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art collecting

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Collector Scoop: Colony Little

Collector Scoop is a blog series of interviews and features on emerging and established art collectors. Today, we are happy to share a conversation with Colony Little of Culture Shock Art about how her collection got started.

Can you share your background with us and how you got into collecting art? Do you remember the first piece of art that you bought?

I created Culture Shock Art in 2010 as a passion project and a creative outlet from my career as an underwriter for an insurance company.  At the time I was drawn to street art I’d discover during my commute to downtown Los Angeles and I came across this incredible JR mural from his Wrinkles of the City series.  I had no idea who created the piece, so my quest to learn more about the artist/photographer led me to his TED Talk and I ended up writing about him on the blog.  JR’s career trajectory and the work he’s created to visually capture the stories of thousands of people around the world was fascinating to witness.  I ended up buying one of his early lithographs in 2011.  Since then I’ve collected art that is best described as eclectic.  My husband and I collect illustrations, graphic art, vinyl records (I love Blue Note covers), photography and low brow art. We have three pieces of art floating around here inspired by the show Arrested Development. I love them simply because they make me laugh!  

Image from personal collection of Colony Little (Left to Right) Graham Erwin,  I am a Monster!  2012 ; Ralph Ziman,  Mbara Bara , 2014

Image from personal collection of Colony Little
(Left to Right) Graham Erwin, I am a Monster! 2012 ; Ralph Ziman, Mbara Bara, 2014

How do you think that collecting contributes to the artistic community?

Patrons are the fuel that keep artistic communities running.  I’m inspired by creative collectives of artists, writers, designers, musicians and collectors that build synergies to support one another. During the past 5 years, L.A. has seen an artistic evolution taking place among creatives that drove the growth of the Arts District.  This in turn has resulted in a huge uptick in gallery openings there.  In my early years of writing and collecting I found the gallery system exclusive and limiting, but now those barriers to access are slowly disappearing as technology and media encourage galleries to create more open and (somewhat) democratic spaces for building communities.  Additionally, artist-run spaces are cultivating stronger bonds among artists, the community and future collectors. For example, I love what’s happening in Leimert Park--the Hammer Museum has partnered with artist Mark Bradford at Art + Practice and I’m also inspired by Michelle Papillion’s groundbreaking work at Papillion.   

Your career as an arts writer has allowed you the opportunity to discover many established and emerging artists. Has there been a situation where your career lead you to collecting art from a new artist or a similar experience?

When I worked in the insurance industry roughly 1/3 of the business my company produced came from high net worth individuals, and many of them were collectors of fine art.  This afforded me opportunities to interact with collectors, artists and galleries at fairs.  In the early years of Culture Shock Art I would use the blog to research and write about artists that I collected or wanted to collect.  Now that I’m writing exclusively, my wish list of art to collect has grown but my bank account hasn’t!  With that said, there is fantastic art that can be had at any price point. I’m amazed at the growth rate of art purchased on-line in the past few years.  Also, events like L.A.’s Incognito at the old Santa Monica Museum of Art (now known as the ICA and is moving downtown) are a good example of leveling the playing field between emerging and established collectors. 

Incognito was a fundraising event disguised as a fun artistic experiment--hundreds of works of art donated by emerging and well known artists were placed on display, each piece priced the same.  The catch was that the identity of the artist was hidden, so you could potentially walk away with an Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari or Catherine Opie if you were lucky.  At the end of the day there was no wrong choice because you were ideally basing your decision on instinct and love for the piece.  That’s how we came to own a work by Rena Small.  It is one of my favorite photographs because my husband chose it and he was not familiar with her work at all.  Years later we were at the Norton Simon museum and he came across one of her photos of Basquiatthat was part of her “Artists Hands” series in 1985.  Moments of serendipity lead us to beautiful discoveries!

Rena Small,  Untitled , 2012

Rena Small, Untitled, 2012

What are your favorite resources for discovering new artists?

Hands down Instagram! You can find me @cultureshockart

It has been an amazing platform to virtually interact with artists while getting a behind the scenes look into their lives and their process.  Many of the relationships I’ve cultivated through Instagram have turned into friendships and great collaborations.  Years later I'm still obsessed with Instagram because it is a convergence of all the things I love (art, coffee, handbags, records, photography and dogs). To satisfy my wanderlust, I’ll follow someone like photographer Rick Poon and for creative inspiration I love fashion designers like Duro Olowu and Reuben Reul.  Kim Drew @museummammy curates amazing work by black artists on her blog Black Contemporary Art.  My queen of kawai is Hana Kim @supahcute who introduced me to some amazing work by Martin Hsu (@martinhsuart) and for a shot of pure colorful joy, I love the photography of Kimberly Genevieve (@kimgenevieve).  Another great resource for collectors is One Art Nation.  They have a very informative video series on topics ranging from the art market to protecting your collection.  

Yoichi Kawamura,  Untitled , 2012

Yoichi Kawamura, Untitled, 2012

Do you have any advice for emerging or aspiring art collectors?

Collectors are largely driven by status, investment or love for the art.  Always stick with love and your instincts! One of the goals of my blog is to make art accessible for my readers because many close friends and family struggle with contemporary art and feel that it is intimidating.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Whether I’m in a museum, gallery, art fair or a studio I don’t try to make sense of everything I see.  I simply trust my gut and ask questions.  What are you drawn to?  What does the piece remind you of?  Does the work make you happy, sad, angry, confused? Allow yourself to go with those simple questions and keep asking why.  If I find myself thinking about a piece days after I’ve seen it, I know I am onto an artist or work that I want to learn about and explore more deeply.   

