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December 21, 2014

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Q+A: LIBBY LUMPKIN :

The art of collecting

Museum director says Vegas aficionados do it big and with passion

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Tiffany Brown

Libby Lumpkin, director of the Las Vegas Art Museum, says passion, not greed, drives most art collecting, and the passionate collector is usually both more discerning and more successful.

Beyond the Sun

If You Go

  • What: “Las Vegas Collects Contemporary”
  • When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 26
  • Where: Las Vegas Art Museum, 9600 W. Sahara Ave.
  • Admission: $6; $5 for seniors; $3 for students with identification; free for children under 12; 360-8000 or www.lasvegasartmuseum.org
  • Also: Collectors Panel: Glenn Schaeffer, Lee Cagley and Anthony Spiegel (moderated by Dave Hickey); 6 tonight; $7

It’s the perfect time for Libby Lumpkin, executive director of the Las Vegas Art Museum, to talk about collecting.

The museum’s current show, “Las Vegas Collects Contemporary,” features notable works from local art collections: Warhol’s “$,” Anish Kapoor’s “Wound” and Basquiat’s “Warrior,” to name a few. Tonight the museum will host a panel with collectors Glenn Schaeffer, Lee Cagley and Anthony Spiegel, moderated by art critic Dave Hickey.

And, the museum is in line to receive 50 pieces of contemporary art from the Herbert and Dorothy Vogel collection as part of the Fifty Works for Fifty States national gifting program. The program was initiated by the Vogels, longtime collectors of modest means, and the National Gallery of Art.

How do collectors influence our community?

The development of the resorts, for one. Glenn Schaeffer (Fontainebleau Las Vegas) will be incorporating very significant contemporary art into the building and will have contemporary art as a big part of the attractions. Glenn has been ranked by Vanity Fair as one of the top collectors in the country. Collector Jim Murren is at MGM overseeing CityCenter and they recently announced their $40 million investment in significant contemporary art. The Fertittas, both Frank and Lorenzo, have integrated contemporary art at Red Rock. When Steve and Elaine Wynn opened the Bellagio Gallery and shared their incredible collection of masterpieces with the general public, it transformed the relationship with fine art and Las Vegas and collecting.

And the museum?

The Southern California minimalist exhibit — two-thirds of that exhibition was borrowed locally. These were very precious works of art and that work is really challenging for the general public.

What about public art?

Sophisticated collectors are prominent citizens and valuable advocates. When the community, the city, county or state decides to put money into public art projects, collectors help ensure that the money is well spent, that the work has educational value and lasting heritage value for the community.

What dominates local collections?

Contemporary art. Big, famous names. The largest collections are devoted to artists at the very top end of the market. There are also very individual collections and collections that are subdued and understated. Works by Vija Celmins, Agnes Martin. Uta Barth. Very thoughtful, somber, very subtle.

Any surprises?

The biggest surprise was to see the enormity of some recent collections and the depth by people who have been collecting for only two to three years. Many of these collections are very easily ranked on the world scale of great collections. This is so Vegas. It’s big. It’s bold. Wynn just overnight created one of the significant private collections of modern art in the world, and other collectors are doing that.

What is a big collecting myth?

That people buy art just for investment value. There are those in this world that do because they’ve seen it pay off so handsomely, but I have met many collectors and very few of them do that just for investment.

What are investment collections like?

The ones who collect out of passion have always been the more successful collectors. The ones who have invested for investment purposes have typically not had success. Passion leads to expertise and you don’t rely on advisers, (who) typically are interested parties who have a stake in selling something. I have never known someone who has entirely relied on an adviser and profited. The passionate collector simply becomes more discerning. There can be a great artist, but a great artist doesn’t always have a great moment with every work of art. The piece you want is the great work by the great artist. The discerning collector recognizes that when they see it.

Do you need a lot of money to collect?

No. Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, of very modest means, have been enormously successful collectors. They started their collection in the early ’60s. He was a postal worker. She was a librarian. They became extraordinarily discerning. Their strategy was to focus on the emerging artists. They were always in it for the joy.

Any advice for people interested in collecting?

Start looking at art. In the visual arts we actually learn by looking. It begins to seep into your mind even if you don’t read about art. But typically what happens is you develop an interest and so you read what critics and art theorists have to say. The Vogels had great instincts and they went to the right galleries. What separates fine contemporary art from decorative contemporary art is that fine artists are engaged in the contemporary philosophical discourse. Every work of art proposes a vision of the world, a way to see the world.

How has the economy affected collecting?

Ten years ago Americans were the collectors. Now most collectors are from Russia, the Middle East and China. Some say that there are enough rich Russians, Middle Easterners and Chinese now that the market will hold strong. I don’t think that’s true. I think we’re going to see the incredible mess we’ve made of our economy ripple through the entire world and that will ultimately affect the art market.

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