Visual Arts – critical musings: Collecting ( For love or money?)

Jul 31, 2007 at 8:22 pm

Antiques Roadshow
Antiques Roadshow
Writing in “Art for Dummies,” former Metropolitan Museum of Art director Thomas Hoving said, “The ideal in collecting, the prime goal, is to find the true original, the single, unique work of art created by an artist.”
Hoving, known for expanding the Met’s collection during his tenure from 1967-77, is legendary for his connoisseurship, and many people have taken his collecting philosophy to heart. Everyone dreams of having “a true original.”

On “Antiques Roadshow,” which has become PBS’s most popular television show since its 1996 debut, collecting takes center stage. While not focused on art collecting, but collecting of almost any stripe, it has stirred curiosities about and, yes, passions for collecting. The show’s success stems from how it illuminates the relationship between a person and his or her object, and having professional appraisers fill in the storyline with more history about the object and, finally, its market value.

When the “Roadshow” pulled into the Kentucky International Convention Center last Saturday, nearly 6,000 people came with objects in hand (and sometimes on carts), lots of love for their objects and the stories behind them, and hope that these objects might be valuable.

After waiting in a long, winding line, they were dispersed to tables where the appropriate appraisers could examine their objects. About 75 appraisers were organized among these tables and represented more than 20 different categories. By late morning, most visitors were gathered at the “Collectibles and Memorabilia” and “Arms and Militaria” areas.

That afternoon the furniture section was abuzz. There appraiser Michael Flanigan told me he is as passionate about the objects he sees as he is about the people — the collectors — he meets and what he learns from both. In Louisville, he has seen many pieces of Early Kentucky furniture, which he said is quite popular. Through those pieces, he has learned more about Kentucky history and the affection local people hold for their heritage. “I admire Louisville’s local pride in your culture,” he said.

That pride was on display when a man named Daniel brought an Early Kentucky corner cupboard. (The show asks media to refrain from giving the last names and hometowns of visitors. We will say Daniel’s last name was not Boone.) Under set lights and the gaze of cameras, he listened to the appraisal by Leigh Keno. (He and his identical twin brother, Leslie, are two of the show’s stars.) Keno surmised that Daniel’s family heirloom was created between 1795-1830 by Thomas Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s father. Keno appraised it at $8,500, but that could increase if Thomas Lincoln is authenticated as the creator.

I also brought objects to be appraised (and learned I won’t be retiring anytime soon). My undated, wheel-thrown Van Briggle pitcher, from my small collection of American art pottery, was pegged at $30-$50. According to a collectibles appraiser, my other object — a lobby card with a photograph of James Dean from the 1955 movie “East of Eden” — was worth about $20. Because the pitcher was a gift from a flea-market-loving aunt who I know paid no more than $5 for it, I still came out ahead on that. Furthermore, I learned new information on both beloved items, which stirred me to conduct more research.

Among my collections, I also have many art pieces that I have purchased over the years at affordable prices. A sampling of art I own includes works by Ed Hamilton, Laura Ross, Jonathan Swanz, Jaime Corum and Mitch Eckert. And while I haven’t had the works appraised to know their market value, they are all more valuable to me because I know the creators.

I know it is difficult for most average-wage earners to think about collecting art at a time when high-end art collecting is exorbitantly expensive. Last year we saw the highest-ever price tags for paintings, with “No. 5, 1948” by Jackson Pollock selling for $140 million; Willem de Kooning’s “Woman III” going for $137.5 million; and Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” fetching $135 million.

In January, Lee Rosenbaum wrote on her blog, CultureGrrl (, about how the monetary worth of art is becoming a stronger motivator in the market and affecting how people perceive art. She quoted what Amy Capellazzo, co-head of contemporary art at Christie’s auction house, regrettably said at an art market panel discussion: “I used to talk about what was special about an artist’s work and what its merits were. Now I’m just fulfilling some larger banking function. … It’s about how to make the deal.”
In this realm, the thrill is gone.

So hail to “Antiques Roadshow,” which underscores passion — the key to collecting. You must love what you spend money and time on and not purchase only because you believe something will increase in value.
Becoming a collector is easy. Simply put, the more you see, the more you learn and, of course, the more you want and appreciate. Acquiring an eye, or expertise, happens through repeated examination of detail and condition.

Apply these principles to the art and the collectibles of tomorrow: Talk with today’s artists and craftspeople. See what they have on the walls and on pedestals in local exhibitions. Familiarize yourself with LOOK (, a consortium of fine art galleries in the Louisville area. Explore and support art education in the schools and Studio2000, Louisville Metro’s high school art program.

Louisville Metro and Southern Indiana have abundant affordable art by terrific artists. (I have a long list of artists whose work I want to buy.) Buy what you love. Then you can take your finds for appraisal at an “Antiques Roadshow” in 2025.

Contact the writer at
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”Antiques Roadshow” will post highlights of its visit to Louisville on its Web site on Monday, Aug. 6, and air what it filmed here during the January-May 2008 season. (The Web site will list specific airdates later this year.)

‘Antiques Roadshow’
(888) 762-3749
8 p.m. Mondays on KET2 & 8 p.m.
Thursdays on KET1