Meet the Collector: Ann Schaffer


Ann Schaffer


What is your philosophy on collecting?

My philosophy on collecting is multi-layered. One: I have an encyclopedic collection from the early 1980s to the present. Two: I buy the works of artists that are very special to me as far as embodying my philosophical, visual, and conceptual needs. Three: I buy something that has a unique vocabulary—that if I saw it in someone else’s house, I would recognize who did it based on something that is unusual in the photographic process or some use of colors on a pallet or a way of readjusting the truth. Another way of saying this would be a unique vision.

What fascinates me is that after collecting this type of cutting-edge contemporary art for more than 25 years, I can still find new photography, new painting, new sculpture, new works on paper. Works on paper are another aspect of our collecting: my husband has much more of a minimal sensibility, and he also likes to know the origin of things. So he likes to see the way a drawing becomes an oil painting or a work on paper or sculpture on a grand scale.

You have your own way of hanging your art. Why did you decide to do it that way?

Because of the size of our collection, I had to find a way to have it make sense. Each of our rooms or areas has a theme or a similar medium or a sensibility.  Each work of art "speaks" to or enhances the other. I think the technical term for this type of hanging is called salon style, as compared to just unique pieces carrying a whole wall, breathing and shining. I have a wall of heads or a wall of drawings that relate to one another. When you first walk in, as you go through my home, everything emerges little by little. For me it’s conceptual—not about hanging the big piece in the hall. It’s a way to accommodate a lot of art and express my feelings about it..

How often do you rotate or sell pieces from your collection?

Most of what I own I would never sell. Early on I sold a Felix Gonzales-Torres “two light bulbs” and a few other things, I have regretted it ever since. People should sell art because they need the money, because they tire of it, or because they want to trade up.  I don’t think I have tired of anything I have bought. Also, I don’t buy for investment. I do want to think that what I own will appreciate, but if it doesn’t, I am still going to love it.

Why did you choose to collect the works of emerging artists?

If you don’t buy works by emerging artists, they will never become mid-career or fully-grown artists. They all have to be given a chance. But I don’t just buy emerging artists because I feel sorry for them. I only buy their work if I feel that they should be given the opportunity to go on because they are doing something with a fresh vocabulary or a different way of painting or drawing. And there are plenty of artists who should be given that opportunity, in my opinion. But I also buy mid-career artists and ones who are established.

Is it true that you give museum tours of your house?

Yes. I give tours on a regular basis to patron groups of museums or non-profit organizations, as well as various charities, churches and synagogues that are looking for a way to raise money for their institutions. So they charge to have people go on tours of homes that have an interesting art collection. I find it very gratifying because, when touring my home, most people ask intelligent questions; and they get to see art in a different way, because they couldn’t imagine hanging something that is so bizarre or cutting edge or strange; and some people may think, “Oh my gosh, I have something like that that I could hang in my home, and it would look interesting,” so for me it’s for the most part very gratifying.

Has your taste at all changed in your 25 years of collecting?

I think that from the very beginning I was willing and able to take a risk. Also, my husband never held me back, and my kids were no more destructive than anyone else’s. So I took a chance: I put things on the floor, hung them from the ceiling, stood them up in corners. And I embraced works that just totally challenged me intellectually or emotionally. And as I walk by many of these art works everyday, they take on new meanings, and sometimes I just go to a room in my house that I haven’t been in a long time and just enjoy looking and thinking.

Did you ever buy a piece of art that was atypical of an artist’s style because you loved it? Or do you always stay true to what they are known for?

If I go to a show of an emerging artist or a mid-career artist and I can stand there literally trying to decide among many, I know this is an artist for me.  If there is only one piece that I like, I say to myself, “Am I liking this for the wrong reason.” Like, I love hearts, so maybe there would be a heart in it and I think that I have to have that even if there is no other artwork in the show that I think is also good. I don’t buy the artist even if I like the one piece, because I feel as though there is not enough of what that artist does that holds my attention or has a unique vision or vocabulary.

That’s what often happens when you get drawn into something that is visually appealing, and then you have to stop and say to yourself, “Picture this on an auction block. Is anyone else going to want this or is it going to look like everything else that you see?” So I usually know right away that I like something, but I usually spend a few minutes asking myself if I’ll like it next year. For me, at this stage of my collecting, it has to be something that’s going to stand out.

How do you think the art-collecting business has changed since you started collecting?

When I started collecting contemporary cutting edge art 28 years ago, only 10 percent of all art collectors collected this type of art. And you could spend an afternoon in SoHo, see all of the shows, and just really enjoy yourself and take chances on buying, whether it was a Jean-Michel Basquiat on the floor  in a gallery or a Keith Haring drawing in a drawer. And you knew you were looking at things that were different from what you had seen years before. But now, in addition to having over 350 galleries in Chelsea—still more in SoHo, still more in the UES the LES, DUMBO, Long Island City, and so on— you have a huge amount of art out there and different types of buyers, a lot more collectors, many of whom are buying because they have money and their consultants tell them to do so, an article or a review tells them to buy it, or a neighbor just bought one. They often don’t even have the challenge and the wonderful experience of the quest. Some just put it directly to storage.

