“If an artwork moves you in some way and it’s within your budget, buy it and enjoy living with it for a long time. The only things we regret are the things we didn’t buy.”
Susan and Michael Hort began collecting in 1985 and quickly amassed one of the most important contemporary art collections of the past 50 years, with an emphasis on painting. They talk to us about how they started out and their close relationships with the artists in their collection.
FAM: After 30 years and nearly 4,000 artworks, does the possibility of discovering a new artist still actually get you out of bed?
Susan & Michael Hort: Absolutely. Totally. That’s what we are here for. It’s more exciting than an artist that is famous and already has a reputation.
Name four emerging artists who made you both happy collectors when getting back into bed!
Charlie Billingham (London), Louisa Gagliardi (France), Doron Langberg (New York), and Marisa Takal (Los Angeles).
Beyond buying artworks, what other ways do you support artists?
We go to all the artist’s openings and introduce them to contacts in the art world to help their careers—an artist might not always feel comfortable asking for this help. We tell friends about the artists who are interesting to us and show their works in our homes whenever we can and invite people over. Whether the artist becomes truly successful or not, we are building a relationship over time and the friendship is likely to last.
People generally do not buy what they hate so what advice beyond just loving an artwork would you give to new collectors considering a purchase?
There’s no advice needed beyond love. The chances for any artwork to succeed are very remote. In five or ten years, most of today’s art will have no value. That’s what makes art a bad investment. If you want a good investment buy a Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock. But if a contemporary artwork moves you in some way and it’s within your budget, buy it and enjoy living with it for a long time. The only things we regret are the things we didn’t buy.
Do you believe galleries are doing a good job of filtering and editing artworks for exhibitions in their spaces, or is the art market sidelining thoughtful curating and focusing on sales and art fairs?
Yes and yes. Great galleries select the right artists for the right reasons and exhibit the right works at the right time. But the costs of running a gallery today are too astronomical. The rents force them to do more marketing, and growth means bigger rents, expenses and administrative costs. The important question for a gallery “What can I do to nurture an artist’s career?” has been replaced with “Who can I sell to next?”
During an art fair, we look at the fair catalog to see how many artists a gallery represents. If it’s a crazy number, we wonder and sometimes ask how that gallery can talk to museum curators, meet directors of important institutions and build an audience for each and every one of those artists.
Art is a bad investment, except when it turns out not to be. Ignoring the influence of money in art seems naïve. Focusing too much on it takes out the fun. What are your thoughts on the relationship of money and art?
There’s no question that if you collect intelligently for three decades, some of the art might be worth enormous sums of money—but that is less than 10% of your collection, for sure. Nobody knows which artwork being bought today belongs in the 10 or in the 90%. The main issue is how quickly prices increase for works by emerging artists. If a gallery has a following and the art looks good, then the art probably will sell, be in demand and prices will go up. Suddenly, art by an artist no one has ever heard of becomes unaffordable. The artist is then stuck. He becomes hesitant to experiment or take risks but is too expensive to attract new collectors. And when the art no longer appears new, their career starts to fade.
Describe how your relationships with contemporary artists differ from other relationships in your life?
We love looking at art and so do they, that much we have in common and it’s so much fun to have artists come over and hang out because it’s unpredictable. Artists are people, too though. You have tight relationships with some, others forget you. Most of our other friends are over 50. Emerging artists are usually under 35, meaning we both are usually the oldest ones at their birthday parties.
Interview by Quang Bao