Artists as Collectors
By Andrea Serna, Arts Writer
Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, who was married four times, once asked romantic crooner Frank Sinatra, who also took four trips to the altar, “When you are in a mood to make out, whose music do you put on?”
In the show Artists as Collectors, curator Ron Linden takes a similar question and provides us with insight into the collection of art that professional artists surround themselves within the most intimate environment, their homes.
“Because it is artists collecting artists you will find more astute collections than you might find anywhere else,” Linden said. “The reason is that non-artists buy art for completely different reasons.”
The inference is that artists’ collections reflect not only their aesthetic but also the relevance to their own lives. The exhibition consists of 32 works loaned to Transvagrant and Gallery 478 from the personal collections of eight local artists.
Photographer and graphic artist Mark Dunham has submitted works from customers to his private business.
“All the pieces that I brought to this show are from artists that I have done work for,” said Dunham. “I spent time with their work, doing reproductions or printings and it starts to grow on you. It’s different than walking into a gallery and having something smack you in the face. This snuck up on me.”
Dunham submitted This is Not a Map from the late artist Ali Acerol, whose work was legendary in the Southern California art world. Acerol was noted for his stunning maps of countries and continents and as a friend and contemporary of renowned conceptual artist John Baldessari.
Artists have always shared their art with their artist friends, sometimes as barter or sometimes simply to clear space in the studio. Artist Marcel Duchamp gave much of his avant-garde away to friends because his work was so poorly received. Visit the home of an artist and you will most likely find pieces created by their contemporaries, rather than art that may be considered “collectible.”
“Most artists have work in their collections that inspire them and give them confidence that they are not alone,” said Linden. “There is a shared sensibility. I like to collect things that give me a jolt. If you are an artist you like art.”
This definitely applies to Ray and Arnee Carofano, who own Gallery 478. Over the years many distinctive artists have exhibited in their gallery and several have left behind exquisite gems that cover the walls of their loft studio. For this show, they have loaned photos from their good friend artist Audrey Barrett, Neil Nagy and photographer Anthony Friedkin. Harold Plople holds a distinct place in their collection, a schizophrenic who was a highly prolific artist was a resident at Harbor View House in San Pedro for seven years until he overcame alcoholism. His figurative work portrays faces with vacuous eyes that seem to reflect focus and deterioration at the same moment.
Collecting versus investing
Most of us, those outside the art world but especially artists, can be forgiven for joining the outrage of a banana taped to a wall that sells for $120,000. Comedian, by Maurizio Cattelan was sold – twice! – at one of the worlds most prestigious art shows, Art Basel. To add to the intrigue, another artist took it off the wall and ate it.
The commodification of art, something that used to live outside of the world of high-finance, is now firmly rooted inside the global economy. In 2014, casino billionaire Steve Wynn purchased a Jeff Koons sculpture of Popeye the Sailor for $28 million and sold it 14 days later for $60 million. How did art get pulled into the greedy world of the 1 percent? It was partly due to the enormous wealth that has migrated to the top, along with willing participants like Koons. Jeff Koons has now become the highest-selling living artist after his Rabbit sculpture sold for a record-breaking $91.1 million.
Distaste for this version of art for profit does not escape the artists who are participating in Artists as Collectors. Artist Ann Webber submitted a small bronze sculpture titled Banana by Yoshitomo Saito.
“So many of my artist friends were responding to this banana story from the Art Basel show,” said Webber. “My friend Yoshitomo had previously done a large art installation called Banana Caligraphy of 40 or 50 bronze cast bananas which reflected his daily breakfast of coffee and a banana. This was his commentary on the beauty of the mundane. He sent out a Facebook post that said, ‘How would you like to buy a banana from a real artist?’ He offered them for $300 and of course, I bought this one.”
Saito and Webber attended grad school together at the California College of Arts and Crafts and have remained close ever since. Her addition of the banana to her personal collection demonstrates the deeply personal connection artists have to the art pieces that they bring into their own homes. In the same way, the novice collector would be advised to include art that you love, art that has a personal connection to your life, and like Ron Linden says, art that gives you a jolt.
Artists as Collectors runs through April 4, 2020
Time: Open each month during the San Pedro First Thursday art walk, 6 to 9 p.m.
Details: 310-732-2150 or 310-600-4873.
Venue: Gallery 478, 478 W. 7th St., San Pedro