Hating It Is a Good Sign: Peter Brant on Collecting

Hating It Is a Good Sign: Peter Brant on Collecting

by Kelly Crow for the Wall Street Journal

(May 7, 2011) As a child, newsprint magnate Peter Brant collected coins. By his teen years, contemporary art had taken over. At age 20, in 1967, he paid $5,000 for Andy Warhol's "Shot Blue Marilyn," a Pop portrait of Marilyn Monroe that remains one of the gems of Mr. Brant's collection. He says he learned how to collect art by befriending powerhouse dealers like Leo Castelli and watching New York taxi tycoon Robert Scull and others built up their art holdings. Mr. Brant and his wife, model Stephanie Seymour, show parts of their collection in their private Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich, Conn. This week, Mr. Brant, who owns White Birch Paper Co. and Brant Publications, discussed his collection. Below, an edited transcript.
—Kelly Crow

"I discovered Josh Smith's work about four years ago.  He's from Tennessee, and he was Christopher Wool's assistant for seven years. He does a mix of things, including abstract printing, painting and collaging using different materials like wood, craft board, masonite panel, canvas and paper. If you look at his work, you see the roots of contemporary American art: the Abstract Expressionists, Warhol, Basquiat, Rauschenberg, Johns, even Twombly. Josh has a tremendous knowledge of art history, but he's creating his own definitive style. Much of it actually revolves around his own signature, in literally writing out his own name.

"I've also bought a lot of works lately by Urs Fischer, the artist who once dug a huge hole into the floor of his dealer's gallery. He's influenced by imagery that we all see on our computers and in magazines. Artists consume what's around them and develop their work based on what they see. It's not copying—it's how they understand our culture.

"One of Urs's works I bought is a 6-by-8-foot silkscreen of a 1950s portrait of the actress Veronica Lake with a huge silver spoon placed on top of her, bisecting her face. I thought it was extremely clever and beautifully done. It's a painting, but it's also a sculpture.

"And then I really like David Altmejd's work. He's a cross between a minimalist and a classical sculptor of anatomy. He delves into sexuality using papier-mâché, taxidermy birds, fake werewolf heads—he gives you a Hitchcock feeling about life. The last piece of his that I bought is hard to describe, but it has bees in it and heads floating in space.

"The thing is, when you look at a great work of art, it has to evoke in you something that's troublesome. If you hate it, it's probably a better indicator than if you just think it's OK. An artist is supposed to be telling you something that's not obvious or something you've not thought about in that way before. It can be very alienating. If you looked at my "Shot Blue Marilyn" in 1964, it was alienating—a garish photograph of a movie star in heavy make-up. It was always great art, but people at the time weren't ready for it. You have to be ready for it, now."

Unusual composition and wild colors! I love it when people are inventive. That is what art is all about!

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