How do you start an art collection? This was the question on the minds of members of the Walker Contemporaries at last month’s Collecting Panel. The night offered Contemporaries a chance to pick the brains of some Twin Cities art professionals: Curator for the General Mills Art Collection Lisa Melander, founder of exhibition space and art consultancy Waiting Room Jehra Patrick, David Petersen Gallery’s owner and director David Petersen, and Walker associate curator Eric Crosby. Calling the event a “Panel” might have been a bit of a misnomer. Everyone in attendance had the opportunity to sit around a dinner table over a couple glasses of wine to discuss what it is they want out of an art collection and to hear from these local experts on where to begin.
So how did the panelists approach this fundamental question? None of them had a step-by-step guide, but one consistent theme did arise: collecting art is a social activity. Whether it’s by forming relationships with artists, gallerists, or other collectors, you need to create a “dematerialized collection” of connections, in Petersen’s words, that can you can draw on when you’re interested in certain artists and certain types of work. They also encouraged everyone to try to speak directly to artists about their work whenever possible. Patrick pointed out that when you talk to an artist and learn more about their process, you then become an “ambassador” for the artist to people who see the work in your space.
The panel wasn’t without more concrete advice as well. For those looking to get their feet wet with some low-budget pieces, the guests suggested the MCAD Art Sale and Midway Contemporary Art’s Monster Drawing Rally. Artist and musician Nicholas Larkins-Perez came prepared with some very specific questions about the legal maneuvering he might have to do in order to purchase pieces of net.art, and Patrick directed him to the free legal counsel for artists provided by Springboard for the Arts.
Focusing on one piece of work at a time seemed to be another one of the main keys to embarking on what seems to some like a monumental task. Patrick advised attendees not to think of their collection as a single body of work or as some sort of thesis. Instead, she suggested people open themselves up to a wide variety of works, artists, and media. Exploring is the only real way to begin to understand the aesthetic priorities that will drive your purchases, or put in Lisa Melander’s graceful phrasing, “Buy what speaks to you.”