It is hard to tell because Barbara Amiel, wife of Conrad Black, is not what one would call a limpid writer. But it would appear that Murray Frum, a prominent Canadian collector, has written a book that has been privately published called Collecting: A Work in Progress.
Frum’s passion is Oceanic and African art. He built a wing at The Art Gallery of Ontario to house his collection. He might be better know to Americans as the father of political writer and pundit, David Frum.
Amiel relates some good stories from the book so it is worth quoting here at length:
He emphasizes the necessity for the serious collector to understand the “context” of the desired object, which means look at pieces from the same period, know their distinctive features, have a reference library in your eye. Frum counsels self-discipline at auctions but confesses to the one time he went berserk. The item was a rare pair of combs from the Solomon Islands estimated at about £100. The price moved up rapidly to £500. “See who’s bidding?” Murray asked Barbara. “My God,” she whispered. “It’s Sainsbury.” Lord Sainsbury’s grocery chain was at the time the largest in the U.K. Frum kept bidding till he got the pair at £3,000. “What’s going on?” Barbara asked. “Simple,” replied Murray. “That grocer’s son was not going to best this grocer’s son.” Then, he writes, “after 20 years the combs are perhaps worth what I paid for them then, but I had honoured my grocery heritage.”
Two fakes made it into Murray’s permanent collection. A very rare Cameroon mask came, not surprisingly, through two of tribal art’s most knowledgeable and trustworthy dealers. Fortunately, the housekeeper knocked it over, revealing fresh new wood under the “ancient” patina. […] Murray packed up the pieces and sent them to the dealer from whom he had bought it with a polite note asking for his opinion—a rather elegant way of dealing with the situation. “Within a few days, I received a letter of apology and a cheque refunding the full amount I had paid. There was no more to be said.”
Frum sums up his collecting and through it, I think, his life. “Invention separates art from craft,” he writes. “A new juxtaposition, a modulation of form, a creation using associations of contradictory materials—these are things that excite and fascinate me. I am not gifted as a creator, so collecting is the closest I can come to making works of art.”
A shame the book isn’t available to the public.
The Wild Bid, the Fake and Other Art Tales (Maclean’s)