Art and People (VR)
Collecting as a practice: Liam and Hana
Jan 30, 2023
The “Collecting as a practice” interview series introduces a handful of fictional collectors and through conversations with them, we find out about their style and ways of thinking in the context of their collection and relationship with art in general. Whether or not you are a collector, you might find commonality with these collectors, or something interesting about their attitude toward art; and if you are thinking about collecting art, but don’t know where to start, this series of interviews may give you insightful pointers to use as reference.
An art collection tells a story about the artworks and their creators, but also the collectors who have put them together. Knowing more about the collectors and their relationship with art, helps to navigate a particular collection. There is a difference between collecting art and buying art; the former fits the narrative of the existing collection and its vision, whereas the latter could simply be for decorating or gifting purposes. So, not all art buyers are collectors, and not everything a collector buys is for their collection.
An artist’s practice is referred to as the ways in which an artist makes their work, according to their carefully thought out methodology. Artistic practice is not just about the physical process of making, but how the artists are influenced by their personal history, other societal issues, or ideas, as well as dealing with tangible materials. One of the main reasons why art is recognized as a practice is that art goes beyond the handling of objects, but the process itself is a crucial factor. Collecting as a practice has equivalent qualities as artistic practice, in that there usually is a strategy to actions, justifying the reason for putting a certain work in a collection. It is challenging to collect in this manner, of course, and not all collections are built this way. It is not to say that one needs to begin their collecting journey with a significant rationale in mind, but as a good collection grows, the development of taste and principles become apparent.
Although Liam and Hana are imaginary characters, their art story is built on a realistic portrayal of collectors who have active relationships with artists in their collection. Liam and Hana have different professional backgrounds - Liam being a business owner and Hana with a Art History degree - but they share the same passion for going beyond what they collect and supporting and forming connections with artists. Another notable characteristic about Liam and Hana’s collecting process is that they often spot artists they think are talented from early on in the career and see the transition in their practice for over a relatively long period of time, which allows them to really understand an artist’s practice.
Without further ado, welcome to Liam and Hana’s cozy holiday home in New York suburbs. Explore their collection* and their art story.
*The works that are part of Liam and Hana’s fictional collection are all from the eazel archive, and all artworks are courtesy of the each artist and relative galleries.
eazel: Thank you for inviting us to your lovely holiday home during the festive season. As Liam travels a lot, this must be a precious time for you and the family. The house has a very chilled vibe and seems to provide a space to hang some of your bigger works in the collection.
Hana: Yes, we love this house. It definitely has the holiday feel. We come here quite often actually, besides the big holidays. I am a freelance editor and when I need space and time to think and write, I find my haven here. When we bought the house, I specifically wanted a writing room with a lot of empty space and plentry of daylight, as I work the best in that kind of environment. And yes, we can also hang some of our larger pieces from the collection and we usually change the works once a year. Everyone, including our daughter Coco, picks at least one they want, and I usually choose the rest.
eazel: That sounds like an effort, but also rewarding to actually enjoy your collection rather than keeping them in storage somewhere. Going back a step for a bit, it would be great to start the conversation about art in general. Has art always been part of your lives from a young age? Or is it something you began to love as an adult?
Liam: My parents never really took me and my sister to art exhibitions when we were young, but I remember enjoying school trips to big art museums. When I was in the ninth grade, we went on a field trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and I immediately recognized the steps from the Rocky movie. This moment really stuck in my head as my first ever real memory of a museum that got me excited. I remember finding everything fun inside of the museum that day.
After that, although I didn’t really seek to go to exhibitions on my own, when I did go, I enjoyed seeing art. I couldn't explain what I liked about seeing art, but colors and forms in paintings gave me some kind of comfort. It was not until in my early 20s that I actively started to visit exhibitions while studying in Chicago, where I also obtained an MBA later on. Whenever I was stressed about university work, I went to Art Institute of Chicago, which took just under 45 minutes up north from the university following Lake Michigan.
Hana: Funnily enough that is where Liam and I met. I was studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Now I work as an editor for an art book publisher and mostly work freelance from home. We get different things out of looking at artworks. While Liam considers the initial visual impression that the works give him an important part of the collecting process, I am more interested in what the work represents in the context of contemporary society. I don’t get too theoretical, but it adds another interesting dimension for me. Seeing art is something we do as a family too and we took Coco around to see exhibitions since she was a newborn.
eazel: It is interesting that you each have a different perspective when looking at art, and that art has become a family affair. It would also be great to hear how your collecting journey began.
Liam: Although we now live in New York, I often go back to Chicago for business. On one of those trips to Chicago, I was introduced to an artist who managed to start their career through the Rebuild Foundation founded by Theaster Gates in 2009. Over some dinner and drinks, we talked for hours about the history of America and social injustice. The conversation carried us to their studio and as a gesture of new friendship, the artist gifted a small drawing to me, but I insisted on paying for it. It didn’t feel right to just accept it. And that became my first ever purchase.
