Introduction to Contemporary Art Collecting - Max Teicher


How does one understand contemporary art?

When you first look at contemporary art, it is very easy to feel like an outsider. A lot of people say, “I do not get it, I do not understand the art. When I go to a museum, I do not really know what I am looking at.” The purpose of a Da Vinci or any Renaissance painting is much clearer because it is historical in comparison to art as it is now, which is more conceptual and intellectual. The first thing to know about understanding contemporary art is to just to stop thinking so much. Loosen up. Think of it as a song, you do not know the genre, you do not know what it is, but if you like it you are going to dance and you are going to move. If you are looking at art, you need to let that natural reaction happen too. Let that initial reaction take over and see what it can do for you. Do not let questions prevent you from building a connection with an object.

What kind of art should I like?

For me, I always consider the aesthetic and intellectual components of a work. I want to look at something and be excited by it. Because beauty might wear off, it is important to consider how an artwork makes you think. Intellect is what moves your mind. You want to have the work ask you questions, to have it evolve when you look at it, and to evolve when you compare it to something else. You should see different moments in an artwork every other day. At the very surface, something could be a very beautiful looking object but what is it? Ask yourself questions about lines, textures, and context. Have this conversation in your mind.

How does an artwork represent the moment we are in now? How is it contemporary?

Is an artwork a historical object? Take Jackson Pollock for example: how did he represent the fifties and sixties? Instead of representing the cookie-cutter American dream, maybe he wanted to do something utterly contradictory and outside the box to combat the conventions of society. That is what Pollock did. And then there is Andy Warhol; he saw commercialism, advertising and more advertising—images that we take for granted in our daily lives. He wanted to use banal objects to show the everyday life in a completely new light.

For me, art takes six or seven years from that moment in history to truly evolve. But, we need to start thinking about what is in front of our eyes today. I want to see the artist really thinking through his process. He must have something to offer. It is a ten-year process to get to this moment. You can see how an artwork draws comparisons and references another, this is a way that we can make sense of the moment we are in.

You have to learn and dedicate time to it. You must read and not be afraid to ask questions. I was at a museum and I asked a docent why the artworks had no prices. She thought I was asking something incredibly horrid and I did not know my question would be insulting. I did not get the answer I wanted, but I learned something. Do not be afraid to ask questions, it is probably not the paint or surface you thought it was.

Building a collection.

A good friend of mine said something to me that I will always remember: to begin building a collection, you need to start buying. If you really think about it, it is true. It is applicable to everything. How do I know which woman I want to marry? I just have to go out and date. You need to throw yourself into the pool or you will not know the temperature of the water. If you feel like you made a mistake, it is a learning experience as long as you are not breaking the bank.

Your collection is going to change. Your first purchase will not necessarily match your last. Sometimes it does, but you need to allow your taste to change. Take fashion for example, ten years ago your clothes looked entirely different. So too, your collection will evolve because it is a presentation of yourself. Eventually you will find some cohesion and you will come to know what you are doing. Sometimes you just need to dive in and see what happens.

What are we really paying for?

Well if you are spending three thousand dollars, your major concern will be if it is worth the expense. But then again, you do not want to think of purchasing art as spending three thousand dollars. Put the money aside and look at the object for what it is.

The whole business of flipping art too quickly can really ruin an artist’s career. When you are buying art, you want to be a partner. It sounds like a business term but it is not. You are a partner in the sense that you want to work together with the artist, so the artist can continue producing. Every time you purchase an artwork, you are helping to give the artist time to think about their next idea. You are not putting food on the table, buying paints, canvases, or computers, you are giving the artist time to actually think and that is the most important thing. An artist needs to think. It could take two to three months, or two to three years to come up with a new idea.