The Heart of Collecting
Published Feb 10, 2006 - (Updated Dec 19, 2012)
Vallarta is amassing an impressive collection of art collectors, and “Lifestyles” has interviewed a number of them for previous articles. The collectors featured in this issue let their interests take them far afield, and the galleries – Dante, Corsica, Pacifico, Arte Latinoamericano, Omar Alonso and T. Fuller Pentecost – have been generous in providing names of clients who buy from many other places besides their own. As Vallarta the metropolis grows, so does its reputation as an “artropolis.” Works by Mexican and non-Mexican artists alike are gaining visibility worldwide, as collectors, like migrating birds, drop the seeds of artwork into international fields.
The collectors themselves, like artists, do not fit into any one category. For most of them, the inspiration and desire to collect began in childhood. That desire grew across all boundaries and covers all cultures, ages, lifestyles and perspectives. And the keynotes are a passion for the work of passionate artists, the sensations that are drawn forth by the finished process and, as collector Walter Haas puts it, “the curiosity that keeps us alive and growing.”
Our only regret is that there is not enough space to express the depth and richness of each interview, nor can we do service to the many more collectors who acquire work in Vallarta to take home to other countries – people such as Linda and Steven Krensky of Baltimore, who enjoy fame among the galleries for their prodigious appreciation of Mexican art.
Retired schoolteacher Steve Tober remembers the first things he collected as a young boy: a totem pole and the bottom half of an Egyptian statue, purchased from the Brooklyn Museum for a dollar a piece. The next major thing he acquired was a painting of a crucifixion scene when he was first married. As he told his young bride, nearly dragging her from the subway station to the gallery, “I really want this painting – it can be my birthday, wedding and anniversary present.” The painting, on prominent display in their New York apartment, caused great consternation at the first gathering of their Jewish families, thereby upholding the precept that art provokes great emotion. Did Steve bow to family pressure? Well, he still owns the painting many years after that memorable occasion.
Steve hosts an eclectic mix of work in his Vallarta condominium, as he does in his apartment in New York. Represented are Rogelio Diaz, Bill Megrail, Luis Espiridión, Guillermo Gómez, Oscar and daughter Ali Zamarippa, Alfredo Langarica, Israel Zzepda and Sergio Garval.
Steve remembers an opening at Galleria Dante, when he circled a sculpture of two torsos by Luis Espiridión, haunted by something about it. He had been all set to purchase a painting by another artist, but kept coming back to the sculpture. After circling around it both literally and figuratively, he said to Luis, “This sculpture reminds me of the Twin Towers in New York.”
“Yes!” exclaimed Luis, “That is exactly what it is – my memorial to the Towers.”
And home with Steve went the sculpture.
Most of the work in Steve’s collection reflects a whimsical side to his nature, and Steve enjoys hearing the stories behind the work: what was the inspiration, the occasion, the motivation. If the artist can’t or won’t say what the story might be, Steve makes up his own version.
Barbara & Larry Greenberg
Barbara and Larry Greenberg remember Vallarta when it was a town of 24,000 inhabitants. That was 30 years ago, when they made their first art purchase, an original signed lithograph by Manuel Lepe, and they credit the late artist for the start of the art scene in Vallarta. They have enormous respect for Marta Gilbert, represented at Galeria Arte LatinoAmericano, and her paintings grace the walls of their home in the United States as well as their condominium in Vallarta. For them, it is, as Barbara says, “like having a bit of Mexico in Ohio.”
Their early enthusiasm for color was inspired by Gilbert’s work, and they painted their condo in the same vibrant colors as those of her palette. These days, they prefer the soft, deep, neutral tones that complement the variety of work strategically placed around the condominium.
Gilbert’s painting, “Las Cuatro Marias,” holds court as the centerpiece of their eclectic collection. Adjoining walls feature work by Yolanda Maroquin and Tellosa. They have a number of Billy Moon sculptures and tables – one table, glass top included, costing more to ship to Ohio than the piece itself. There is a pair of vibrant paintings featuring zebras and giraffes done by Regina, one of the artists represented by Debra La Costa. At Debra’s gallery, one can commission work from artists who will create a painting to order. Barbara’s own work adorns the walls, and she finds that her own process as a painter helps her to better appreciate the work of artists.
The Greenbergs don’t believe in buying art for investment, and their advice to new collectors is “Don’t worry about making mistakes – just hang in there anyway.”
The all-encompassing advice we got from the collectors is best summed up by Ted Pentecost, “Buy from the heart and don’t feel bad about not being able to afford the Mona Lisa. Understand yourself, know your pocketbook and look. In the words of photographer Lee Friedlander, ‘What you see is what you get.’”
Gerald & Shelley Rapp
Gerald and Shelley Rapp got their start at collecting as a young married couple living in Rochester, New York. Clocks were their early passion, and they once attempted to synchronize 13 of them to chime at the same time. The clocks, however, defied organization; and we leave you to image the result.
From time to time, they have made the necessary, but painful, decision to rollover some of their collection. As difficult as the decision was to make, in 2004 they put up their collection of clocks and some of the pieces of folk art for auction. As Shelley says, “It still hurts.”
Since Gerald worked for many years as an agent for illustrators, they prefer to collect objects, although they do own a number of paintings, such as “La Buenona” by Alfredo Langarica. They have playfully juxtaposed the bottom half of an antique torso next to the painting, which features the top half of a torso.
Their home in Vallarta reflects their enchantment with Old Mexico. Built in the Liz Taylor-Richard Burton era, the house reflects the romantic charm of brick and rustic tile – not for them the polished granite countertops and slick marble floors of contemporary architecture. They buy primitive antique furniture to house and complement the antique Santos, cigar store figures, folk art masks and Spanish angels of the eighteenth century they buy in such places as San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, often stopping to “shop on the road.” Currently, some of the bedrooms of the house feature old Mexican movie posters from the ‘50s that Gerald found on eBay, and those will gradually be replaced by paintings and objects as they discover them. They prefer to let the rooms themselves guide them to whatever new works will feel like home.
Similar in their tastes for primitive and folk art, of the two, Shelley’s is the voice of reason that keeps the collection to a manageable size, although, as she says with a laugh, “I give in a lot.”
Ted Pentecost’s introduction into the art world was through the first art history class he ever took, while stationed in the military at Moffat Field. He credits his eye for art to the teacher, who encouraged him to really look at what he was seeing. As he claims, “She gave me eyes to see and understand.”
Initially, Ted’s taste ran to the conservative – and to the limits of what a military paycheck could reach. With that, and the words of his teacher ringing in his ears, he bought art posters and work purchased at charity auctions. One of his first memorable purchases was acquired at such a benefit in 1971, and he is as proud of that colored pencil sketch done by a child as he is of his other fine works of art.
He also owns a condominium in Texas, where he enjoys working with the Museum of Fine Art of Houston, promoting young Mexican artists. Thanks largely to his efforts, the museum added a number of Mexican ceramics to their permanent collection. Ted believes it is important to understand the history and culture that gives birth to each art piece. As he says, “To separate a painting or any piece out from its history and culture is to do oneself and the work a disservice.”
Ted’s extensive personal collection includes works by Tellosa, Capelo, Oscar Zamarripa, minimalist painter Chad Buck, Davis Birks’ provoking canvases, the ceramics of Manuel Morales, copper from Aldon Ponzo and a work by Anatoly Krasnyanky, one-time leader of the Union of Soviet Union Painters, who defected to the USA in the ‘70s.
We were intrigued by the paintings and mixed media sculptural work of 76-year-old Lacy Hedrick, who made the transition from painting to three-dimensional works as he began losing his eyesight. Hedrick now works entirely by touch, and the results are beautiful and lyrical.
Larry Sheldon & Len Greenough
Len Greenough and Larry Sheldon bought their original condo four years ago and settled here permanently after three years of regular commuting between Vallarta and Atlanta.
When they chose to build a new house, Len says, “We decided that since we’ve got a blank slate, let’s do it as eclectic as possible.” Each piece they own will have its special place in the new house, including work they are bringing from Atlanta. They are looking forward to bringing home a Sergio Bustamante piece, a smaller version of “In Search of Reason,” the intriguing sculpture on the Malecon of spirits climbing a ladder to the heavens. They are equally eager to place one of Jorge Marin’s sculptures, for which they redesigned the staircase in the house, and a Bustamante ceramic, “Sol Endemoniado.”
