Why I collect emerging artists

I often get the question. “Who are the artists that you collect?” In many instances my answer is met with either a somewhat blank stare or a mildly quizzical look.  You see, I mostly collect works of emerging or middle rank artists, not necessarily the household names, nor for that matter the popularly known. My motivation touches on the practical, the altruistic and a quest for adventure (I’ll get to those later), but mostly it just feels so right for me.  As most of my associates and peers tend to collect and chase after those artists who are in the top tiers of historical importance on the secondary market or at auctions, I often feel like I’m bucking the trend scouting young talent.  Don’t get me wrong, there is much to be said for acquiring works of dead masters or mature artists: their historical significance cannot be diminished and our debt to them cannot be overstated.  Their works are the life-sustaining repository of history – cultural, socio-political, and art history.  They, indeed, are the ‘influencers’ and mentors to the generation that follows them.  Not to mention their solid investment value and potential. And who doesn’t get a little high on the prestige that comes from collecting masters’ works.

For me, though, my eye and heart invariably are drawn to the ‘nowness’, the newness and the freshness of contemporary and emerging artists, to art that reflects the present. I am drawn to the fearless experimentation with formal aspects, the inventive use of materials, the vast creative inquiries that have exploded their art-making pursuits beyond the mere act of painting. I look for smart and intellectually challenging work with a conceptual leaning. But before I get carried away any further, I must issue the caveat that emerging art per se does not necessarily embody all these characteristics. Let’s face it, some of our young artists are more than direct heirs to the artistic traditions of the past, they are slaves to it, bringing no new perspective to what has gone before. Then there are the market pressures that have lured many younger artists to thinking about developing a signature style, to producing a pre-defined product rather than letting their artistic identity come through hard, sustained work, creative thinking, and experimentation.

It goes without saying that building a quality collection of emerging artists is not without its pitfalls. It is sometimes hard to put your finger on the pulse of the contemporary art world; it is hard to project a young artist’s future path; and it is challenging to figure out the real value of work that has not stood the test of time.  

Still, I think I can make a strong case for embracing the work of young talent and newly emerging artists. Consider these advantages and (yes, the practical, altruistic and the thrilling) benefits of collecting newer artists:

Affordability. Well, mostly. I’m sure we’ve all had our ‘you must be kidding’ moments looking at the price stickers on work by some of our young talent. Yes, we are in the era of art as commodity. And if we’re going to be honest, we have to acknowledge that price is sometimes used to make statements about self-worth and may not necessarily reflect the real value of a work. Yet, relatively speaking, if we can separate the hype from the talent and side-step the fads, we can find the best values in this segment of the market.

We support the artist’s career. The building of an artist’s career is a process and we participate in that process by supporting and acquiring work by that artist.

We build our own artistic legacy. Most of us know the story of Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, he a postal worker, she a librarian, who amassed an amazing collection of modern art in their one bedroom apartment by buying small pieces by relatively unknown abstract expressionist artists, many of whom went on to become renowned. Today most of the 4000 –odd works in their collection are being distributed by the National gallery to museums in fifty states.

The thrill and adventure. What could be more exhilarating and self-affirming than following one’s own eye and taste in discovering a future star or master.

We collect work that speaks to ‘our time’.  Artists of this generation invariably reflect and respond to the mood and spirit of our times. They are in tune with contemporary culture and movements and, especially for younger collectors, our experiences and sensibility will more closely align with the work we buy. For many of us who are a little older, ‘fresh’ work can take us someplace we have never been before.

We can establish a personal connection with the artist. I often listen to stories from clients and older friends of visiting with ‘Romy’ at his Canal Street studio, or hanging out with ‘Ernie’ at gallery openings in Brooklyn. We have the opportunity to make our own stories.  

So, really, most of us simply buy art that we love and all of this may be irrelevant. But it’s hard to ignore quality concerns and the investment potential of the art we buy, even when it’s not our main consideration. Or at least we want to feel that we’re getting good value. Much has been written and said about how to collect art, on this site and elsewhere, and many of the considerations hold true for collecting work by contemporary and emerging artists. The key here is to exercise our eye for we are assuming more of the role of critic. For me, the overarching question is whether the artist is saying something unique (or giving a new perspective on something familiar) in an imaginative, aesthetically pleasing, and technically competent way and do I connect with the work or with the artist’s passion.  And there is nothing wrong with demanding hard, honest, creative and passion-driven work from our young artists in exchange for our hard-earned money and loyal support.

What do you think?

