Friday, April 30, 2010

The Collector - Movie Review

I'm always on the hunt for inspiring and/or quirky art documentaries. This one definitely falls under the latter. I read about it while checking out a favorite interior design blog. As I recall, the topic of the post was hoarding, and this movie was suggested by another reader.

As artists, we tend to collect things- either because they are beautiful, or because we start to see patterns in multiple items, or they give us inspiration, or simply because we just want to possess. This short film was about lawyer cum collector/gallerist, Allan Stone. Frustrated by his day job as a Harvard-educated attorney, he started to conduct studio visits with artists as a break from the legal sphere. He became obsessed with art, but at the eventual expense of his own family life. The movie was created by his daughter, who observes that he collects all sorts of things- clothes, tools, vitamins, tennis balls, and mostly art, African Art. The film opens by showing paths carved out in his densely packed home allowing its inhabitants to go from room to room. The objects have indeed become an obstacle course. As she points out a favorite painting, he jokes that he's going to take that little jewel with him when he dies, like a pharaoh.

Allan Stone eventually started his own gallery on Manhattan's Upper East Side in 1960. It was not the pristine and open, white-washed box as the art galleries are today, but more reflective of his own personal taste and character. With an accidental sale, he started representing artists. He started with the Abstract Expressionists whose work consisted of feelings, sensations, and alienation: Willem de Kooning (his favorite- and mine too), Arshile Gorky, Yves Kline, Elaine de Kooning, Barnett Newman and discovered Wayne Thiebaud in 1962 at the advent of Pop Art which was suddenly more commercial. But representation by Alan Stone was not always good for the artist, because he didn't want to part with many of pieces in his own gallery. However, he was a treasured advisor to many artists with a keen eye for finding successful pieces over others. Where one particular piece has "it" (some indescribable x-factor) and another didn't. Having a visceral response to art during his studios visits, he was connected with the artist and the artist's work, knowing where the life of the work would go. He believed the studio was a hallowed and special place; where all the magic happens. One artist remarked that "most dealers have ears (meaning what will be marketable for profit's sake) but Allan has eyes". In a time when people started to collect for profit, he was not swayed by market values, he just wanted the pieces in his life and in his home.

He was particularly drawn to texture, tortured, and raw surfaces, repetition which could explain the overwhelming number of African fetish figures and tribal pieces. He believed that they have a real power even within the context of his modern suburban home- a home much larger than the Manhattan apartment to accommodate the size of his collection. He believes he inherited his collecting "gene" from his father who liked to attend furniture auctions. With his urge to accumulate, he made several parallels to narcotics, getting a rush with every new piece and the idea of extreme sadness if collecting no longer appealed to him.

The movie had commentary by some familiar faces: Ivan Karp, Agnes Gund, some known artists, and New York Times art critic, Michael Kimmelman, who made a brilliant observation- this collection was his own artform. By collecting and arranging these objects he becomes a three-dimensional collage artist.

While the movie addresses the possibility of mental illness and touches on areas of psychoanalysis for this compulsion to collect, it doesn't really come to any conclusions whatsoever. The film just dismisses the mass accumulation as folly, and you're left with the notion that maybe your own collection isn't that big after all.


  1. Did you see the Exit Through the Giftshop doc? Similar inconclusive fascinating study of a mad obsessive street-art aficionado.

  2. Yes, of course! That was on the must-see list.
    Another one I really enjoyed was Beautiful Losers.
    I recommend that one for art lovers like you and me.


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