Collecting Chicago

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In Chicago, some art collectors keep their ears to the ground, immersing themselves in gallery shows, alternative spaces, studio visits, and thesis exhibitions in order to bolster the best new talent within the sea of emerging artists living and working in the city. Others find their calling in stepping up to the plate, in lending to, and sponsoring, museum exhibitions of established artists, and backing the kinds of high-profile initiatives that garner the city national attention. Collectors Scott Hunter, and Linda and Paul Gotskind are each a bit of both. While Hunter primarily collects emerging artists, and the Gotskinds tend to acquire more well-known figures, both are realizing their roles as patrons in enhancing the cultural life of the city they call home.

Paul and Linda Gotskind with artworks by
from left on wall: Angel Otero and Wangechi Mutu, on table: Marc Swanson
Photo: Michael Sullivan

THE GOTSKINDS
Situated more than 30 stories above the streets of downtown Chicago, the apartment of Linda and Paul Gotskind is home to a remarkable collection of work by contemporary art’s rising stars. Situated thoughtfully within each room are museum-worthy pieces that the Chicago-born-and-raised couple has been acquiring for the past 13 years. Approximately 25% of the collection is work by artists who are African American, while an additional 25% is composed of work by female artists. “We weren’t looking to make that a focus of our collection,” explains Paul, “It just happened to be that way.” Approximately half the works in their collection are on display at their sunny apartment; additional pieces by the same artists are housed in the couple’s second home in Laguna Beach, California.

Paul Gotskind started collecting art in the 1970s. “I met an art dealer named Bud Holland in Chicago,” he explains. “And I just got hooked on it.” Paul’s early collection, mostly secondary market purchases the likes of Twombly, Dubuffet, and Franz Kline, was sold after his first marriage ended; it wasn’t until nine years after marrying Linda that the collecting started anew. Both in the commodities business, the two began collecting slowly, but by 2005 their acquiring accelerated, first with the intent of filling the large walls of their home in California, then the Chicago apartment as well. This time around, the couple recognized how expensive their tastes had grown, and they also developed a burgeoning interest in the more accessible work being made by young contemporary artists. Now, Linda is retired and Paul works from home, and they split their time between Laguna Beach and Chicago, continuing to add to the upwards of 100 pieces they’ve collected together over the years.

Though the pieces by young artists may be at an accessible price point compared to secondary market masterworks, the Gotskinds are not skimping: “We’re spending about the same amount of money, practically, on younger artists that I was on established artists back then,” Paul explains. And when deciding what to purchase, the couple is very selective. “We’ve found a niche where we like to buy young artists, but artists who have a name for themselves already,” says Linda. “They all don’t fit the same criteria, but we like to know that they’re in museums and we like to know who collects them. We’re not out there to find the newest star on the block.” Their discerning methods have certainly proven to be worthwhile considering the continued successes of artists who were young, but not unknown, when the Gotskinds purchased their work. Among them are Jaume Plensa, whose Moon (1998) the couple acquired prior to the artist’s massive installation of Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, and Rashid Johnson, whose works they’ve been collecting since his 2008 exhibition at Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago.

Besides Johnson, works by Theaster Gates, Wangechi Mutu, Kehinde Wiley and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye are on display throughout their home, as well as a colorful, gridded painting from 1979 by Jack Whitten, now in his 70s. Though the Gotskinds didn’t set out to make work by black artists a focus of the collection, the prominence of these pieces in the collection is no coincidence either. “It seems that people are paying more attention to African American artists, whether they be in their 30s, or artists in their 60s or 70s who have been overlooked, possibly because they were black,” says Linda. According to Paul, a shift in the collector demographic has also contributed to this change in the market. “There are a lot of professional athletes, movie stars, celebrities and singers who are collecting art now. Many of them are African American, and that’s also helped the boom,” he explains. “And helped the artists’ careers,” adds Linda.

“The Moment of Creation,” 2011, Rashid Johnson
Mirrored tile, black soap, was, vinyl, cb radio, plant, books, oyster shells, Shea butter, space rocks, ink jet photograph on glass 72″ x 132″ x 11¾”
©Rashid Johnson, Photo: Martin Parsekian; courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, NY

Among the most dramatic artworks on display are two large works by Johnson including a 300-pound, two-dimensional bronze and a freestanding crosshair sculpture. The couple also owns one of the artist’s largest mirror pieces, The Moment of Creation (2011) which is currently traveling with “Message to Our Folks,” Johnson’s solo exhibition that was organized at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (where the Gotskinds have been involved for a number of years). “We’re not able to get it into the apartment,” Linda laughs. “So it’s been on loan ever since we bought it!” Other artists in the collection from Chicago or with strong Chicago ties are Angel Otero, David Klamen, William J. O’Brien and Dzine, from whom the Gotskinds have three pieces including one of the artist’s ornate, custom low-rider bicycles. Theaster Gates, yet another Chicago artist who has gone on to international acclaim, is a favorite of the Gotskinds, with two works in the Chicago apartment and two in the California home. Gates’ massive, circular wood relief, A.N.N.A.P. Logo, dominates the living room, while Whyte Painting (NGGRWR 0006), a serial-numbered, porcelain sink sculpture is at home in the couple’s glittering bathroom. With many of the artists, and Gates especially, the Gotskinds explain that acquiring is not just about liking an artwork, but understanding the artist. According to Linda, “Theaster is a type of artist where getting to know him makes his art more important.”

