It all started with running.
I began running last year because I realized that I needed some form of exercise in my life. When I lived in Los Angeles, I played tennis. Playing tennis is virtually impossible in New York City, unless 1) you have lots of time to kill waiting for a court and 2) you don’t mind playing for hour-long intervals, which are really 45 minutes after the stretching (I’m old) and warm-ups.
So I started running. Now I run about 3.5 miles every other day, and it really makes me feel great. No matter how dismal work is going, if I run a lap around Prospect Park then I feel like I’ve accomplished something with my day.
Anyway, a byproduct of my bi-daily run is that immediately after it, as I walk home from the park, I’m hit with a nearly fully formed idea, as if my brain suddenly assimilates a variety of disparate thoughts into a cohesive structure, like a reverse explosion. Many of the ideas are for screenplays, for example, here’s one: a young man, a nice guy but also a pushover (I imagine Michael Cera), starts receiving text messages from his dead father. At first he thinks it’s a prank from friends. But then he starts to believe that it’s actually his father, giving him life lessons from the afterlife. So one part of the story follows the Michael Cera character’s path from awkward, unassertive guy to someone who takes charge of his own life. The other part of the story is a guessing game as to who’s really behind the texts because there’s ample proof on both sides — that they’re a prank or they’re really from a dead person. The best part of the idea, I think, is the title: “Text in Peace.” (I never said the ideas were great, but they blitz my consciousness from seemingly nowhere, though clearly each idea has been informed by what I’ve recently read, seen or experienced.)
Finally getting to the point: After a run last week I decided that I would buy one piece of art — see how random these ideas can be — every other month with the only proviso being that each piece will cost $200 or less.
I’ve been collecting art for about the past 10 years. I’ve also curated a few art exhibitions. One activity requires too much of my money, the other occupies too much of my time. So I curtailed both last year — about the same time I started running — to focus on a novel I’m planning on finishing by the end of the year.
But lately I had been thinking about getting back into buying some art and also curating something. What exactly? I didn’t know.
Then came this idea, which works for me for several reasons. The most immediate is this: None of the first five pieces of art that I bought costed more than $200. In fact, each was less than $150 (emphasis on was). Here they are:
The first two are by James Marshall, an artist who also goes by the moniker Dalek. I bought them at a gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 2001. A few months later, I went back to the gallery, the now-defunct Who Do You Appreciate, and bought the third piece, which is by Mike Giant, an artist in Seattle.
The last two are by prints by Shepard Fairey — editions of 100 from 1998 — and they were purchased from a friend who needed some cash to make his own art (which I later bought, also). This was in 2004 or thereabouts, long before the Obama Hope campaign, the museum retrospectives, the lawsuits.
Each piece is worth more today, and all three artists have gone on to do great things. That’s not a boast — a smart investor could have probably made much more in the stock market, or betting on greyhounds — but it shows that good art has lasting power, no matter what you pay for it.
Another reason I chose $200 is that my wife and I are expecting our first child in September, and because it costs around $50,000 a year to go to college right now — for a state school! — who knows how much it’ll be 18 years from now. Probably high enough that I’ll hand my kid a plane ticket and a Eurail pass and wish him luck.
But at the same time, I’d like to raise my child with an appreciation of art — and not just art that’s been validated by museums and text books. So this collection will be our gift to him or her.
There’s one last reason I’m doing this (that I can think of right now) and that’s I’m hoping this little exercise gets me out of the house and to places that I would not normally frequent.
As I said, I bought the Dalek and the Mike Giant pieces at Who Do You Appreciate in Williamsburg. You have to remember that Williamsburg in 2001 was nothing like what Williamsburg has become. In 2001, there weren’t any bowling alleys, beer gardens or tall glass buildings with condos going for seven figures. No organic grocery stores and coffee boutiques. No Duane Reades. No park along the water. No concert series, no appearances by Senators, Jay-Z or Beyoncé. And there wasn’t much around Who Do You Appreciate, which was right smack dab in the middle of Grand Ave., except for a pizza restaurant called Soma and a pub.
Who Do You Appreciate was basically a small studio apartment with a door that opened onto the street. The owner, Sarah, pulled a curtain to hide the back of the room. She told my wife, Michelle, and I that her purpose for starting the gallery was to offer affordable art. Most pieces were around $150-$200, and I don’t remember any work at any of her shows priced more than $800. For openings, she put out some Pocky candy and beer.
One of my fondest memories of first days in New York — I moved to the city in August 2001 — was leaving the gallery after buying the Daleks. It was around 10 p.m., and the street all the way down North 4th Street to Wythe was dark and empty, except for a livery cab. Michelle was slightly concerned as we walked down the desolate street and suggested we call a car service. We walked a little farther on Wythe until we reached a warehouse with its door open. We looked inside and were suddenly comforted, then inspired by a handful of people making blown glass. They had some beautiful samples on a table. We stood there watching them, independently thinking how great it was to be in New York. Now, that place is Blue Bottle.
Anyway, I hope this mission also encourages me to explore (and frequent) areas of Brooklyn, Queens and elsewhere out of my comfort zone, where inspirational people are making great art and showing it. Throughout the process, I plan on meeting gallerists and visiting studios. I want to talk to artists, collectors, art writers, friends and share ideas on collecting $200 art, and I plan on showing what I eventually do buy (and what I don’t). I’m not really sure how this is going to play out, but I already have some ideas in mind and look forward to getting started posthaste.