Episode 119 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Building a Collection of Your Own

Building a Collection of Your Own

Mark told me he would go to artists’ studios, famous ones, and look for a very small drawing, even something on a scrap of paper or something that looked odd for some reason, and he would ask about buying it. The artist would either give him a payment plan, or in most situations, they actually gave him the work for free! They gave him the work because it seemed small, and they liked that Mark was so enthusiastic about it. In Mark’s apartment, he framed all the works beautifully, and it was one of the most interesting collections of modern art that I have ever seen. Each piece was fascinating because at first it looked nothing like what you would expect from the artist who made it. Upon closer inspection of the work, you might see traces of the style of the artist, but it had many surprises in it. This was the person who made me realize that the world of art might work very differently than I previously thought. Just as I casually advised a friend to call an artist he wanted a studio visit from, this is the person who shifted my perspective from not knowing to seeing a way into a world that I knew very little about and had no connections in.

Getting a Dream Job

There was another time I had a friend who was looking for a job. She graduated as an industrial designer. She wanted to design her own products but also to work for someone she admired. I asked her who her hero was, and she said the name of a woman  I had never heard of, but was a major designer now in her early ’70s. In short, I encouraged her to write a letter to the designer, telling her why she liked her so much. My friend wrote a letter and sent it off to the designer (via regular mail), and when the designer read it, she called her up and asked her to come down. When my friend arrived at her studio, she told me the designer announced, “Here is the angel that wrote to me, everyone, come meet her!” And though my friend was a bit embarrassed by this introduction, she was offered a job right away and kept working for her, quite happily, for several years.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.


Episode 58 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Sue Stoffel Interview

Carey: Today on our show we’re talking with Sue Stoffel. She’s a collector and an art administrator with 25 years of professional art experience in numerous aspects in the art world. Sue, thanks so much for being with us today.

Stoffel: An honor to be here, thank you.

Carey: When you were growing up were you influenced a lot by the arts? Were your parents involved in the art? If we can go back that far, how did you get involved and influenced by the art world?

Stoffel: Very much influenced through my childhood. I grew up in New York City. I’m fourth generation Manhattanite and my mother is an artist, both my grandmothers were artists. One aunt runs the oldest non-profit cooperative gallery in New York. And my other aunt on my fathers side was one of the founders of the African Art museum in Soho in the ‘80’s. And so my mother was taking me through SoHo in the 60’s, a greasy haired teenager looking at the works of Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg and Warhol, and so it all went in through osmosis.

But it really didn’t come out until I moved to Switzerland in 1980 and started collecting. I was getting married and I went to visit a wonderful old dealer, named Anne Rossler and I asked her what I should buy my future husband as a wedding present and she said there’s only one thing and that’s art. And so I bought my first piece which was a Christo and from there it’s 30 years later, maybe even more, and 350 works later.

Carey: Wow, 350 works that’s how many art works are in your own collection?

Stoffel: Yes, correct. I am a collector. We call ourselves junkie collectors because it’s what we do. We don’t do anything else. My husband used to call it “Susan bags” because he would rather me spend $2000 on a Prada bag than a work of art-  and I disagreed, and so we were collecting Swiss art when we were living there. Then I started to go to Art Basel in 1985 and that changed my perspective globally in terms of what was happening in the contemporary world. And that’s when our art collection started to expand.

Carey: And what was the first Christo that you bought?

Stoffel: It was the Wrapped Leonardo in Milano. It was a work on paper that he had attached a wrapped sculpture on and then there was the matching photograph that went with it. So this was from 1982.

Carey: I didn’t know that. Could you just describe that a little bit more.

Stoffel: Sure, I’m going to walk over and looking at it. Yeah, I don’t know exactly which Piazza in Milano it is, maybe it says on here. Yes, here it is, wrapped monumental Leonardo project for Piazza della Scala in Milano, it’s signed and it is a piece of a cotton wrapped sculpture with his iconic string stapled onto a photograph that he has penciled around of the Piazza della Scala.

There are some really old 1950’s, 1960’s cars parked in the background. So it’s a cool piece and you’ll see it as you come into my apartment. It’s the first piece you see and kind of opens the dialogue to everything else that’s hanging in the apartment now.

Carey: Wow, that is a cool piece. That’s amazing, sounds gorgeous and also of course now very, very valuable piece. Those are quite amazing things to have. That’s essentially an early preparatory drawing of his, isn’t it?

Stoffel: It’s more than a preparatory drawing. There is a depth, there is third a dimension. It is actually a sculpture on the wall.

Carey: So then let’s move forward from there. That was your beginning of kind of your foray into your collecting. You’re in Switzerland, what happened next? And I assume at this point you’re not involved in art administration?

