The joys and pitfalls of collecting art

People like to collect things, collecting different kinds of things for different reasons. It might be matchbooks, stuffed animals, sports cards, ring tones or MP3s, key chains or shoes, but many of us seem to have this urge to collect something.

Do you have an eccentric uncle with an astounding  collectionTo collect is to accumulate objects. A collection is an accumulation of objects. A collector is a person who makes a collection. (Artlex.com)  of fishing lures or wood planers? Does someone in your family spend every weekend looking for  ceramicPottery or hollow clay sculpture fired at high temperatures in a kiln or oven to make them harder and stronger. Types include earthenware, porcelain, stoneware, and terra cotta. (Artlex.com)  figurines or perfume containers at garage sales? What is it that gets your acquisitive brain cells flashing and saying, “I have to have that!”? Timothy Long, the  curatorAn individual or group, who conceives an idea for an art exhibition, selects the art works, plans how they will be displayed and writes accompanying supporting materials for the ideas presented. A curator can work freelance or be affiliated with a gallery, and serves as the link between artists and gallery.  at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, likes to ask students what it is they collect when he visits schools in Regina and area.

fishing lure The distinguished art critic Kenneth Clark attempted to explain our need to collect in an essay about collecting art: “The collector’s instinct, if animals and children are any guide, has two roots: the desire to pick up anything bright and shiny and the desire to complete a series; and these primitive instincts, under the stress of competition, memory, wealth, and other evolutionary factors, produced the first stages in collecting….” (Clark, 1963)

Matthew Teitelbaum, a former  curatorAn individual or group, who conceives an idea for an art exhibition, selects the art works, plans how they will be displayed and writes accompanying supporting materials for the ideas presented. A curator can work freelance or be affiliated with a gallery, and serves as the link between artists and gallery.  at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, suggested that we collect things as part of the process of defining our identity. “We are all collectors in one form or another because, in some indefinable way, the process of collecting is part of the way we develop a sense of who we are.” (Teitelbaum, 1989)

The personal histories of the benefactors who helped to establish Saskatchewan’s two major public galleries illustrate how different the collecting journey can be, although eventually arriving at a similar destination, and how, through the visual arts, we can develop a sense of who we are.

 

Norman Mackenzie

Norman MackenzieNorman Mackenzie had no formal education in art or art history, and he could be as passionate about boxing as he was about art, but he enjoyed collecting art. He was also a civic-minded man, and he envisioned his private  collectionTo collect is to accumulate objects. A collection is an accumulation of objects. A collector is a person who makes a collection. (Artlex.com)  becoming the seed for a future public gallery.

Mackenzie moved from Ontario to Regina, Saskatchewan in 1891 and established a successful law practice that gave him the opportunity to indulge his passion for collecting art. However, as a solitary  collectorTo collect is to accumulate objects. A collection is an accumulation of objects. A collector is a person who makes a collection. (Artlex.com)  located thousands of miles from the nearest major fine art city centre, Mackenzie had to rely on his own  aestheticPertaining to a sense of the beautiful or to the science of aesthetics.  judgment, conversations with local artists and advice from dealers abroad to guide his collecting decisions.

At least one smooth-talking art dealer, J. Purves Carter, took advantage of Mackenzie’s isolation to sell him works of dubious value and provenance. (Provenance refers to the history of ownership of an item. Determining the history of ownership of works of art often involves years of detective work).

In 1918, for example, Carter sold Mackenzie three paintings purported to be by  Old MastersTraditionally, a distinguished maker of pictures or sculptures who was active before 1700 — during the Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque periods, especially Italian, Dutch and Flemish artists. Today the term is also being used to refer to recognized masters of the eighteenth century. (Artlex.com)  of the Italian  RenaissanceA revival or rebirth of cultural awareness and learning that took place during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, particularly in Italy, but also in Germany and other European countries. The period was characterized by a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman art and design and included an emphasis on human beings, their environment, science, and philosophy. (Artlex.com)  period. “As it turned out,” wrote  curatorAn individual or group, who conceives an idea for an art exhibition, selects the art works, plans how they will be displayed and writes accompanying supporting materials for the ideas presented. A curator can work freelance or be affiliated with a gallery, and serves as the link between artists and gallery.  Carol Phillips later, “the three paintings he (Carter) refers to were not what they seemed to be at the time, but the whole dubious nature of the proceedings did not deter Mackenzie from many more similarly misattributed purchases through J. Purves Carter.” (Phillips, 1978)

