Some time ago, while operating a gallery in Manhattans East Village back in the 1980s, I observed many individuals collecting large amounts of artwork. Many of these collectors were collecting work for the wrong reason, for their interest was not in art, but in speculation. This type of art buying can be likened to gambling, for while some art work bought in small galleries for low prices can increase greatly in value, most does not.
A collector who approaches art with the mentality of an investor needs to have either a great deal of luck, or the capability to purchase works by artists that already have a solid market value, like Rembrant or Van Gogh. Many speculators purchasing art in the 80s art boom were in the end sorely disappointed. Art work that was purchased for tens of thousands at so called "important" and trendy galleries can not be resold today on a street corner for fifty bucks. These galleries, designated "important" by the New York Times, are now obscure memories, lost to an unrecorded history, and the "important" art dealers who ran them and authenticated the value of the art are now, if they survived the epidemic, selling burritos or working at computers stations in graphic design and web site houses.
It is funny to note that we now see an attempt at a replay of the 80s art grab in the Chelsea gallery rush. Hundreds of dealers have rushed to Chelsea in an attempt to create a gallery scene reminiscent of the mid 1980s. Of course the 80s East Village scene was founded in a genuine grass roots, artistic and creative movement. The Chelsea scene was founded in a millionaire land grab, with wealthy Soho art dealers purchasing buildings for their own self engrandisement and personal profit. There is a corporate staleness to the movement, and with collectors still warm from the 80s art burn, saleshave not been rising up to the level of hyperbole generated by the press and gallery media blitz. In this case the beneficiaries are not artists but landlords who suddenly have transformed worthless, decrepit, industrial buildings into multimillion dollar art gallery malls. Each nook and cranny has been filled, rented at exorbitant rates to an unending stream of deluded art prospectors, panning for gold in a river of dreams.
Yet the river of genuine art flows thick. Art made in barns, in attic rooms, in basement apartments all over the world. Created by persons who have, without even knowing it, through their dedication to their craft renounced materialism, existing as outsiders in an expanding materialist culture. Individuals who have dedicated their lives to the projection of the self, manifesting a portion of their soul into a canvas, a paper or piece of stone. To understand this process is to understand that the essence of art has nothing to do with investment, it is rather an affirmation of humanity, a true historical record of our developing consciousness.
As we pass through life towards the inevitable void of time that awaits us, we have a moment to stop and look, to become a part of the whole, to sip the elixir of soul through art. This is the true essence of collecting works of art. To reduce the process to a level of materialism and investment is to totally miss the point and degrade the experience.