Meet the Collector: Vicente Wolf

Musée Magazine: Vicente Wolf Interview from Musée Magazine on Vimeo.

Vicente Wolf


How long have you been collecting?

I’ve been collecting photography for the last 30-35 years. I started collecting when Richard Avedon said to my former partner and I, “Gee! You should start collecting photography because it’s the thing of the future.”

What was the first piece you bought?

The first photograph I bought was from a show that I saw in Washington. It’s of a partially opened door.

What is your philosophy on collecting?

At first I collected photographs of the Italian Futurist movement. I then began collecting anything from Russian avant-garde, to French Surrealist, to American photographers starting in the 1920’s through to the 1990’s. At the beach house I have photographs of people at the beach, or that have to do with water. I also have photographs of hands, portraits…obviously I buy everything.

What artist would you like to buy now?

The photographer I would really like to collect is Frantisek Drtikol who did a lot of nudes, and I love his work.

Do you buy emerging photographers?

I have bought a few emerging photographers, but it is not the usual thing I buy. A.) Because of a lack of space to show it B.) Because I’ve always bought older photographers and I feel more comfortable buying them. I can research them, find out what they’ve sold for, and where their last show was. With emerging artists you have to go purely on gut and have the wall space to show it.

So is your first instinct to buy a piece because you like it or as an investment?

My first instinct is to buy it because I like it, because it strikes me. There has to be something that immediately catches my eye. I think that when you start spending tens of thousands of dollars (on a photograph) you need to be aware of how you’re investing your money, whether you are buying stocks, or anything else.

Do you feel that your tastes have evolved since you started collecting?

I find that the more you study what photography and collecting is all about, the more doors open on different photographers and different periods that I had not focused on previously. I still love the photography that I bought 30 years ago and they are still some of my favorites. I have to be able to look at a photograph each day and still be moved by it. It’s not just about buying because it’s a name that I should check off the list. It is something that I have to look at and it has to make my heart sing.

How often do you rotate your pictures or resell them?

I’ve never sold a photograph I’ve bought. Maybe I’m a pack rat. I move them around.

Do you have any preference for traditional printing versus digital printing?

Because I’m buying vintage, they are all lab printed. When I’m buying old photographs I only buy vintage, I don’t buy new prints. And I try to buy as close to the date that they were taken as possible.

How many photographs do you own now?

I own around 600 photographs. My rule is whatever I buy, I have to exhibit them. For many years I bought photographs and they were put in drawers, and I thought it was ridiculous. My conference room in my office is covered floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, in photographs. In six months I’m planning to change the photographs I have up with others I have put away. I think it’s great to see them in a fresh way. If they are all up all the time your eye becomes too accustomed to seeing them.

What are your plans for your collection?

The day I die, selling them and putting the money in a charity. A few years ago I bought the collection of Frida Kahlo’s family albums. My hopes for that, is for it to travel. Besides that, I try to live for the moment. They’re here. They’re now. I love them. Will I sell them one day? It’s not really something that I think about.

There seems to have been a shift as to what people think photography is. With technological advancements in the field, photographers have started taking pictures using different apparatuses such as, satellites etc. The question is how do you feel about it? And would you collect photographs that use these different apparatuses?

I’ve always loved photography. My first rule of collecting is to buy the top rung. You can buy an Edward Weston, a Steichen, a Man Ray for a good price without going over the top. If you were buying oils, you would be in the millions. Following that point of view, I would buy an artist’s photography no matter what they used to shoot it. It’s not about the process, it’s about the image and the thinking behind the concept.

Would you buy a photograph that was atypical of an artists’ particular style?

I’m always in a quandary when I see an image from a photographer that is not their typical style. Would I buy it? You want to keep the name with the image. The question is how much do I love it? If it’s Irving Penn, and it’s a different type of Irving Penn, I still love it and he still takes a beautiful photograph.

Has the shift in what people consider photography now, had an impact on the way you collect photography?

In my work as a designer or in the other things that I do in my life, I’ve tried to use my own judgment. When everybody was buying a lot of contemporary photography I still stuck with what I love. I try to stick with my gut. I think the true sense of a collector is by the passion. The more passion you have, the more you believe in what you’re collecting, and whatever happens, that’s what you stay with.

Do you have a favorite photographer?

I love Munkacsi. It’s one of the photographers whose work I own the most of. I love a lot of the Italian futurists as well. I love Steichen. There’s just so many…

Is there any photograph you wanted in your collection that got away from you?

Yes, one photograph I now have went for like three thousand dollars, and I didn’t have the money to buy it then. When I saw the image in books, it was always “the one that got away.” Six years later it came up again for auction and I was able to buy it for much more than it sold originally. I look at it now and it speaks about an image I love and about the progress I’ve made in my career to be able to afford it.

How important is a back-story?

I think it gives me, as a collector, an insight into what that person was thinking when he took that image. It connects you a little bit to the photographer, and who he was, and what he was thinking when he took the photograph.

Do you feel collecting has changed since you began?

People who begin collecting always ask me how collecting has changed since I started, particularly the prices. I used to be at Sotheby’s where a Steichen or a Weston would go for $500, or an Eggleston, would go for $800, now they go for a quarter of a million dollars. You know, hindsight is 20/20. Whenever I dream of going back in time I just go with deep pockets to auctions to buy.

How do you keep up to date with it all?

I subscribe to booklets that are sent out, which indicate what the photographs are going for. I also keep up to date with auction news, go to galleries, talk to people, and read publications on auctions. I used to be much more intense. Now it’s sort of instinctual and I have a pretty good idea of what the pricing is. When buying at auctions in Europe, I bought things that here would sell for a lot of money and there it was going for a very low price. Being informed about pricing has really helped me add things to my collection that I might not have otherwise.

Do you have any advice you would give a young collector who is just starting out?

A.) You must go with your gut B.) For me, if it’s all photographs, I would buy vintage because with new prints, there could be hundreds of them. I mean Kertesz is one of them. There are so many images by Ketersz. But if you buy one that’s vintage then you know it was locked in a particular time. C.) Is to investigate, and to read. Behind me I have hundreds of books on photography, so when I see something in an auction catalogue, a photograph that I like but I don’t recognize the name, I can look it up and see who he was, what he was, how long he was photographing. I think research is really an important thing. Also, to educate your eye, go to museums, and galleries. The photograph that as a beginner you were enthralled with, might, as you become more educated, be replaced by something else. I think to be informed can really help your collection be a better one.

How would one be informed about an emerging artist?

I think there are great websites for that. Andrea Blanch has a really good one, but you probably already knew that. There are also other online magazines, PS1, and a lot of the art schools have shows of emerging photographers as well. I think that’s a really good way to inform yourself. I’ve learned so much from talking to curators at museums and auctions.

What was the last photograph you bought?

One of the last photographs I bought at auction in Europe was an Atget. It was of a prostitute sitting in a chair, which is an image I’ve always loved. It was vintage and wasn’t printed by Berenice Abbot but by Atget himself. I was lucky I was able to buy it and add it to my collection.




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