It needs to be made clear here that Mackenzie understood the importance of authenticating and establishing the provenance of the works he bought. As early as 1913 he wrote to a London art dealer, “I am buying pictures with the intention of leaving them to an institution here, and I do not intend to leave pictures supposed to be  Old MastersTraditionally, a distinguished maker of pictures or sculptures who was active before 1700 — during the Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque periods, especially Italian, Dutch and Flemish artists. Today the term is also being used to refer to recognized masters of the eighteenth century. (Artlex.com)  as  Old MastersTraditionally, a distinguished maker of pictures or sculptures who was active before 1700 — during the Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque periods, especially Italian, Dutch and Flemish artists. Today the term is also being used to refer to recognized masters of the eighteenth century. (Artlex.com)  where I have no proof to corroborate my statement.” (Beckman-Long, 1993)

Mackenzie received better advice after he joined the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery of Canada in 1925. Through his contacts there Mackenzie purchased drawings by  Old MastersTraditionally, a distinguished maker of pictures or sculptures who was active before 1700 — during the Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque periods, especially Italian, Dutch and Flemish artists. Today the term is also being used to refer to recognized masters of the eighteenth century. (Artlex.com)  through reputable dealers. (Artists often made these drawings in preparation for the  frescoA method of painting on plaster, either dry (dry fresco or fresco secco) or wet (wet or true fresco). In the latter method, pigments are applied to thin layers of wet plaster so that they will be absorbed and the painting becomes part of the wall. (Artlex.com)  or  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  that would follow. These drawings were called cartoons. The meaning of the word “cartoon” has changed since the Renaissance!)

Aside from his dealings with Carter, Mackenzie was also a  patronAny person who supports an artist financially or through other means.  of Canadian art, supporting local artists such as Inglis Sheldon-Williams, James Henderson, Illingworth Kerr and Augustus Kenderdine, all of whom are represented on the ARTSask website. These Canadian works are one of the strengths of Norman Mackenzie’s  collectionTo collect is to accumulate objects. A collection is an accumulation of objects. A collector is a person who makes a collection. (Artlex.com)  and a key component of the MacKenzie Art Gallery’s Permanent Collection.

When he died in 1936, Norman Mackenzie bequeathed 374 art objects to Regina College, now the University of Regina, along with more than $64,000 to help establish a public gallery in Regina. Because of the Great Depression and then World War II it wasn’t until 1953 that the Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery opened to the public, next to the College Building at Regina College. Since 1990 the  collectionTo collect is to accumulate objects. A collection is an accumulation of objects. A collector is a person who makes a collection. (Artlex.com)  has been housed in a much larger facility in Regina’s Wascana Centre, and the name has been changed to the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

Fred Mendel

Fred MendelFred Mendel (see  bustA portrait sculpture or a painting representing a person's head, neck, shoulders and upper chest, and perhaps the upper arms.  (Artlex.com)  of Mendel by Leo Mol at right) came to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1939, a Jewish refugee from Germany. He had left behind a family meat-packing business, and after seeking out similar opportunities in the United States and other parts of Canada, he, with his wife Claire and two daughters, settled in Saskatoon. The family arrived with few possessions but brought with them the lived experience of a rich cultural life in Europe. In 1940 Mendel founded Intercontinental Pork Packers and he soon began to collect art, as a way to make the connection between his former and present home.

Mendel collected important works by northern European  expressionistA manner of painting, drawing, sculpting, etc., in which forms derived from nature are distorted or exaggerated and colors are intensified for emotive or expressive purposes.  Also, a style of art developed in the 20th century, characterized chiefly by heavy, often black lines that define forms, sharply contrasting, often vivid colors, and subjective or symbolic treatment of thematic material.  painters along with significant works by members of the Canadian Group of Seven and their contemporaries. He also began to meet artists who lived in Saskatoon and over time formed an important  collectionTo collect is to accumulate objects. A collection is an accumulation of objects. A collector is a person who makes a collection. (Artlex.com)  of works by local artists. He opened a private gallery on the top floor of the Intercontinental plant and invited artists to view work at their leisure. For artists like William Perehudoff, McGregor Hone, Wynona Mulcaster and Ernest Lindner the experience of viewing original works by European artists was an important formative experience. (All of these artists are represented on the ARTSask website).

In 1960, in gratitude for his Canadian citizenship, Mendel began discussions with officials of the city of Saskatoon to create a civic art gallery. He subsequently gave the city $175,000 to build an art gallery. The provincial government matched the amount, and the city provided additional assistance. The Mendel Art Gallery and Civic Conservatory opened in 1964. The following year, to mark the 25th anniversary of his business, Mendel donated thirteen Canadian paintings to the Gallery’s permanent collection. These works, including canvases by Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer and David Milne, form the nucleus of the Mendel Art Gallery’s  collectionTo collect is to accumulate objects. A collection is an accumulation of objects. A collector is a person who makes a collection. (Artlex.com)  of historical art.

