From artists, to museum curators, and gallery owners, Pittsburgh talent tells all on how to start an art collection
BY ANDREA BOSCO
It’s no question we love to surround ourselves with beautiful things — whether it’s with a piece of artwork, a refurbished consignment find, exquisite threads, or fresh flowers. Given these aesthetic choices, our quality of life is impacted, as are the lives of the artists and vendors we support. We looked to expressive leaders in the local art scene for tips and perspective on filling our blank-canvas spaces with art we adore.
Barbara Luderowski, Founding Director, + Michael Olijnyk, Co-Director, the Mattress Factory Museum
On October 10, the Mattress Factory Museum’s 35th Anniversary Art Auction will feature more than 50 original works of art by 600 in-residence artists over the museum’s history. In 1975, its founding director, Barbara, acquired the abandoned six-story warehouse. In 1978, Olijnyk, now co-director, rented studio space. The iconic pair and repository continues to present contemporary art “you can get into.”
Theresa Bayer, Owner and Interior Designer, Schafer Interiors & Fine Art Gallery
Due to demand for art on full-furnished design jobs, Theresa Bayer opened Schafer Interiors & Fine Art Gallery in Mt. Lebanon 26 years ago. “I educated myself throughout the years and grew into it,” she says. “The public was really looking for fine art, and my business continued to grow as I became braver with selling finer pieces.” Like her business, her home reflects her gallery’s interior. “If there’s a wall, there’s a piece of artwork.”
WHIRL: As per clientele, what are your most popular pieces?
TB: I would say abstract impressionism. People who are interested in art aren’t just looking for a print to add color to a room. It has to relate to them and what they’ve experienced — what they know and where they’ve been. Most of my customers have really looked into art and know what they like. It doesn’t have to be a Picasso price, but it does have to be relatable.
WHIRL: Are there current trends in collecting art?
TB: Today, the trend is more contemporary — more abstract impressionism versus the very museum look. People are looking for lighter, not as serious lines and design. They want to be happy, free, and purchase something beautiful. I think the most interesting look is a mix — contemporary art with very traditional furniture.
WHIRL: What is your advice to new collectors?
TB: If they are in the market for artwork, they don’t have to necessarily match their fabric with their art. I have many clients that will buy artwork first. You have to be moved by the piece. If you love it, go by instinct. It’ll really do something for your surroundings.
Schafer Interiors & Fine Art Gallery, 320 Castle Shannon Blvd., Mt. Lebanon, 412.344.0233. schaferhomegallery.com.
Burton Morris, Pop Artist
Pittsburgh native Burton Morris is being recognized for 25 years of pop art creations on an international scale. Through February 24, 2014, Poptastic! The Art of Burton Morris, a major exhibit, is on display at Senator John Heinz History Center. The recent cancer survivor has been commissioned by CHANEL, Perrier, Kellogg’s, and countless others.
WHIRL: What is the first step to collecting art?|
BM: You should think about what you like and where you are going to put it. Ask yourself: Does it satisfy me? What does it represent? Does it take me to a special place? You’ll want to research, evaluate, and decide what’s meaningful to you. Some people collect for investment; some people collect because they love the aesthetic. Or, it’s something they can’t live without, which is personally my favorite.
WHIRL: As an artist, what do you gravitate toward when buying others’ work?
BM: I’m very visual, so naturally I enjoy different art styles and ways people paint, create, and design. It could be a realistic painting; it could be an abstract; it could be a graphic work. It just depends on the kind of person you are. I’m known as a pop artist and have been to other collectors’ homes where what they collect is all over the board. They’ll have really abstract work, a really graphic, pop piece, and something very simple.
WHIRL: What does one do on a budget?
BM: If you have $100,000, $10,000, or $1,000, it makes a difference in the kind of art you might find. But, you have to look. It’s important that it strikes a chord inside of you. Go to art galleries and shows, and educate yourself on what’s out there and how much things cost. I’ve done pieces where I have an edition of 50 or 60 of the same piece and they go for a couple thousand dollars.
WHIRL: Do you have a favorite gallery or go-to place to purchase art in Pittsburgh?
BM: Mendelson Art Gallery, James Gallery, Maser Gallery — so many have popped up. And, if you go to the Mattress Factory Museum, or the Carnegie, or Heinz History Center, you see so many different types of art. In Lawrenceville, there are a lot of new galleries and younger artists. When I began to show my artwork 20 years ago, several Pittsburgh galleries helped get behind me and my work. Today, I show in multiple galleries worldwide and have been very fortunate to see my artwork displayed internationally.
