In this new series of conversations with art collectors, Lizanne Merrill talks to Marcia Eitelberg a New Yorker with an A-list art collection.
Marcia Eitelberg started collecting contemporary art 30 years ago, with the Collectors Circle, a group that guides novice collectors and educates art enthusiasts about the contemporary art market. She is uncompromising in her determination to buy only what she likes and is driven by her gut feelings, which have often turned out to be spot on.
“Of the 400+ pieces I acquired over the years, only twice have I bought at auction. I prefer to go into the galleries and see what young artists are doing. I look for artists using new materials or somehow doing something new. I like work that is pushing the limits. When I see an artist doing something new, I see that in life there are no limits! When I understand something new I feel I am still growing. Art is a great teacher and I am always learning. You realise that pushing the boundaries can go on forever. It suggests infinity”.
“I started collecting in the late 70’s, my husband returned home from an apartment on 5th Avenue that had an amazing art collection. When he mentioned the collection, I can’t explain why, but I thought “I want an art collection too!” At the same time I read an article in the New York Times about a man the police were following because he went around to galleries and stole paintings. When he was finally caught, the man confessed that he stole the art because he just had to own it! I felt the same way”!
“My friends said to me “Just go to museums and SEE all the art you want.” But for me, I wanted to own the pieces. I wanted to experience what it is what like to have a cup of coffee in the morning with a great work of art in front of me”.
“I didn’t know how to begin collecting. I had heard of Monet and Picasso but knew very little else. I started reading books about art history. When I read about Duchamp installing a urinal in a gallery I thought “I like that. That’s different”. I wanted to understand art that went beyond being a pretty picture”.
“In 1986 I was part of an art appreciation class at the New School. We were told to meet at a gallery called 303. They had a show up of the artist Richard Prince. I had never heard of him but when I recognized the Marlborough cowboy I took a closer look because I had just stopped smoking and Marlborough was my brand! For the first time I noticed the colors of blue and grey and green and how the horse was in the water. I said “This is a beautiful image!”. Even though the artist took the Marlborough cowboy image from an advertisement I had seen many times, I suddenly felt an affinity with it and bought the picture for $1,200. I have loved it every day since”.
“That is how I bought my Gerhard Richter. In 1983, I had walked into Sperone Westwater and the Richter paintings struck me as stunning. As soon as I saw the work I loved it but didn’t know why. When the gallerist explained to me what Richter was doing I knew he was great and I had to have one. This led to my seeing and acquiring an Anselm Keiffer and then a Polke. I only wish I had bought a Baselitz at the time too! My husband calls my passion for collecting “Art-ritis.”
“When I buy a work of art I feel like I’m welcoming that piece into my family. My life would be empty and cold without my art. I hate to sell anything from my collection. It is always hard to part with it! I feel whenever I sell a work I’ve owned that I am selling a child. It’s a lonely lost feeling to part with something I have lived with and loved for so long. When you see an art work every day it becomes a part of you. It does happen, though, that financial demands require me to sell sometimes”.
“I was approached by Phillips in 2008 to give them my Jim Hodges. (Phillips London catalog cover 2008) I knew that the guaranteed price of $800 thousand dollars was something I should accept for a piece I bought for $2,300. It would help me buy an apartment in New York city”.
“This spring my Richard Prince graces the cover of Phillips May auction catalog. I truly hope whoever gets it loves it as much as I have. When I met Richard Prince at an art function 10 years ago I told him I had bought his cowboy piece for $1,200. He said “Thank you! You bought that piece when I was poor”.
“I still have an ongoing wish list of younger less-known artists that I look forward to supporting. These days I know one thing going forward :if my eyes and my gut tell me it’s good- It’s good”.
Photo: Lenny Eitelberg