Len relates an interesting story about the piece. In a painful lesson about the effects of humidity, they returned to Vallarta after one summer to find their first copy of “Sol Endemoniado,” number 13/100, lying “smashed to smithereens” and spread over the floor. “We went back to the Bustamante gallery and consider ourselves lucky to have found this copy, which is number 1/100. He was way back in a corner on the second floor, covered in burlap and just waiting for us to find him.”
They love everything they find at Galeria Corsica, and sometimes their biggest challenge is restraining buying impulses. Larry is most often the one to say to Len, “And you want it for where?”
As for art in Vallarta, they have this to say, “We find a lot of the work here bright, cheery and different. When we’re collecting in the States everything seems the same.”
Hannah & Ron Nunn
Hannah and Ron Nunn remember the days when there were but two or three galleries just beginning to show the fine work that abounds in Mexico. One of their first buys was a piece by Serrano, which they took back to the Napa Valley, only to return with it once they established their condo here.
The Nunns collect work by Tellosa, Serrano, Luis Solorio Ramirez, Daniel Palma, Perro Prieto and Evelyn Boren, with whom Ron took watercolor classes in Sayulita and France. Included in their collection is a 100-plus-year-old water storage vessel from the Nahuatl culture of San Augustin Oapan, as well as a few of Ron’s watercolors.
One of their favorite stories is about their discovery of a young artist painting in a location just around the corner from Cine Bahía. There, in that “tiny and ratty” place, they discovered magnificent paintings stacked against a wall. A year later they returned, and the hopeful artist brought the paintings to their newly acquired home. The Nunns bought all three of the pieces Brewster Brockmann delivered that day 10 years ago, and that is where Galeria Uno founder Jan Lavender first saw the work of one of Vallarta’s premier Mexican artists. “Within hours,” says Hannah, “Jan contacted Brewster and booked him for a show in the gallery.” In such serendipitous fashion are struggling artists often discovered.
The Nunns have great admiration for Brockmann and feel that Galeria Pacifico, where Brockmann’s work is now represented, holds a major artist in its hands. “We find Brewster’s work very intriguing; we keep looking at the paintings and seeing things fresh and new – it keeps us on our mental toes,” says Hannah.
Walter Haas lives in a spacious cosmopolitan dwelling filled with colorful and original furniture from the ‘60s, as well as a number of playfully elegant Bustamente pieces. Bringing additional harmony to the space are fine paintings and sculptures by such notable artists as Julio Galán, Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera and Wouter Deruytter, a Belgian photographer whose works featuring Crow warriors have an Old West feel about them.
Also figuring largely in Haas’ home is the work of Pierre & Gilles, a young Parisian duo that produces altered color photographs on aluminum. These intense, large-scale pieces are a hybrid style of art that crosses surrealism with a taste of sci-fi. Walter was once persuaded to sell one of his many Pierre & Gilles works to a fellow collector. He came to regret it; and when the piece came up at auction several years later, he was astounded to see how high the value had climbed.
He remarked on what a difference auctions can make to an artist’s career. “Auctions provide an excellent opportunity for an artist’s work to be seen and exposed to collectors and dealers who frequent the auction scene. The subsequent bidding can have a tremendous effect on the value of an artist’s work.”
Walter remembers the nasty days of the ‘80s, when artwork was traded back and forth on a ballooning market reminiscent of junk bond dealing. It was a damaging time for many artists, when their work was traded for bloated prices rather than an appreciation of the intrinsic value of the work. Thankfully, since then we have seen a return to informed buying by collectors who appreciate art for its own sake. He finds that collectors often know more about the work than do art dealers, as their personal interest in the work arouses them to do more than average research.
Haas travels between Vallarta, New York and Paris, where he has major business concerns as advisor and facilitator to other collectors. His keen eye and meticulous sense of composition and detail also serve him well in his own work as a photographer. The curious explorer within inspires his venture into figurative photography, and the images on his studio walls are mesmerizing.