The Mendel family has continued to add other artwork to these initial gifts with donations of work by international and Canadian painters, and of  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (artlex.com)  by  InuitInuit means “the people” in Inukititut, the language of the people of northern Canada. Go to http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/pr/info/info114_e.html for further information.  carvers. The family has also provided financial support for publications such as The Mendel Art Gallery: Twenty-Five Years of Collecting, which supplied much of the information about the history of the Mendel Art Gallery found in this article.

After the founders

Norman Mackenzie and Fred Mendel are obviously important figures in the history of art in Saskatchewan. Once they had helped establish public art galleries, however, it was – and is – up to succeeding generations to continue building the gallery collections. This happens in three ways. First, other public-spirited collectors follow Mackenzie’s and Mendel’s example by donating works from their personal collections to the gallery.

RogersIn some cases organizations are created with the specific purpose of raising money to purchase works that are then donated. For example, the Regina Women’s Educational Club purchased Augustus Kenderdine’s North Saskatchewan River and donated it to the MacKenzie Art Gallery  collectionTo collect is to accumulate objects. A collection is an accumulation of objects. A collector is a person who makes a collection. (Artlex.com)  in 1953. In later years a group called the Art Gallery Society purchased and presented several works, including Otto Rogers’ Pink Sky (seen at right here), to the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

The second method of building collections involves gallery curators seeking out artworks for purchase from artists. The curators may be looking for artwork by specific artists, or certain types of works to build up an area of the gallery’s collection. This might be works in a particular style, from a certain time period, or of a specific type, such as  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (artlex.com)  or photography. Curators are guided in their purchases by the gallery’s mandate and purpose.

Finally, an artist may donate a piece – or several pieces – of art to a gallery. Such donations are usually made when an artist has established a reputation as an artist, often later in life, and has works to donate that fit a gallery’s mandate. The gallery staff will evaluate the works offered to the gallery before they are accepted into its collection.

Collections managers

Collections managers must be well-organized people, since they document and keep track of all the art in a gallery’s collection. This means keeping excellent records, which today are primarily maintained on computer databases. With thousands of works in their collections, the collections managers at the Mendel and the MacKenzie Art Galleries must be able to tell quickly whether a work is being exhibited, is in storage or has been loaned to another gallery for an exhibit.

Vault Speaking of storage, collections managers also spend part of their time working in an area of a gallery called “the vault” (see image of the Mendel Art Gallery vault at left). This is a humidity and temperature-controlled area where the works not on display or on loan are stored. Maintaining near-constant humidity (45 per cent relative humidity) and temperature (18 degrees centigrade) are important in preventing works of art from deteriorating (the hygrothermograph, seen below, is used to measure humidity in the air). For example, without this kind of controlled humidity, one of the three supposed  Old MastersTraditionally, a distinguished maker of pictures or sculptures who was active before 1700 — during the Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque periods, especially Italian, Dutch and Flemish artists. Today the term is also being used to refer to recognized masters of the eighteenth century. (Artlex.com)  that Norman Mackenzie purchased from J. Purves Carter, an  oilSlow-drying paint made when pigments are mixed with an oil, linseed oil being most traditional. The oil dries with a hard film, and the brightness of the colours is protected. Oil paints are usually opaque and traditionally used on canvas. They can have a matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finish. To look at examples of works in oil paints, see the articles under the names of every period from the Renaissance onward. (Artlex.com)   paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  on canvas, deteriorated so rapidly in the dry prairie air that it was soon beyond repair.

Many collections managers also photograph works for exhibition catalogues, promotional brochures or as part of the documentation process. The photography is usually done in the vault, to minimize the amount of handling of the works. The Mendel Art Gallery used to contract a photographer to take photos of the artworks, but the collections manager, Eve Kotyk, found it easier to do it herself.

Hygrothermagraph

Gallery vaults are designed and built to protect works of art, but they are not invulnerable. In September 2006 a fire began in the loading dock beside the vault at the Mendel Art Gallery. The flames did not penetrate the firewall, but all of the works were covered with soot. Besides using its own conservators, the Mendel recruited local artists to help clean the works. It took about two months to complete the clean-up.

Currently, (as of the summer 2008) the Mendel Art Gallery is planning for a renovation and expansion of its existing space. The storage vault will almost double in size when the expansion is complete.

Finally, there’s the story of a Canadian man, Colin MacDonald, who devoted 50 years of his life to collecting, not works of art, but biographical information about Canadian artists – more than 5,000 of them! MacDonald’s life’s work is now an invaluable reference work for researchers, curators, collectors and anyone who wants to know about an artist whose work they admire.

