Building an art collection while shopping local
Melissa F. Pheterson
If you buy art that you love without concern for how it will fit in your home's décor, you'll truly have a personalized collection with one-of-a-kind elements.
Starting or building an art collection while shopping local is easier than ever—with rising artists, revamped spaces and galleries offering art to fit any décor and taste imaginable.
"Once you're bitten by the bug of collecting original art, you can't stop," says Louis Perticone, founder of Elizabeth Collection/ArtisanWorks on Blossom Road, which has a huge collection of art for sale and viewing. "Typically, decorators helping with homes—even the wealthiest homes—pull prints or silkscreens from catalogs to match the décor. But real, original art is more evocative."
Perticone's background is in psychology, which suits his artistic role well. "Art is how it makes you feel." So when shopping for art, don't think about youror what guests will think. "Never buy a piece to fit into a spot," says Perticone. "Buy it because you're absolutely, madly in love with it—because it moves you." Collect like that and you'll truly have a personalized décor with one-of-a-kind elements—ones you happen to love.
Jennifer Lotta of Pittsford began her art collection with an oil painting, Boats on Canvas, by a Toronto artist, Sabina. She bought it at the Nan Miller Gallery, soon to reopen in the Neighborhood of the Arts. "I loved the bright colors and textures of the oil, and I wanted something a little different than a meadow or landscape," she says. Still, she was concerned about the painting matching or fitting into her décor. But its visibility became a virtue. "My house is decorated in browns and beiges, so the color in the painting was just what I wanted to make the wall pop."
Staff from the gallery visited Lotta's space to help her select the piece and even let her "live with it" for the weekend to see how it looked at different times of day. When she decided she wanted it, the staff hung it, as well.
"I really feel the artwork fills in and completes the space. The room feels cozier and brighter. I now know it's about what I like—not necessarily what matches, but what accentuates and complements." And that can be different for each room. "A house can, and should, offer multiple experiences," says Perticone. "You might want a landscape in your dining room, but something with a blast of color for your sunroom. And a Les Krims for your study."
Bleu Cease, director of Rochester Contemporary Art Center (RoCo) on East Avenue, says that understanding the art, and artist, is key to shopping for cutting-edge pieces. "Contemporary art is about ideas," he explains. "It's not 'codified' yet, unlike works by the old masters, so the buyer needs to connect on deeper levels. We encourage people to consider the ideas, concepts, values, backgrounds and lifestyles of the artist, not just 'Will this match my sofa?' or 'Do I like this frame?'"
Exhibitions at RoCo discuss the concepts and framework linking the pieces. "If a buyer connects with the ideas and finds the piece visually appealing, it's a win-win. That's the unique purview of a contemporary art center: to bring to Rochester ideas and artists whose works are based in broader, global dialogues."
Last year, Cease invited Karlos Carcamo, a painter and sculptor trending on the Miami and Manhattan art scenes, for RoCo's "State of the City: Street-ish" exhibition. Carcamo's work references the history of graffiti, modernism, abstraction and pop culture. Sarah Huff of Rochester was among the patrons who bought Carcamo's heavy-gauge shoelace for her wall, shaped into a graffiti tag and painted bright yellow.
"It is a glorified shoelace," says Huff. "My first thought was, 'Are you kidding me?' But I loved it. Bleu was giving me an art history lesson in modernism and reactions against modernism…All I knew was, I had to have it." Carcamo himself came to Huff's home and selected a place for the piece on the wall near a spotlight, adding shadow and dimension.
"Buying an Impressionist work is wonderful, but you're only supporting the gallery—not the young artist who's trying to make it," Cease says. "That's the humanistic part of being a collector, and it ties into our mission."
So how does Huff enjoy her shoelace? "After two days I thought, 'I hope I wasn't really idiotic,'" she says. Then I thought, 'Nope, this is great.' There are people who scoff at the idea of 'shoelace art' on the wall. Guests may be perfectly horrified, and they're entitled to their opinion." On the other hand, sticking to the "tried and true" might also give others cause to sneer. Everyone's a critic, right?
