PETER HORT: the love collector

Image Above: Peter Hort's portrait by Andrea Blanch.


ANDREA BLANCH: What do you think about the digital era’s influence on how art is consumed and valued today?

PETER HORT: I think sharing is good. Whether a dealer who has an iPad at an art fair so that they can show you everything they have in inventory or sharing things you’ve seen through Instagram or Twitter, I like how people are embracing new technology to share what they’re interested in. I have a Twitter account and it initially was started with me and a few other people. I would post some of the things that I see and then my wife and my friends could react to it. I didn’t think that other people would follow. I now have several thousand followers. Nevertheless, I like posting what I see; it helps me organize. When I see something I like, or even if I don’t like it, I put it on Twitter. So, if you were to ask me later what have I seen, I don’t have to rack my brain for it. I go to my Twitter account and say, this is what I’ve seen, this is what I’ve liked, and this is where I saw it.

AB: So it’s a helpful tool?

PH: I think it’s a very helpful tool. There are some people that post things; and some people follow just to see what others are up to. Listen, I know that some people are on the lookout for the newest flavor of the month. Looking for what is popular, I think that is a waste of time. No artist produces great things every time. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad. If you’re looking to buy a name, you can get a name, but you may get a lousy painting or drawing or photograph. If you’re really looking to collect art, you want something that’s great. Not just something signed on the back by the newest hot guy, or woman. But, in general, I like social media; I think its fun. Gina Beavers takes images of food from Instagram and turns them into paintings. She uses the Instagram photos as inspiration and it’s interesting to see where she’s coming from.

AB: What are your thoughts on Richard Prince’s Instagram pieces?

PH: I think Richard Prince is a master of appropriation. I happen to like his work. I think that they are interesting as an image and some of the comments below them make them more appealing. I like the scale, I think it’s more dramatic than looking and scrolling through Instagram. Some of them are a bit too explicit for me with my children running around and looking at art, but I do like them.

AB: What do you think that current trends in art say about contemporary culture?

PH: I think contemporary culture is pushing women and men to conformity. We all have the same phones, we all wear pretty much the same thing. Most of us just submit to society’s expectations, a mundane way of life. But contemporary art is a way to stand up and say, “This is how I am unique.” I may not be creative, and I can’t paint or I can’t draw, Lord knows, but I identify myself through my collection. When you come into my apartment it looks like no one else’s apartment. By the way, I think it’s also true with fashion. This is how we, in modern society, can express our individualism.

AB: Do you ever invite people to see your collection?

PH: Sure. It’s a part of who I am. I am proud of the work I have, and I like to share it. My wife and I have built a nice collection. But more often, I end up sharing with people my parent’s collection. When my parents open their collection there are things that they have to do: they have to welcome friends, they have to greet supporters of the Rema Hort Mann Foundation, they have to say hello to artists with whom they are close. They are really busy greeting people. So it fell upon me to give tours of their collection, and I was happy to do it. I enjoy talking about art. At first people would come in and they’d ask me, “What is your favorite piece?” And I’d start talking about it. Then I’d find myself giving a tour. Next thing I know people ask me, “Hey, you gave a tour last year, will you give another tour?” So I’ve become the tour guide of the collection, the docent, I guess. I’m happy to do it. I know many of the artists and I talk to them. If you’re relying on my parents to give tours the time they have to do it is much more limited than if I do the tour. I find myself giving the tour to organizations, museums, boards, curators and the like. Many of these people know far more about art than me, but what I have is home field advantage. For each hanging, I will literally call each artist, talk to them, and get an understanding of their work. So when I say, “this is what the artist is trying to convey...”, I can say it with confidence. It’s been fun. My wife curates the collection. I love to see what she comes up with year after year.

AB: How do you separate meaningful art elaborated in artist statements from art that cannot stand on its own without the statements?

