Hamsterbite, Softpound and Pianos. Making Prints with Caio Fonseca

The process of procuring a project with an artist can be more complex than you would think. Even the simple act of delivering an invitation can be quite an undertaking.  In 1996, when Pam and I formed our partnership, we drew up a list of artists we wished to publish and Caio Fonseca was high on that list.

Around this time Caio was on the cover of Modern Painters. A handsome young man seated in front of an impressive blue and white canvas, his gaze directed away from the viewer.  The article spoke of Fonseca’s love of classical music, his ability to play the piano and his multilingual background.   Evident in his lyrical abstractions is his Latin influence.

fonseca draws

Renee inks

At that time we had worked mainly with California artists.  As we set out to find a way to connect with Fonseca, we sought assistance from our colleague Betsy Senior.   Betsy had previously worked at Experimental Workshop in San Francisco but had gone on to open a gallery in New York on West Broadway in Soho. Betsy introduced us to a friend of hers who worked with Caio’s gallery at the time.  Three months later Pam and I were standing in Caio’s New York studio.

Pam and I were new to the experience of visiting an artist’s studio. I was completely overdressed. I had on a black skirt, nylons and heels, impossible for navigating the streets of New York.  Caio was dressed in comfortable clothes, wearing black jeans with a patina of paint splatter. His studio was romantic in the archetypal artist-studio way, as well as  rustic. In one corner was a grand piano.  As I tried not to squirm with discomfort and cursing my shoes, Caio put us at ease. Between his questions about printmaking Caio peppered the conversation with a hilarious pantomime of flipping open his leather wallet as if to answer a cell phone call. Cell phones were just hitting the market then, and Caio’s simulated cell phone ring and ensuing conversation had us laughing. After we managed to work out the dates for our first project, Caio offered us a cup of a “healthy green drink” and a Bach invention.  We moved to the grand piano, and Caio played several Bach fuges and a Mozart sonata.  I was transported to my youth, having grown up listening to my father play those same pieces on his grand piano.

Piano

When Caio came to work with us in 1999, Paulson Bott Press was located in its inaugural space in Emeryville. We rented him a small upright piano.  Since our studio was so small, we put the piano in our hallway.  Caio arrived carrying a leather bag, which he emptied it on the artist’s table. We marveled at his vast collection of implements, ranging from his handmade golden-mean calipers to everyday kitchen gadgets like pasta cutters and forks. Caio worked quickly, and it was all Pam and I could do to keep up with him. Printing an etching is slow, so while Caio waited to see his next proof, he would walk to the hallway and play a sonata or two.  He enjoyed discovering the printing process, and he was adept at creating his own vocabulary for our techniques. Terms like “spitbite” and “softground” he renamed “hamsterbite” and “softpound,” and although we laughed, we all knew exactly what he was talking about.

Pam and Caio

wall

We have been collaborating with him to make etchings for almost twenty years and have produced a large body of work rooted in formalism. Caio continually draws inspiration from his musical background while his study of color and composition evolves. The most recent prints are forthright and vivid, signifying a strong direction within his oeuvre and within our work together.

Collector Profile: Ross Evangelista

Ross Evangelista in front of painting by Gerben Mulder; Tauba Auerbach, 50/50 Random (Fine) , Tauba Auerbach, 50/50 Random (Coarse)

 

When I was in New York earlier this spring I had the good fortune of being invited to our client Ross Evangelista’s house for lunch. Since finishing graduate school at Fordham, Ross has been working in the financial services industry. Mike, Ross’s partner, enjoys moderate doses of art viewing and gives Ross plenty of latitude when it comes to collecting. I was curious to see Ross’s collection, and I never turn down an offer for a home-cooked lunch. Mike commandeered the kitchen while I spoke with Ross about his relatively new obsession: collecting art.

Renee: Can you repeat what you were saying to me earlier about collecting art?

Ross:   There’s a tendency for collectors to be obsessive. There’s something about collecting and obsession that are related to one another. Collectors end up getting more than their walls are capable of taking. Mike is laughing because he doesn’t think that’s healthy.

Mike:  We’ve actually had discussions about whether putting paintings on the ceiling was an option. Or could they go behind the doors? That one little bit of wall space there…that I have…that has the Buddhas on it…how about if we just wall-board that? That would actually then give him more space. Limited wall space is a challenge—he can have two or three pictures propped up against the walls. I make him shift them about.

