„Inevitably, it comes down to—will I get bored with it?“ 

New York photographer and collector, Sarah Getto, chooses art for her collection like she chooses the people in her life. We take a look around her airy apartment and talk about her experiences assisting Lisa Phillips, the Director of the New Museum and working for Mona Kuhn in San Francisco. 

     Top right, Sarah beneath My Red Nymphaeas by Ghada Amer. Images: © Linda Green

FAM: When and how did you start collecting?
Sarah Getto: It started with this piece by Ghada Amer, she was my first. Pepe Karmel showed a slide of her work in an undergrad art history lecture and it really caught my attention. I missed her name, but my mind kept going back to it. It was like leaving a bar without a girl’s number, something stuck with me. A few years later I was at the Centre Pompidou in Paris to see the show ELLES, this amazing group show of all women artists, and it caught my eye immediately. I thought: “It’s you! I’ve been looking for you!”  

On the right: Jim Dine, Wrench, 1962. Images: © Linda Green

Why do you stack your books with the bindings facing the wall?
I spend an inordinate amount of time reading and the topics are all over the place. But stacks of books began to feel manic and a little suffocating. Turning them the other way helped bring the space back to neutral.   

Top: Elephant ivories from Africa and India. Bottom: Guido Crepax's Story of O.

What is your benchmark for acquiring a piece?
Inevitably, it always comes down to — “will I get bored with it?” I buy one serious piece a year and I have to be deliberate with research and due diligence. I never buy as investment, so it’s more like the due diligence one does with choosing a partner, which is a kind of investment I suppose. “Is there enough here to hold my attention over time or is it just something I’m lusting after? Will it age well?”
For instance, this Jim Dine drawing from 1962 is concise. I didn’t have a strong reaction to it at first, but it started working on me immediately. The wrench is barely there, it’s a very fragile pencil outline, and the solidness of the red pencil keeps an opposing tension. He did a lot with very few marks and I never worried that I would get bored with it. 

Uranium ore encased in lucite and Alligator head

Can you tell us something about the skull on your dresser?
It’s real! My grandfather was a doctor and in those days they used real skeletons, not anatomical models. I have no idea who this person was and he certainly didn’t know me, but now his skull is in my living room.  

How does being an artist affect your collecting practice?
I think a little bit of self-doubt keeps you alert in the artistic process and that translates to collecting. When I was 16, I was really lucky to work for Mona Kuhn while she was editing her first book. Watching her process taught me so much about aesthetic choices and it was reassuring to see how hard it is for a photographer to figure out her own work. 
Also, the best collectors sometimes had very complicated relationships with artists, they weren’t just cheerleaders. I know artists are the first to get lost in their own maze. So it’s essential for collectors to ignore what an artist says and have the confidence to challenge them on interpretation. 

Poster from Deyrolle—a shop specializing in entomology and taxidermy in Paris

You’re a photographer but you don’t really collect photographs, why? 
Choosing any single photograph, after seeing and making thousands, is just so daunting. I did get this photo assemblage by a young artist Annie Thornton in the fall. It comes in an edition of two. I think I connected with her choice to make a small edition that shows a group of images collaged alongside each other instead of a larger edition of any single photograph. It’s too hard to choose.

Image: © Linda Green

Tell us more about the graphic novel. You’re quite creative with the pieces you collect. 
It’s the first English edition of Guido Crepax’s Story of O, a graphic novel from the 60’s. I cut 15 pages out and re- ordered them into a grid. There is no narrative sequence, I arranged them based on visual cues. It sort of felt like making an installation. A comic book collector or art historian would die before cutting up an edition, it was a private experiment.  

Interview by Linda Green  

To visit Sarah Getto’s website please click here.