There are also arts fairs all over the world. We now have a major art fair almost every month, whether it’s in Spain or England or New York or Miami. I do understand that for people who can’t go to Chelsea, as I do every week or every other week, the art fairs provide a chance for them to—I hate to use the expression—“one stop shop,” but they can see a lot of art. For me the only value of the art fairs is to see, face-to-face, a dealer from France or Spain or Italy whom I really like and with whom I have done business  and whose works I collect. But I must admit that I do like to be loyal to American galleries if they carry the same artist as a foreign dealer. Now when I do buy, I really have to spend much more time thinking about why I want to purchase something or why I want to have something be part of my collection. And it just could be some art work of some unknown artist that maybe is in Newark or part of a show that I curate in Summit, NJ every year at the art center where we show a hundred or more artists, many of whom don’t show with galleries and whose works are often superior to those of many well-known artists who show in Chelsea.

Is there any piece of art that you feel got away from you that you would like to own?

Oh I am sure there are plenty, but I don’t like to think that way. Sometimes when I am looking , I put a reserve on a piece immediately if I really think I might want it. That doesn’t mean I am always going to buy it, but it means that at least I am preserving the chance to think about it over a few days. That’s what I try to tell people who are looking: it doesn’t cost anything to put a reserve, but you have to be fair to the gallery and honor that privilege in a day or two and not just keep leading them on.

What advice would you give to emerging artists?

There is a lot of luck involved. It has a lot to do with whom you know and who can help you meet gallerists. But what I would say is that when you finally have that MFA, you’ve done all of your work and all of your experimentation under a safety net with the school and your professors,  you might not need to be taken in immediately by a gallery until you are sure of what your style or what your method of painting or photography or whatever is, because if you look at most of the well known modernist painters they all painted the same way initially because of what they learned in school and then they developed their own special technique or their own special vocabulary. Sometimes an artist can be stopped in his or her tracks because his or her only goal is to be represented by a gallery the second they get out of school. I can understand from a financial point of view they want to be represented, but they might be better off working in a gallery or working in a museum or working someplace while they are still painting or drawing or photographing and finding their voice.

How important is graduate school?

When I went to college, my father told me that the importance of college is to learn to grow more gracefully over four years  and learn how to find answers.  I think that anyone who goes for an MFA—who can afford to go for an MFA—the benefit is that there they can work with different mediums, some good teachers, and they can learn more about who they are. Also, a residency is fabulous: many great artists are lucky enough to have a three-year residency, and then, because of where they are, they can get picked up more readily by a good gallery. So I think both are important.

How do collectors treat other collectors?

That’s a huge question. Some can’t wait to call you or tell you “Oh, I found this fabulous artist you should go look at it.” But most of them try to keep their finds and their secrets to themselves. Sometimes if somebody says to me, “I want to tell you about this artist that you should buy,” I am leery about it because I think they are saying it because they want more people to buy the artist because they want that artist to become better known, so I judge by who the messenger is and then decide after seeing the work and liking it independent of what I have been told. I go to a lot of dinners for artists when they have their shows, and sit among the collectors and artists and exchange ideas. I respect a lot of collectors who collect with the right spirit and the right quest for new things and who get passionate the way that I do when I see something that I can’t stop thinking about.

Is there any advice you would give to a young collector?

Look at art, go to the galleries, and maybe not buy anything even for a year until you have developed in your own mind—what it is that rocks your world, what touches your soul. You like something, take a picture of it, pin it on the wall, walk by it for a couple of days and see if it still stimulates you, and then you will see threads developing. The pieces you collect have to talk to each other in a way that is not boring, so mix your mediums. Change it up a bit so that it stays alive, stays challenging, and stays interesting.



  • Trustee of the NJ State of Israel Bonds / Women’s Division
  • Trustee of the United Jewish Federation of Metrowest, American Jewish Committee, and Congregation Beth El.
  • Trustee and Chair of the Art Committee / Montclair Art Museum
  • Trustee on the Board of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey
  • Alumni Correspondent, Class Agent, Prospective Student Interviewer at Skidmore College
  • National Advisory Council and Chair of Acquisitions and Collections Committee of Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery
  • Photography and Art Selection Committee of the Guggenheim Museum
  • Advisory Committee of the Opportunity Project, an Organization that helps to empower persons with acquired brain injuries
  • Trustee, Associate, Exhibitions Partner and Executive Committee Member of ICI, Independent Curators International.
  • 2011 Honoree:  Aljira, a Contemporary Art Space in Newark, NJ
  • Art Table:  Women in the Arts Organization
  • Founder of the Rachel Coalition, an organization to combat domestic violence
  • Curator of the Annual Art Show, Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, Summit, NJ
  • Teacher, Consultant and Advisor of Contemporary Art Appreciation and Acquisition




Meet the Photographer: Russel James

Meet the Photographer: Sara Greenberger Rafferty