Ross:    So whether or not it’s true for every collector, I don’t know, but I’ve spoken to a few collectors, and they say, “Yeah, it’s kind of a disease.” Gallerists are always saying not to sell anyone, especially the young artists.

Richard Misrach, Untitled #213-04

Renee:  Don’t sell them?

Ross:   Don’t sell them. Don’t put them at auction. So what is our option? Basically, accumulate. I have spoken to some collectors who say that they do sell some works, and they put others in storage. We don’t have the luxury of storage, and I’d rather live with my pieces. What happens is it all gets to be more fun. Somehow, they find their place somewhere.

Renee:   What about the idea of curating your collection? I have a friend who’s an obsessive collector. He decided to build a closet to store his extra work. He curates his own shows! Every month or two, he pulls out a new set of work and rehangs his apartment.

Ross:  Wow. Does he do it himself, or does he have people helping him?

Renee:  He does a lot of it himself.

Mike:   Thank you for that great suggestion. (Sarcastic laughter) I like that idea a lot!
Ross: I’ve considered that also. That’s sort of what we do, especially when we get new pieces. We want to live with them, so when a new piece comes in, we often have to move others around. Really it’s a function of size and space—like the Auerbach prints that I got from you that are in our Long Island house instead of our apartment, because there’s more wall space out there.I’ve considered curating, but you have to rehang and repaint the walls. I sold a print in the bedroom, and I haven’t even filled the holes in yet! Plus, we are in desperate need of better lighting.

Jessica Eaton, Cfaal 241 and Tauba Auerbach, Plate Distortion I.

Renee: When did your art passion begin? Is this something you’ve been doing for a long time? Or is this something that started recently?

Ross:  It started about six, seven years ago. I’ve always been interested in art. I studied architecture, drawing, and studio arts in college, but never had the income to buy art. I moved around a lot before that. I lived in Connecticut, the Philippines, Germany, so acquiring art never occurred to me, since I lived out of two suitcases for a long time, because you’re only allowed two suitcases on international flights.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Mechanical Form 0026

I think what eventually triggered my interest in collecting was getting exposed to online art blogs such as Modern Art Obsession and Artmostfierce as examples, which are (were, in the case of MAO) run by long-time collectors. Both of them featured “Buys of the Month,” which would feature prints by respectable artists at reasonable prices. Phillips de Pury & Company was also around the corner on 18th Street. We would sometimes go and look there, realizing full well that I couldn’t afford to buy at the time.

Back then, Jennifer Beckman had started something called 20X200. I started out buying from 20×200. I must have 20 or so prints from Jen. Afterwards, I started purchasing limited edition prints from Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography. I also have a few limited-edition Aperture and  AIDS Community Research Initiative of America photos (ACRIA) too. We try to go to galleries every week. When we travel, seeing art is definitely part of our agenda, which Mike doesn’t always like. You like seeing art, right?

Nicole Eisenman, Untitled (Left) Julian Lorber, Untitled (Right)

Mike:  In moderation.

Ross:   In moderation, yeah. For me, the key to getting into collecting was understanding that art is accessible. I let go of my fear of asking gallerists questions. I was trying to understand what artists do. I think a lot of people are afraid of art collecting because they’re afraid of asking questions. They’re afraid of not “getting it.” Of not knowing. My real collecting started after I got over that hump.

Renee:   Do you remember the first piece you bought from a gallery?

Sarah Pickering, Abduction (Left) Sarah Pcikering, Fuel Air Explosion (Right)

Ross:  Sure. This is actually the first piece.  (Sarah Pickering: Fuel Air Explosion).  It’s part of her Explosion series. That’s my first real print from a gallery, from Daniel Cooney Fine Art.  He’s a great gallerist, by the way.  This is also Sarah Pickering.  (Sarah Pickering: Abduction)

Renee:  I love that one.

 

Ross: It’s awesome right?  I had that framed at Bark Frameworks since it’s so special to me. New York Magazine featured them as the “best” framer in NYC. I didn’t know then how dear “best” framing is!

Renee:   Tell me a little bit more about her.

Ross:   As I understood it, her body of work then had a lot to do with keeping public order. She is from the UK, and a number of her series depict training grounds for policemen, firefighters, and investigators. In her photographs, you see what looks like a real street and real houses, but they’re fake. They are training sets. She worked with public officials to accomplish this. She’s a bit of a pyro, right?

