That certainly helps big-ticket collectors sleep better at night, including New Line’s Bob Shaye, who parlayed his love of photography as a kid into a 25-year love affair with art. Today, his Los Angeles home is filled with pieces by the likes of Delvaux, Picasso, Francis Bacon and Diane Arbus (all of which tends to focus on women).
“It’s quite clear to me that if you’ve chosen wisely and it’s art that has a clear marketplace, it certainly affords you the possibility of recouping when hard times arise — as they often do in this industry,” says Shaye, who often buys through auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s. “And in some cases it also offers the availability of collateral, which is always nice to know.” (Yeah, like Shaye needs collateral these days.)
Douglas Cramer, former director of programming at ABC, Paramount and Aaron Spelling Productions, offers a particularly convincing anecdote. “There was one point many years ago when I was given the opportunity to either buy a Rothko (painting) or half a house in South Hampton,” says Cramer, who received his first collecting advice from ABC’s Daniel Melnick in 1966. “Both were around $17,000, and I ended up buying the house, which sold not that long ago for $900,000. Not bad. But that same Rothko just sold at auction for $6 million.”
Those kinds of numbers often intimidate prospective art lovers and lead many to believe that collecting is only for the wealthy.
“That’s absolutely untrue,” says Brecker-Shearmur, who was one of the people who inspired Swofford to collect. “My first piece of art was a down payment of $500 toward a Shirin Neshat photograph. But there are dozens of up-and-coming artists that are within anybody’s budget.”
Valentine, for example, has created a vast collection of younger, lesser-known artists that is considered the envy of many of his peers. He began in the 1980s, as he says, literally “out of boredom.” Now he has a house chock-full of boldly avant-garde and dramatic work by the likes of Currin, Gabriel Orozco, Jorge Pardo, Dirk Skreber, Neo Rauch, Gregor Schneider and many others. “I tend to like complexity,” says Valentine. “I like things that work on a number of levels, from a strong formal presence to an intelligent use of materials and concept.”
Valentine, who’s considered a great catalyst of today’s art scene, is also outspoken about one of the more controversial aspects of collecting today: the promised gift. That’s when galleries give certain collectors the inside track on key pieces if, and it’s a big if, they promise to donate the work to a mutually agreed-upon museum. (A number of galleries and museums try to dictate where certain works end up.)
Swofford, for instance, purchased a kinetic sculpture by Maurizio Cattelan, one of the star attractions at MOCA last fall, with the provision it would end up in MOCA’s permanent collection. But that irks Valentine.
“I think it impinges on a whole host of rights, from property rights to ownership rights. Because if you have to give it to a museum it’s not really yours, is it?”
Most rookies think building a collection like Valentine’s takes a trained eye, and that too tends to be a serious stumbling block for neophytes.
“People think that you have to have a degree in art history to walk into a gallery,” says Brecker-Shearmur, who initially collected female artists exclusively, but now has a modest yet tasteful collection by the likes of Kurt Kauper, Amy Adler, Simon Periton, Laura Owens and Ingrid Calame. “The only thing you need to know is that you have to listen to your gut.”
“Bringing Down the House” producer David Hoberman, who grew up in a family of artists, readily admits that he didn’t know that much about art history when he began collecting 20 years ago. But after purchasing an Alex Katz painting in the early 1990s, he has steadily built a solid collection that reflects his own inquisitive, warmhearted nature. If it seems slightly scattershot, jumping from Rothko and Jean Dubuffet to young art stars like Barry McGee and Yoshitomo Nara, it’s only because Hoberman admits he’s refocusing his tastes.
“I initially got caught up in buying art in the 1980s,” he confesses. “But after getting the Katz I really got caught up in mid-century American art. I really think that’s my taste. I like beauty, the figure and artworks that address the process of looking.”
Those who don’t have the time — a serial problem among industryites — depend on art consultants to do much of the legwork. Molly Barnes has helped Norman Lear build his collection; Darlene Lutz has helped Madonna find her impressive array of Lempickas, Kahlos, Riveras and Picassos; and Abigail Asher and Guggenheim (who’s married to Bert Fields) have helped build art collections for a number of high-powered celebrities and executives, including Spelling, Annette Bening and the late Ray Stark.
“Most of my business is mail-order in a way,” explains Guggenheim, “because part of my job is to protect people. They’d rather not go out in public, they’re not interested in letting people know they’re collecting, and they don’t want to drive the prices up by being exposed as a collector of a particular work. Because if you’re well-known and you walk into a gallery, chances are you’re going to get ripped off.”