Where did all the eccentric collectors go?
Lester Lanmen, Walter Chrysler, Junky Fleishman, Hudson Walker…. these were the collectors in the sixties. They enjoyed going to artists’ studios and rummaging around for work. Some of them even haggled. They were all adventurous.
In 1966, I had a gallery in the depths of the Lower Eastside. The location didn’t deter them from visiting, even though one would have to climb over drunks and drug addicts to get into the building. One time, Hudson Walker came down, bought four paintings and paid me the greatest compliment I had ever had. He told me that I was the best painter to come along since Marsden Hartley. I hadn’t known at the time that he was also Hartley’s patron.
Walter Chrysler sought me out on a construction site in 1957, wanting to see my work. I took him to a garage that a friendly Portuguese guy let me store my work. Chrysler looked through the work and bought three pieces. I was ecstatic. I had only been painting for one year. I didn’t even know who he was. He had just introduced himself as Walter. He later went on to become an avid collector of my work.
I have a friend who was visited by a big time collector called Murchason. This collector was notorious for haggling. He would make it look as if he was about to buy the whole studio so the prices would come down. Then he would switch and only buy one or two for the discounted price that he would have got for fifty paintings. My friend, who had a short fuse, kicked him out. I never dealt with him.
Those adventurous collectors do not seem to be around anymore. I think that they miss a tremendous chance to see how the work is created and to meet the artist on his or her stomping ground. I think most collecting is now done through the galleries. Also those guys who went to the source were shrewd; they managed to get a better price. There was no commission.
Those were the good old days, truly bohemian. What goes around comes around – maybe adventurous types will resurface. There is certainly a mass of people out there with the means to start collections and have the fun of not only enjoying the art, but watching the artist grow.