Renee:  Yes.

Ross:  This is called Abduction. For this piece, she worked with the fire department. They would create a whole room and set it on fire to train firefighters how to look for a fire, how to fight them. They would leave clues. If you look closely, there’s a gun on the couch. It’s a very active piece. Even the explosion is a bit narrative. You ask, “How did this happen? Why is there an explosion? Is this a war zone?” You don’t know because they are so well composed.

Renee: It’s stunning!

Ross:   From there, the floodgates opened. I finished grad school around 2005. I didn’t have much money. I still save up and try to look for good value and for what is interesting to me. Tauba Auerbach’s 50/50 prints were probably my next large purchase. I can’t remember if I bought all three at the same time, but I have three.

Sara Vanderbeek, Treme School Window, Baltimore Window

Renee: I think you did. You have the Zoom In Zoom Out. It’s fabulous! Mike said that you’re reading all the time, educating yourself. Do you find that you want to get informed after walking into a show and being intrigued by what you see? Or are you doing research first and then seeking out the artists that you read about?

Ross:  I think both. I am definitely very research-driven in terms of what I look at. Even though I can’t add something to the collection, I still read about it. I’d even include it on my blog, which is a repository of works I own and works that I’d love to own. I have a lot of art books. I’m not sure about the real purpose, I just like doing research. Otherwise you are just a buyer. I don’t want to be just a shopper or a decorator. I want to be informed about what I’m collecting.

Asking Questions

John Cage 1987 surrounded by charts of random numbers

When Tauba Auerbach came to work with us at the end of 2012, I found myself thinking often about the composer and artist John Cage. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Cage in the late 1980s at Crown Point Press. Cage used a method of composing using the I Ching to facilitate “chance operations” to make his art. He believed that his responsibility was to ask questions rather than make choices.

Marsha Bartholomy works with John Cage at Crown Point Press 1987

Cage would sit down at one of the large artist tables in the studio to compose­­­, pencil in hand, predetermined materials selected, questions queried. During this process, he would consult one of the numerous charts of random numbers that he travelled with. Silence would descend on the studio while he worked, and graceful handwritten lists of lilted numbers written in graphite resulted. His number compositions functioned as a list of instructions. The directives were performed, resulting in a John Cage print. As with Cage, Auerbach’s process poses questions, but in her case, it is her intuition that informs her decisions, not the I Ching.

Tauba Auerbach prints in the Paulson Bott Press studio: Mesh/Morie 1-VI, 2013. Printer Maggie McManus curates prints.

Kenneth Caldwell aptly describes her relationship to chance and her creative process: “Nothing seems placed by accident, and yet chance continues to play a significant role in the artist’s work. A lot of Auerbach’s art is about the tension between an almost total control over what goes into a process and an absence of control about the result that emerges from that process. She explores her system and process thoroughly, with thought and experimentation, and then when she’s ready, she lets go.”

 

While making the Mesh/Moire series, Auerbach created seven subtly different softground plates. A visual difference between any of these plates is imperceptible to the eye, and it wasn’t until two of these plates were printed together that a moiré pattern emerged.

Tauba Auerbach, Mesh/Moire IV, 2013

Printing combinations of two of the seven plates together yielded 42 possible permutations. Of those, she found six moirés pleasing. Auerbach’s meticulous adherence to her idea and the chance involved in the making of these plates is what reminded me so much of Cage. Both artists were charming and lovely to work with, and it has been a privilege to have been involved with their process. The strength of these two artists lies in their ability to turn inquiries into stunning visual results.

 

On the Road to Thornton Dial

Thornton Dial: Lost Cows, 2001

Earlier this spring I took a trip with my daughter Isabelle and our friend Matt Arnett to visit Thornton Dial’s exhibition at the High Museum in Atlanta and see his studio in Alabama. Dial’s incredible works were showcased in the exhibition Hard Truths/ The Art of Thornton Dial.The exhibition, which originated at the Indianapolis Museum of Art surveys twenty years of Dial’s paintings, sculptures, and drawings.  The work emphasizes the strength and compassion that Dial brings to each idea.  The survey brings up the difficult question of why Dial’s work has not been given the respect and notoriety it is due until now.  Race, education, and class have all played a factor in the denial of Dial’s admission into the contemporary art canon. The exhibition is a resplendent manifestation of a powerful discourse on the human condition from a vantage point rarely celebrated.

