(From left) The "How to Collect" panel was comprised of Susan Oliver Heard, Patricia Ruiz-Healy, Celeste Wackenhut, Alexa Armstrong, and Alex Rubio. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.

During the first two sessions of Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum’s three-part panel discussion Collecting Contemporary Art 101, attendees were given a peek behind the curtain in the vast Land of Art. I’d like to share these nuggets of wisdom gathered from art insiders with you – and use them myself as I contemplate my own contemporary art collection.

Blue Star organized the panel discussions – “Why Collect?” “How to Collect,” and “What to Collect” – to help reveal the important role collecting plays in the art world, using real world experiences and stories from the local arts community. I attended the first two sessions, but the last is scheduled for March 10 at 6 p.m. at Blue Star Contemporary. A. Kate Sheerin, independent curator and collector will moderate the panel. Art trends and schools, different art media, artistic themes and what to consider when purchasing a work of art will be covered, as well as what is most important when deciding to acquire artwork.

Why Collect?

The first discussion Jan. 21 started with “Why Collect?” The panelists included Allison Hays Lane, art director for the University Health System; Guillermo Nicolas, president of 3N Group; artist Andy Benavides; and Joe Díaz, a private collector.

The panel focused on why collecting is important for artists and audiences, as well as the reasons people, institutions and corporations decide to build a collection. Virginia Rutledge, co-organizer of “Gift: An Exquisite Exhibition” at Blue Star, moderated the panel discussion.

The first session of Collecting Contemporary Art 101 series "Why Collect?" introduced the audience to the basics of  the local art industry. Photo courtesy of Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum.
The first session of Collecting Contemporary Art 101 panel series “Why Collect?” introduced the audience to the basics of the local art industry. Photo courtesy of Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum.

One reason to start collecting specific works is to possess art that reflects and amplifies your own personal experience.

“I didn’t see people like me in art,” said avid Latino art collector Joe Díaz. “One of the reasons I started collecting was because I didn’t see Mexicans on the walls. We’re everywhere, so why aren’t we up on people’s walls?”

Thanks to Diaz’s prolific collecting, Baylor University recently featured selections from his vast collection of contemporary Latino emerging and mid-career artists.

The community benefits from art in so many ways. Lane oversees the art collection displayed throughout the University Health System, art that has a calming effect on hospital staff and patients alike.

“Art is the great equalizer,” Lane said. “Everyone’s input was considered when choosing pieces of public art for the hospital system.”

Soliciting community input on potential art acquisitions is crucial when choosing public art pieces.

“When I was chairman of the San Antonio Arts Commission, community buy-in was essential for important pieces of public art,” said Guillermo. “We decided against installing a Botero nude female figure in the San Antonio Public Library and instead chose a Botero horse figure.”

The community also plays an important role in encouraging artists to put down roots and flourish, adding to the cultural richness in San Antonio.

“The community has become my (art) medium,” Benavides said. After introducing First Friday art strolls among art galleries 25 years ago, then First Saturday events 20 years ago, Benavides stressed the importance of producing and collecting art within the context of our local community of talent.

More advice of a practical nature for a beginning collector came from Guillermo.

“Buy what you love, what you can afford and what you can maintain in good condition,” said Nicolas. “Don’t think you will buy art to sell and make a profit later — the secondary art market is not great.”

How to Collect

How to Collect Feb. 4 featured Patricia Ruiz-Healy, owner of Ruiz-Healy Art; Susan Oliver Heard, owner of Cinnabar GalleryAlexis Armstrong, art adviser; and Alex Rubio, artist and owner of R Space Gallery talked about different methods for collecting works of art. Celeste Wackenhut, co-owner of French & Michigan gallery moderated the panel (see top image).

“Decide on how you want to collect art — whether by location, time period, artist or artistic media or method,” Armstrong said. “See as much art as you can, read art magazines and develop your eye for what you like.”

Rubio provided advice for emerging artists looking to engage with potential collectors.

“Have your portfolio of your best work ready,” Rubio said. “Documentation of your artistic process is also very important, as buyers are interested in this. Really work on your artist bio and artist statement as well. All these help collectors connect to your art.”

Heard explained how the art gallery can help artists connect with collectors.

“Galleries can help illuminate the larger stories behind the art, how an artist reflects a specific location or fits into a larger artistic ecosystem,” she said.

The "How to Collect" panel  at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum was well-attended in February. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.
The “How to Collect” panel at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum was well-attended in February. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.

“As a collector you need to put the time into collecting so your collection becomes more powerful, Ruiz-Healy added. “Don’t go to (art shows like) Art Basel Miami Beach, it’s too overwhelming. Try smaller venues like Park Avenue Armory instead, where you can get to know the artist.”

All panelists agreed once you decide to collect art, be sure to budget for it, even if it’s a modest amount. The biggest takeaway was to only buy art that made you feel a strong connection to the subject matter. A strong reaction to a piece of art means it will become an enduring piece of your collection if you choose to buy it. The Rubell Family Collection started with Mera and Don Rubell resolving to spend modestly every month on contemporary art in 1964, often spending only $100 on a painting. Today it’s one of the world’s largest private contemporary art collections.

“I travel a lot and outside of New York, I think our city is the best in terms of the amount and level of local talent,” Nicolas said. “I don’t say that lightly.”


*Top image: (From left) The “How to Collect” panel was comprised of Susan Oliver Heard, Patricia Ruiz-Healy, Celeste Wackenhut, Alexis Armstrong, and Alex Rubio. Photo by Iris Gonzalez.

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Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science, and veteran affairs. She won the Texas Veterans Commission Media Excellence Awards for her 2016 Veterans Day story "Life as a Veteran: What Veterans...