Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Weird Impulse of Collectors to Pretend to be Artists

I read a really great travel book about Texas years ago. I can't remember the title or author (which kills me, because I would love to reread it). I bought it in London in the late 80s, and it was by an English writer. He made really funny, astute observations about Texas in the 80s. For example, he was at a party in Dallas, and mentioning some behavior he had witnessed earlier, one of the guests said to him, "In Dallas, the guy who collects the art is more important than the artist."

This observation really shouldn't be limited to Dallas. In the context of the book, it was about the crassness of Dallas, the naked worship of wealth that typified Dallas. But really, is Houston or anyplace in America all that different? Especially now when we have the widest gap between rich and everyone else that we have had since the gilded age.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this stuff this morning was this hilarious post on Hyperallergic.
A not-unexpected surprise awaits visitors to the Miami-based Rubell Family Collection’s website. Scion of collector royalty and son of Don and Mera, Jason Rubell is releasing a catalogue of a show memorializing the works he collected from ages 13 to 21, an illustrious and mature body of art that Jason also gathered into a senior thesis exhibition in college. Pay attention folks, this is a lesson in narcissism that’s likely to go unparalleled in the art world for a little while. [...]

To call this conflict of interest would be ridiculous because we’re dealing with a wholly private collection. Rubell can do what he wants. I’m just calling it stupid and self-obsessed. Are we supposed to believe Rubell’s posing his early “collecting work” as some kind of curatorial accomplishment? This catalogue is self-mythologizing in the worst way. And worse yet, a (Thomas Ruff?) portrait of the collector as a young man is the only thing to grace the cover of the volume.

This is a catalog memorializing Rubell's precocious brilliance as a teenage art collector? Astonishing. I hope Holland Chaney will have enough class to avoid this kind of thing 25 years from now.

That said, there is an impulse among collectors that I am personally very well aware of--the tendency to take pride in one's collection; to view it as a reflection of one's own self-worth. And this is true of any kind of collector--stamp collectors, comics book collectors, collectors of glass insulators--anything really. The only difference between the Jason Rubells of the world and a dude with a truly awesome barb wire collection is that the Rubell types have huge amounts of money to promote their collections. Some do so in ways that are hard to criticize (the Menils, for example, were civic minded exemplars of noblesse oblige), and some--like Jason Rubell--do it in ways that make them the target of ridicule by bloggers and other poor people.

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