We are very fortunate that Ann Schaffer returns as the Guest Curator for this year’s For Art’s Sake Blank Canvas Benefit on April 21. She is highly regarded in the art world and serves on the boards or leadership committees for distinguished institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Montclair Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Independent Curators International. She also is a member of the Art Center’s Board of Trustees.
In addition to collecting contemporary art herself, Ann is a respected advisor and teacher for young collectors. In this capacity, I thought it would be informative to get Ann’s take on collecting contemporary art.
Are you an artist?
No, I am an art collector, consultant, curator and teacher.
How did you begin collecting art?
I grew up in a home with art on the walls and was always taken to museums. When my husband and I got married, we bought art together at galleries, art shows, and auctions on an occasional basis. In the early eighties, I took a course at the New School on how to collect art successfully. We visited contemporary art galleries weekly, mostly in Soho. When I saw a Felix Gonzalez-Torres stack of papers on the floor of a gallery, it changed my life--this apparent stack of papers was a metaphor for the process of dying (or the continuation of life depending on one's interpretation.)
While I still liked and appreciated the art we had in our home, I was now hooked in a big way by the cutting edge, conceptual art to which I was being exposed. Photography also took on a new meaning. It could be mysterious and very layered. It made me think and wonder. I was visually and emotionally challenged. I knew then that I would like to introduce all mediums and curate my incipient collection with ongoing conversations among the artworks. They would relate to one another by theme, by series, by texture or format.
What is the most unusual piece of art in your collection?
A life-size sculpture called "daughter" by Kiki Smith. She's the daughter of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. There is an eerie sound track that is activated as one approaches the sculpture. Her piercing, wolf-like eyes and hair and red velvet robe provide a striking combination.
What advice can you offer to young collectors?
Look at art wherever you can and wherever you go. Visit galleries and museums. In the beginning don't buy something that you cannot live without. Start developing in your mind what stirs your imagination, what touches your soul. Take a picture or ask for a jpeg of something you like and pin it up on your wall. Walk by it for a day or two and see if it still stimulates you, challenges you, or delights you. You will gradually see threads developing. The pieces will "talk" to one another. Alternate your mediums. Change it up a bit so that your collection stays alive, interesting and stimulating.
What do you say to people who feel intimidated by contemporary art?
Whenever museums, art centers, art fairs or fund raising groups offer visits to collectors’ homes, go as often as you can. You will see how all kinds of collectors with varied aesthetics live and display their art. You will also be supporting these worthwhile institutions. Whenever people visit my home, they often can't wait to go back to their homes to hang, lean, suspend, or show a work of art that they might already own in a different way …on a pedestal, on a table, in a corner…
Thanks for your great insights into contemporary art, Ann.
To get a glimpse of Ann’s contemporary art collection, check out the accompanying photos taken at her home during last year’s For Art’s Sake Road Trip.