Thornton Dial: Ladies Will Stand by Their Tiger, 1991 and Isabelle at the High Museum with Dial drawing.

 A few miles beyond Birmingham in Bessemer, not far from the highway, a row of warehouses line a sleepy street.  Deep within the sprawling space of one of these warehouses, a corner has been turned into a large windowless room where Thornton Dial creates his work.

Looking into Dial’s studio, 2013.

The warehouse, built by Dial’s sons, is the home of their steel patio furniture business, Dial Metal  Patterns.  What was once a thriving industry has now slowed, devastated by the steep and prolonged rise of steel prices.  Dial and his sons have worked in the metal industry most of their lives.  Machines for bending, cutting, and painting , once used in the production of patio furniture now slumber.  Dial’s sons Richard and Donnie explained to me during my visit that not only had they built one of the metal bending machines after seeing one in another metal shop, but they had also constructed the entire warehouse itself, having had noexperience with constructing large buildings.  Creativity and ingenuity run in the Dial family.
 

Thornton Dial: Construction of the Victory, 1997 (Detail)

Thornton Dial was born in 1923 in Emelle, Alabama, a tiny town that has all but disappeared. As a very young child he had many responsibilities caring for farm animals and working the fields.  He watched as his uncle built sheds, barns, and small buildings. These structures, many built nearby by relatives and neighbors were designed carefully, composed from a wide range of materials colors, textures, and architectural styles intended to increase their visibility and to stylistically distinguish their makers.  Assemblages made from recycled materials and found objects dotted the landscape.  Communities created dialogues with yard art now recognized as part of the southern African American vernacular artistic tradition.  Dial absorbed this complex vocabulary and incorporated it into his own work.

Through making things Dial expresses his understanding of the world around him.  Dial’s painting and sculptures are narratives that discuss the complexities of his own life, nature,politics, race and history, constructed of found materials both natural and handmade.  Many of his assemblages have included bones, wire, dirt, flowers, clothing, utilizing reused and recycled materials, wood, wire, plastic, and metal scraps.  Surviving struggle and hardship Dial remains optimistic and the beauty of the natural world winds its way through his compositions.

Joe Minter’s yard, 2013.

The discipline of yard art is evident as you travel throughout Alabama.  Like Dial, Birmingham resident and Dial’s friend Joe Minter grew into the practice of making things to express his ideas.  Isabelle, Matt, and I paid an impromptu visit to Minter’s yard to view the extensive environment he has created over the years.  Minter’s house sits atop a hill abutting the local black cemetery, which serves as a thought-provoking backdrop to his visual, highly political commentary.  The enormous yard is home to a maze of interconnecting installations that touch on topics such as slavery, voter’s rights, the Gees Bend Ferry, the World Trade Center bombing, and religion.  The dullness of the rainy spring day was diminished by our eagerness to see what was around the next corner as we walked through the yard over wooden pathways and bridges surrounded by a forest of rusting metal decorated with thousands of words and bright plastic ephemera. Minter is constantly amending the ever-changing environment.  He recently added a piece in response to the Sandy Hook shooting.

Joe Minter’s Sandy Hook tribute, 2013

 

Dial’s early studio.

As we made our way to Dial’s studio we drove by his former home, a neat brick one-storybuilding that he built. The sidewalk to the house is lined with cement filled soda cans, actingas bricks, attesting to the fact that Dial’s innovative use of recycled materials is not only a trait of his artwork, but also a characteristic of his everyday life.  Behind the house is a small garage where Dial created his work for many years, unbeknownst to anyone but his family. Dial has always made things, but didn’t think of himself as an artist. Until a few years ago, Dial worked alone creating and moving large paintings and sculptures in the garage behind his house.  After he had a stroke in 2009, his sons created the new studio for him within the warehouse, and they began helping him move the heavy assemblages.  Inside Dial’s new studio, piles of scrap metal, wood, plastic flowers, paint cans, and old clothes populate almost every conceivable space.  Paintings in progress either hang neatly on the walls, or sit atop sawhorses, so he can attach materials such as charred wooden boards and cloth. From the surrounding sea of materials, glorious works of art arise.

Homemade soda can bricks line the driveway at Dial’s former home.