Hana: I remember that business trip actually. Liam video-called me to show me the drawing and to share what they talked about. As it happened, I already knew about the artist as I have been following them since their graduation show. Liam was ecstatic that we both showed interest in the same artist without knowing. The friendship continues today with the artist and we recently went to their solo exhibition. Knowing an artist for a long period of time gives us an opportunity to see them develop their practice and be part of that journey, and this is something we both consider as an unexchangeable value when collecting.
eazel: Having friendship with artists enriches the narrative of your collection for sure. Since the first purchase of the work in Chicago, where do you usually buy work from?
Hana: Ever since his first purchase, Liam’s main route of collecting is directly from artists’ studios, partly because half of the artists that we are attracted to don’t have established galleries representing them yet. For him, it is also a great way to connect with the artists and build close relationships. The other half of the collection is made up of mostly mid-career artists. We have only a handful of works from established artists. These works we buy through their representing galleries of course.
Liam: Some of the works that came into our collection in the early days have significantly increased in value as the market recognizes their talent. None of those works have been sold back in auctions, as active investment through art is not something we are interested in at the moment. I take pride in our judgment for selecting talented artists from an early stage of their career.
I also enjoy spotting new artists at art fairs, especially from my European business trips. I often go to Frieze in London and ARCO in Madrid, as that is where most of my European clients are based in. I go to Art Basel in Basel too when I can, but the Miami edition is more accessible to me, as I am always home in December. I like going to art fairs outside of America, as they give me an opportunity to expose myself to art scenes that I am not familiar with.
eazel: How would you describe your collection as a whole? Is there an artwork or an artist that represents your collection as a whole?
Liam: It’s difficult to pick one work or an artist to represent the entire collection. Aesthetically, our collection is probably not recognizable through medium or style. There is a labor intensive and autobiographical abstract painting by McArthur Binion on one end, and there is a highly contrasting lightbox work by Awol Erizku; what they all have in common is my relationship with the artists who made them. Hana doesn’t tend to get involved on this front much, but I often organize dinners with artists. Connecting with them is a huge part of my collecting process. As we come across artists from the early stage of their career, sometimes fresh out of college, we naturally begin to form a patron-artist relationship.
Mind you, buying an artist’s work just for the sake of supporting them is not what I do here. I only buy good quality work when I see them. My patronage does not come through purchasing works; that is a different kind of business. When I support artists, it involves providing young artists with the means to carry on working if their economical circumstances do not allow them to.
eazel: That makes perfect sense actually, and it is refreshing that a collection can be represented not just through visual cues or medium, but its methodology. I wonder if this extends to the financial side of collection, if you have a strategy on this front too? Do you have a set budget for your collection? Do you consider sticking to a budget an important part of collecting?
Liam: There used to be a quite strict budget up until about five years ago, as I had to establish my business and also raise Coco and provide for the family. Now we are much more comfortable financially, the budget has grown and I am more flexible with it. If you have plenty of money and you can buy all the artworks you want, then maybe you don’t need a budget. But sustainability is key to collecting, and not regretting what you have bought because you overstretched your budget - that taints the love for that piece of work. So I would say, yes, less of a strategy but as a common sense, it is important to have some idea about how much you want to spend and try to stick with it.
eazel: In this context then, is there an artist that is not in your collection already, but think would be a good fit?
Liam: We have a few! From the top of my head, we saw Walter Price’s work in a group show at Rachel Uffner Gallery about six years ago and have been following his exhibitions since then. When you follow the same artist for over a period of time you notice things that others might not. For example, Price's work has become more bold with his brushstrokes and borders between elements in his paintings have become softer and more blurred.
There was one business trip where the whole family was able to go to London and by chance we went to the graduate show at the Royal College of Art in the area called Battersea. We saw Jadé Fadojutimi’s work for the first time there and we were absolutely mesmerized. The powerful expressiveness left a deep impression that day.
Hana: That was a fun trip. Someone told us about the graduate show but we couldn’t make it the opening weekend so went on the following Monday. I remember it was such a sunny day and we had a nice stroll by the River Thames afterward.
Over ten years ago, I saw a group exhibition at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art about feminist photography where I saw Zanele Muholi’s work for the first time and I have been following her work ever since. The works I saw in that show were softer in a way - more intimate and poetic. As I followed Muholi’s practice, her photographs became more intense with harder contrasts.
If I may add another artist, Kevin Beasley is another artist that we have been following for a while. Funnily enough, also from his MFA graduate show at Yale in 2012. Although his subject matter remains in the premises of race, labor, and ancestry, his earlier works were more raw aesthetically.
eazel: What does your collection mean to you in your life and how do you envisage it to evolve?
Hana: Collecting means a lot to us and it is definitely a big part of our lives as it is a passion Liam and I both share. It is one of the things that bonds us. As Liam mentioned earlier, seeing art gave him a lot of breathing space while studying in Chicago. It was the same for me too. Whenever I was stuck in an essay, I used to get out of the library and actually see the art I was writing about. So it is also therapeutic, away from the day-to-day activities.
