Despite buying, thinking about and living with art, many of our clients flinch at the word “collector”. “I’m not a collector,” they say, “just an art lover” as though the two weren’t symbiotic. Why do we refuse the label collector, when what many of us do is collect art?
The answer lies with the collector stereotype. Think collector and think of Saatchi, hundreds of millions of dollars hammered at auction and wings of museums named after businessmen. The vast majority of the art world however, trades beyond these exceptional cases and instead among ordinary people.
What if we returned “collector” from the clutches of aspiration to custodianship? To curate, a term also stymied in glitz, has its etymological roots in care while collector – from the Latin colligō – once meant simply to “gather together”.
Collecting of course, implies more than just gathering. There is a sense that what is gathered is important, valuable and when brought into relation with other objects, suggestive of a truth bigger than each part. These objects are not owned, but placed in our custody – we have a duty to care for and understand them, and when the time comes, thoughtfully part with them. There’s ample curation, or care, in collecting.
You don’t need to own a Picasso to be an art collector. A collection can start as small as an etching under $500, it can grow over decades, enriched by gifts and bequests. The esteem attached to the word “collector” will likely never be vanquished and nor should it. This is important work. Rather, by shifting emphasis from elitism to care, the label ‘collector’ can be something we all share in.