Hung Liu

Last September Hung Liu returned to Paulson Bott Press for her fifth project. All of us at the press look forward to her enthusiasm and her wide-ranging humor. The first time I worked with Hung Liu in 2008, I expected her to be stoic and severe, given the heavy content of her work. However, I was surprised and pleased to discover that despite her seriousness, she carries herself with an almost child-like cheerfulness and curiosity. There is a good deal of laughter when Hung is in the studio. She also brings a considerable amount of technical knowledge and confidence to the production of her prints. Intaglio can be a daunting and opaque medium for many artists, but she never seems intimidated by its esoteric challenges and unpredictability. For this project we focused on two large portraits and three small cartoon images based on her Happy & Gay series of paintings.

Hung Liu: Happy and Gay (Thanks Mom, Kite, Flag), 2012

The Happy & Gay images are based around a series of Chinese Dick and Jane-like cartoons for children. The title comes from a song/school exercise for learning English: “Come boys and girls—let’s sing let’s dance. We are happy and gay. It’s our National Day.” The seemingly benign and bucolic images are both familiar and strange. Like their American counterparts, they’re intended to teach a set of wholesome, normative values such as hard work and pragmatism, with a heavy emphasis on the nuclear family and nationalism. Consequently, the fact that these doppelgangers are in the service of the Maoist Cultural Revolution, the loyal opposition of American exceptionalism, makes them feel, dare I say, queer. Such a contrast brings into focus the puritanical undercurrent in both.  Hung goes on to further push these tensions with soft subversions such as the pink clothing, which also evokes the double entendre of the title. Such flamboyance would be contextually deviant even in their American equivalents. The images and phrases of her youth are resurrected, with an irony and an acknowledgement that they no longer embody the meaning they once did. 

Printer Sam Carr-Prindle and Hung Liu in the studio

A former painting teacher of mine once shared a story about a classmate who got in trouble and was ultimately expelled from their academy in the Soviet Union for making an impressionist painting. There was no dissident political content, or satire, just a few fauvist trees, which in an American school would have been at worst derided as quaint or anachronistic. Yet the implied individuality and emphasis on interpretation of feeling were perceived as threatening and subversive to the rigid social order. So in recreating these images in her own hand, and with small expressionistic flares, Hung is slyly breaking the rules that fettered the illustrators and artists forced to work in a state-approved style. In her version, the subjects seem to be tripping the Great Leap Forward.

Hung Liu, Shui-Water and Shan-Mountain, 2012

The two portraits are part of an ongoing series of works that are based on early 20th-century photographs of prostitutes. Many of the photographs are small and lack clarity and contrast, yet she is able to enhance the amount of information while imbuing them with a greater sense of life and naturalism. In addition to bringing her large collection of portraits, Hung also brought in an enviable collection of books filled with small reproductions of Chinese woodcuts, which she used to create the backgrounds of Shan-Mountain and Shui-Water. Both prints started with a softground drawing of the figure that was then built up with many layers of aquatint, drypoint, reductive plate work, and, most notably, spitbite, in which nitric acid is painted onto the plate and allowed to drip and run, echoing the turpentine streaks of her paintings. Similar to the way Hung mixes humor and seriousness, these images balance crude or visceral elements with elegance. The softground has a rough, heavy and weathered quality in the way the lines and shapes are broken up by optical chatter, yet the draftsmanship is masterful and sensitive. The spitbite drips can feel both chaotic and ominous, as if the women were melting wax figures yet the drips in and of themselves are lyrical and painted with an unfussy playfulness. These contrasting elements lend a fitting uneasiness to their beauty. While the women are poised and graceful, the images belie the grim and misogynistic reality of their original purpose.

Hung Liu’s work is never what you think it might be at first glance.

 

IFPDA Fair-Re-cap

Getting to New York this year for the print fair was no easy task. As you can imagine, Super Storm Sandy created mass confusion and a logistics nightmare. After many hours spent analyzing our chances of getting there we finally rearranged our cancelled flight and boarded a plane to arrive in New York Wednesday afternoon, only a day and a half later than planned.  We caught a cab straight to the Uptown Armory, suitcases in tow, anxious to see if our crates full of artwork had been delivered.  Miraculously they had, and we were able to begin intsalling our booth immediately. Thanks to the tireless work of Michele Senecal (IFPDA), Sanford Smith Associates, and the construction crews (who began building the booths midnight Tuesday and worked 18 hours straight)  the walls for the fair were ready. Not everyone was so lucky. Some art never arrived.

