable goal in my eyes--and an addiction! I've of course been right alongside Alex in building our whole collection, but I took a new step this past December at Superfine! by zeroing in on a piece I fell in love with by Santiago Garza and purchasing it completely on my accord. Although we still have a few of my own pieces hung along our walls, having a home filled with such a variety of artists' work that somehow all fits together has been so much more inspiring--as an artist, an art fair director, and an art-lover.
Thanks for joining us, and we hope this glimpse into our little collection helped spark the fires of your own passion for bringing art into your own home. For more information on the Superfine! Collectors' Society, simply click on the "Collect" tab at the top of this page. Oh, and see you at the next Superfine!
- Alex Mitow + James Miille, Director and Creative Director of Superfine! Fair