How to Start Collecting Contemporary Art

KC AT HOME January 2015 Text by Susan Cannon

Kansas City has a thriving art community, with its many compelling museums and galleries, and is a great place to immerse yourself to become informed about contemporary art.

Toma Wolff, executive director of Byron Cohen Gallery, next to a painting by contemporary Chinese symbolist and surrealist painter Zhang Xiaogang. byroncohengallery.com PHOTO: Susan Cannon

Toma Wolff, executive director of Byron Cohen Gallery, next to a painting by contemporary Chinese symbolist and surrealist painter Zhang Xiaogang. byroncohengallery.com PHOTO: Susan Cannon

ADVICE FROM AN EXPERT
Toma Wolff, executive director of Byron Cohen Gallery and a personal advisor for private clients, grew up surrounded by art. Her father, Byron Cohen, opened his eponymous gallery in 1994, bringing museum- quality contemporary artwork to Kansas City. His passion for art connected their family to dealers and artists internationally, and for Toma, being part of this lineage molded her into an astute gallerist equipped to guide clients through the collecting process.
Also an advocate of the local art scene, she is on the board of the Charlotte Street Foundation, which recognizes outstanding Kansas City artists, offering Rocket Grants with the support of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. According to Toma, there are a couple of ways to start an art collection. Most commonly is to begin without guidance or a particularly big budget. In this case, she encourages three very important things:

EDUCATE YOURSELF
Consistently take in as much art as possible. “By this I mean get immersed. Look at magazines: ARTnews, Art in America and ARTFORUM. Go often to The Nelson- Atkins, Kemper and the Nerman museums,” she says.

DON’T BE INTIMIDATED
Not only novices get intimidated by art. “I can be intimidated, too,” she says. “But you need to hear the story behind the art because knowing about the artist and why he or she did a particular piece is the compelling part. The most interesting works have stories that make them come alive.”

Example of the story behind the work: In French artist Maia Flore’s series “Sleep Elevations,” Maia wishes to emphasizethe attraction a girl feels toward her new, boundless surrounding and the lightness of the reality she is entering into. Her contorted movements are meant to articulate a contrast between physical limitation and the limitlessness of imagination.

Example of the story behind the work: In French artist Maia Flore’s series “Sleep Elevations,” Maia wishes to emphasizethe attraction a girl feels toward her new, boundless surrounding and the lightness of the reality she is entering into. Her contorted movements are meant to articulate a contrast between physical limitation and the limitlessness of imagination.

SUPPORT LOCAL ARTISTS AND INSTITUTIONS
“You can buy great original art locally and affordably,” she says. “Support both emerging and established Kansas City artists.” A good example is work by artist, professor and curator of the Greenlease Gallery at Rockhurst University Anne Austin Pearce, who was recently cited in Vogue as one of the top 5 artists to collect by internationally acclaimed British artist Tracy Emin. “Frequent our local galleries,” Toma stresses. “They will help you find art that fits your taste.” Topping her list is Sherry Leedy, Haw Contemporary (formerly the Dolphin Art Gallery), H&R Bloch Artspace, Grand Arts, and Bill Brady.  “Also support the Charlotte Street Foundation sales and students from the Kansas City Art Institute. 

My son bought a piece (with his own money) at a Charlotte Street Foundation sale for $25, and five years later, that artist’s collections are in  museums and showing in national galleries,” she says.

Kansas City artist and KCAI professor Laura Berman’s exhibition PULSAR at Haw Contemporary in spring of 2014 with model from the Finefolk fashion show PHOTO: Forester

Kansas City artist and KCAI professor Laura Berman’s exhibition PULSAR at Haw Contemporary in spring of 2014 with model from the Finefolk fashion show
PHOTO: Forester

More art can be found at First Friday Art Walks in the Crossroads and the Hobbs Building in the West Bottoms.The other way to start collecting is to hire someone to help navigate and show you what’s good and what has value. “For example, when I’m hired by a private client, I’ll go in their home and we’ll casually chat. We’ll identify key walls, and I’ll observe their surroundings so I have a sense of their taste and how they live,” Toma says. “So if you have the resources but no time, I’ll bring artists’ profiles and their works in front of you. I’ll show you who’s established and who will keep their value over the long haul. And if you’re traveling, I’ll set up appointments with dealers in different cities” she says.

“Yellow African” 2009 by Kansas City artist, professor and curator Anne Austin Pearce, available at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art Gallery

“Yellow African” 2009 by Kansas City artist, professor and curator Anne Austin Pearce, available at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art Gallery

THE NEW ART SALON
Kansas City architect Scott Heidmann is a great example of a happily obsessed art collector, whose vigor for the beauty of life is expressed by his infectious, roaring laugh. This quality, combined with his honed eye and gracious spirit, makes him the perfect host of Heidmann Art Salon (HAS), which he co-produces with his creative collaborator Kenny Petti of Brand 7.
“Our endeavor is to create a social mix of artists, collectors, new enthusiasts and creative people from all walks of life, all together in intimate evenings that celebrate, showcase and introduce an artist or artists,” he says. “I want to reignite the art of conversation and the conversation about art.

“The evenings are experiential, sometimes working with a theme infused into the installation via place, space, food or music relevant to the elements,“ he says. Scott recently co-chaired the Kemper Museum’s 20th Anniversary Gala, ROAR, and possesses a loyalty to local artists as equally as the global art community. He never stops taking in art or sourcing inspiration, whether it be from museums, galleries, social media, magazines, studio visits, performances or everyday life experiences — an important cue to follow if you too strive to collect.

Scott Heidmann with artist Shea Gordon Festoff at the May 2014 Heidmann Art Salon event “Under The Influence,” exhibiting works by Gordon Festoff PHOTO: Pilar Law

Scott Heidmann with artist Shea Gordon Festoff at the May 2014 Heidmann Art Salon event “Under The Influence,” exhibiting works by Gordon Festoff PHOTO: Pilar Law