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World-Class Art

Thomas Hoving Picks a Collection of American Artists Who May Be the Picassos and Monets of the 21st Century
Thomas Hoving
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

The question I'm asked most often is, "Who are the finest artists alive in America today that I should collect? You know, for investment?"

My answer is in two parts: Never buy art for investment, only for love and to enrich your soul; and always collect contemporaries the way the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Barr, did--with an intense contempt for acquiring what's chic at the moment or "stylish" or representative of some style.

Whatever one thinks of the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, most people generally agree that Barr bought the best and most diverse examples of paintings and sculptures of his day. He was enormously proud of the way he acquired works without giving much of a hoot about individual styles. He chased after specific works of excellence and punch, and landed them.

I remember him telling me with justifiable pride about how--in a month's time--he would bring into the collections works by Picasso, Miró, Picabia, Dalí, Peter Blume, Yves Tanguy and Andrew Wyeth. Whether a work was abstract or surreal or even magic realism realist wasn't the point; only the power and superiority of the individual piece counted.

That's how to drive for an incomparable collection.

Who are the absolutely prime artists working today? Who should you buy now so that your grandchildren can dangle their wills before the covetous eyes of the biggest museums in the land, and be wined and dined for the rest of their lives at the nation's greatest museums and the toniest homes of museum trustees?

Here are my picks, greatly helped by three connoisseurs of the current scene whose eyes I admire and trust--Peter Norton of California and Larry Gagosian and Wynn Kramarsky of New York City.

Mark di Suvero. He is without a doubt the premier American sculptor of his generation and quite possibly the most glorious of the second half of the 20th century. He's bold and experimental, free and mysterious, harmonic and earthy. The works are huge, witty, energetic, impolite, incongruous and surpassingly timeless. Di Suvero has painted the American Way with steel, scrap and wood. One of his most superb works, pictured on page 215, is a 24-foot-tall, yellow steel piece titled "Oneoklock," 1969. Andre Emmerich Gallery, Inc. 41 East 57th Street, New York, New York 10022, fax (212) 371-7345; Larry Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10021, fax (212) 772-7962

Jenny Saville. Her enormous oils of huge, fatty, sometimes bloated naked women, some of whom are covered with strange writings, evoke the universal images of Great Mother Earth that have been created since the beginning of mankind. These works can be upsetting and ugly, but they are as sensitive and poignant as works of the high Renaissance. I look upon them as truthful, gripping representations of humanity--ungussied, unairbrushed, uncosmeticized. Sensational. One feels that mankind will be lucky to have these grotesque figures--such as those above in "Strategy (South Face/Front Face/North Face)," 1993-94--as exemplars in thousands of years. Larry Gagosian Gallery

Charles Ray. Anyone who passed by the entrance to the Whitney Museum during the run of the 1993 biennial was startled by what appeared to be a red fire truck parked in front of the institution. On closer examination, the vehicle turned out to be a huge, plastic-and-chrome silver-painted toy--50 by 10 by 8 feet. It was not a trick, not a gimmick, but a powerful and legitimate sculpture by Charles Ray; its very ersatz nature makes its reality more profound.

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