Learn more about Colony Little and Culture Shock Art
Are you an emerging or established art collector and interested in being featured? Email Rachael at rachael@crusadeforart.org

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Collecting Stories, Part 1: This is going to be fun!

Two different people have reached out to me in the last couple of weeks, wanting my advice on starting an art collection. Both feel passionately about becoming collectors (music to my crusading ears!), but they each feel a little intimidated and unsure of where or how to begin.

First of all, I love that they want to self-identify as collectors. So many people feel uncomfortable with the term, and I was advised by many people to take it out of the name of my 2013 tour (Crusade for Collecting). But I say, be a collector and be proud. We all collect something, and collecting something does not require you to be an expert about it. It just means you have several things that fall into the same category (and art is the best category ever, duh), and that you actively seek these things out. I once introduced a friend as a collector (among other descriptors), and he waved it off with a “well, I wouldn’t go that far”. Really? Because he owns multiple Cartier-Bresson photographs, among other beauties. How far do you need to go?

When I talk to someone who wants to know more about collecting, I typically start with my own collecting story. I think it’s helpful to hear some of the truly embarrassing early “acquisitions” and how we (my husband and I) gradually learned more, not just about the art, but also about our own tastes. Then I like to walk people through our collection, because I think it’s eclectic and a good mix of known and unknown, and most of the work is affordable (and awesome).

And so, I am going to try to do the same thing here on the blog. Hopefully it will help demystify collecting a bit, and if nothing else, the early stories are sure to entertain. So stay tuned. This is going to be fun.

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Isn't Everyone a Collector?

Why is "collector" such an intimidating label?  We all collect things, whether it's baseball cards or records or postage stamps.  We have hundreds if not thousands of songs in our itunes libraries, and we have issues of National Geographic going back for years.  But when I ask someone if they are an art collector, they almost always say no - whether they have one or two things on their wall that they picked up at an art festival or on a trip, or if they have several pieces of art that they have carefully and methodically amassed.  It seems the only people willing to take on the "art collector" label are those that feel properly educated about art and consider themselves something of an expert.  Why is this? An article in Art+Auction magazine (and republished on artinfo.com) described how a long-time art collector became interested in vernacular photography (snapshots by every day folks, some dating back to the 1890s, purchased at flea markets and on ebay) and has over 35,000 images.  This seems like a meeting in the middle between baseball cards and high-end fine art, which just goes to show, collecting is collecting.  Whatever peaks your interest - whether it is a snapshot or a Picasso - the impulse is to surround yourself with things you love.  So go ahead, be a collector.

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Curation Combats Image-Saturation

I talk a lot about collecting - do it! buy original art! art is awesome!  But there are a lot of perceptual barriers to actually making that first purchase. One is the overwhelming amount of art out there.  This Wired.com article addresses the explosion of online art buying websites that offer art at affordable prices.  With so many choices, how do you know what is good?  Some sites sell original work, and some sell mass-produced art.  Most claim to sell limited editions, but if a photograph has an edition of 200 in one size and 500 in another, I don't consider that limited, collectible, and an image that could potentially increase in value in the same way as a photograph with an edition of 10, 15 or 25.  And now with 20x200, arguably the pioneer of online art buying, in a very public and massive state of flux, the confusion grows.

If you are new to looking at and buying art, you are most likely not confident in your taste yet.  You have probably not studied art or art history, and you do not need to - but without a context to put the images you are looking at in and without a lot of experience looking at work, you haven't learned what you like and why you like it.  That is where strong curation and relationships with gallerists or dealers you trust can be so important.

A good gallerist will work with you and guide you through this process.  A  lot of people are interested in art and want art for their walls, but need to have some time to see work and feel confident about what they like and don't like.  I love talking to these people - we pull out images, look at work online, make connections between the pieces they are drawn to, talk about the photographers who created them, what the work is about, why it speaks to them. . . until they begin to circle back to the images that really stick for them.  Then they can make a purchase and feel good about it - they love it, and they know why, and because they trust the relationship and the caliber of work the gallery shows, they feel confident about the quality of the piece and that the artist who created it is committed and talented.

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Collecting Week: Why Heart Art?

Why does this matter? Why should you take the time, energy and money to invest in art? Because it is amazing. There is nothing I can tell you to make you believe it. And some people never will. But so many of you will read this and your curiosity will be peaked. You will venture out and explore and find that first photograph that floors you. You will be hooked, and you will never look back.

Art is beautiful. It makes us feel good, and it adds immeasurable value to our lives. It can add depth to our every day experiences and make a walk through our own living rooms feel powerful. Art can take us out of our routine and transport us to a place with a unique depth of feeling.

Surround yourself with beauty and inspiration. Transform your walls into an expression of who you are and who you want to be. Support artists and connect to images in a significant way.

Be original, buy original.

Heart art.

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Crusade for Collecting

Culturally, we are in our prime. We have sophisticated tastes and crave unique experiences. We are on-trend, we are curious, we are seekers. And yet, we don’t buy art. We don’t patronize galleries and museums, and we don’t support artists. Abstractly, we think art is interesting and to be valued, but we are not collectors.

I am on a crusade for collecting. For cultivating a new crop of art collectors. For making collecting cool.

Because it is cool. Falling in love with an original piece of art and buying it. That is collecting. It doesn’t have to cost you thousands of dollars or even make a huge dent in your paycheck. It’s about the connection. It’s about looking at something and having an emotional response. Feeling something. And then purchasing that piece and hanging it on your wall and living with it. Your home becomes personal. Your walls start to describe you, and everywhere you look you see something you love.

That is collecting. And that is beyond cool.

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