Collector Profile: Aric Kurzman on Trusting Your Gut and Why Architects Make Great Artists

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Every month, we'll be spotlighting some of our favorite Superfine! Collectors Society members to find out why they collect art, how they decide whether or not to purchase a piece, and who some of their favorite contemporary artists are in an ongoing effort to find out what a real art collector looks like. 

This month, we spoke to Aric Kurzman, a Chicago born and bred collector (and current Miami resident and General Counsel at the Adrienne Arsht Center) about why trusting his gut is a big part of his decision to purchase a new piece of art and why architects make great visual artists. 

How many pieces of artwork do you currently own?

So, original art—there’s probably seven works. And then if you factor in prints in addition, probably close to 45 or 50.

What was the first piece of art that you ever purchased, and what drew you to it?

In 1985, I saw Keith Haring for the first time. I saw his work, and I didn’t know anything about him and I saw the Swatch watch series he did and begged and begged and begged and got it for Christmas. So, if you can call that a work of art, that would be the first. In 2006, I was in L.A. when Banksy did the Barely Legal exhibition and I was able to buy a print from that event. I got a Banksy’s Grannies print, and that was really what sparked my contemporary interest in collecting. From that point on, I’ve been trying to buy a couple pieces every year.

How do you learn about and find new interesting artists?

Now, a great way is the ‘Gram—Instagram. I used to read a lot of magazines and even discovered some artists through The New York Times, but that’s pre-Instagram days. If you follow artists that you know and like, they’ll refer to other artists that they know and like, and it goes from there. They’ll tag artists that they like, and I follow that link and if I like it then I’ll investigate further.   

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What is your favorite type of artwork or medium and why?

I’m kind of a traditionalist. I really like paintings on canvas, whether it’s oil or acrylic. My favorite type—I was pretty into street art for a while, but now I’ve veered into a different direction. I’m collecting art by architects, or people who have been trained as architects and have become visual artists such as Ivan Toth Depeña, who started in Miami and got his master’s degree in architecture from Harvard. He’s never practiced architecture in the formal sense, but he applies architectural principles to his works, and his works are very technical and technologic. Or Daniel Libeskind, who’s a very well-known architect, but who’s also put out architectural drawings throughout the years.    

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How do you decide whether or not to buy a piece of art?

First there’s that visceral feeling. Y’know, when you see a piece of art for the first time. And then there’s the financial equation, after the positive visceral experience that if it’s okay if I can afford it, and if I can’t, how do I pay for it? Is there a way to pay for it? You kind of have a rule of thumb that if the price is above or below a certain threshold. If it’s below the threshold and I like it and I have the funds in my account, then it’s kind of a no-brainer and I acquire it. If it’s above the threshold then I give it further scrutiny; whether it’s a good investment or not, whether it’s a promising career ahead, and can I come up with the money to buy it. But where it really starts is that visceral emotional reaction to the work.    

How important is it for you to connect with and speak to an artist before purchasing their work? Why?

For me, it’s actually of very little importance. If I acquire a piece of work, I’d like to develop a relationship with the artist after that point, but access to the artist beforehand doesn’t really play into my decision-making or passion for collecting. I mean, it’s always nice but I feel like I could be more objective when I’m making a decision without external influence.

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What is your philosophy on collecting art? (i.e., do you like to purchase multiple works from one artist or do you prefer to stick to a single style or theme?)

My style has been evolving over time. I was in a certain genre that was sparked by being in Los Angeles and around the emergence of street art, and sort of being ahead of the curve on that. But as it’s become mainstream, I’m shifting away to the architectural artists because there’s less hype around them. And it’s less overexposed. I feel like street art has become very saturated and filled with a lot of derivative work and derivative artists. So, I like the freshness of going into different genres. And I try to have a balance of Miami artists and international artists. So, probably one-third Miami, two-thirds non-Miami. But I think I weight Miami artists a little heavier because I want to support Miami and build my collection out of more localized [artists].

Do you feel that art fairs are an integral part of the art ecosystem? 

Absolutely. It’s akin to a music festival where you have a huge opportunity to go experience great content at a large volume that you wouldn’t ordinarily have access to. You might go to a music festival to see one or two bands you’ve heard of and discovered five or six that you otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to. It’s a great opportunity to discover new artists and new galleries. They also provide liquidity to the market. Having a marketplace that operates in a location for three days or a week at a time provides liquidity for the galleries and for the artists and I think that’s healthy.

Also, the fairs come to you. So, if you live in Los Angeles or Miami, you might not be able to travel to New York or London or other parts of Europe. You have galleries from around the world come into your city that you’re able to be exposed to. In a lot of ways, it’s one-stop.  

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What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about art collectors?

I think people perceive barriers to entry, that they have to be collectors to participate or to attend. And maybe there’s an intimidation factor. But that’s really not the case at all. It’s really a great way for people to get their feet wet and build rapport with gallerists and become educated, even if they’re not collecting that the moment, but as a primer for future collection.  

What's one art purchase that you regret not making?

Aw man. There’s actually a couple. Most recently, there’s a Miami artist, Michael Vasquez, who had a piece I had that visceral reaction to. I just absolutely—I did a studio visit and even when it was still in process, I was in love with that piece. And when it became finished and available I did my best to acquire it, but I just couldn’t pull enough money together at the time and it was acquired by The Dean Collection, which is [hip-hop artist] Swizz Beatz’ private collection. And that just validated that I knew it was a great piece. I wish I had begged or borrowed, if only to get that one.

What advice would you give to collectors who are just starting their art collections or even people who are thinking about purchasing their first work of art?

Go with your gut. And if you see something you like, you really like, don’t worry about the price. Y’know, if you have the budget for it. Buy it. Don’t get scared off by the price if you really like something.