A few people’s shipments did not arrive in time.
Crates at the Armory

Uptown was in a kind of bubble, everything seemed almost OK, except that Central Park was closed and you couldn’t get anywhere by subway. But what really stood out was the shock on everybody’s face, the dazed look that us West Coasters recognize from the days following the Loma Prieta earthquake. As the magnitude of destruction unfolded, we heard stories from our collegues about the damage to homes, galleries, artwork, and worst of all, the loss of human life.  The Upper West Side had power and felt surreal in its near normalcy and we were lucky to be staying there.  Like everyone in New York who could, we offered one of our rooms to someone who was unable to commute to the fair from Brooklyn.

Renee Bott, Lothar Osterburg (who rode his bike to the fair from Brooklyn) and Judy Pfaff
The Uptown Armory (you’d never know there was a storm here).

The show opened a day late, the attendance was at half capacity (amazing considering the circumstances). Those who did make it were the diehards, supportive, and elated to be there at all.  The fair looked especially good with the glow of survival. We exhibited our latest pieces by Thornton Dial, Isca Greenfield-Sanders, Gary Simmons, and Martin Puryear. For us the fair was extra special because it was a symbol of the city’s endurance and ability to overcome adversity.

A few highlights from the fair:

Durham Press
Pace Prints and Paragon Press
Barbara Krakow Gallery and Andrew Hoyem of Arion Press

We send our best wishes to everyone recovering from the storm and are thankful for the bravery and camaraderie of the people on the East Coast.

 

Collector’s Profile: Martin Maguss and Mari Iki

Martin Maguss and Mari Iki / photograph installation by Sean McFarland

Mari Iki and Martin Maguss are San Francisco collectors. They are avid collectors and have amassed an impressive collection with a modest budget.  Over the years, they have purchased works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauchenberg, Keith Haring, Francis Bacon, Nan Goldin, Gary Simmons, Vik Muniz—the list goes on. They have also been great supporters of the many local art galleries.  Pam and I met them in the late 1990s at the first Blackman art fair at Fort Mason where they purchased a small print from us.  At a recent dinner for the artist Gary Simmons, we found out that Martin began collecting art in high school. I wanted to see their collection, and I asked if I could interview them.

 

Q:                            Martin, when did your passion for collecting art begin?

 

Martin: 

My dad instilled the values—you save up, then you can buy what you want. Growing up in Canada, I was excited about American culture. In high school, Lichtenstein and Warhol were on my radar. I had a part-time job and saved enough to buy my first piece.

 

Q:  The Lichtenstein was the first piece you purchased?

 

Martin:   

Yes. I showed it to my dad, and said, “I bought this artwork by an American artist who I absolutely admire, Roy Lichtenstein.” My dad asked me how much I paid for it, and when I told him, he was livid. I said, “Wait a minute. You told me to save, and if I saved enough money, I could buy whatever I wanted. So this is a win for everybody. Now I want to go to New York and meet Andy.” My dad said, “Andy who?” I told him, “I want to meet Andy Warhol.”

Roy Lichtenstein, Hand and Foot, 1964 Color Silk Screen Print

Q:    How did you know about these artists?

 

Martin:

I was attracted to pop culture. While in high school, I’d also spend my free time in the National Gallery of Canada looking at Claes Oldenburg’s Bedroom Suite and the work of James Rosenquist. Expo 67 was also a big influence, because the American pavilion exhibited all the Pop artists. I travelled to Montreal to see it!

In university, I majored in graphic design and photography. I spent a great deal of time with close friends, having wonderful dialogues about the current artists—Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente, and others in the early 1980s.

 

Q:   Did you get to meet Andy Warhol?

Dining Room

Martin:

Yes. I got on a Greyhound bus and went to New York. It was a different time, you could just do it. I’d met him a couple of times in Toronto as well. Meeting him really did change my perspective on art.

 

Q:     So when you and Mari met, your relationship revolved around art?

 

Martin:    

We were talking, obviously, a lot about art. She took me to the Berkeley Art Museum to see this painting that she just loved.

 

Mari:        

I said, “Oh, you have to see this museum, because it’s just great.” I would go there all the time. I showed him my favorite piece—a painting by Francis Bacon.

 

Q:   Mari, was there a conscious moment when you decided to start collecting?