The art in the collection comes from all over, sourced from over 40 different galleries such as New York’s Hauser & Wirth, Honor Fraser in Los Angeles, and Chicago galleries Kavi Gupta, Richard Gray Gallery and Carrie Secrist Gallery, who sold the Gotskinds their very first acquisition as a couple: a Ray Smith from 1999. They also frequent art fairs, counting Art Basel Switzerland as a favorite, and they were one of many investors in EXPO Chicago when it launched last year. When EXPO’s director Tony Karman and dealer Rhona Hoffman were shopping around the idea for the new fair, “the two of them did a lot of footwork. They got people interested and excited,” Linda explains, “And so we said ‘yes.'” But the Gotskinds are not in it for any personal gain. “Chicago was really one of the first places to start one of these big art fairs, back when the old Art Chicago fair was at Navy Pier,” Paul says, acknowledging that their investment in EXPO is more ab
out helping a new Chicago fair make the city a popular destination for contemporary art once again.

Scott Hunter. Photo: Michael Sullivan

SCOTT HUNTER
The walls of Scott Hunter’s three-story Chicago home are almost completely covered, hung salon-style with work by a host of Chicago’s hottest up-and-coming artists. Hunter, a pediatric neuropsychologist, started collecting after graduate school with an interest in outsider art and the kinds of work produced in art therapy settings. The outsider art “was an easy way to acquire and to learn more about how the visual arts can be a representation of multiple domains of a person’s wealth of expression,” he explains. But Hunter soon realized that he had a passion for the work being created by local Chicago artists, and over the last ten years his collection has grown substantially–astronomically, I might say,” Hunter adds with a laugh.

Growing up outside of Washington DC, Hunter’s affinity for the arts began at an early age. The son of a pianist, Hunter originally trained as a musician, and by college had begun studying art history and photography. Ultimately, he decided against music and art making as full-time careers. But, he explains, through that process, “I realized that I could get involved in and continue to have the arts be an active part of my life.” A board member of Chicago’s International Contemporary Ensemble and the VP and Chair of Programming for the Society for Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, Hunter has certainly retained his passion for those early musical and art historical interests, in addition to stepping up as a staunch supporter of Chicago’s emerging art market, and the young artists living and working in the city. “Chicago offers a great opportunity to get to interact with artists at varying levels of careers, but I’m particularly intrigued by emerging artists,” he says. “Chicago’s one of the best places that I’ve found for being able to engage with that.”

About 40 to 50 percent of the works in Hunter’s extensive collection are by Chicago-based artists or artists who have spent a significant amount of time in the city, and of those that are not Chicagoans, a majority are in the roster of a local dealer. Though Hunter has a penchant for works on paper, his collection knows no limits in terms of media. Dispersed throughout the home are thick oil paintings by Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, a Jeroen Nelemans photo light box, an oil skin collage by Angel Otero, mixed-media wall bound works by Nazafarin Lotfi and Antonia Gurkovska, an ink drawing by Theaster Gates, a Matt Nichols floor sculpture, and a photo by Jason Lazarus, amongst countless others.

Hunter makes it a point to acquire work by emerging artists, which he explains partly stems from the fact that in his career as a psychologist, he deals primarily with young people. “I work with a lot of individuals who are exploring their first ideas about what it means to be an adult, and that’s what intrigues me about the experiences emerging artists are going through, in terms of finding themselves post-school, exploring and trying out new processes.” By now, his collection contains a significant percentage of pieces by established artists, such as R.H. Quaytman and Paul McCarthy, and a few local artists hitting mid-career strides like Richard Hull. But most are emerging, or were at the time of purchase. “I like the idea of seeing someone at the beginning of their trajectory,” he says, and indeed many of these artists, like Gates and Otero, have gone on to incredible career success since the days when Hunter was first purchasing their work.

With Chicago artists so well represented in Hunter’s collection, it’s no surprise that he’s doing the greater part of his purchasing from Chicago dealers; in fact, by his estimation, a mere 10 to 12 percent of the artwork he acquires comes from dealers outside of the city. A frequenter of Chicago’s West Loop district galleries and beyond, Hunter is doing the legwork, regularly attending exhibitions at commercial galleries like Andrew Rafacz Gallery, The Mission, Western Exhibitions, Devening Projects + Editions and Shane Campbell Gallery, as well as new and alternative spaces like Queer Thoughts and Heaven Gallery. What was once just a preference for local art has lately evolved into a form of collecting that borders on activism. In addition to acquiring from local galleries and auctions that benefit the arts community, Hunter and his partner Richard Renfro have been host committee members since the beginning of Gallery Weekend Chicago, an annual event now coinciding with EXPO Chicago to bring out-of-town collectors into Chicago’s galleries for receptions, artist talks, tours and VIP events. “As a member of the community here, I need to be showing my support directly,” he explains.

However, his relationship with the galleries and institutions in Chicago isn’t limited to just financial support; he’s also begun trying his hand at curating. As the VP and Chair of Programming for the Society for Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, Hunter is constantly bringing new artists and ideas to the group, which is responsible for some of the exhibition programming and acquisition of contemporary art for the museum. And, after longtime friend and Chicago art dealer Andrew Rafacz pointed out that the way in which Hunter was collecting was quite similar to the curatorial process, the two mounted “Psychosexual,” an exhibition at Andrew Rafacz Gallery with Hunter at the helm as curator. “Curating has allowed me to re-engage with some of the creativity that I was more involved with when I was younger,” he says. “It’s one of the ways to have work in my life that I don’t necessarily own, but that I can think about and engage with.”

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“Green Paragraph” (detail), 2009
Jon Pestoni
Oil on canvas on panel
63 3/4″ x 47 5/8″
Photo: courtesy Shane Campbell Gallery