We build museum collections for our clients. They come to us for help and honest direction on buying museum works that can resemble a period of time or significant period in an artist’s life that will remain relevant centuries from now. A great work of art will always have value. You get the cerebral joy you can never get from a stock certificate. You get something you can commune with every day. A beautiful work of art resonates with you and that’s the artist’s vocabulary and what they’re communicating with me.
People are interested in us because it enables them to put together world-class, museum-quality collections that can be exhibited or even shown anywhere in the world. People who have a high level of wealth or disposable income can magnanimously create something that gives back.
I’m currently working with a collector, a former banking wizard – I can’t mention his name – he is resembling the New Testament through the eyes of Rembrandt. It’s been a three-year project so far. He is acquiring every painting Rembrandt did related to the Bible. He will have an original Rembrandt plate in his collection. This will be one of the most illuminating examples of Biblical interpretation in 17th-Century Europe, interpreted through the eyes, emotions and feelings of arguably one of the world’s most defining artists.
“Great artists have the ability to define their age, to imitate life in its purest sense.”
Often artists are acquired for the wrong reasons because many people are influenced by sociological and cultural factors. Many dealers make a keen living because they’ve identified art that is desirable and fashionable in the moment. People buy that art in order to have “arrived” or be part of the Hipster culture, so to speak. People will often buy a work of art just because it identifies them as someone who is insightful or part of a trophy process.
That is what I call perverted art. That’s art being sold and art being acquired for what I call the wrong reasons — art as fashion or fashionable when fashion can move in or out in the briefest of moments. Bell bottoms were once fashionable. Edwardian suits were fashionable. [Art] being created for monetary reasons; pressure from dealers who are making a fortune; pressure from false artificial demand. They’re not buying for the sake of art, but because a great actor bought the artist’s work, or perhaps some irreverent social critic buys work.
You have to also have the eye. You have to be able to pick art that is really great. You have to pick artists that are genuinely talented.
When I was a young dealer, during my first trips to Paris, I had a couple friends who had a gallery in Oak Brook, Illinois. They had opened a gallery that was user friendly because when they went to several galleries they were treated shabbily. In those days the negativity was a way of selling art. You had to be part of the art fraternity and if you were young and walked into a gallery you were dissuaded. So these young guys said we represent the future buyers – the doctors, the attorneys, the entrepreneurs and in 7 to 10 years we’re going to be the art-buying public. Because American fine-art galleries used erudite intimidation, they were not addressing the future of the art business. So they opened a gallery that was user friendly and instead of being intimidating when an uninformed person came in, they taught them. Their gallery became extremely successful and it was a gallery in a shopping center in Oak Brook.
The Tipping Point
So, at that time I would go to Paris frequently because my work dictated that I make these European trips. They asked that I buy a Picasso and said they’d spend $3,000. The French were arrogant and Machiavellian toward Americans in the early stages after World War II and Americans weren’t regaled with niceties. I didn’t know about the culture and I got turned down at nine galleries. My tail was between my legs.
I sat on a bench, smoking a cigarette, reading a French paper The Gazette. A French man walked up and asked why I look disconcerted. I told him about my horrible experiences. Every gallery I went to I was treated shabbily and intimidated. I can tell you it wasn’t a warm and fuzzy experience. He took me to his own gallery and he pulled out three little Picassos and he asked for my budget. I told him and he asked which of the three I liked. I didn’t know.
“I’m an old man and I bet I’ve spent 2 percent of my life with you. You have the gall to not tell me which Picasso you like after I spent 2 percent of my life with you? I thought you Americans had balls,” he said to me in French. So I looked carefully at the three and I thought the one in the center might be a prudent choice. He said “ah! Masseur you have the eye. You’re going to be a great art dealer.” He said, “I’ll let you take the middle piece for $3,500.” Today that Picasso is worth $3 million to $4 million.
We had a decision to make when we opened Galerie Michael. We could get involved with pop artists, who were selling like hot cakes, but we elected to work with art that is part of history – to buy the best, bring the best art to our clients and have confidence in our ability to select the very finest work that the artist does. So we work with art that is rare, unique, defining, significant, and made a tremendous statement of integrity. Because the artist’s original thoughts and ideas were an opportunity to communicate at the deepest level the most aesthetic, technical, genius interpretations of the day of the artist’s creative act. That work is authentic.
Great artists have the ability to define their age, to imitate life in its purest sense. Ultimately, if the artist has true and genuine talent, insight, authenticity, the artist can document an ephemeral moment that can permanently become a part of art history, thus maintaining its purity, insightfulness and relevance for centuries.
The great artist is like a great runner. If you metaphorically look, great artists are always just ahead of the pack. Art imitates life and life is art.