Thursday, May 1, 2008

Prairie Artsters: Collecting Art on the Block*

Put off by the $100 entry fee into the upcoming Art on the Block auction held at the Art Gallery of Alberta, I felt it was important to address the state (and the art) of art auctions and collections. I’m afraid this fee may be putting out the wrong message with positive intentions, but just to be clear: people who believe collecting art is a privileged activity and an easy form of investment have been greatly misinformed.

(At the time of writing this column, I was contacted by a gentleman who was looking for advice as to how he could acquire affordable works by emerging local artists. Balking at big names with their big price tags, he didn’t know where to look beyond ArtWalk and talk of university auctions. I see this as a crystal example to leap from.)**

First, acquiring art needs knowledge. There are several local galleries like Peter Robertson, Front and Lando that represent local artists, and although prices tend to double when put into galleries, they are always a good place to view what you like, what you don’t like, and see how much they are asking for. If a piece touches you, ask questions. Get to know the artist. (Never buy something because its current and potential price value has been whispered into your ear. You are being scammed.)**

Second, many emerging artists these days are selling their work at inflated prices. No disrespect to the time and talent, but prices grow in direct correlation with professional growth. Feeling pressure to cover escalating living costs, selling your work for more than an acclaimed national artist isn’t going to make your work any more respected any faster. (Reversely, emerging artists who may still feel unsure about their chosen profession feel too precious about their work and end over overselling or refuse to sell at all. If it is your profession, make it so.)**

Photo credit: Amy Fung, 2008

There are significant collections hiding throughout this city, and the best ones are cultviated from research and education as much as personal fulfillment and tastes. This year’s Art on the Block does have some heavy hitting names like Edward Burtysnky and Alex Janvier along with dozens of regionally significant and emerging artists, so the entry fee seems to promote a more serious environment. But requesting a tour of AGA Executive Director Tony Luppino’s private collection, I learned that his first major acquisition was a Robert Motherwell, and his winning bid in 1975 was a nerve-inducing $180. True, it was the mid 1970s, Milan, and Motherwell wasn’t in great fashion, but that’s how collecting begins: with baby steps.

Interest, that may turn into passion, leads to sustained involvement. I spent a quiet snowstorm morning listening to Luppino’s peculiar and interesting history in art aquisitions that began with Motherwell, Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, John Hartman and others, but really blossomed into a passion for artist books and late Renaissance artifacts/art books including originals by Filippo Baldinucci. Actively translating Baldinucci’s texts from their original pages, Luppino is an advocate of the theory that original works of art, be they visual or textual, have to connect to people.

His own expansive library collection is meant to be a reference source one day, as books, especially Canadian art books, are already printed in limited numbers and simply disappear into the ether.

“I’m no mystic,” Luppino, who was also once an active archeology-enthusiast and researcher, says over coffee and wafers, “but there is a presence to an original, as an object, something comes out when you read from the original. You can feel it’s multilayered, like the physical cadence of the text. Not everything is simply off the internet.”

Pointing to the two Georg Baselitz’s over his head, works that he had always wanted but could never afford, he simply puts foward, “Never settle for second best. I’ll just wait, sell my car, whatever it takes, to get the real thing, because it’s important to surround yourself with quality.”

Art on the Block, Art Gallery of Alberta
Wed, May 7, 6:30 pm

*First published in Vue Weekly, May 1 - 8, 2008

**Excluded from Vue's version

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