"If you want milquetoast, buy a Chagall or Matisse and hang it over your sofa and no one will notice it," says Perticone. "You haven't failed as a collector if people don't like it; you've failed if people don't notice it. If people are compelled to comment, or it catches their eye and they emote, you haven't failed. You need to get past worrying about what people think. The 'unsellables' we buy from certain artists are often their best works."
And people need to get past the notion that all art is "out there" somewhere in bigger cities. Margot Muto knows: She left town for a decade but returned recently to try to spark an art renaissance in Rochester. "Art students would study and train here," she noticed, "then move to other cities."
In 2012, she and her parents, Robin and Rick Muto, opened Axom Gallery on Anderson Avenue near Village Gate Square, to help give local artists a way to showcase their work. They styled Axom to resemble a gallery in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood: "White walls, high ceilings, a focus on the art," Muto says. "We have plenty of collective art spaces and studios, but it's the private, commercial galleries that help artists break into larger markets."
Muto also has opened her own business, Margot Muto Contemporary Art, to represent and handle local talent. In December, Muto spent a month in New York City promoting the work of Henry Avignon and Rochester's art scene. She envisions our city as becoming a destination for art lovers, drawing tourists and talent into a vibrant cultural dynamic.
Our local collectors sustain her vision, and part of her mission is dissuading them from shopping outside our markets—in part by forging connections between local artists and collectors.
"We have big names, too," she says. "Carl Chiarenza, Paul Garland, Susan Ferrari Rowley…They're collected nationally in major museums and galleries, getting written up—and most of our community doesn't even know. We've got quality, diversity and creativity on levels people can't even fathom."And while collectors often invest in established, "proven" artists, new collectors and new artists often prove the perfect match.
"You can buy art for $200 from an emerging artist committed to his career," Muto says. Patrons can also make a difference in the lives of artists, as has happened throughout history (think the Medicis of Italy, who propelled the art of the Renaissance by supporting individual artists). Here in modern-day Rochester, Muto says Avignon is inextricably linked with Richard and Jennifer Sands, who discovered the artist's mixed-media works on the wall of a restaurant and became "captivated." Jennifer trusted her eye and realized Avignon was unique despite being 'untrained,'" says Muto. "The Sands have given Avignon the freedom to explore his ideas not only by acquiring his work for their collection but by funding the production for his exhibitions as he begins to emerge into the larger art market." Last year, they helped make it possible for Avignon's works dedicated to victims of the Newtown school shooting to be donated to the victims' families; a second edition of the paintings now hangs in Newtown's Town Hall.
Investing in art—and artists
Last year at Christie's in Manhattan, a 1969 triptych by Francis Bacon, Three Views of Lucian Freud, commanded the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction: a cool $142.4 million. In the room—and just as shocked as everyone—was Barbara Nino, president of International Art Acquisitions in Pittsford. Investing in art is having its moment again. Hedge funds are devoting space for art in their diversified portfolios (hard to resist when even some original art is fetching nine-digit sums). And yes, Rochester has its share of art investors. Nino works with some of them while also serving clients from around the country. We asked her to give us a rundown on art investing.
Why should I invest in art?
"Collecting art is an alternative investment strategy to traditional stocks and bonds.
Investors prize art for its strong financial returns, intangible aesthetic enjoyment, status,
affluence and philanthropy. It diversifies one's portfolio."
How much should I expect to pay?
"It all depends on the art history, quality, marketplace, risk management—among other
factors. It doesn't have to be $1 million. It can be $1,000."
Can I get rich quick by investing in art?
"No. Art is an 'illiquid' investment that must be held onto for 10 to 15 years before seeing
What type of art should I invest in?
"You've got a choice of the blue chip artists like Renoir or Matisse, whose secondary
works have clearly been pre-owned. Or you could invest in younger, upcoming artists...
I recommend investors remain focused on one genre or style or time period for their
collection, whether it's French Impressionists or the Ashcan school or contemporary
Should collectors store art to protect it from the elements?
"Not necessary. Displaying in the home or office won't likely damage works. We're not
burning coal for fuel these days."
How do you decide which artists to represent and recommend?
"If they're committed to their careers, their work rarely depreciates…If the artist isn't
focused and committed, neither am I.