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The promises and pitfalls of Atlanta’s art-collecting ethos 

More Mergers and Acquisitions is as much about who owns the objects as it is about what they are

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"There's a whole long history of Atlanta collectors who love buying Radcliffe [Bailey] in New York," says Horodner. "They look to New York to see what's OK.

"The local collector who isn't supporting the best of the local scene for the most part isn't buying from the best of the local galleries. And so there's an ecology that's not happening. And you want it to happen. I can't tell people what to buy; it's their money. They can do whatever they want. But as a piece of advice ... it would not cost a lot of money, compared to significant kinds of dollars, for a local collector to make a major difference in the life of the local arts ecology in Atlanta."

Horodner hopes the Contemporary's current show demonstrates the kind of collecting he thinks is important: integrating local and regional artists with artists of national and international renown. It's something he says he doesn't see happening nearly enough.

Then again, some in Atlanta have already taken up the call.

A RACIAL DIVIDE

Greg and Yolanda Head's Stone Mountain home has one of those extremely vertical living rooms that demands big art. When asked about their favorite pieces, Greg gestures toward the row of nails that, until recently, held the Sam Gilliam drape painting now on view at the Contemporary.

But what's perhaps most notable about the Heads' collection of African-American abstract art is its mixture of artists occupying every rung of the art world ladder, from those with local to national to international reputations. Atlanta residents Freddie Styles, Paul S. Benjamin and Eric Mack share wall space with Chakaia Booker, Shinique Smith and Howardena Pindell, all bona fide international art stars.

"I think what's really nice about collecting in Atlanta," says Yolanda, "is the relationships you develop with the artists. ... They've been in our home, we've had dinner with them, they stay over the weekend. You really get to know them intimately. So as you begin to know more about them, you begin to enjoy the piece even more. It's nice to be able to call up Kevin Cole. Those relationships that we've developed in Atlanta are somewhat unique and it makes the collection that much richer."

It's precisely this intimate style of collecting Horodner claims is vital for a strong local art scene. But like much of Atlanta's culture, a history of segregation has led to two distinct, and sometimes incompatible, cultures: a white collecting culture and a black collecting culture. According to Gold, it's the black collectors who tap into the local scene, while top-tier white collectors usually go elsewhere.

Karen Comer Lowe has been consulting on art collections since 2003. When asked about support among her clients for local artists, she offers a hard look. "Well, you know I consult mainly with African-American collectors. I do see support for local artists. But I assumed that was true across the board."

Comer Lowe often has to begin from scratch, guiding clients into thinking about art seriously and looking at art critically, and it's the local community of artists that's most available. After surveying the work in the local market, Comer Lowe encourages clients to consider national figures such as sculptor Elizabeth Catlett and photographer Carrie Mae Weems. To Comer Lowe, these artists are seen as an extension of learning about locally based artists.

Non-black collectors with significant mixtures of locally based and international artists are fewer. Andrea Weyermann and Tim Goodwin count multimedia artist Larry Anderson and Athens-based artist Kathryn Refi among a collection that also includes photographer Sally Mann and numerous L.A. artists. But according to Gold, such collections are the exception rather than the rule at the top of the art world food chain.

MORE LOCAL SUPPORT

According to Horodner, a stronger connection between collectors and local artists is essential for validating the Atlanta art scene at a national level. "Can you imagine a British collector not owning work by the YBAs [a set of famous British artists that includes Damien Hirst]?" Yet, he maintains that is exactly the situation when it comes to artists such as Jiha Moon, who sells to major collections in D.C. and North Carolina; Scott Ingram, whose sales soar in Madrid; and Fahamu Pecou, whose Dallas gallery at one time couldn't keep up with demand. All three get more recognition outside of Atlanta than within.

The exceptions are rare and apply mainly to a few Atlanta art superstars, past and present. "You go to black and white homes," says Horodner, "and [you see] Kojo Griffins of a certain period, when everybody knew they had to buy a Kojo Griffin. And that was a perfect example of a moment around an artist locally who was getting traction. Everybody jumped on that bandwagon."

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