Passion and Practicality: The Many Faces of the Modern Collector
by Jan David Winitz
President and Founder, Claremont Rug Company
Eli Broad once said, “A real collector does not sell.” Having spent over four decades as a gallery owner, I have had the privilege to work with thousands of clients and have found that the characteristics and habits of the modern collector are less readily defined.
“Best of the Best for 2016”.
“… each acquisition is an elusive, exclusive artifact discovered within the depths of a larger, dwindling whole.”
Over the years I have been given a front-row seat from which to witness what quickens the pulse and piques the attention of many impassioned collectors. I find that the common threads in collecting strategies can be broken into three categories that I call the Aesthete, the Connoisseur and the Pure Collector.
Whether the collection is stamps or Pre-Columbian Art, American Impressionist paintings or sports memorabilia, items appropriate to one’s preferred genre were often created within a clearly defined place and period, and are in limited supply. The driving knowledge fueling the passions of all three types of collectors is that each acquisition is an elusive, exclusive artifact discovered within the depths of a larger, dwindling whole.
The Aesthete buys works of art to create a stunning, individual home. He or she chooses only those pieces that promise to work in copasetic harmony with other elements residing within the intended space.
Having a place to put an objet d’art is vital to the Aesthete, who can be incredibly creative in finding display areas. I have been in homes with Oceanic art displayed on shelves in the guest bathroom, early Chinese porcelain in elaborate cases in a rear corridor leading to the laundry room, and high-collectible antique rugs draped over banisters or furniture, or under glass on a dining table. Recently, when meeting a client in her home, I remarked on how lovely I found her environment to be. She replied matter-of-factly, “It is important for me to be able to look in every corner of my home and see beauty.”
circa 1850 Caucasian Shirvan runner on the floor.
The aesthete collector is someone for whom a stirring aesthetic is paramount to his or her lifestyle. In acquiring an art work, the Aesthete will carefully deliberate about how it is to be viewed and appreciated. This type of collector can walk away from a stunning piece that would undoubtedly sway many others, simply because it does not work within the intended environment. For Aesthetes, it is not merely the thrill of the chase; above all it is the inherent overall beauty of their surroundings that moves them as collectors.
The Connoisseur’s desire is to collect the most covetable offerings of a given genre, and to create an interior design that will accommodate the widest possible selection of art objects. Overlapping with the Aesthete, they assemble memorable homes surrounded by their art forms of choice, but display the art front and center, rather than as an element in the environment. Their approach is more curated. They enjoy revisiting not just the beauty of each piece, but their studied recognition of its importance.
During my career, I have worked with a great many Connoisseurs, consulting with them over time to trade up to ever finer rugs and assisting the showcasing of their pieces. I have seen that for them ultimately only what they consider to be great examples will satisfy.
Another attribute of the Connoisseur is that they are comfortable with having part of their collection in storage and take great delight in changing out pieces. The connoisseur of antique rugs often has dedicated storage chests and closets, and even entire rug cellars from which to exchange with pieces currently on display. As one of my clients explained, “Seeing a piece that was in storage for a year is a fascinating process. I see that my relationship to that rug actually grew during the time it was put away.”
The Pure Collector
Unlike the Aesthete or the Connoisseur, the very existence of the Pure Collector’s noteworthy acquisitions—whether or not they go on display—is enough to satisfy.
The Pure Collector has a quiet dedication to the collection itself. He or she is less swayed by any personal aesthetics and is less interested in how to display their treasures. The Pure Collector is dedicated to filling specific voids within a collection and may have little or no limits on quantity.
Some become fascinated by studying variations in the many pieces they own: the differences in the tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon vintners, the subtle nuances of Burmese rubies, the changes in grillwork from different car companies over the years or recognizing each of the 85 subgroups of Caucasian Oriental rugs. Many become true experts in their field of focus. Unyielding in their desire for excellence, even more than the Connoisseur, the Pure Collector is diligent in the search for pieces of great rarity and artistry.
“There are no rules, per se, in collecting. There is only direction as determined by one’s own, unique passions.”
Pure Collectors are typically more prolific in the time they spend with a particular art form and in their acquisition than either the Aesthete or the Connoisseur. Indeed, some build massive, world-class collections that, while seldom out of mind, are often held safely, mostly out of sight. Some are content to view most of their pieces solely online or in dedicated photo albums, or to loan them to museums, while others make a habit of viewing each piece they own once a year. In point of fact, at Claremont Rug Company we have a program for Pure Collectors to store their surplus inventory and periodically rotate them with their pieces in use.
The Collecting Passion
In looking at the three styles of collectors, one can, of course, see many overlapping areas. Pure Collectors can also take great pleasure in surrounding themselves with the products of their passion. At the same time, there are Aesthetes whose acquisitions are of the highest quality, but who acquire them out of different motivations. Connoisseurs will delve into anything from cookie jars to Ming vases, relishing the learning and the discrimination this develops, and there are preeminent fine art Collectors with an unabashed affinity for comic books, of course, only the rarest. There are no rules, per se, in collecting. There is only direction as determined by one’s own unique passions.
The non-collector may question why it matters. The elucidating differences tend to lie deep, revealing themselves slowly, but understanding what motivates my clients helps me in assisting them to define and to discover those pieces that will most thoroughly please them.
In antique rug collecting, while the Aesthete may be enamored with a certain piece because of its extraordinary graciousness, the Connoisseur may covet the same carpet to study its particular style more deeply, and the Pure Collector may desire it as a one-in-the-world specimen in its colors and design. One top-notch work of art found equally covetable by three collectors, each drawn to the same piece for innately different reasons.
Therein lies the delight of discovering the many fascinating facets of the modern-day collector. Vive la différence.