Burton Morris, burtonmorris.com.
Dave Klug, Illustrator and Artist
For 25 years, popular illustrator Dave Klug has captured the eyes of readers on a large scale. His work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, and Readers Digest and Scholastic. A self-proclaimed animal lover, his line of cards, stationery, posters, and office and promotional materials for the veterinary pet care industry is available at local — Bottlebrush Gallery & Shop, Lee Heckman Custom Framing & Gallery, and More Than Words Fine Papers — and national retailers.
WHIRL: What inspires you?
DK: Pretty much everything I see — from early pre-historic drawings to impressionist, to everyday objects.
WHIRL: Why is it that people purchase art?
DK: I think they want to see things that make them happy and things that put them in a positive mood.
WHIRL: Explain your passion for animal-influenced artwork.
DK: The personalities of the subjects and their “live-for-the-moment” attitude relay to great imagery in my head. I usually take on their character and speak for them while I work on it.
WHIRL: What are your best sellers?
DK: It always varies, but right now I have a few pieces that are take-offs of classic masterpiece paintings, including “Whistler’s Dog,” “American Shorthair Gothic,” and “Van Dog’s Self-Portrait.”
WHIRL: What tips do you have for those who are interested in starting an art collection?
DK: Choose selectively and vary the items, complementing each other. For instance, we have in our home a 1930s oil painting of cowboys fighting that was used as a magazine cover, next to it is a Christopher Wool print, which is modern black and white circular lines, but the juxtaposition works great. Have fun with it.
Dave Klug, klugworld.com.
Eric Shiner, Director, the Andy Warhol Museum
Originally from New Castle, art historian Eric Shiner spent his youth plucking great finds from flea markets. He grew up next door to the family business — Sotus Candies — and eventually attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he had the opportunity to study abroad in Japan. Following graduation, Shiner interned at The Warhol, then, on a prestigious scholarship, attended graduate school at Osaka University. As director of The Warhol since 2011, he blurs the line between art and business — as Warhol did.
WHIRL: Can you explain how you got started collecting art personally?
ES: My family collected art and antiques, and I always liked scouring yard sales and flea markets for cool and unusual objects, so I guess I was infected with the “bug” for collecting at an early age. I bought my first real work of art when I was a graduate student at Osaka University in Japan. It was a photographic triptych embedded in thick Plexiglas cubes from Miwa Yanagi’s “Elevator Girls” series. I just fell in love with the piece when I saw it at MEM Gallery in Osaka, and I took the plunge and paid the, at the time (for me), huge price of $500. Luckily, it’s worth much more today.
WHIRL: What genre of art attracts your liking?
ES: I tend to collect in four main categories: Portraiture, text-based art, Japanese art, and radical art with a social justice angle.
WHIRL: What’s the first step in starting a collection?
ES: Realizing from the get-go that once you start, you aren’t going to be able to stop. So make a commitment to spending too much money on art (which can potentially be an investment) and make sure that you have lots of wall space available. But, seriously, the most important thing is having the passion and desire to live with art, and to buy art that speaks to you and is meaningful to you.
WHIRL: What tips do you have for someone looking to start a collection?
ES: Visit as many museum exhibitions and gallery shows as you can to develop your eye and to figure out what you like. You might be a “Japanese woodblock prints” person or a “contemporary art” person, but you need to figure that out, and the best way to do that is to spend as much time with art as you can in spaces that aren’t your house. It will become apparent what kinds of things you are attracted to, and ultimately, what you will want to live with.
WHIRL: What about Andy Warhol and the museum have most inspired you?
ES: I pinch myself every day. I have one of the best jobs in the world and am extremely honored to have this job, keeping Warhol’s legacy alive and promoting it around the world. He was a true innovator who had irons in a multitude of fires. I respect him for his hard work and dedication, as well as his commitment to democratizing art for the everyday person. Here at the museum, my team’s passion and skill sets are what inspire me on a daily basis.
The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Shore. 412.237.8300. warhol.org.
Jena-Anne Sabom, Artist, Stylist, Educator, + Fashion Designer
Jena-Anne Sabom splits her time between Mt. Washington and Midtown Manhattan creating “just about anything,” from murals to oil paintings to alternative Steelers gear (She’s designed for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s Madcap Masquerade, the Gwen’s Girls Fashion Show, and the mural and hand-sculpted water wall at CAVO!). Employed at The Andy Warhol Museum, she says, “I love new challenges and Pittsburgh is a great place to create.” — Katherine Christoff
WHIRL: What tips would you advise on collecting art?
JS: Buy what you like! Do some research on the artist to find out what you’re purchasing and where it’s coming from. It should touch your soul and spirit in some way. Support local artists — you’ll bring something original into your home versus the mass-produced look. You’re taking care of it and letting it take care of you.
WHIRL: What does one do on a budget?
JS: That’s where research comes in and there are a lot of good resources online. Buy something you’ll enjoy and something that will make you happy in the space you’re living in. It doesn’t have to be something that’s going to increase in value down the road, but something that you’re going to be happy with given the amount you spent.
WHIRL: What do you collect?
JS: When I lived in Nashville, I acquired some pieces from a local artist. I have some from New York and Canada, where a good friend of mine is an artist. Many of my friends are talented artists and I have been lucky enough to obtain their work.
Jena-Anne Sabom, sabom.see.me.
Maria DeSimone Prascak, Owner and Artist, Maria’s Ideas
For 31 years, Maria DeSimone Prascak has transformed the rooms of homes with impressive custom murals. In 1982, she opened up shop on the South Side Slopes, designing custom, hand-drawn greeting cards, signs, illustrations, and airbrushed clothing. The Arlington Avenue establishment is now home to Johno’s Art Studio and the work of her husband, Johno Prascak. DeSimone Prascak has quite a presence on Etsy, selling vintage treasures, art supplies, and hand-painted and created upcycled, functional art.
WHIRL: What’s the first step to starting an art collection?
MDP: Do a little research, find an artist’s work that speaks to you, start with one great piece, and learn how to add pieces to your collection by choosing one common thread. Don’t purchase art just because you think it might be worth more someday. Buy what makes you happy and smile each time you view it.
WHIRL: Can you explain how you got started collecting art?
MDP: Oh yes! My two older sisters would take me to flea markets, hand me a dollar, and I would scour the market to find the most unique items — usually a little piece of pottery, like a weird little sculpted head or vase. I felt I had to rescue it because someone took the time to create it, and it truly is one of a kind!
WHIRL: What genre of art do you go for?
MDP: I’ve always been most attracted to impressionist art, abstract, and mixed media art — bold and colorful. It can be an old master or modern art. I must admit I have a favorite Pittsburgh artist; his originals are created using enamels and sand from the Mon River! There is so much texture, movement, and excitement in his paintings. I happen to be married to him, so I have the good fortune of living with his fantastic art every day.
WHIRL: What tips do you have for someone looking to start a collection?
MDP: Find a spot in your home or office that needs something interesting to complete the space — a focal point. Pay attention to your décor, but good art does not have to match your sofa! Be sure the size is appropriate — not too small, not too overwhelming for the space. There are also many artists selling their work online, where you can search by subject, medium, or price. There are numerous art shows around Pittsburgh where you have the advantage of seeing the piece up close and meeting the artist. There are a number of local galleries around, too, but don’t rule out a good flea market or house sale — you never know what treasure you may discover and can give a second chance.
Susan Fisher, Owner, Asian Influences
After 16 years, Susan Fisher left Wall Street and her “notoriously small” New York apartment to return to her Pittsburgh roots. Just prior, she studied interior design at Parsons. Her passion for aesthetics included scouring “junk shops” and estate sales to furnish her apartment, finding “a piece of jade here, or a little table there.” She introduced Asian Influences in Lawrenceville in 2007 — and, it all started with a lamp.
WHIRL: What’s the first step to furnishing a collection?
SF: Start with what you love. Whether it’s a painted piece of Chinese furniture, a cabinet, a beautiful lamp, or a coffee table that’s hand-carved. Build an entire room around one piece you love. The wonderful thing about Chinese furniture is that it’s so simplistic and so complementary to other forms. It’s sort of almost deco in its overall outline. People recognize it as beautiful work — it flows without any problem. Buy something that’s beautiful and pleasing to your senses.
WHIRL: What was the first piece that started your love of collecting?
SF: The first thing was a lamp from China — it was vase-shaped with beautiful flowers and the shade was silk. It was worth my whole paycheck back in the ‘70s. It made my day to own this particular piece.
WHIRL: How do you build on your collection?
SF: I build in sort of little vignettes. One of my teachers said each section of the room should be pleasing. Build with a theme of color tone — it’s not that difficult to do it’ll flow evenly. You should be able to move around the room comfortably — feng shui. You shouldn’t be hindered by a table in the way or a couch that sticks out too far. Make your space flow.
Asian Influences, 3513 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412.621.3530. asianinfluences.com.
