Put away your checkbooks, people: all of the artwork at SooVAC’s “Collect Call 2” is already spoken for. Not exactly a group show, their latest exhibition is more of a collection of collections, an immersive look at the private holdings of several local art collectors.
And there is a lot to look at. Almost 150 pieces from 12 different collections cover the walls salon-style, showcasing an incredible mixture of paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture, prints, assemblages, embroidery, and even Victorian-era hair art. Local favorites like Jennifer Davis, Frank Gaard, and Terrence Payne hang next to bigger names like Frank Stella, Chris Ofili, and Keith Haring. In some cases, the pieces were acquired so long ago that the collectors can’t even remember the artists’ names. With so much going on, the show is almost like a collection of someone else’s high school mix tapes, loaded with greatest hits, new discoveries, inside jokes, and a couple of real head-scratchers.
Eric Syvertson, Untitled, from the collection of Benjamin Meents & Chet Ritchie
But it’s not the hot mess you might expect. Thanks to a very clean, controlled installation, each collection has its own wall and its own distinct personality. According to Executive Director Carolyn Payne, each collection’s layout actually mimics how the work is displayed in the owner’s home. Some walls are chock-a-block, crammed floor to ceiling with art (quite literally in the case of Robyne Robinson’s section). Others are more linear, maintaining a standard 60-inch center all the way across. True to form, though, there are no labels, no numbers, and no prices, just like at home. I almost wish they had brought in some furniture to really complete the effect.
But more than just being a glimpse into these people’s homes, “Collect Call 2” is a look into their lives. The first collection you see is that of Jennifer Jorgensen, an interior designer and architect, and Steve Imhoff, a real estate agent. The work is bright, poppy, colorful, and funny. Their hilarious Frank Gaard portraits are a great way to open the show. Along with revealing the collectors’ sense of humor, these pieces exemplify one of the most common artist-patron interactions: commissioned portraiture, a tradition cemented during the Renaissance but dating even further back to ancient times. The collection of Anne Jin Soo Preston, the Director of Projects and Research at a strategic services firm for non-profits, and Mark Preston, a freelance airline pilot, does the same with several commissioned portraits, including a delightfully strange photograph of Anne nonchalantly holding a two-foot long alligator.
From the collection of Robyne Robinson
Some of the other collections get a little darker, though. Eric Recktenwald’s may be the heaviest, featuring a small but arresting mall-style portrait of a badly burned Marine and his beautiful, pensive bride. On either side are a gorgeously austere watercolor by David Rathman and a large Angela Strassheim photo of an apprehensive young pianist and her wary dog. All this heaviness, though, is broken up by the bona fide eccentricity of Cruisin’, a black-lit lightbox best viewed through 3-D glasses, and A Nuclear Mosquito From Hell, a bizarre schematic drawing that could almost double as an album cover for Funkadelic.
Benjamin Meents & Chet Ritchie’s wall is similar; by Meents’s own admission, the couple is “intrigued by art that has a macabre, dark, or sinister quality.” But next to the strange and somber work by Steve Hartman and Edie Overturf hangs a small Jennifer Davis portrait of a shaggy poodle happily lounging in a chair.
Most of the collections are like this: hitting lots of different notes and highlighting the various interests of the patrons. The collection of Robyne Robinson, former Fox-9 anchor and gallery owner who now oversees the MSP Airport’s Arts and Culture department, boasts internationally-recognized artists like Francesco Clemente, Shepard Fairey, Chris Ofili, and Frank Stella right alongside a piece by Carl Wesley, an accomplished artist who is also a convicted prisoner. Her wall has both abstraction and agitprop, gravitas and humor. (Be sure to notice the shoe-shaped shadows on her wall, a clever invitation to look up.) Kevin Ringdahl, a financial advisor, and Randy Cernohous, a real estate agent, focus almost entirely on figurative work. “I find that many of our paintings become like old, familiar friends,” says Randy. “They welcome me home at the end of a long day and they create a sense of comfort and hominess that we enjoy.”
Embroidered map from the collection of Jay Coogan
Some of the collections show a great diversity of styles and interests, while others maintain a tremendous focus on one thing, as with MCAD President Jay Coogan’s amazing collection of 19th century rug-beaters and 20th century embroidered maps. These pieces are hands-down some of the most fun in the show, in no small part because they are so terrifically different from everything else. It is a strange pleasure indeed to get to peer so blatantly into another person’s obsessions.
Angela Strassheim, Untitled (Makayla), from the collection of Eric Recktenwald
Ultimately, more than just an impressive display of art objects, “Collect Call 2” is a meditation on patronage. Unlike at most art shows, nothing here is for sale because that dirty deed has already been done. In a sense, every piece in the show is a love story between it and the collector. At some point, the two crossed paths and the collector decided that he or she could not live without the art. As Benjamin Meents put it, “each piece we bring into our collection becomes not only a part of our home but a part of our family, too.”
You might be tempted to reject such sentimentality because the collectors here are all people of means. I can already hear the envious mutterings of “Must be nice…” To be sure, art collecting is not the province of the impoverished. Even artists themselves are often not able to own the work of their peers, save by trading. But this show is about these people’s personalities and their passions, not their pocketbooks. I’m sure some of the work here cost a pretty penny, but many of the pieces probably didn’t. Several of the participants told me they find new work at flea markets and estate sales or buy directly from young artists. Besides, as Jay Coogan explains, “collecting the work of an artist is a critical way to contribute to their being able to continue to make it.”
Frank Gaard, Steve At The Sands, from the collection of Jennifer Jorgensen & Steve Imhoff
Whatever the artworks’ origins, there’s no denying that this exhibition has a lot of heart. All of these collectors are generous (and brave) enough to share their treasures with us, and nowhere do you get the sense that anyone is showing off. It amounts to twelve very personal little shows that are almost voyeuristic, like catching a glimpse of pictures on the wall through a stranger’s window at night. The moral here is that there are no hard and fast rules to collecting art, and, thankfully, there is no accounting for taste. Who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired to start a collection of your own (just, sadly, not with any of the work in this particular show).