The much-missed Suzanne Muchnic of the Los Angeles Times chronicles the growing field of collector studies:
“The history of collecting is so deliciously interdisciplinary,” says Inge Reist, who directs the fledgling Center for the History of Collecting in America at the Frick Collection in New York. “It opens so many doors.” The center was established in 2007, after years of planning, “to stimulate awareness and study of the formation of fine and decorative arts collections from colonial times to the present, while asserting the relevance of this subject to art and cultural history.”
It’s an idea whose time has finally come, says Jonathan Brown, a professor at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts who teaches seminars on American collecting and played a leading role in the formation of the Frick’s research center. […]
So far, the archives directory encompasses about 5,000 collections in 500 repositories documenting the lives and activities of 1,500 American collectors. Researchers who visit http://research.frick.org/directoryweb/home.php find, for example, that information about New York taxi tycoon Robert C. Scull and his wife, Ethel (known as “Spike”) — who collected contemporary art voraciously in the 1960s and scandalized the art world when they cashed in at auction in 1973 — is available in interviews, papers and record books at the Archives of American Art in Washington and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The life and times of Betty Parsons, a New York dealer, collector and artist dubbed by Artnews as “the den mother of Abstract Expressionism,” can be unearthed from the Archives of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery Library and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Library in Washington and the Getty Research Institute.
The Getty Research Institute, established in 1982, has a much broader reach than the Frick center, but its special collections contain an expanding trove of letters, business records and libraries of American collectors, dealers, artists and critics. The enormous archive of Joseph Duveen, the dealer known for selling the collections of impoverished Europeans to fabulously wealthy Americans, including Frick, Huntington and Mellon, is in great demand, says Marcia Reed, chief curator and head of collection development at the Getty’s research library.
American Art Collectors Ripe for Study (Los Angeles Times)