There’s a sleek modern chandelier in Lindsay Lewis’ classy dining room, but what really lights up her south Minneapolis home is “Angela, Los Angeles.”
The large-scale portrait by Twin Cities photographer Alec Soth shows a woman with her back to the camera, wearing only black panties — and a parrot perched on her right shoulder.
“Angela” is the centerpiece of a small but growing art collection for Lewis, 35, who works as program manager at Family Philanthropy Advisors in Minneapolis but grew up in the arts and once took a summertime class from Soth. She purchased the world-renowned artist’s work from Weinstein Hammons Gallery in south Minneapolis after much thought and planning.
“My parents have collected art my whole life,” she said. “I knew that when I would have the opportunity to collect, it’s something I would do personally, as well.”
What draws younger people to the fine art of art collecting? Folks age 40 and under — millennials or Gen Xers buffeted by the 2008 financial meltdown — are notorious for their aversion to accumulating possessions.
For collectors, buying art is a process of discovering what illuminates their lives while balancing what is financially doable.
“Most people collect for two reasons: for the aesthetics and the beauty they can add to their home/dining room, and the second is for an investment,” said Twin Cities real estate mogul Ralph Burnet. A noted collector himself, he owns Burnet Fine Art & Advisory in Wayzata.
But just as important to young collectors is the personal connection they feel, like the one Lewis feels to Soth as “a really important person in my development as an artist.”
For Kate Sicher, 33, and her 39-year-old husband, Greg, art is decoration for their one-story house in Minneapolis and an integral aspect of their relationship — they have a tradition of giving each other art on their anniversary in June.
The idea of building an art collection was first planted when Kate, who works with the nonprofit developer Artspace, was employed at Walker Art Center. As part of a membership group aimed at young professionals, the Walker has a Collectors’ Council that offers tours of public and private collections, and visits to artists’ studios.
“At first it was intimidating — like, how do you even buy art?” said Kate, who now is a member of the Collectors’ Council along with her husband.
The couple decided to start at fundraisers at Twin Cities galleries such as Midway and SooVAC, where they could meet Minnesota artists — including pop culture-inspired Greg Gossel, Jennifer Davis and David Rathman. They also collect work that they hope their two young kids will like and keep.
“I grew up in a house where my parents always had a lot of really neat pictures and cool art — I don’t like bare walls,” Greg said. “It wasn’t a conscious [decision] like, ‘Hey, let’s collect!’ It was more like ‘Hey, let’s get stuff to put up on the walls.’ ”
Indeed, sometimes getting started is the hardest part.
“The biggest piece of advice I have — it sounds stupid — is just to start,” said Nick Harper, owner of Rogue Buddha Gallery in northeast Minneapolis, where collectors-to-be can find artworks that are more on the affordable side. “You have to buy the first piece. Don’t think about building a collection. Just start buying artwork that you like, and it will over time become a collection.”
Rob and Jori Sherer are there already. The couple have 30 to 40 pieces. Some of them flow with their two-story Edina house, like “Wall Pillow Stack” by Minneapolis artist Maren Kloppmann. Located on a stairway landing, it’s a series of 10 thick, pillow-shaped ceramic pieces that nods to Donald Judd’s well-known “Stacks” sculptures, but literally softens them.
It helps that Rob runs an art consulting firm, the Orange Advisory, and worked in development at Walker Art Center and contemporary art museums in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego. The Sherers’ collection includes artists from Chicago, L.A. and Minneapolis, with a focus on emerging talents. They selected a few artists to collect in depth. About 20 percent of their collection is by Minnesotans, but it doesn’t really have a thematic point of view.
“We’re committed to collecting — and subsequently supporting — the art of our generation,” Rob said.
Buy for love, but affordably
Art collecting is an extremely personal affair, which is why it’s critical to “buy what you love,” said Leslie Hammons, co-owner and director of Weinstein Hammons Gallery. But that doesn’t mean that a potential collector should just go wild with purchasing.
Despite Burnet’s point about art as an investment, that isn’t a primary concern for any of the young collectors interviewed for this article.
“We don’t have any plans to try and sell this art, but we’d hope that it accumulates in value,” Kate Sicher said.
The Sherers had begun collecting before they married, “so we agreed to sign an art pre-nup to determine who would get what if we broke up!” Jori Sherer joked.
More seriously, her husband said: “We’re aware of the financial potential, but ‘return on investment’ is not critical as we consider works for the collection.”
The key financial consideration is setting a budget, and sticking to it.
Masami Kawazato, 40, and her husband, Aaron Merrill, 42, live in a modest condo in Uptown, and they’re always searching for work they love by local artists, such as Terrence Payne, Andrea Carlson and Scott Stulen. The priciest piece in their collection cost $750. Some of it was free or gifted.
Their eclectic collection covers all the walls, making otherwise unusable nooks and crannies into perfect art spaces. The most bizarre one is a Victorian hairpiece that belonged to former Walker chief curator Richard Flood. The unnerving piece of dead people’s hair greets visitors.
To them, the hardest part about collecting is finding something they both like.
A couple of years ago at Art-a-Whirl, the annual northeast Minneapolis gallery crawl, the couple spotted a small photo of a tree-covered hilltop in southern France. Although it was a bit more basic than the rest of their collection, the landscape by Jon Vogt worked for reasons beyond aesthetic.
“We both liked it!” Kawazato said triumphantly. “That’s a win.”
7 tips on how to start collecting art
1. “Buy what you love,” said Leslie Hammons, co-owner of Weinstein Hammons Gallery in Minneapolis. “A collector is not just about decorating their house, it is about continually searching for the next thing.”
2. For a safe investment, consider well-known names. “Purchase a multiple from a brand-name artist like Jasper Johns, [Andy] Warhol or [Roy] Lichtenstein,” said Ralph Burnet, owner of Burnet Fine Art & Advisory. Multiples — part of an edition of anywhere from a dozen to hundreds — “go for maybe as low as $500, and they’re going to take off in value as you hang them up on the wall.”
3. Think of the money you’ll spend in terms of that $5 latte you buy every day. “That’s maybe $1,500 after a year,” said Nick Harper of Rogue Buddha Gallery in Minneapolis. “If you put that $5 away in your mind, you could own a big painting or 10 smaller pieces at the end of the year.”
4. If the price point seems high, ask the gallerist for a payment plan. “I’ve never been turned down when I have asked for payment assistance,” said collector Masami Kawazato. “Which is not a discount, necessarily, but it is like, ‘Hey, I can’t pay this all at once, can I do 50 percent and then a few more payments?’ It’s like layaway for art.”
5. If you like an artist’s work but the price point seems high, ask if the artist is selling editions or multiples for less. “A lot of the artists I know are making work at an entry-level price point of $100 to $500,” said Harper, “but they may also be making [drawings], pastels or limited-edition prints” for even less.
6. Don’t waste time agonizing about how to collect. Just buy something you like. Then keep buying. Bit by bit, it will become a collection.
7. What to do after you’ve gotten over the initial scare. “Maybe start going to some art fairs,” Burnet said. “Go find artists you don’t know very well. Then check them out in 10 years, see how they are doing.”