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The Art of the Collector at Halcyon Gallery
August 14, 2017
There are only a few days left to see The Art of the Collector, a small but thought-provoking exhibition at Halcyon Gallery, New Bond Street. This intriguing display combines works by contemporary artists including Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Marc Chagall, alongside wall panels describing the histories, influences, and habits of a wide variety of collectors, past and present. Through a combination of art and text, the exhibition demonstrates how collecting is an intrinsically human activity which evolves over time and is adopted for myriad reasons.
The central room in the gallery is bright and vibrant with powerful works from the full selection of artists on offer. There is great diversity on display, particularly between the works chosen from each artist’s own oeuvre. This is most evident in the collection of pieces by Pablo Picasso, which offers a valuable opportunity to appreciate his skill as both a representational artist and a master of abstract forms. Two lithographs of a woman’s head in profile, one a portrait of the artist’s second wife Jacqueline Roque (1957), are invited for comparison. Picasso’s range is further exposed through the juxtaposition of two divergent works with a Bacchic theme: the vibrant linocut Bacchanale avec Chevreau et Spectateur (1959) and the more figurative aquatint Bacchanal (1985). A wall text in the middle of the display informs the viewer that Picasso was a great collector of ethnographic objects, including African and Oceanic masks, which strongly influenced his Cubist approach.
After climbing the staircase at the back of the room, one is confronted with Andy Warhol’s Mao (1972), an impressive complete portfolio of ten screenprints which takes up the whole wall. Warhol was inspired to produce this work by his dealer, Bruno Bischofberger, who suggested that he create a portrait of the most important figure of the twentieth century. An article in Life Magazine had asserted that Mao Zedong was the most famous person in the world, leading Warhol to pick the political leader. However, as with Picasso’s works, Mao is also directly related to Warhol’s own history of collecting. As a child, he was fascinated by celebrity culture and collected photographs of famous personalities, pasting them in scrapbooks. This interest continued into adulthood and was directly channelled into Warhol’s artistic production. The assembly of screenprints gathered in the current exhibition, with depictions including Judy Garland, Ronald Reagan, and Muhammad Ali, exposes how collecting can directly influence and stimulate creative artistic production.
Throughout the two rooms of the exhibition, clear and instructive wall texts are displayed, some positioned individually in wall recesses and others creatively grouped together, discussing different collections. These are richly diverse, ranging from financial institutions such as Bank of America to museums such as Tate Gallery, and from artists including Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons to celebrities such as Elton John and Leonardo di Caprio. The humble origins of many collections are highlighted, revealing how collecting is an accessible activity open to anyone, regardless of personal wealth and connoisseurship. Some individuals are described as wanting their collections to be visible to a large audience, with François Pinault and Charles Saatchi constructing museums to display their works. Other collectors are evidently more private, such as the reclusive Greta Garbo, whose collection of Modern and Abstract Expressionist art was displayed in her Manhattan apartment. The inclusion of biographies, particularly those of celebrities, alongside Warhol’s portraits of famous figures provides a fascinating opportunity to contrast the iconic and human nature of celebrity, most evident in the juxtaposition of Warhol’s lithograph of Liz Taylor (1969) and a panel describing the actress as a keen art collector.
This exhibition is both visually stimulating and extremely informative, providing great insight into the lives and interests of a diverse range of collectors. Where it is most successful, however, is in demonstrating how collecting is a personal activity, each collection unique and intrinsically linked to the personality of its owner.
By Amy Parrish
The Art of the Collector at Halcyon Gallery, London, 27 June – 20 August 2017
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