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Want to start collecting art? Here's what I've learned.

Collecting 101

What does it mean to be a collector? To me, it means being curious and wanting to surround yourself with curiosity.

You can be a collector of stories, of experiences, of people, of objects, or even of weird roadkill photos (like my best friend Conan).

In the art world, to collect means something different than in other spaces. When people ask if I consider myself an art collector, they're not just asking if I buy art, but whether I’m building a “collection” that tells a story. For some, that story is reflective of the financial markets that surround certain artists. Other people collect art by artists from a certain region, of a certain movement, or who represent certain ideas.

To me, collecting is about being able to live with physical mementos of an experience, interaction or moment. My collection is a living, breathing and ever-changing reflection of my values, the artists I’ve met, and the conversations I’ve had in the presence of these works of art. Some conversations with artists have impacted my life so much that I felt I needed to keep it with me forever.

So if a collection is a way of memorializing experiences and perspective shifts, curation is how you put these objects in conversation with each other to tell your collection's story.

I realized I wanted to spend my life immersed — and trying to immerse others — in art when I saw Zoe Lukov’s show "Skin in the Game" in Miami. That was when I realized an exhibition could tell a story the same way a film, a TV show or a book could. It’s the reason I believe that context and curatorial text can completely change a person’s experience of the show — or collection — as a whole.

When I go to a museum, I am always trying to understand what the curator was trying to say with this collection of objects, paintings, videos. But art is subjective. To me, there is no right or wrong answer when you stand in front of a work of art. There is this beautiful kinetic transfer of energy between the artists’ hands and the object that you are standing in front of, and how it makes you feel as a viewer.

Over the years I have loved getting to know artists like EJ Hill, Brendan Fernandes, Yvette Mayorga, Isabelle Albuquerque, Grace Zahrah, and Zanele Muholi. (You should definitely follow all of them on Instagram.)  To me, the story of my collection is about potential and possibility — of financial success, of a better world, of challenging conversations and of bridging divides. It's also more and more about Chicago. But every work that I live with elicits an emotion.

If you want to start collecting art...

Whenever you see work that interests you, try to connect with the artist and arrange a studio visit to learn more about their practice. Places like Jude, Heaven gallery, co-prosperity,Chicago Artist Coalition and Povos are great places to start. And follow THEIR Instagrams, because you're sure to learn about new artists to get excited about.

Come to our studio visits and behind-the-scenes tours with artists at galleries. It’s very different to go to a museum and see work without context and to go to a museum with an artist who tells you about their relationship to the work, or a curator who can explain their experiences with the piece.

DM @gertie.chicago if you want to learn more about a piece of work that you see or if you want someone to talk to about it — we are here for the convo!

If you don't have the budget to start buying original works, think about starting a collection of prints or artist books.

This world is for you! It just takes the curiosity to ask the questions, and the patience and openness to hear the answers… the rest is an epic adventure that can bring you into rooms you never imagined. Take it from someone who started asking questions and has never stopped. And my life has never been the same.

xx Abby

Gertie wants to know...

  • Do you collect?
  • Are you interested in starting a collection?
  • If you don’t collect, what's stopping you?
  • What would help you feel more comfortable in art spaces?
  • Would you be interested in learning more about what other people collect and how they think about their collections?