Category Archives: Interviews

Advice on Building Your Collection

Wall Street Journal Photo Editor Rebecca Horne interviews gallery director Robert Grunder.

Prior to taking on the directorship at blue-chip gallery Joseph K. Levene Fine Art in Manhattan, Robert Grunder trained his expert eye as a painter. Mr Grunder earned his MFA at the Andy Warhol founded New York Academy of Art, and studied closely with such painters as Mark Tansey, Eric Fishl, among others. Mr. Grunder has also held management positions at the Marlborough Gallery and artnet.com. Here he shares some of his considerable insights as a gallery director on collecting and finding what you love.

Various works showcased in Robert Grunder's New York apartment
Various works showcased in Robert Grunder’s New York apartment

RH: I’m curious how you began your own collection. Can you tell me how you got started?

RG: My collection started in 1999, an artist gave me a small painting that was a study for a larger work in an exhibition I curated. The painting is by Peter Drake and depicts, in his signature style, a father and son watering a suburban lawn. He uses a reductive technique, sanding away the paint on a thickly gessoed surface to create light. The surface resembles old photos.

Robert Grunder's first piece: Happiness Study, 1998 by Peter Drake
Robert Grunder’s first piece: Happiness Study, 1998 by Peter Drake

RH: Has the way you collect changed since then?

RG: It has changed immensely. Collecting art can become downright addictive. I started bidding and buying works from auction, benefit auctions, Oxbow and from artists themselves.

RH: What is the most satisfying thing about it?

RG: Supporting the arts in any capacity has always been fulfilling for me, but there is even greater satisfaction in surrounding yourself with beautiful and challenging works of art. At times it seems, the only limitation is wall space, especially for a New Yorker!

RH: How do you guide other collectors in building their own collections?

RG: The first thing I always ask a collector is “show me the one thing you can’t live without”. It may sound simple, but it’s important to buy art with your eyes and not your ears.

For example, for a first time buyer of Warhol prints I recommend browsing the Catalogue Raisonne to discover which prints the collector responds to most. It’s better to purchase a signature work, subject matter the artist is most known for, rather than the lowest priced.

If possible, you also want to buy the right work at the right time, there are opportune moments. For example, Jasper Johns prints, he is arguably America’s greatest living artist and the most skilled printmaker since Pablo Picasso. Given the limited number of paintings and drawings he has created his prints are, in my opinion, undervalued.

The Bottom line is you must love it.

A Collector on Collecting

Today we are thrilled to introduce Rebecca Horne a new contributor to the Lux Archive blog!

Rebecca Horne is Photo Editor on the weekend edition for The Wall Street Journal and contributor to the Ideas Market and Photo Journal blogs on WSJ.com. Previously she was the Photo Director at Discover Magazine. At Discover she produced photography that garnered awards from PDN, American Photography, and Folio Magazine and launched and wrote a photography blog, Visual Science. Her own work in photography has been exhibited in the US and internationally.

Rebecca will take it from here — introducing the subject of a recent interview she did with renowned art collector Douglas Nielsen:

Douglas Nielsen’s art collection has attracted attention not just from people lucky enough to see it in his Arizona loft, but also from museum-goers. The Douglas Nielsen collection was the subject of an exhibition “Thanks for Being With Us: Contemporary Art from the Douglas Nielsen Collection” at the Tucson Museum of Art in July 2010. A former dancer, Douglas Nielsen has been a guest teacher and choreographer at more than 40 universities throughout the United States and abroad. Among the numerous awards and honors Nielsen has garnered are four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a performing arts fellowship from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Nielsen’s work in dance influences the way he appreciates visual arts, and how he has built his personal collection. He took some time out to discuss his approach with me for Lux Archive.

Photo © Ed Flores. Douglas Nielsen with his art collection.
Photo © Ed Flores. Douglas Nielsen with his art collection.

Rebecca Horne: How do you feel about the works in your collection over time? Has the work aged well?

Douglas Nielsen: In a word, YES. I re-appreciate the collection every time I review it. I couldn’t part with any of it. Before I acquire a fine art photograph I ask myself (as Avedon once said), can it ‘hold the wall’. If I don’t think so – I buy the book. I have way too many books – monograms and museum catalogues. In a way it’s a shame to have so many closed books around with fantastic images hidden inside them – but there is no need to ‘own’ everything – or have it in full view. But, back to your question, yes, what I do collect has definitely passed the test of time.

Eona Holding Zebra Skull © Herb Ritts. A piece from Nielsen's collection.
Eona Holding Zebra Skull © Herb Ritts. A piece from Nielsen’s collection.

RH: How has your work as a choreographer influenced the way you look at art and built your collection?

DN: Choreography is such an ephemeral art form.  Now you see it, now you don’t.  The body is necessary in dance.  A writer can write alone, and a painter can paint alone, but I can’t choreograph by myself.  I need people.  When the curator of the Tucson Museum of Art chose various images from my collection for the exhibit, I realized, that many of my photographs have reference to the human condition.

The frozen moment of a majority of my photographs capture the body in various circumstances: Bruce in his car by Nan Goldin,  A man with a fan by Jo Ann Callis,  Two men with colored circles over their faces by John Baldessari, The fat lady in the circus with her little dog troubles by Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman as pregnant, a man with a Zebra skull over his face by Herb Ritts, The beauty composites by Nancy Burson– they all inspire and trigger my imagination. Gesture is essential to my work.  I’m as much interested in ‘pedestrian’ movement, as in technical ‘dance’ vocabulary. To me, a dancer is primarily ‘human’, and secondarily a ‘dancer’.

RH: How do you feel about collecting photography vs. other types of art like painting and sculpture? What is your favorite photo or photographer from your collection?

DN: Favorites are fickle.  I don’t have ‘favorites’.  Seriously, I treat every part of my collection equally.  There is a trick to that though – I move things around a lot.  If an image stays in one place too long, I stop seeing it.  By rearranging my collection, I rediscover it, and see it fresh again for the next while. In my loft, painting, sculpture, and photography all live intermingled equally.

Cindy Sherman, New York City © Annie Leibovitz. A piece from Nielsen's collection.
Cindy Sherman, New York City © Annie Leibovitz. A piece from Nielsen’s collection.

RH: You’ve talked about trying to steer away from the “hierarchy of ‘what’s important’ ” –how do you do this, in practice?

DN: I remember seeing Andy Warhol at the flea market on Sixth Avenue one Sunday morning in the early 1970’s buying a cookie jar. I thought how refreshing that was that he could see the value in that. I have often been accused –especially by designers – of placing a five dollar hula doll next to a Burtynsky photograph – as if that breaks some rule of thumb. To me, they both have integrity. I absolutely do not perceive or measure anything by it’s ‘market value’. In my mind’s eye there is no ‘hierarchy’.

RH Do you look specifically for work that you feel will continue to be strong and relevant over time? If so, how do you try to do that?

DN: I very rarely search or ‘look’ for a specific work. The work finds me – and when that happens, we become friends. I trust that it will last, and so far it has. Like a relationship, the loyalty and respect continues as long as there is no betrayal. And, as of yet, nothing in my collection has betrayed me.