Canadian real estate developer Murray Frum was a voracious collector who knew the value of museums and the importance of a healthy art market. Forty-nine lots of his Oceanic tribal works were sold in Paris earlier this month for nearly $10m with the sale of all the lots confirming the quality of Frum’s collecting.
Here, David Frum, the political commentator and former George Bush speechwriter who is Murray’s son, shares his memories of his father as a collector. It’s very instructive about the ways in which top-flight collectors think about the works they acquire and how those works interact over time. It also offers an interesting balance between the value of donating to a museum and the essential need to feed the market as well:
Whenever he entered a new field, he habitually began with an impulsive purchase. “I can’t get interested until I’ve taken a position,” he said.
The impulse carried him only so far. Then out would come the books. He would compare the object he had just acquired to every counterpart in museums and private collections worldwide, always ensuring himself that he possessed the very best of its kind in the world – or, at least, the very best in private hands.
The volumes would be piled three and four high, sometimes on the octagonal dining room table that served as the central meeting place of my family’s life; sometimes on the library table that rested atop a carved and painted South Seas house post; sometimes – when the chase grew very intense – in columns rising from the library floor. My father learned the life story of seemingly every major Oceanic object in the world: where it had originated, who had removed it, where it had travelled. If the new arrival failed to meet his now-educated standards, he would ruthlessly trade it away or sell at a loss. But if – as happened more often – his first hunch was validated by his research, then the object would begin a new career. My father would position it in his house … then reposition it … then reposition again. […]
My father lived in the same house from 1961 until his death in 2013. It would be more accurate to say: “He lived at the same address” than “in the same house,” for the house changed as ceaselessly as the collection. The quest for more and greater beauty, for the next great prize, never ended. […]
My Father donated generously to the Art Gallery of Ontario, including the magnificent gallery of African art that bears his name. Yet he liked above all to see great art in private hands.
Murray relished auctions: the buzz of the room, the tension of competition, all leading to the collector’s decision to throw his hand into the air – and hold it there.
My Father, the Collector ( Sotheby’s)