Liam: It is my wish that the collection evolves into a family collection, which Coco can inherit one day - if she wants to of course. If that happens, I also understand that her way of collecting may differ from mine, in both taste and method. But I think this is why it would be brilliant if it was carried down the generation, to see the transitional dynamics in the collection and that my collecting legacy can continue in a different shape and form.
Luckily, Coco shows a lot of interest in art, perhaps owed to the fact that she has been surrounded by art and artists since a young age. I started a tradition a few years back, where for Coco’s birthday I would let her pick an artwork within a price range and gift it to her as a birthday present. My agenda was that through this, she would build her own taste away from my influence and witness the process of buying art first hand. Her taste changes a little every year, but her love for the color pink maintains since about three years ago. She has also been a huge fan of small animal figures, and when Coco saw a painting by Madhvi Parekh a few years back, she immediately knew that is what she wanted for that birthday. This is something Coco and I do together without much of Hana’s involvement. It is quite a precious tradition we have started to build just the two of us.
eazel: That is very sweet. I guess that also gives you quality time together and precious memories. The next question is in two parts. Have you discovered something new about the art world through your collecting journey? And about yourself?
Hana: Not so much new about myself, but collecting definitely enriches my life. Art in a bigger context is what everyone needs whether that is in a form of contemporary art, or music, or theater. Even for people who may not be working in the creative field - it kind of breaks up the day and provides a fresh breath of air, ventilating daily routine. I take my “non-art” friends to galleries and they are always surprised how much they enjoy it. Even when Liam is away, Coco and I make sure we go to at least two exhibitions a week, one of her choice and one of mine. We then go to Coco’s favorite restaurants and talk about what we liked about that day.
Liam: Same for me, that it enriches my life in a way other things don’t - like money and other possessions. I have also learned a lot about the art world. When I first met Hana and we started going around exhibitions together, she added more context to what I was only visually getting. She never makes it too difficult to understand or theorize it too much, but knowing the extra layer of a work is very satisfying.
Maybe this is because I am a businessman, but the market is also fascinating. How it works and how some work goes into a museum collection and others don’t. Through collecting, I am now able to see the bigger ecology of the art world and place myself where I am most efficiently supportive to the system.
eazel: Everyone gets something different out of art and that is the most beautiful thing. Collecting is the same, each collector with their own agendas and beliefs. Is there a collector, dead or alive, that you admire for their legacy, or the collection itself?
Liam: Not so much to admire, but there is a couple whom we have mutual respect for each other. Do you know Elliot and Kimberly Perry? Elliot is a former NBA player and him and his wife Kimberly, have been collecting more or less the same period as us. We met at a benefactor’s dinner once and our mutual friend introduced us to each other saying that we have a lot in common. I mean, our budgets are a little different [smiles], but from the way we collect, and the fact that we stumbled into art by chance, we share similar values. Neither Elliot nor I knew a lot about art, but we were open to new ideas and were eager to learn. Our ethos is very much on the same level, where it is incredibly important for us to meet the artists in our collection. Elliot and Kimberly systematically collect living artists only, which I think is a commitment that deserves recognition.
Hana: When I am looking ahead to our collection in 10 to 20 years time. I think about Martin Nesbitt and Anita Blanchard. When they collect and support the work of artists from outside of America, they don’t just buy their work, but visit the places where the artists are from and experience their culture in person. Does it not only allow them to immerse themselves into the history and everyday life of the artists, it makes the collection more than about adding another name on the itinerary. They are also hard at work locally in Chicago, supporting the careers of artists from their community, which enriches and contributes towards the city’s art scene.
eazel: Listening to you talk about art in general and your collection, it is clear that you are well on your way of supporting artworks and artists in the most sustainable method possible, which is efficient in one sense, but also extremely responsible. If you have one piece of advice for someone who is just starting to collect, what would it be?
Liam: As cliché as it sounds. Follow your heart, but also make sure your brain can back it up. What I mean is, don’t be an emotional buyer. It is important that your intuition leads your collection, but when it comes to actual purchasing, go for ones you are proud to hang on your walls, whether that is a young or established artist. At the end of the day, if you want to build a good collection, you need to buy high quality works.
Hana: You might be collecting for many reasons, whether that is for patronage or investment, but it’s important that you actually love the works you buy. This is not so much advice, but something I think is important. Especially if you are just beginning to collect, don’t just buy works off online viewing rooms. Go see the works in the flesh! Smell the layers of oil paint! When you love the works, you learn to respect the works and the artists who birthed them.
Please note that:
ᐧ The characters in the project are fictional and the project is not based on a true story, although some names of the artists and other collectors in the interview are borrowed from real life.
ᐧ The artworks included in the VR tour are from the eazel archive, and full credit and copyright of each work can be found on our website, following the link on the image.
ᐧ This is a preview of more eazel curated projects alike, which will be launched throughout 2023.
Our Art Story
Collecting as a practice
Liam and Hana's collection