The collector and thewomaniser

The collector and the womaniser

Gemma Tipton looks at some patterns of art-collecting, in an article based on her recent talk at the To Have and to Hold Symposium at the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

There are a lot of mythologies surrounding collecting, and I think that a symposium about collecting should also question some of those mythologies, should question collecting itself. So for the final presentation of the day, my short talk is about love, about art, and about collecting.

Buy what you love.  Leaving aside ideas of investment, that's probably the piece of advice most often given to those wondering how to go about starting to collect contemporary art.  And most private collections do begin with that simple (seeming) act of falling in love.  Or more properly, an act of desire - and don't most love affairs start with desire?  With wanting?  The need to have, the seductive idea of possession, of exclusive possession...  So anyway, you see this work of art and you want it, and then there is the emotional response to getting it.  Triumph and gratified desire - the feeling is like a first kiss.  But the feeling passes and you can't prolong it, so you look to repeat it.  Again and again.  You move from being buyer to collector.  You say you love art, but what you love is collecting art.

What do I mean by that? Are they not one and the same thing?

No - the person with a love of art who occasionally buys a work is driven by different desires than the collector. The individual pieces owned are obtained as discrete transactions, and do not relate to one another, save perhaps by coincidence of taste, nor does their owner require them to.

So when does buying become collecting and what happens when it does? What happens to art when it is collected? What do we do to art when we collect it? What is that difference between a buyer and a collector? Well, at risk of being crass, it may be the difference between a lover of women who loves the woman he is with, and one who has moved over into the realm of the bedpost-notch-carving womaniser.

Is that fair? Can you both love art and collect it?

I would suggest that potentially it is possible, but that by taking five different examples, I will also demonstrate that there are significant pitfalls in the way we tend to regard the process.

These five are:

  • A novel - The Collector .

  • Charles Saatchi

  • Andrew Lloyd Webber

  • Steve Wynn in Las Vegas

  • and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.