Robin Pogrebin has a nice piece in The New York Times today profiling Brooklyn-based ceramics collector Steven Korff. The collection of Japanese ceramics is certainly impressive but there’s a subtext to the story worth exploring.
The Times includes a paragraph gesturing at Contemporary art collectors who get all of the attention these days (primarily in The New York Times.) But collectors like Korff have always existed and continue to exist.
These collectors mine a personal vein acquiring works that others may not yet see the significance of. Their ambitions are to make something visible in the form of their collection and to impose some sort of order on the chaos of real life.
Here’s the point lurking in the story: there is a brigade of so-called critics these days who denounce private collectors as somehow treading upon the public’s right to great works of art. These self-appointed guardians usually point to museums as some sort of disinterested institution that exists above private rapacity.
Yet listen to the museum curator who walks into Korff’s home:
“Nothing prepared me for getting to his house and seeing what he had,” said Joan Cummins, the Brooklyn Museum’s curator of Asian art. “I’d be pretty happy to have almost anything in his collection.” […]
“Of all my clients, I don’t know of any who study the market, know the history, are more connected than he,” said Robert Yellin of the Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto. “He often gets information about what’s going on in Japan before I do. The guy is totally, ballistically nuts, in the most positive way.”
Few collectors rise to the level of Steven Korff. As Richard Prince has put it, great collectors are as common as great artists, which is to say that there are not very many of them.
But collecting has to be a broadly practiced avocation for the few great collectors to emerge. They need time, opportunity and a flowing marketplace to apply their discernment. When we hear complaints about art being bought and sold, this vital function is overlooked.
An Obsessive Collector Who’s Drawn Royalty to Brooklyn (NYTimes.com)