How I Started Collecting Art
In the Collector Profile series, art lovers from around the world share how they first caught the art bug. This week, we talk with Kate P. from Chicago, Illinois, who shares the story of the first work she ever bought, her rule for buying art, and the highly consumable thing she collects in addition to art.
When did you first become interested in art? Was art part of your life growing up?
My dad was a painter and illustrator a long time ago before he joined corporate America, and we always had his and other art around the house. My parents believed in the importance of being exposed to art, and so we often went to museums and shows. One of the first that I remember was seeing a Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1979. Even as a child I remember being touched by the way he conveyed real human emotion through the faces of his subjects. My collection until recently contained mostly portraits, maybe that’s why!
Tell us about the first work of art you ever acquired. How did you find it?
My first piece was a wall sculpture by Maire Kennedy. She and I worked at the same advertising agency where I was a secretary, and they had an employee art show at our offices in 2005. Her piece called “Tête-à-Tête” was on display for months, and I would go out of my way to walk by and enjoy it—it took months to muster up the courage to even ask her if it was for sale—I was afraid it would be too expensive. But something clicked in my heart and my head when I first saw it, and I knew I had to have it. I wanted it in my life, to see every day.
Suddenly, I heard she was leaving the state to go to graduate school and I jumped at the chance that she might want to part with it—and she did. I’ll always keep it as a reminder of how cool it was to buy my first a piece of original art from the artist.
Where do you display your favorite artwork?
My collection is literally starting to cover the walls of my house. It’s everywhere. It’s like a giant puzzle—since I acquire new works frequently, the puzzle changes as I move things around for space reasons as well as variety. Every room has something in it. When I run out of space, I might have to move!
Do you collect according to a theme or a set of rules? If so, what are they?
My inspiration is my dad’s former boss, the prolific art collector Earle Ludgin, and his wife, Mary. They had an incredible eye and bought so many works from artists that would become prominent (Jackson Pollock, Alexander Calder and Ivan Albright are just a few examples). Many pieces in their collection are now in museums. Definitely Google them—they were great role models for collectors. I was told that his rule was always, “Buy what you like.” I absolutely agree—after all, you have to look at it every day. If its value increases over time, that’s wonderful. But the real “win,” and privilege, is getting to live among artworks that speak to your soul.
Is collecting art a private passion of yours, or something you like to share with others?
I can’t wait to share art with friends and family—it’s a bit of an obsession with me. Right now I have about 70 pieces, so I created a Gallery Guide for guests to flip through when they visit. They can stroll the “galleries” and learn about each piece and the artist. This makes my apartment sound much more grand than it is—for example, what I call “The North Gallery” area is actually my living room! I love that visitors always find new artists they love that they didn’t know about before.
Do you collect anything else besides art?
I’d say wine, but it gets consumed too quickly to be considered a collection!
How do you know when you want to bring an artwork home?
Two things usually happen–first is that I feel excited about it immediately—and if I don’t buy it right away, I’ll keep thinking about it. I might visit it once or twice before I make the purchase. Second, I instantly picture it on the wall in my house (or table, if it’s a sculpture). This happens a lot, so I keep a detailed spreadsheet of pieces that I want to acquire, and another to keep track of the 400+ artists (and growing) whose work is of interest to me.
I’d love to be able to buy my list all at once, but that’s not very realistic! This is an ongoing process for me. If a piece I love gets sold before I can buy it, I admit that I’m a little sad at first, but more importantly, I feel very happy for both the artist and collector. That’s what it’s all about.
What advice would you give to a first-time collector?
You do not need a lot of funds or know-how to start collecting art. Buy what moves you. Use the internet to find out what’s happening in the world of art near you and anywhere else you choose. If you’re fortunate enough to live near galleries, go to them. Go to art shows. Also, an online gallery like Saatchi Art is a great way to get to know the global art scene and acquire works at any price point from artists you might never have known about, in places you might not visit.
Once you buy your first piece, you realize what an exhilarating experience it is to own original artwork and support the global arts community.