You can read more about Colin MacDonald and his Dictionary of Canadian Artists at A Dictionary of Canadian Artists:
http://www.davidmacd.com/artcanada/index.htm.

Eve Kotyk - What Does a Collections Manager Do?
Eve Kotyk - The Vault
Eve Kotyk - Photography: A Fun Part of the Job
Things To Think About
  • Consider the collection mandates of the MacKenzie Art Gallery and the Mendel Art Gallery.  What artists and/or works would you add to these galleries' collections?

  • Imagine what the art history of Saskatchewan would be like without Norman Mackenzie or Frederick Mendel.

  • Imagine you are an art dealer, but one with a different set of moral principles or more ethical behaviour than J. Purves Carter. Given the same opportunity that Purves Carter had, what style of art, or from what period of art history would you select and present artwork to sell to Norman MacKenzie, knowing it would be used eventually to establish a public art gallery? If you were Norman MacKenzie, or Frederick or Claire Mendel, and if you were given the opportunity to purchase art for a collection, what style of art and from what period of art would you select purchases?

 

Advanced Activity Advanced Activity

Graphic novel links for help with the Online Activity

 

Online Activity

Create a graphic story online.

Follow the journey of an art object from the artist to an art gallery collection.

  • The basic story has been provided for you, with blank frames and drawing tools with which you can illustrate the text. Just click on the numbered boxes to read the frames' texts.


  • Imagine the character of the super heroine. The text suggests a comic-strip style with a combination of well-known, fictitious characters.  You may want to study some graphic novel styles before working on this one.  Go to the second Advanced Activity to explore some links related to graphic novels.


  • Continue to write and illustrate your story online, or print it out and work on the drawings on paper for the in-between missing frames.   The pre-written text ends at Frame 5 (although an ending is provided in Frame 20), but you have many more frames for which you can create text yourself!


  • Feel free to change and extend the text as you like.  You can use this by clicking on the Text button, and then clicking on the text and typing or deleting text.


  • Once you have finished your story online, you can click on the Play button (in the lower right-hand corner of the Activity window) to see your story played all thr way through!


  • Print your work and find a way to present the completed story in school or through a local library.

 

Studio Activity

Most of us like to collect objects of some sort. It might be anything from art to hockey cards, to stamps, to shoes.

 

Create your own museum display

 

How to set  up a gallery. This could include artworks or any specific collection.

1. A permanent gallery

  • Name a hallway

    • Honour a student, an artist or member of the community

    • Honour the art program in the school

    • Name it for the school (for example, Smith Collegiate Fine Arts Gallery)

  • Claim and name a room (with permission, of course)

  • Collaborate with the librarian

  • Ask for parent association help

  • Launch the space!

  • Get community support

    • Establish a committee

    • Plan a way to sustain student and community interest

    • Discuss the effort required and plan for security of the collection

    • Frame purchases, get pedestal and cases for displays

  • Get volunteers to

    • Help with framing, hanging and changing artwork

 

2.  A temporary gallery

 

What to exhibit

1.  Installation

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When and where?
  • How?
  • How long?

2.  Exhibit

  • Planning
  • Selection of works, artists
  • Location
  • Date/duration
  • Promotion
  • Security

 

How to launch the exhibit and promote it: an art exhibition opening

  • Develop a plan for the opening

  • Decide on and book a location

  • Create an invitation list

  • Establish a promotion campaign

  • Prepare a budget

  • Assign committee members to:

    • Create a program
    • Prepare opening remarks
    • Plan refreshments
    • Arrange for press and media involvement
    • Arrange for involvement of the other arts (music, dance, drama, literature, other new media)
    • Arrange for people to set up for the event and to clean up after
References
  • Beckman-Long, Brenda. The Original MacKenzie Bequest.  Exhibition catalogue. MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1994.

  • Clark, Kenneth, quoted in Great Private Collections, ed. by Douglas Cooper.  New York:  The Macmillan Company, 1963.

  • Hoving, Thomas.  ‘How to play the buying game.’  in Art For Dummies.  New York:  IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 1999.

  • Long, Timothy. ‘The Collector and the Collection.’  in The MacKenzie Art Gallery: Norman Mackenzie’s Legacy.  Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1990.

  • Parke-Taylor, Michael and Norman Zepp.  Regina Collects.  Exhibition catalogue. MacKenzie Art Gallery, 1984. 

  • Phillips, Carol.  Building a Collection.  Exhibition catalogue.  Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery, University of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1978.

  • Riddell, W. A.  The MacKenzie Art Gallery: Norman Mackenzie’s Legacy.  Exhibition catalogue.  MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1990.

  • Teitelbaum, Matthew.  The Mendel Art Gallery: Twenty-Five Years of Collecting.  Exhibition catalogue.  Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1989.
Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning