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Art for Pleasure's Sake

Published Jan 11, 2005 - (Updated Dec 21, 2012)

If you’ve lost even one of your shirts in recent stock market debacles, you might plan differently in the future, putting some of your money into a more reliable investment – art. Not exactly what you expected to hear? Well, investing in the aesthetics of your home or office might be one of the most solid things you ever do. According to six prominent art collectors in Puerto Vallarta, art is passionate, whimsical and fantastical. But more importantly, it’s yours forever. No corporate mismanagement can strip it from you.

Nine years ago, Neal and Wyllie Maslan bought a condo in Puerto Vallarta and have averaged a visit a month ever since. But they’ve been collecting art for more than 30 years. It’s in the family blood – Neal’s father was an avid collector. Although Neal and Wyllie honed their skills on an extensive collection of verdite stone carvings from Zimbabwe, they have become increasingly knowledgeable about Mexican art over the years. Helpful and informed gallery owners in the city have played no small role in that experience. “We love the people in Mexico. We love the culture,” says Neal.

Their extensive art purchases include pieces by Marta Gilbert, Zuniga Sequiros and Guillermo Gomez, so much that their collection has spilled out of their homes in Los Angeles and Puerto Vallarta and into Neal’s professional world. If you walk into his Los Angeles office, one of the first things you’ll see hanging behind his desk is a painting of six jockeys astride six race horses. That painting sparks one of his earliest memories of art collecting.

Back in Richmond, Virginia, when he was around eight years old, Neal’s dad brought him along on a real estate transaction. He was selling a building that was formerly a tobacco factory. To his father’s delight, a James Reynolds painting, which had been used in ads for Chesterfield cigarettes in the 1920s, hung on one of the walls. But the piece by the famous American artist was not for sale. Not a problem. After some negotiation, it was decided that he would take the painting as a part of his real estate commission. Now, the painting and the memory belong to Neal.

Any advice for emerging collectors? “Buy what you like and buy it at the time,” says Neal. “Don’t wait. You might miss your chance. And, don’t buy it as a (financial) investment. It’s an investment in your pleasure, instead of pissing the money away in the stock market. Get to know one or two artists instead of buying a lot of one-offs.”

Among the savvy art collectors in Puerto Vallarta, you’ll find Skip and Joyce Hartvigson, who’ve been collecting art for more than 20 years. Their passion for art and Mexico is unmistakable. “Art speaks to us emotionally. It carries a message; there’s movement in it.” And they have been so embraced by the beauty and style of Puerto Vallarta during the past 19 years that they chose the theme “art on art” for their newly built condo in 1999. To achieve this goal, US artist Martha Holly Kimball advised them for two weeks. She also painted murals and sculpted walls. A large Capelo sculpture on the deck makes a bold statement. “It has courage. The size, color and depth of the piece show he’s stepped outside (artistic boundaries),” Skip explains.

They like to stretch creative limits, but their decisions are always in secure hands. In all of their business with art dealers, they have had no nightmares in shipping. “Even a large 150-pound Capelo ceramic was shipped to my office in Seattle without any problems. All of the shipping is usually done through the gallery,” recalls Skip. That has included pieces by Brewster Brockmann, Sergio Garval, Zamarripa and Esau Andrade.

On occasion, the couple buys right from the source. “We have been visiting the home of Capelo for the past nine years. At one time, he had a large sculpture we’d admired on several occasions. One night, after a few tequilas, we expressed appreciation of it, so he sold it to us and delivered it.”

What about the cost of art in Mexico as compared to the USA? ”Prices are much more reasonable in Mexico, but every bit as good,” says Skip. “Although, art should be judged by the impact it has on you, not by its price.” The couple has dozens of pieces in their homes in Seattle and Mexico, but they don’t like to boast about prices. “We’re humble and we don’t care to tell the prices. We buy for impact,” they maintain.

Charlotte MacMillan is somewhat of an authority on art in Mexico and around the world. She has traveled the globe for more than four decades, collecting art from Holland, Bali, Japan, the USA, Mexico and more. “I collect for the love of art, things I care for,” claims Charlotte. “I haven’t sold any pieces, and I don’t plan to.” In fact, Charlotte has collected so much art that her home in Seattle even has art on the ceiling.

“Over the years, all the galleries in Puerto Vallarta have been very helpful,” she says. But then, Charlotte may not have needed a lot of help. She holds a bachelor’s degree in art and a master’s degree in library sciences, starting out as a painter and eventually becoming a librarian.

The story of her own life has not been without surprise. She recalls a chance discovery in Holland, “It was funny. I was in Amsterdam. I had been walking around and then decided to go for a beer at a place marked “Heineken.” I thought it was a bar; I didn’t realize it had been turned into a gallery. Anyway, a Dutch artist from Rotterdam caught my eye, and I ended up buying two of his paintings.”

Transporting art costing from $1,000 to $18,000 USD from all over the world has never been a problem for Charlotte. “Federal Express is reliable, though a little expensive. If properly documented by the gallery, no import tax applies. So far, everything has been okay – nothing has been broken or lost when shipped from any country.” That’s right, not even from Mexico.

As for the price of art in Mexico, “Bronzes are a very good price and by very good artists,” claims Charlotte. “I’ve gone to museums and galleries all over the world, so I can tell if the price is right.”

Colunga, Tellosa, Ernesto Nunez Acosta, Alfredo Langarica and Patrick Denoun are just a few of the names in Charlotte’s vast collection. But how are you supposed to make your selections? “Buy something you want to see every day. Just start traveling, looking around and you’ll just know.”

