Boston Magazine: What sort of advice do you give to people that are new to collecting?
David Sullivan Collecting is very experiential. There’s no other way to start except to buy a painting that you like, spend time with it, and see how you feel. Then you buy another painting.
Camellia Genovese: The main thing is jumping in.
BM: And jumping in is the hard part?
DS: Yes, but I think people should take a more relaxed attitude. It’s like going to a play: You read the reviews, get a sense of what interests you, and then experience it. After that, you’re better prepared for the next time.
BM: How did your collection evolve once you started buying contemporary art?
DS: We bought a Gilbert-Rolfe gouache and a Grossberg sculpture, and that changed everything. The traditional things didn’t go immediately—they lived together with the new pieces for maybe five to seven years.
BM: What happened to the traditional pieces then?
DS: We passed a lot on to other people as presents. Some were sold to museums.
CG: Most of the prints we still have in storage.
BM: How do you know when it’s time to part with a piece? They must sort of feel like old friends.
DS: Yes, but it’s more like a mentor that you’re leaving. You feel like it’s time to go on, like you’ve taken a step, and now you need something else.
BM: Did you chart out your collection? Or did it grow more randomly?
DS: It was much more like a sense of compulsion. We usually fix on an artist and then ask, “What can we afford?” We look quite a bit of work before settling on something. On the other hand, sometimes you walk into a show of an artist you’ve never heard of, and all of a sudden, a piece blows you over.
CG: So it’s spontaneous, too.
BM: Have you ever bought anything, then brought it home and thought, “What were we thinking?”
DS: No. When you’re buying very aggressively and very demandingly, it’s never that capricious.
BM: Is there a theme that runs through your collection?
DS: We have a strong interest in solid color and how artists draw with various materials. But part of collecting is to find out what you really think is good and to create a definition of that. There will be lots of relationships among the works you choose, but they emerge through time, as do your real interests.
CG: The whole thing is an art form in a way. It’s created as you go along.
BM: Does the gallery fund your collecting?
CG: It’s taken away from our collecting, really.
DS: Operating a gallery requires a lot of capital. We’ve sold things from our collection several times because we needed money to run the gallery. We used to collect antiques and at one time we sold our bed, another time the Queen Anne dining chairs.
BM: How do you decide what to sell?
CG: It’s strictly monetary. Certain artists become more known, and so have a better chance of selling.
BM: Does that influence your buying as well?
DS: No, the financial part of it doesn’t influence the buying.
BM: So you buy what you like, regardless of an artist’s reputation or clout?
CG: Oh that’s definite. Because you never what’s going to fly. You have no idea what artist is going to become famous.
BM: If the gallery doesn’t fund your collecting, why did you open it?
CG: We opened it because we were so excited about modern art that we wanted other people to be to be, too. It’s about communication and education.
BM: How do you decide what will go into gallery and what will go into house?
DS: Most of the time, we don’t buy for the gallery—the work there is on consignment. If we buy a painting, it’s just for us.
BM: If a visitor came to your house and fell in love with a piece, would you sell it?
DS: If they really liked it, we would recommend that they look at other work by that artist. Usually, you should be able flow pretty easily from one piece to another—almost never should you really get locked into one piece. That means you probably don’t really like the artist’s work that much, because any one piece is part of a body of thought.
BM: Does your house influence how you collect?
DS: Well, you do have space limitations. There might be a lot of big paintings that we like but couldn’t hang. If we couldn’t house and exhibit them properly, they’re out of the question. At the same time, we think of the house as a flexible unit. You know, it’s not an architectural marvel that you have to keep a certain way.