Stoffel: Not yet but that kind of change in 1994, 1995 when we were collecting quite intensely.

I came back to New York for a trip and went to visit the marketing directors of the Whitney and MoMa and put together some best practices of how museums were approaching their contemporary collectors. And I took that to the Kunsthalle in Zurich and I said, “Listen I’ve got this idea, there are a lot of contemporary collectors now out there who don’t feel connected to the museum. I’d like to develop a program,” and they actually bought it and asked me to direct it. So I did that for 5 years before coming back to New York.

I was working with other collectors around Switzerland and organizing lectures and tours and getting into private collections and taking them to art fairs, to the opening of the Gugenheim, I developed kind of a network of very interested contemporary art collectors around Europe and I brought that back to New York with me.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here.


Episode 34 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Todd Levin

Todd Levin Interview Continued…

Carey: Are you only working with, or looking for, major blue-chip artists who have had a very extensive exhibition history?

Levin: In my career I’ve worked with a very broad range of historical periods and price points. When one starts out, one is usually on the lower rungs of the ladder in terms of access and the financial amounts involved. If one gains experience and expertise through time, and is recognized as increasingly capable of curatorial responsibility, one moves up the ladder in terms access and financial strata.

I began with art of my own generation. I think it’s natural to begin with one’s peer group, and in my case that was artists of the eighties. Gradually my career broadened and deepened, and became much more multivalent. Today I would agree that the majority of my time is tied up with what you identify as ‘blue-chip’ art, for lack of a better term.

Carey: I’d like to move back a little bit in time to your beginnings in art, maybe the eighties or earlier. What was it—and this could be very early in life if you want—what was it that first attracted you to art, as a child, as a young adult? Do you remember your first experience with art?

Levin: There is no distinct origin point for me. I grew up in Detroit with a single mother – a very well respected and sought after interior designer who was also an art collector. I was exposed to the visual language of art and design from my earliest memories. As my mother was single, I traveled everywhere with her, which meant artist’s studios, museums, galleries, and alternative spaces. It was a regular part of my life since I was a child.

Carey: That’s fascinating. What was she collecting? That seems an extraordinary experience to me as a child. That’s quite a vision to have as a single mother, I would think that with all the other things a parent has to go through, that building a collection is quite visionary, really.

Levin: I think collecting was a natural outgrowth of my mother’s interest in visual language via her interior design practice. And much of the art that she collected has a distinct graphic aspect. Not unlike, perhaps, design renderings or architectural blueprints. It was something that was around the house. It’s something I was accustomed to.

Carey: And you’re also watching and listening which is kind of unusual to see for anyone to be going into artists’ studios as a child, because it sounds like she’s buying directly from artists and you’re hearing the questions she was asking, and how artist are presenting themselves, correct?

Levin: One must remember we’re talking about the early/mid sixties. A very different time and place. There was no art market of the type that we all accept now as the norm. Going to artists’ studios was a much more common and low-key experience than it is now. There was very little money on the table for a gallerist to worry about if a collector went to a studio to “buy direct.” That would now be seen as a financial arbitrage depending on the artist and gallery involved. Things have changed greatly in the last forty or fifty years in the art market.

Carey: So what happened next for you? What happened in college? Were you taking courses in art then, or learning more about the art world so to speak?

Levin: In university I had a dual interest. I had an interest in visual art because I began collecting art in high school. I also had an interest in music, and attended university for doctoral studies in music composition as well. During my university years I developed very strong relationships with artists who I found interesting in my peer group. I was coming to New York regularly at that time because flights were very cheap and I would crash on (artist) friend’s floors or couches. I was exposed to art and artists in the East Village from the late seventies forward. At that time, it seemed that every person I saw on First Avenue was someone in the art world that I either knew personally or recognized. That was my formative first person experience which I drew upon later as an advisor.

Carey: And the artists that you were initially interested in were, I imagine, the seventies and eighties artists. Do you mind saying who those artists were that initially drew your interest? Who of your generation did you begin buying, trading, etc.?

Levin: Well, my mother was collecting artists of her generation– Calder, Johns, Kelly, Lichtenstein, Nauman, Warhol, etc. I saw that she enjoyed the experience of going to studios to meet and talk with these artists, as well as their gallerists. She enjoyed having discussions with lively, intelligent people. It was important to her. In addition, my mother also felt it important to be a good community member in the Arts. She participated on a number of committees and boards at The Detroit Institute of Arts.

It was natural for me to emulate this model of behavior. By the time I was in high school, I was already interested in art and collecting, but mostly on a regional level. Then, during my time in university, I became interested in artists of my own generation. And that was the reason why I began to travel back and forth to New York on a regular basis, to be directly involved in the creation of culture that interested me, in the same way I had seen my mother participate in art of her time.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here.