Do I judge people and their taste in art? I think so.
A professor-colleague may tell me, for instance, how much he values poetry, but I go to his apartment and I cannot find a single book of poetry (and yes, I’m not counting his copy of The Essential Rumi). I think of Kenneth Patchen and his snarky comment, “People who say they love poetry and don’t buy any are a bunch of cheap sons-of-bitches.”
Of course, the opposite can be true–not so much in the world of poetry, but in the world of visual arts. You know the story, the multi-billionaire who collects a Cézanne as a fetishized investment, a trophy that affirms the billionaire’s tasteful avarice and cultural bona fides. On this point, I somewhat favor the crass taste of Elvis, or even President Trump, that’s all about the gilding. But the point here is that the equation between loving any art and acquiring art is inherently problematic.
And the accounts of just how corrupt the art world is, precisely because of how an artwork is by definition a rare commodity, an original, are well documented. My working artists friends have to negotiate between being the slickest of self-promoters to gain representation and to get in the right galleries, to produce the kind of work that deepens their brand, and to keep score of who gets a notice in Art in America. I marvel over those who are genuinely successful at it, truly so, who can handle the promotion and who can still create genuinely good work. In my neck of the woods, Rauschenberg was the exemplar, and Marcus Jansen is another fine example.
I thus look at my own art collection, what my wife and I have both acquired and received as gifts, of living artists (some of whom have died since that acquisition–and no, their work hasn’t sky-rocketed in value after their deaths). Most recently, my dear friend Phil Heubeck gave me a painting that was a watershed moment in his development as a visual artist, an abstract work that is a mix of action painting, a touch of Jackson Pollock, and then very intentional manipulation, scraping away the layers, undoing the process. It’s messy, accidental, incidental, and then manipulated, where there’s an active intervention–strange, rudimentary, spiritual. Something is being unveiled. Oil, pigment, scratchings, suspended on plywood.
I also like the idea of buying art, supporting local galleries and artists I know, proving I am not a cheap son-of-bitch. It becomes a collection of names: Bev Rhoades, Larry Donovan, David Acevedo, Chip Hoffman, Andy Browne (my favorite whale!), Paul Rodino, Pavol Roskovensky, Tricia Fay, Dorothy Causey, Marcus Jansen, Iris Massey, Andi Rosenbaum-McCarter, Carole Nastars, Passiko, Kim Craft, Jeffrey Scott Lewis, and Sherry Rohl. So many captures of attention, where someone–with great skill and concern and rather pointless faith–fabricated something, perhaps out of compulsion and certainly out of concentration, worked something out, and then released it.
And I understand it’s a reflection of my status, my snobbery, my elitism, my privilege, my bourgeois comfort. It is the goddamned Jim Brock Collection, after all.
Of course, it starts in childhood. My parents had two prints of Vermeer in their living room, framed horrendously, and as a child I loved looking at The Milkmaid, something so, so quiet and understated in our noisy house. I also remembering that even on the wholesome Donna Reed Show, there was a Picasso print hanging in the entry way. Such incongruencies I have always loved.
What a happy, wild zoo I have in my home.