PH: There’s this artist speak in artist statements, in gallery press releases and sometimes on museum walls. Now, I speak fairly good English. I understand every word in the statement. But when you string them together in the order that they put them in, I sometimes don’t understand what they’re talking about. I think that some artist statements are a little lofty. With that said, if you take the time to under- stand anything better, it’s usually more worthwhile. Getting to know a person better, you tend to like that person more. The more you know about an era, you’ll be more interested in the historical objects associated with that time period. If you go to Greece and you don’t understand its history, you’re miss- ing out. The Parthenon is impressive, but if you know the mythology, architecture, and history, it really makes it more interesting. There are some conceptual pieces I like, but it’s generally not my thing. I don’t have to love everything.. I don’t try to convince anyone that I am a genius in terms of art. I like what I like, it makes me happy, it makes me think, it interacts with me. If it is creative and well done, that’s sometimes just good enough for me. And of course, it’s all subject to my wife’s approval.

AB: Did you have a piece that you did not acquire that you regret you didn’t? One that got a way, so to speak?

PH: Yes. The fact is when it comes to art, my wants are greater than my means, but I try to be philosophical about missing out on a piece – I should not dwell on one missed purchase. I only have a finite amount of money and there is always something else. Generally speaking, I am interested in living artists. They’ll always make more, and if the next body of work is not very good, then I’ll probably be thankful that I missed out. I prefer collecting good artists rather than one hit wonders. There are a few pieces that I had a chance of purchasing and now regret not buying. One that lingers with me is a small Tom Otterness sculpture called ‘Free Speech’. I really loved the piece – the idea, the substance of it, and the form itself. Tom Otterness did a number of parks downtown here in lower Manhattan. There’s a frog he did outside of my kid’s school. His work reminds me of my children playing. Well, I was of- fered the piece. I passed; as it was more that I wanted to spend at the moment. After a few months of rethinking my decision, I re-approached the owner, and I learned that they had put it up at auction. I registered to bid, but it sold at Phillips for significantly more than the original price. I missed out, but still think about it. ‘Free Speech’, it’s a good idea, no? Some art pushes the envelope too far. In those cases, if I don’t like it, I walk away and sometimes I may not return to those galleries. But I’d rather live in a world where you can push freedom of expression than in a world where you can’t and someone else tells you what you can display.

AB: Can you give me an example of what you are referring to?

PH: I don’t want to offend any artists! But I’ll give you an example. A number of years ago, my parents were in their apartment with their grandchildren and asked get a photograph of the two grandparents with their grandchildren. There was a Thomas Ruff photograph behind them, unbeknownst to every- one. As I am taking the picture, I realize that my oldest daughter, who was probably seven or eight at the time, is standing there with a look on her face of utter disgust, pointing at the piece of artwork behind them. No one realized that behind them there was a picture of a naked woman, spread eagle, looking as though my father’s head is popping out of her vagina. Thomas Ruff is a great artist. He re- ally deserves the accolades and awards he gets, but I don’t think I’d bring my daughters to a Thomas Ruff opening, at least one I do not preview beforehand. It made my daughter uncomfortable. After- wards my mom, very nicely, said to my daughter, “Don’t worry dear, one day you will laugh at this and when you talk about your grandparents this is the picture you will show.” She’s probably right. Some of Mapplethorpe’s photographs make me uncomfortable, but again I’d rather live in a world where he could do that and pushes the edge, rather than living in a world where a government official tells you, “You can’t do that.” The price we pay for freedom is you see some crazy stuff.

AB: What about when your children grow up?

PH: They’ll make decisions for themselves.

AB: How does that affect you?

PH: My parents’ taste in art is not shy or quiet. There was a piece in the home that I grew up in and you literally had to step over or around it. It was this life size casting of a woman who looks like she’s battered on the floor and written on her all over in graffiti are these things that an abusive spouse or boyfriend would say like, “get me a beer, bitch,” or “shut the fuck up.” As I would walk into my childhood home with my friends, as they passed the piece, I would get the look, “Seriously?”. It’s fine, though. I think my brothers and sisters and I turned out alright.

AB: What have you learned from your parents?

