Unique Collector’s Item
Besides giving you an insight into more than 200 private yet publicly accessible collections worldwide, we also want to provide some background informations into the art of collecting. This is why we have included numerous Shorties, concise texts about collecting, in the BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors.
Today we highlight a Shorty that looks back to the history of collecting and we learn that as the artwork became something unique, it also became a collector’s item. But owning a unique work of art isn’t the only thing that interests collectors, befriending an artist has mattered to collectors from the Renaissance until now.
Collecting art is an expression of individuality, and it has been for centuries. But it was only during the Renaissance, when the artist was raised from a craftsman to a genius who created something extraordinary, that the individual work of art was born. While throughout the Middle Ages artworks were assessed and valued according to the amount of precious materials they contained—such as gold or lapis lazuli—the Renaissance valued what part of a painting a master like Sandro Botticelli painted and what part he appointed his apprentices to undertake. Apprentices were usually only responsible for the background and accessories; the master was in charge of the complicated parts, like the face or hands. Increasingly, as the artwork became something unique, it also became a collector’s item. But it was not only the work itself with which collectors wished to surround themselves; they aimed also to show their ability to appreciate precious things. The contact, or rather the friendship, with the artist also became important and special. Because an artist did not have to bow to social convention, his genius allowed him to move beyond the rules—this was sometimes even expected of him. From this history emerged the idea of the twentieth-century bohemian, an individual who was financially poor but artistically gifted. In the best case, the bohemian artist was backed by a patron who both appreciated his art and supported him financially. Some artworks would never have been possible or would not have survived without this constellation of interests. For example, the famous patron Peggy Guggenheim assisted Max Ernst, who immigrated to the United States at the beginning of the 1940s with artworks that the Nazis had defamed as "degenerate." The delicate balance between giving and taking exists to this day, of course, making art-collecting for the majority of collectors immensely attractive, eternally revealing the uniqueness of the collecting activity.