Donna and Gilbert Johnson’s attachment to Puerto Vallarta was somewhat serendipitous. In 1997, three days after Gilbert’s retirement, they set sail from San Francisco en route to the Panama Canal. At their stop in Puerto Vallarta, they fell in love with Casa las Puertas, sold the boat and stayed.

Since that time, Mexican art, too, has captivated them. “Ninety percent of the time, we like a piece of art and then wonder where we can use it. Sometimes a piece is too big for the open design of our house, and so we can’t buy it.”
Not all of the famous works can be easily recognized in the Johnson home. Three childlike Rogelio Diaz pieces that hang in a downstairs bathroom have been misconstrued by at least one person. A visitor to the Johnson house during one of the International Friendship Club’s home tours remarked to his friend, “Look, they frame their children’s art. Isn’t that cute?”
Apparently, Diaz and Denoun also appear in person at the Johnson home. “Patrick Denoun comes over on his motorcycle with his wife on the back. He’s a typical Frenchman, using sweeping gestures and posing for us in front of his art. He was worried about the sand used in the painting in the kitchen, but got an appreciation of it in context with the custom-designed copper counter. He was very pleased with it.”

Among their favorite artists are Rogelio Diaz, Patrick Denoun and Sheila Devine. “We usually deal through a gallery when buying art, even though we know the artists. It’s best to buy through a gallery owner who’s well known. You might get something nice in the street, but you’re taking a chance. That’s if you’re serious about buying art.”

Serendipity can also play a role in finding art. On one visit to San Miguel, Gilbert, a self-proclaimed aficionado of bull fighting, came across “El Juli,” a lively watercolor painted by Vermillion in 1998. It features famous bullfighter Julian Lopez, who happened to be in San Miguel at the time. For Gilbert, that was a thrilling find.

Hinda and Jason Apple have been visiting Puerto Vallarta from Cleveland since 1958, when the population was just 5,900. But they’ve been collecting art for the past 52 years. According to Hinda, “When we fall in love with a piece of art, it’s gone. Art makes me feel good. I don’t feel possessive of it. I like touching it and looking at it. Looking at money doesn’t make me feel good. Some people collect to say they collect, but that’s not the same as collecting art.”

In their collection are works by Marta Gilbert, Alejandro Colunga, Sergio Bustamante, Francisco Sanmiguel, Edith Palombi, Tellosa, Gustovo Bravo and Feliciano Bejar. “I love the pieces I have, so I’m not thinking of resale; though I do get them reappraised from time to time for my kids. I know that the Colunga has doubled in value, and the Bustamentes have all increased in value.” Their collection numbers over 450 pieces, which range between $800 and $2,500 USD apiece.

“We buy art anywhere – in Mexico, Paris, Palm Beach, New York, Italy, Turkey, Hong Kong and Bangkok. In Greece, I bought boots,” she laughs. “We only buy art when we see something we like. Sometimes when I’m traveling, I don’t buy anything, not even clothes, because the place doesn’t have much, just great history. Sometimes I see marvelous stuff in museums, but I can’t buy it. I have to go to galleries.”

When comparing art purchases in Mexico to other parts of the world, Hinda speaks frankly, “You pay what they’re charging because that’s its worth. The artists need their money. They work very hard and suffer lots before they’re recognized. You can’t just give them credit; they need the money.”
Any advice for the emerging collector? “Find an artist you’ve been following and a gallery owner you trust. If buying a print, buy a low number. Love what you buy. Don’t buy for color alone, because it matches your furniture. Sometimes art is fascinating or horrifying, or the science of how it’s created makes it wonderful. Don’t just buy because it’s beautiful.”

Politically minded Canadians may wonder what their members of parliament do in retirement. Well, you’ll find one of them nestled in Nuevo Vallarta. Jennifer Cossitt has been coming to Puerto Vallarta since 1988 and began collecting art soon after she first built there in the 1980s.

“When I came to Puerto Vallarta, I started collecting more art than in the past. My lifestyle allowed me to indulge in my interest in art. The first Zamarripa I purchased had a strong pull for me. On the back of the sculpture he had carved crabs, and that’s my astrological sign – so I bought it.”

Since then she’s bought lots of art, some in the USA and some in Mexico. “Mexican prices are very competitive. I wouldn’t exactly call them a good deal, but they are a good value for what you’re paying. In Puerto Vallarta you can pay anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000 USD for art. It’s not just size and name that affects the price, Zamarripa’s materials can be very expensive.”

Like many other collectors, Jennifer falls for certain pieces. “If I like it and I have a place to put it, then I’ll buy it. Sometimes it catches my attention because it’s whimsical. I have a great interest in abstract art. Among her collection are Oscar Zamarripa, Marta Gilbert, Tellosa and Dominguez. I just go into galleries and look around. If I like a piece and have the money, then I purchase. It really boils down to what I like. I don’t consider what other people might think of it.”

Shipping hasn’t really been an issue for Jennifer, as she’s an intrepid driver between Canada and Mexico. “I’ve taken things to Canada and couldn’t use them there, so I purchased a condo and brought them all back again – myself.”

A little advice for people just getting into art? “Go for things you really enjoy,” says Jennifer. “Get into original pieces if you’re going to be a serious collector.” And that’s exactly what she’s done, creating her own environment. “I feel good when I’m surrounded by good quality art,” she muses.

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