We have decided to forego a thematic exhibition this season in favor of a summer-long collaboration between the gallery and local furniture designers Mercury Bureau and Tom Chung with art, design, cocktails, and conversation. Taking the viewing room―a traditionally private space—as point of inquiry this evolving installation will offer improvisational proposals for domestic space. By presenting a rotating selection of artworks from inventory, our hope is to provide space to re-examine a work’s meaning and qualities of relation outside their original context.
In keeping with this, for the accompanying text we approached Jeanne Parkin, a collector and consultant whose work we have long admired. We asked her how she came to acquiring art, how and why her tastes have changed, as well as advice for emerging collectors.
Did you come from a family that collected art?
The answer is no. Surprisingly. We had reproductions of the Group of Seven on the wall and a few nice paintings by my uncle who was an artist.
Did he influence your decision to study art?
Not really. Maybe by osmosis. Art was probably in the genes and I was predestined to go into art in some form or another.
Can you recall one of the first works that you purchased? Do you still own it?
I made my first purchase when I was a student. At that time I had the idea that owning art was totally elitist – a self-indulgent occupation. Why buy when you can see everything just by going to the museums and galleries, looking and developing a real appreciation of art. I was given to education more than avarice.
Then, a fortuitous thing happened. A set of prints by the important German artist Kathie Kolwitz was being given to the Fogg Museum. Since they already had large holdings of her work, they offered the prints for sale to our small museum training class. We drew lots to see what print each of us had the chance to buy. I was lucky and so excited because mine was by far the best. It was of a mother, hand outstretched, pleading for some bread for her child. So moving, it would bring tears to your eyes. So, for a few dollars, I became the proud owner of the iconic print entitled “Brot”. The piece disappeared from my life somehow.
Once I had graduated and entered the real world, my attitude about owning art all changed. I was ready to put my money where my heart was.
What made you start collecting?
When I was first married, my husband John, being an architect, thought that art was irrelevant and refused to have any art in our house. For him, architecture was all-important and art just an unnecessary decorative adjunct. Eventually I was able to persuade him to buy a few pieces. Our first acquisition was a Harold Town. It was huge and it dominated the living room. Not long after came Graham Coughtry, then Jean McEwen, Jack Bush, Claude Tousignant, and Guido Molinari. It wasn’t long before my exposure to the international scene led me to the desire to buy The American School. At first John was against it. Finally he relented, saying, “Whatever you buy it has to be big. It has to be formalist. And, it has to fit the architecture but not take over from it.”
I purchased two things from André Emmerich in New York. One was a Stella and one was a Noland. They were both stunning. And they were major. Really Major. We lived in a mise-en-scène style modern house, that John designed, all white walls and marble. Very minimal and beautiful. There was just one painting in the living room, the Stella. The Noland took up the entire wall in the dining room. That was the look.
The notion that art is not needed in a home persists.
My collecting habit didn’t really develop until I was on my own and living separately. That’s when I became completely addicted to art, and started to build a serious collection that had nothing to do with my home, but just happened to fill every square inch of it! Of course, in my business as an art advisor, I am exposed to a lot of things that are very tempting to buy for myself, so I had to be very selective. Also, in my job, I was trained that the client always comes first. Most wouldn’t want what I do, anyway.
Obviously, you collect from a place of passion, interest, and engagement. However, does the notion of investing in art factor as well?
No it doesn’t. I never think in terms of investment. I have never negotiated a price. I have always felt that the artist comes first and that is something you just do not haggle over. Perhaps it is an old-fashioned, traditional way of thinking but I feel they deserve everything they get. Whether the art I buy for myself goes up or down in value is of little consequence to me. On the other hand, in business, I care very much what happens. It is important for my clients that my recommendations have been good investments.
Do you have any regrets as a collector?
Nothing! No, [my collection] just gets better with time. The works only appreciate! I’m not speaking about monetary value.
You describe yourself as a minimalist. Have you found that your taste or interest in specific types of art has changed over the course of your career as a collector?
Yes. Quite dramatically, in fact. It has become more conceptual, focused, and tougher, I think. Isn’t it a matter of commitment rather than taste, though? While my taste in art is still rooted in Modernism, over the last ten years or so it is the minimalists/conceptualists that excite me most and they are who I have been buying recently. Who knows where it will go next. I just go on developing.
Can you remember any markers that signal that shift? Since many Canadian collectors do not purchase heavily conceptual work.
This is the first time I have thought about it. In retrospect, I think it was just a gradual thing. I had always been mad about Agnes Martin and artists like Roni Horn and Don Judd and I think that as I grew older, traveled more, and gained more experience in the international art world, my tastes moved more solidly in that direction, finally developing into Minimalism, which is where I am now.
A number of my peers and a few good friends, like Joe Friday in Ottawa, have been significantly influential in my decisions. Joe is a very thoughtful and rigorous collector, given to challenging art and serious introspection. Our discussions, via email, have been numerous, very lengthy, and particularly revealing. I believe that connection has made a difference in the way I look at, and feel about, art.
Do you have advice for collectors at different stages: emerging, mid, advanced?
You bet! The list is long but it starts with advising everyone, at any stage, emerging or advanced, to always keep an open mind and to always keep on looking. You can never see too much art. And if you don’t understand it, that’s ok, but it’s not ok to simply dismiss it.
The very best advice I can give to emerging collectors is to educate yourself before starting out. Absorb as much as possible by attending art exhibitions, galleries, museums, reading, and studying. For those just starting out on a modest budget, works on paper and photography are a good place to begin.
Learn how to really look. Many people give just a cursory look and react immediately without having given the necessary time to really appreciate what they are seeing. Unless you have seen the work previously, never trust buying at openings. They tend to be social gatherings. Not the best time for serious decisions.
When it comes to making choices, I have found that making comparisons sharpens the eye. Why is this one better than that one, etc.?
Never give in to moments of mindless emotion when faced with something you really like and are tempted to buy. Think first before deciding whether you simply cannot live without it. Get good advice from the experts.
Become more deeply engaged in the kind of art that interests you. Read. Study. Travel. Attend lectures.
Develop a relationship with the dealers. They know best and are there to help you.
For more mid to advanced collectors, never keep a closed mind. Be open to embracing new experiences and ready to approach art with a fresh new eye.
Getting to know the artists is helpful, but not essential.
The best tastemaker of all is to spend most of your time looking and exploring the widest variety of art possible. Over time you will see where your interests really lie and you will be able to enter the art market with confidence.
What concerns me most is the Internet. Buying art is not like buying a piece of furniture or items of clothing. Relying on reproduced images to buy art is stupid, but it has become a very serious matter, because nothing can replace the real thing, least of all an understanding of quality.
What has been the value of living with art?
I live with art everywhere, even in the kitchen. The hall is where I have hung most of my photography; in the living/dining room are my larger “showcase” pieces; and my bedroom is where I have placed smaller, more personal works, some that are of special importance to me. It is packed floor to ceiling and all over the floor.
Art is very essential in my life. Next to my family, it is the most important thing. I just can’t image living without it. I think that is what keeps me going. All of the qualities that make up great art are there, every day, all around me to enjoy, to provide lasting interest, and to remind me that there is always something new and exciting still to come.
There are times when I may have had bad hair day that I will simply sit down with a good cup of tea and find comfort just looking around at my beautiful art.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Refreshments will be served between 11 – 3 and Georgian Bay Gin cocktails 3 – 5 daily. In addition, Feel Good Guru has prepared a special pick-up menu of summer salads that we encourage you to enjoy in the gallery.