Starting an Art Collection

Just a stones throw away from Fifth Avenue on the Upper East side in Manhattan is Salon94, a 1,500 square foot exhibition space for emerging and mid-career artists. Built into the home of esteemed curator and art expert Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn, Salon94 looks out into a garden through a magnificent floor to ceiling bay window. When I stepped through the doors of Salon94 to meet with Greenberg-Rohatyn, I was immediately struck by the space’s warmth. Unlike traditional art galleries, Salon94 is stylishly furnished in a way that invites visitors to make themselves at home. Like a frequent houseguest, I comfortably settled into a plush chair and chatted with Greenberg-Rohatyn about art and collecting.

Harbus: Why the passion for art?

Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn: I’m an art dealer’s daughter and my mother is an art educator who writes books on art, so I grew up surrounded by it. At a young age, I began training my eye. When I went to college I majored in art. After college I worked at a museum and then went on to graduate school at New York University’s Institute of Fine Art. While there I started working for international curator Norman Rosenthal at the Royal Academy. Later I worked for art advisor Jeffrey Deitch, before going out on my own.

Harbus: How has the art market evolved?

JGR: The art market is evolving because the art audience is evolving. Right now, American society is more of a leisure society than at any other point in its history. That means that more people not only go to movies, but they also go to museums and galleries. It’s a direct result of the growing middle class. In the seventies there was not a huge art market. There were not hundreds and hundreds of people interested in collecting art. There were just a few collectors. The market really started to grow in the eighties. And just recently we have seen a proliferation of art schools and artists. When you consider that people at places like Harvard Business School are taking an interest in art, you realize that the art market is a viable industry.

Harbus: Why is Salon94 not a typical “white box” art gallery?

JGR: The opening of Salon94 grew out of my own needs; I have two children and I am a working mom. My husband and I found an old adoption agency, while looking for a gallery space, that we fell in love with. The adoption agency was perfect, because we could use it for our home and a gallery. It’s a place where I can have lunch upstairs with my kids and afterwards go back down stairs and work in the gallery. Also I believe that the Chelsea gallery scene is a very cold way of looking at art. While the galleries may be filled with people, you don’t get a lot of interaction and dialogue. I like the old-fashioned idea that someone can come to Salon94 and I can serve them coffee and we can discuss art.

Harbus: How should an art novice begin collecting?

JGR: I believe strongly that you have to invest your money in art in order to have a real emotional investment in it. I have known people who were lazy about art until they put their money into it and then they became really energized. Starting out, you should find a tutor or someone experienced who you trust and respect that you can discuss art with. Also you have to begin looking at art. All you need to spend is two hours on a Saturday looking at art. A good option is joining a museum club. Also, you can look at auction catalogues or art magazines such as Art Forum, Art in America, or Frieze. You should definitely read the New York Times gallery reviews and if you are in New York, read the Village Voice’s art section.

Harbus: What type of art should a young collector start with?

JGR: Different mediums have different sensibilities. I love sculptures for instance, but they are notoriously difficult to re-sell. Paintings are probably the most liquid medium, while installations are less liquid. A lot of young art enthusiasts, who are cost-constrained, start out buying prints before moving on to the real thing. I believe a better alternative is to buy a drawing of a painter you really love. Many artists produce less expensive works in conjunction with their traditional pieces. I own several Andy Warhol Polaroid photographs that are much more affordable than his popular work. Additionally, I would recommend that young collectors look at undervalued mediums. Take for instance video art. Right now, video art is extremely undervalued, but I have this fantasy in my head that in the future every home will have monitors so that you can continuously look at video art. Ten years ago, if you would have said that photographs were going to be in nearly everyone’s homes, no one would have believed you; now they are. Regardless of which medium you choose to start with, the most important thing is to buy art that moves you.