Michael Kondratov, President, Aspire Auctions
As proprietor of a small computer consulting firm in Cleveland, Michael Kondratov was first inspired by the possibility of bringing modern business ways into the art world. He and partner Cynthia Maciejewski created Aspire Auctions, an exclusively online art auction. With clients in 36 countries and a mailing list of 22,000 people, the pair works out of offices in Cleveland and Shadyside. He personally collects work by American artists of the 1940s-70s.
WHIRL: How do your auctions operate?
MK: We work as brokers by taking property on consignment and selling it through Internet auctions. The items come to us and we identify it, how old it is, and its market value. Everything is done online, and there is no live bidding. The online tool allows us to find the perfect buyer.
WHIRL: For the buyers and sellers — what are their hopes?
MK: For buyers, it’s their innate appreciation for beauty that drives them. And, once they have enough money to feel comfortable, they start to support arts and culture, and get involved. For sellers, it’s about preserving their wealth — they want to get the most out of the investment — and finding a good, new home for their collections.
WHIRL: What are your tips for someone looking to add To or downsize their collection?
MK: Our approach for a great sale is a three-step process. The piece needs to be properly identified, accurately priced, and shown to the right people. It’s important its price point is accurate and as conservative as possible.
Aspire Auctions, aspireauctions.com.
John (Jack) Tomayko, President/Owner, The Tomayko Group (TTG)
A long-time Pittsburgh art collector, benefactor, and trustee of Point Park University, Jack Tomayko has created a premier gallery space Downtown — the Lawrence Hall Gallery at Point Park. Tomayko enjoys promoting established and emerging artists there and at his other gallery locations.
WHIRL: How did you get started collecting art?
JT: It started slow. I began buying art more than 30 years ago, locally. At the time, I was an avid visitor to the Bondstreet Gallery in Shadyside. I spent a lot of time there reading and looking at art. I became attracted to a painting by Frank Mason, which I acquired and paid off over time. I now own 18 of his paintings.
WHIRL: How do you know you’re passionate about a piece?
JT: When you look at art, you connect with it in some way. Everybody has [his or her] own particular reaction. To me, it is more of a feeling that becomes a very strong connection. To someone else, it might be more intellectual or a visual response. This affects how you collect. You can follow one artist and acquire their work in depth, or pursue several artists, based on style, genre, or region. Besides Mason paintings, I collect mid-20th century American art, figurative sculptures, and [the work of] regional artists.
WHIRL: What’s your best advice for someone looking to start a collection?
JT: You have to buy something you really enjoy. You can’t really think of it as an investment per se. When I buy something I try not to initially overreact. I leave and come back several times before I commit. It is important to buy value — do your research. The Internet allows you to find a lot of information online. Be sure to work with trusted gallery owners, which we do have in Pittsburgh. Finally, I feel you are better off buying one exceptional work of art than several average pieces.
Art in the News
The Plein Air Festival returns to Mt. Lebanon September 29-October 6! Nearly 30 cross-country painters will convene to depict what they see en plein (open) air as part of the second annual juried competition — cash prize is $5,000. Winners will be announced October 4 at the Preview Party and Exhibition Opening, and on October 5, children are encouraged to visit Clearview Common for a full day of fun. For more, visit pleinairmtl.com.
On October 10, RAW: Natural Born Artists’ Pittsburgh chapter will host its last regular season showcase at CAVO in the Strip District. On November 22, three local judges will determine RAW: Pittsburgh Artist of the Year. Details are available at rawartists.org/pittsburgh.
The Shop in East Liberty and Norah Guignon, founder of curate1k.com — a popular art blog — have partnered to feature a selection of affordable paintings and prints. Each week displays a collection of contemporary artwork for under $1,000. Make stops at curate1k.com and The Shop.
The Office of Public Art has launched Pittsburgh Art Places, a free, comprehensive, and interactive website designed to present public art and art venues throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. Think of it as a cultural concierge meets public art archive! Explore pittsburghartplaces.org.
Through October 19, Rediscover: The Collection Revealed will be exhibited at the University of Pittsburgh’s University Art Gallery. The gallery was chosen by Heritage Preservation to participate in its 2013 Conservation Assessment Program, which will include a focus on the conservation of the 3,000 objects in the collection. Take a guided tour October 18 at 4 p.m. during family weekend.
A highly anticipated event, the 2013 Carnegie International kicks off on October 4 with a gala premiere! An ambitious return for Carnegie Museum of Art’s signature survey series, the exhibition will feature new international art in the U.S. through March 16, 2014. For additional information, visit ci13.cmoa.org.