Old Town Crier

Gallery Beat

F. Lennox Campello, ASEre ¿SI o NO?, 2009. Charcoal on paper, 19 x 48 in. Courtesy of the Drs. Steve Pieczenik and Roberta Rovner Pieczenik Collection

By F. Lennox Campello

I am often asked by people who become interested in collecting art, but have never collected artwork, what they should “collect.”

Many years ago, I formed an opinion based on empirical observations, that here are really only two rules to start an art collection: (1) Collect what you like, and (2) Whenever possible, buy the original.

That’s clear, right? Buy and collect only what you like, what attracts your eyes, and what interests you personally, and is within your economic means. If you like the work of a particular artist, or a specific kind of prints (like Japanese woodcuts), or drawings (such as figurative drawings), then focus your collection in those areas. This also comes with a caveat, as a lot of excessive attention is often placed on a “focused” collection. A diverse collection may make less sense to some than a focused one, but it only has to make sense to you! After all, it is your collection.

It has also been my experience, that the more affluent a “beginning collector” is, the higher the probability that he/she will get swindled into spending a lot of money for wall décor and fancy frames. Since most of us are not affluent, the high end of the commodified art market is not where I’m focusing this column.

Naúl Ojeda, Fleeing from the Storm, 1981. Woodblock, 2/30, 19 x 25 in. Courtesy of Estate of Naul Ojeda.

The DMV offers an immense variety and multiple, diverse sources to begin an art collection. The key to most of that statement is the number of art schools, art leagues, art centers, and reputable commercial art galleries that exist in our area. Add to that the number of independent artists’ studios, and you have the perfect mix for starting an art collection.

Let start with the schools; nearly all art schools and universities put together student shows. Usually these are Master of Fine Arts (MFA) shows – the graduation show for MFA program students. American, Catholic, George Mason, George Washington, Maryland, Montgomery Community College, Northern Virginia, and others are but a sampling of some excellent places to troll for student artwork.

Buying student artwork equals buying an artist early on his/her career.

Buying an artist early in his/her career is the “golden nugget” of most art collectors’ hopes. That puppy crossed my road a few times in my life.

In 1989 I stood in front of an original oil painting by Scottish painter Jack Vettriano. I loved it!

It was Vettriano’s first ever show (it was a group show; actually a painting competition), and all three of his first paintings (all done at his first – and only – art class).

It was on sale for 300 British pounds, which at the time for me might as well have been 300 million pounds, since my US Navy Lieutenant’s salary barely covered expenses in Scotland, which is where I was stationed at the time. That painting sold for 300 pounds. .. 300 pounds at the time was around $500 dollars.

Jose Bermudez, He who Shines by Day, 1961. Welded steel, 56 x 68 x 31. Private Collection, Washington, DC

Today, although he is despised by the art critics and the British arts establishment, he is adored by the public and by some very important collectors, and his works, if you are lucky enough to get on the waiting list for one, ranges in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

And that early one that I passed on? Sold at Sotheby’s a few years ago for 2.5 million pounds.

Beginning art collectors can find their own early Vettrianos at art competitions, MFA shows, outdoor art festivals, open studios, etc.

I will discuss open studios in our region later on.

And before I finish this column, let me plug an upcoming group show at American University’s Katzen Art Museum, since I am honored to be part of it. By the way, that gorgeous museum was built thanks to a major gift from Cyrus and Myrtle Katzen, he a brilliant collector of art who could teach lessons on how to collect; she a very talented artist with a refined eye for great artwork. The Katzen’s head honcho, Jack Rasmussen, continues to shame all other DMV museum directors and curators when it comes to them tending their own artistic back garden.

At the risk of repeating myself: most DMV museum curators would rather take a cab to Dulles Airport to fly to Berlin to visit an emerging artist’s studio than to take a cab to the Gateway Artists’ Studios, or to any area artists’ studios, to look at local artists.

The show is titled The Looking Glass: Artist Immigrants of Washington and it runs June 18th–August 14th. There will also be an artist’s talk on July 14th, 5:30-7:30 – free and open to the public. It is part of the amazing Alper Initiative for Washington Artists (if you don’t know what that is, and you are a DMV artist, you should! – contact the Katzen).

Frida Larios, Underworld Serpent, 2016. Installation, American University Museum entrance.

The opening is June 18 from 6-8PM. There will be plenty of adult beverages and munchies, and the artists will be there to talk about their work.

The exhibition celebrates ten artists who left Latin America for many different reasons over the last sixty years – primarily for safety, freedom, and opportunity – and made their homes, and their artistic careers and contributions, in the Washington region. They include Joan Belmar and Juan Downey from Chile, Carolina Mayorga from Colombia, Ric Garcia, Jose Ygnacio Bermudez, and yours truly from Cuba, Muriel Hasbun from El Salvador, Frida Larios from El Salvador/Honduras, Irene Clouthier from Mexico, and Naul Ojeda from Uruguay. They brought with them artistic traditions that took root and bore fruit here in the United States.