Byrma Braham
Gallery Director
Avisca Fine Art Gallery

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Comment by Judi Lynn on July 14, 2011 at 12:34pm
Thank you Byrma, for this insight.  I am an emerging artist. I'm not sure what consititutes "young", but I am among the emerging. I've been an artist all of my life, but only recently find myself in the position of having all of my time to paint. It is not supporting me, but I am exillarated by the process of finding my "voice".  I do hope that I find my market soon so that I can continue my growth.  It is encouraging to find out there are collectors who might be interested in what I'm working to accomplish.  I hope to leave a significant mark on the world, but it cannot happen if no one hears me.  Thank you for your support of "new" artists and for your advice.
Comment by LaMar Barber on July 14, 2011 at 10:35am
Great read!!
Comment by Joyce Owens on June 6, 2011 at 7:24am

I have gone to lectures or events with The Kinsey's from Calif.  Dr. Walter Evans and others. I met Paul R. Jones at an art exhibition in Chicago. The difference between the first two and Mr. Jones is that he seemed to think like you.

His collection is definitely impressive and laden with "names", but he was also amenable to collecting work he liked by lesser known artists, perceiving, I assume that name recognition does not determine art ability!


I also immediately thought of  Chicago's collector's group, Diasporal Rhythms, and Leo and Gertrude Stein, Herb and Dorothy Vogel in NYC who purchased EVERYBODY cheap before they became Chuck Close and Christo, etc. !  It takes so little thinking to buy Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Tanner, Duncanson, Charles White, Bibbs, etc., once they have been vetted by museums and other collectors. I would buy Richard Mayhew if I had the money! (another fabulous living artist)!

There are plenty of living masters who may still be affordable. Catlett SOLD OUT when she showed her lithos at the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago a couple of years ago.  Nicole Gallery in Chicago carries Allen Stringfellow and William Carter; I especially love Carter and believe they are in a range folks can handle (both artists are deceased).

But I especially love the courage, confidence is your aesthetic sensibility  and vision,  plus the interest in art trends that you express. Yashua Klos is someone I would suggest you look at, if you haven't already. His work crosses traditional figuration with his contemporary thought. He is in NYC.


I would say, as an older artist who always looks for the next question I need to ask, I am happy to read you don't necessarily write off older artists. (I think we are emerging until we have a solo museum exhibition).

Just saying, age does not always coincide with fresh ideas (or not)! Loving your interest in the youth! I have a young artist son, I teach young artists I love them, and buy them, too..


Comment by Frank Perkins on April 27, 2011 at 4:52pm

For the collector,..checkout "artbymalcolmperkins.com.  62 year old male,...never sold any artwork until son enter college.,..(now a freshman at Tex-Southern U.), and until the 3 coloring books project were near completion,........coming early Fall,... Project #3, an online coloring book website (Content, Character and Education: In Pursuit of a Dream), a "who is who" among African-Americans past and present.  Project #2 will be "African American Inventors", Vols. 1&2 (25 pages each),...and "Road to Freedom: The African American Experience",..32 pages that chronicle the African in America ,..beginning with the Atlantic Slave Trade through the Civil Rights Movement,..beginning with the Atlantic Slave, Reconstruction Period, Plessy vs. Ferguson, Brown vs. Board, etc.,....and the drawings speaks directly to the narratives.,..."if you have an African-American child they need this book,..and that is an unbias statement.  Lacking knowledge of "self" contributes to many of the social ill confronting young African-Americans, inparticularly,..young men.,.."grown folks too.,..children need this book.,..and that is an unbias statement.

PH:  281/8350175l 

Comment by Judi Lynn on April 6, 2011 at 9:35pm
This is a great post.  It is encouraging to know that my youn collegues are supported. I am among the emerging and my art is my passion.  All artists are unknown and young once...but those who are true to their craft keep doing it, growing, evolving.  One day, I hope to be a household name.  But I will continue to do what I love regardless. I hope to be blessed with collectors such as you. 
Comment by darrell jones on April 5, 2011 at 4:37pm
Thanks for the comment... if you are near the buckhead area checkout some of my artwork at the
northside library, it will be up til the end of the month, not represented by a gallery yet but will get
Comment by Lucretia Coleman on April 4, 2011 at 10:33pm

As an emerging artist, your words were very meaningful to me.  THANK YOU for supporting my fellow emerging artists.

~ Lucretia Coleman

Comment by Robert Terrence (Skip) Hill on February 28, 2011 at 12:20pm
Bravo...my personal thanks to you and Lynn for your support and commitment...
Comment by Frank Frazier on February 3, 2011 at 7:33am
will said and im happy to be part of your art world,how i miss the wonderful days in new york,and you still one of the best,see you in new york
Comment by J.T. Smith on February 1, 2011 at 8:24pm

When Peggy Guggenheim collected the Abstact Expressionists she was laughed at by the art establishment. Her copious donation of works to the Metropolitan Museum was rejected. Today those artists that were rejected are some of the most important American artists of the twentieth century.

I collect because the art speaks to me emotionally and intellectually. It matters not is the artist is emerging, mid-carrier or established.

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