 

Mari:        

For as far back as I can remember, whenever I travelled with my family, I went to museums. I stood in line to attend the Avedon retrospective that David Ross curated at the Berkeley Art Museum. I had all these posters of amazing shows that I’d been to. Later, after Martin and I met, we went to the Fraenkel Gallery.

 

Martin:     

That was October 1984.

 

Mari:      

Martin asked Jeffrey Fraenkel to show us the Mapplethorpe still lifes. They were gorgeous black and white images of orchids. I forget how much they were—$500, $700—but I just said, “Wow…that’s so much for a black and white multiple.” Martin told me, “You spend money on posters, you should think of getting the real thing. Like these photographs, they’re beautiful.” We never got one!

Before I met Martin, I used to go into the Stephen Wirtz Gallery, always looking at Raymond Saunders’s work. Later, I went in with Martin and looked at a Raymond Saunders print maybe ten times. Finally, with guidance from Stephen Wirtz, the Saunders print was the first piece that I purchased.

Nan Goldin’s photograph: Skyline from My Window – NYC, 1999 anchors the entry way wall.

Q:   But did you have to agree on this, or was this your own endeavor? 

 

Mari:

That was my first contemporary art “acquisition,” but we do tend to agree.

 

Martin:    

The amazing thing about our relationship is if Mari and I see an exhibition, we will usually independently pick out the exact same piece. We have to work within a budget—we don’t have a lot of “disposable income”—we both have regular jobs.

 

Mari:               

Frankly, when we’re interviewed about collecting, it’s to show that anybody can collect.

 

Q: There must have been a point at which you realized…

 

Mari:          

We saw a segment on 60 Minutes in 1995.

 

Q:   It’s not about the Vogels is it?

 

Mari:      

Yes—Herb and Dorothy!

 

Martin:            

We had an epiphany. They were such an influence to us! They didn’t have a fancy New York City lifestyle, and they had a comparable budget to work with. We thought, “Here are people who think in a similar way.”

 

Mari:           

They have some of the same priorities! It’s okay to not want to get a new sofa or something, but to purchase art. Most of our decisions revolve around looking at or purchasing art. Our friends thought we were crazy.

Vik Muniz’s ceramic plate Medusa, 1999 rests on the dining room table

Q:   I want to focus for a moment on the idea of curating a collection. Do you have an overarching idea for your collection, or is it based on a gut reaction?

 

Mari:                

It is an informed gut reaction. I once asked a friend why a museum director had spent extra time with us. He said, “Because I explained to him that you have a collection.” I said, “But we don’t have a collection. We just collect.”

 

Q: Is that how you still think of it today? Or now that you have all this work, do you feel a sense of responsibility?

 

Mari:        

We do feel a certain responsibility. What happens to it when we’re not here? We haven’t really come up with…

 

Q:   The perfect plan?

 

Martin:

Yes. The one thing we’re consistent about…for any work in our collection, we will always loan for educational purposes. It’s for the betterment of the artist’s career; it’s not about us, it’s for them.

 

Q:  What about your relationship to the artists who make the work? Is it important to meet the artist? Or does that change the relationship?

 

Mari:         

When we can meet them, it’s wonderful. For example, Sean McFarland, who shows at Eli Ridgway Gallery, is an emerging photographer, and we’ve learned a lot about his work by getting to know him.

 

Martin:      

I’ve always said to Mari, if there’s an opportunity to meet an artist, we should. I remember when Mari met Diebenkorn and Thiebaud; I met Warhol, Haring, and others. If you can hear them talking about their work, that’s the best!

Deborah Oropallo’s painting High Heat (Respirators), 2002 in spotlight

Q:   There’s no substitute for that.

 

Martin:         

You’ve worked with Martin Puryear, Caio Fonseca, Radcliffe Bailey, Gary Simmons, and other artists that we admire. Artists that are continuing the line of creativity. Whether they work with paint, wood or other media—when they come into your studio and address another medium, the creativity is all the same! For us, there’s little distinction between painting, drawing, and works on paper.

 

Q:  What is your advice to the novice collector?

 

Mari:             

Look everywhere, read a lot, and then remember to look at the new and emerging artists and galleries.

 

Martin:                

Mari and I spend an inordinate amount of time not only looking at work, but also talking about work. We’re always looking, even when we know we won’t be purchasing. We never buy for investment.

 

There are always opportunities for young collectors. Someone might not have the budget for a Kerry James Marshall painting, but they could consider one of his amazing prints.