PH: I don’t know if their lessons stuck when I was younger, but many of them certainly hold true now. I appreciate my parents’ teachings now that I’m older in most things, in art and in parenting. In terms of art, I really appreciate out-of-the box thinking, searching for creativity. Thinking about things in unique way, changes the thing. The Brillo Boxes and Campbell soup cans are sometimes not what they seem. Once we realize that art is all around us, if we open our eyes, you recognize more beauty in the world. Being surrounded by art as a kid helped open my eyes. In life it helped me understand that there is not always one solution to everything and perhaps if you look at it differently you can come up with other solutions. Artists do it all the time, looking at very mundane objects and pictures and they put their little spin on it and make them fabulous in a way that they weren’t before.

AB: What kind of art did your sister Rema love?

PH: She loved Fred Tomaselli, Sean Landers and Janine Antoni. She had a very early copy of Sean Landers book, “Art, Life and God”. She loved Kim Dingle. She thought her work was very aggressive, but playful. Do you know who Paul Andriesse is? He’s a successful gallerist in Amsterdam. He had a brother, Erik Andriesse, and he did some really interesting things. He primarily did work on paper. Unfortunately, Erik Andriesse had an aneurism, so he died very young. There’s not a large inventory of him, and my family may own a good percentage of it. There’s not a lot of talk surrounding his work because there is not a lot of inventory but he did some really beautiful, touching pieces. My sister loved him. My wife routinely hangs a piece of his in the collection every year.

AB: Explain to me the process of choosing the people who get grants.

PH: The Rema Hort Mann Foundation gives grants to people suffering with cancer to help enhance their support networks and we give grants to young artists, and I don’t mean age-wise, but in terms of their career - emerging artists. What we do is we have a group of nominators. These are art world professionals - professors, critics, curators, other artists - who, throughout the course of their day, see a lot of emerging art. They nominate artists that they think would be appropriate for the Foundation grant. The criteria is you cannot be in art school, you cannot be represented by a gallery, and you cannot have had a solo show in the area, whether New York or LA, where we give the grants. If they showed in Kalamazoo, Michigan, it won’t disqualify them. We then have a Blue Ribbon panel of selectors. The group rotates and, based on the submissions, they select a number of grants that we give out every year.

AB: In previous interviews, you said the art you buy should be something you are drawn to instinc- tively and that you should buy what you love. If people buy art based on insider information and create demand through speculation, doesn’t that conflict with the simple mantra of buy what you love?

PH: If I don’t love it, I don’t buy it. I think about the Disney movie, Ratatouille. It is a great movie about an artist’s need to create, although it is about a rat that wants to be a chef. Nevertheless, a critic in the movie, played by the great Peter O’Toole, remarks at one point, “I don’t like food; I love it. And if I don’t love it, I don’t swallow.” It’s that simple.

I understand that there are speculators out in the art market looking for the investment. I do think that good art is a great investment, but the truth of the matter is I do not generally sell art. In the end, I’m spending not an insignificant amount of money on art. So I look for value and work that is unique and well done. I am interested in is what I call “emerging museum tracked artists”. Over the long-haul, value is established by museums. There have been many fine artists over the last hundred years. The ones over the years who have achieved financial value are the ones who are represented in museums. If you look at the major contemporary art museums like the Museum of Modern Art in New York, or the Whitney, you can almost graph where the artists that they show come up from. You can see these feeder galleries. And these top shelf galleries get their artists from the same mid-career galleries. And those galleries find artists from emerging galleries in the Lower East Side and in Brooklyn. And it is at the beginning of this vortex where I look for art. Often times we feed the emerging galleries art. Generally speaking, I do not look at art created by people who do it for a hobby.

AB: Any tips for a new collector?

PH: Buy what you love. That is tip number one. Don’t feel pressure that you have to love something because everyone is talking about it. Get an education. Go to museums. Go to galleries. Try to under- stand the work better. Follow your own gut feelings. If everyone is talking about it, it means that you have to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

AB: What are the right questions to ask?

PH: Whatever comes to mind. You want to understand the work, the artist and his or her ideas. You want it to really speak to you. One of my favorite questions about abstract paintings is, “How do you know when you are finished?” The answers, by the way, lead to more questions, and lead to more thoughts. Oftentimes, that makes it more engaging.



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