The portrait has a storied history: from the elaborate gilded tombs of Tutankhamen to Roman busts to contemporary painting and sculpture, commissioned portraits have etched the stories of our relatives, political leaders, and heroes into stone for future generations of art lovers. Before commissioning figurative work for your collection, aspiring collectors can develop a social dialogue with the art world to hone their vision and to understand how different works in their collection play off each other to create a greater critical and aesthetic impact than a single piece can when considered alone. By developing a creative vision and working closely with the artists who they support, a collector’s personal history becomes woven into the fabric of our culture.
Developing a Dialogue for New Art Collectors
A collector new to the field might feel intimidated at first by the enormous array of artists, galleries, and dealers that are each championing a different aesthetic. The first step to curating an art collection is to do your research — there’s a lot more to art than what visitors see in museums and galleries. Industry magazines like Artforum and Frieze keep a thumb on the pulse of both contemporary and modern art, and reading these trade magazines can expose you to the differing perspectives of the art world. Both tend to focus on mainstream galleries and already-established artists, but they can help you build a foundation of knowledge.
To sort through the fray, it’s important to stay true to your own instincts even as you explore and learn about different art and artists. Follow your eye, follow your heart, and finally, don’t forget to follow your favorite galleries on Instagram! Social media has become an invaluable tool for collectors to learn about openings, and it has democratized which artists’ work gets seen by collectors. You can use that to your advantage to find out what’s happening in the scenes you find most interesting, whether that’s mid-century figurative paintings, contemporary bronze statuary, or abstract painting. By following your favorite art and art critics on social media, you’ll get a constant flow of ideas and inspiration. How do your taste and your vision fit into this world? Which portraits are you drawn to from art history? Keep those questions in mind as you consider commissioning a piece.
Art Collecting Is an Art of its Own
One of my favorite commissioned portraits that became canonized as an art historical treasure is Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Klimt’s and Adele’s individual personalities come across so brightly, and Klimt’s ornamental abstraction feels so vital a step in the progression of art. As you begin to collect individual pieces, you’ll develop a sensitivity to how your individual personality comes across through the pieces you choose, and how a commissioned piece might work with the other art in your collection.
There’s a big difference between collecting art and developing an art collection. The Bloch-Bauer’s commissioned portraits from Klimt became a mutually beneficial patronage and allowed the Bloch-Bauers to express themselves artistically in conjunction with Klimt by modelling for his paintings and collecting his work. Ideally, the art collector doesn’t just buy pieces but can shape a painting’s destiny by highlighting the value of the work. The savviest art collectors, like the Bloch-Bauers, assemble works in a way that each plays off each other to make a whole greater than its parts. A great collection is both critical and celebratory, and the commissioned works become an intersection of the personal and the historical. Of course, even the most prolific collector starts small: to build a collection requires canny planning, a vivisecting eye, and a splash of serendipity.
Where Personal and Public Histories Intersect
For a collector who commissions a sculptural portrait, there’s a thrill to seeing the essence of a loved one’s personality become a vital part of our cultural history. The figure of Adele is so bewitching that anyone who sees the painting is drawn into the folds of her gaze. Who is she? What is her story? Like the Mona Lisa, she holds her secrets.
Sometimes the strength and charisma in portraits are almost impossible to articulate. Perhaps there’s no portrait that better captures that enigma than the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa has become part of something larger than her own life. We celebrate her glories and triumphs; we wonder why she smiles and what lies behind her smile. We even celebrate the life of the portrait as it has taken it’s own historic journey, stolen by the Nazi regime and recovered years later, finally coming to rest at its present home at Neue Galerie in New York. The story of the Mona Lisa shows how figurative portrait is truly the intersection of personal and cultural history.
Commissioning Figurative Sculpture for Your Collection
Once you’ve gotten a feel for the world of contemporary art and considered how your commissioned sculpture fits might fit in your personal story as well as the historical art framework, you can confidently a commission a piece that will have lasting value not only for you and your family but for art lovers for many generations to come.
The McLeods are Australian bronze artists specializing in commissioned figurative work. If you’re ready to get started on your commissioned portrait, contact them today for a consultation!