Christina Mazzalupo, How Could You?, 2005, 4.5 x 6 inches, ink on paper
I have been lucky to have speaking gigs all over the place recently - London, Chicago, Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia, and Dallas - on the topic of collecting art. One question that has come up in various forms at every event is "Do you sell art from your collection and if so, why and how?"
This seems to be a hot and touchy topic. I was slaughtered by my fellow panelists in Chicago at the NEXT Fair for admitting that I have sold work from my collection. I could barely qualify my response through the roar from my stage mates. It seems that selling work has gotten a bad rap. But, a few bad apples shouldn't spoil the pie for the rest of us apples. There are times to sell and ways to sell that should and will always be a part of collecting art.
I returned from Dallas yesterday where a local collector recently made big news - the pending sale of Rachofskys' "Balloon Flower (Magenta)" by Jeff Koons. Timing is everything in the auction market and this sale comes on the heels of Koons' sculpture show on the Met roof. The reason given for selling the work (by both owner and art consultant) is that the money from the sale will be spent on art works needed to strengthen the core of the Rachofsky collection.
Whether or not I agree with this particular sale (I don't, by the way), the Rachofskys appear to be going about managing their collection as many serious art collectors do - sell work to buy more work. I have done just that, too, on rare occasion. As my collection has grown I find that a few pieces get lost due to lack of context. In other words I may have collected a work of art thinking I would add more by that artist or in that vein, only to discover years later that I hadn't. As my collection is primarily housed in a public venue, context is important to me. A lot of thought and planning goes into hanging the works so as to show the art in the best possible way and to potentially help viewers (generally not schooled in art in any way) understand the work.
Out of the roughly 2,700 works of art I own, I have sold 8 works. All but two of the works were sold privately through the artist or dealer who originally sold us the work. The two that were sold at auction were done so because the artist is no longer living and the estate is not currently being managed by a dealer. All of the money from the sales bought more art for the collection.
An artist (whose name I did not catch) stood up at my Dallas talk this past weekend and said that it was rewarding learning that her work had gone to a collector who put thought into their collection and weren't just decorating. She said her biggest fear was that her work would end up sitting in a dark storage room (or worse, in the trash) if a collector tired of her work. I don't think Jeff Koons has this fear, but it made sense to me when she said it. As a collector you have a responsibility to not only the work you love and cherish but also to the work you may have outgrown or no longer want.
There are a lot of mumblings about speculation in the art market. There are collectors and "art fund" groups buying 'labels' at auction simply to sell the work at a profit in the years to come. This is not my idea of the right way to go about collecting, but different strokes for different folks. I collect art because I love it and it rewards me personally, not because I think it will increase in value. Any increase in value is icing on the cake, but totally irrelevant to the collection until I die or donate the works. That said, when there is a need to sell, sell I will. I believe an art collector is responsible for managing the art within the collection - buying and selling art to strengthen a collection. If a work would be better shown or appreciated in another collection, then back to the artist and dealer I will go to see if they can help find the right home for that art.
UPDATE: June 9
For a much more in-depth and general (meaning more than a one collector's perspective) discussion on this topic, see Ed Winkleman's post on this very same topic written on June 3rd. Ed wrote on this topic in response to a reader's question. I'll say it again...this appears to be one hot topic.