As we at ARTnews were putting this issue together, I kept returning to the story of Ernest Hemingway and The Farm. Hemingway bought Joan Miró’s painting of that title—an exacting inventory of a typical Catalan farm, from donkey to watering can—in the early 1930s, shortly after Miró had completed it. Typical of Hemingway’s macho mythologizing, he wanted posterity to register that he had bought the canvas with 5,000 francs in winnings from a boxing match; historians, however, believe that money was more likely earned from his delivering groceries. But what has always most transfixed me is Hemingway’s description of bringing the picture home. “In the open taxi the wind caught the big canvas as though it were a sail, and we made the taxi driver crawl along.” In highlighting the painting’s physical vulnerability, he draws attention to its object-hood.
And it is indeed the object itself that is at the heart of collecting, which is the subject of this issue of ARTnews. The centerpiece, of course, is the 27th edition of our Top 200 Collectors list, and every article in it relates to collecting in some way or another. Barbara Pollack, for example, talked to Qiao Zhibing, a Chinese collector on our list about a museum that he’s creating out of disused oil tanks. And artist Brian Belott, interviewed in these pages, tells Bill Powers about his stash of old answering-machine tapes. Then there are the art dealers, in particular, those of the past, for whom we now feel a great deal of nostalgia, as ARTnews co-executive editor Andrew Russeth argues. They helped assemble the world’s great collections.
Eventually, some collections end up in the public trust: ARTnews deputy editor M. H. Miller spent a week in Detroit, a city that, during bankruptcy proceedings three years ago, flirted with the idea of putting pieces from the world-class holdings of its Detroit Institute of Arts up for sale to pay the city’s creditors. The collector’s impulse to preserve and protect finds an echo in Zoë Lescaze’s feature on the arduous efforts of Donald Judd’s children to maintain their father’s properties in New York and Texas. And finally, ARTnews senior staff writer Nate Freeman gained access to the New Guard at Sotheby’s, where many a collector has acquired many an artwork, and discussed with them how the business is changing.
We collect objects, but we also affix aspirations to them. In that vein, a comment that kept resonating for me as this issue went to press was that of artist Ursula von Rydingsvard, on her collection of wooden pieces ranging from African masks to old shovels, combs, and farm tools—things that she says “play a major role in keeping my spirits high and in continuing my belief in humanity.”
SARAH DOUGLAS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF