Collecting 101: Why is Buying a Photograph Harder than Buying a Van Gogh Painting?
We are thrilled to have Art Advisor Alice Zimet be part of our Griffin faculty. This fall she has a class on collecting, from the basics of how, to the engaging question of why, and assisting in the what of bringing home a photograph that can start or feed a collection. Starting in September, this online class, Collecting 101, is perfect for those about to travel to Paris for Paris Photo, staying home to see an auction in New York, or head into a local gallery, wherever you may be.
Tell us a little about your background?
I have two degrees in art history and began my career as a summer intern at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The following year, the Met hired me to run its summer intern program (I was 22 years old!) and I’ve been in the art world ever since. After working in the museum world for a few more years, I was hired – the day I was interviewed – by The Chase Manhattan Bank where I created the first corporate sponsorship program in a commercial bank. As Director, Worldwide Cultural Affairs, I used the arts as a strategic marketing tool across 14 countries and 20 US cities to generate $2 Billion for the bank.
At the same time, with a very small annual bonus, I began to collect photography. Today, I’ve amassed a collection of over 300 photographs. I chair two museum acquisition committees – at the Harvard Art Museums (photography) and at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York City – and I’m also on the board of the Magnum Foundation. In addition to teaching for the Griffin Museum, I’m on faculty at the ICP School, Maine Media College + Workshops, LA Center of Photography and Christie’s Education, where I offer workshops on how to collect photography and how photographers can access the market. I’m also an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s Graduate Program, Arts Administration, teaching ‘Corporate Sponsorship and the Arts’.
How did your experiences culminate in a career in the art world?
I’ve never left the art world!! I’m just on career #3. First, I was in the museum world; next, in the corporate philanthropy / corporate sponsorship space; and now as a teacher and advisor tied to fine art photography.
Can you tell us about your business today?
In 1999, I founded a consulting boutique called Arts + Business Partners. I originally specialized in corporate sponsorship given I was a pioneer in the field. I worked with both business sponsors and with nonprofit arts groups, teaching each side how to create strategic partnerships. However, more recently, my business has shifted to focus the fine art photography marketplace, teaching workshops about collecting and advising buyers on acquisitions. My passion for photography won out!
Why do you teach about collecting photography?
About 15 years ago when a photographer suggested that I teach about collecting photography, my immediate response was ‘this is my private world’ and I declined. Then I realized that no one was teaching how to collect photography. Given all the years I’ve collected – making good choices but also making mistakes – I wanted to share my knowledge and experience. My goal has always been to empower students to feel confident, ask the right questions, and to better navigate the complex world of fine art photography.
Tell us about your own photography collection.
I began to collect fine art photography in January 1985 and have amassed a museum-quality collection of over 300 images from 20th Century masters to the present. My first purchase was on a trip with the legendary curator, collector and partner to Robert Mapplethorpe, Sam Wagstaff, who had lent a portion of his collection to a museum on the eastern end of Long Island. I fell in love with one image. But when it came to buying another print of that image, I couldn’t buy just one. I felt the need for a second companion piece. And so, a collection was born. And to this day, I often buy in pairs or in threes.
I started to collect with two initial very personal themes: France and Artist Portraits, mostly in black and white. (My grandfather lived in France and I studied art history). My love of artist portraits morphed into emotional humanistic portraits of people living their lives, often showing deep humanity. These portraits usually address key social issues: identity, racism, loneliness, the challenges of adolescence, family relations, life on the streets of New York, but also the joy of living life to its fullest, whether as a young child or as an adult.
Where does your passion for photography come from?
My photo passion was sparked when I interned at the International Center of Photography in 1975, the year ICP was founded. It took nearly 10 years for me to jump in and buy my first image. Back then, the photo world was still nascent, and I didn’t feel overwhelmed by this relatively small community. In fact, I had to defend my passion as everyone kept telling me ‘photography is not art.’ Boy, do they wish they had listened to me!
What are the key aspects of your new collecting class at the Griffin?
While photography is a multiple, each image is unique. This course teaches students what to consider before making a purchase and helps explain why buying photography can be so complex. Each week, we focus on a different subject — questions to ask before spending a penny, the marketplace and where to shop (for-profit and non-profit platforms) along with how to buy at auction. We also discuss budget considerations, signature indications, negative vs. print date, editions, condition issues as well as collection management. To round out the experience, the final class includes exclusive intimate visits (virtually) with two prominent photography dealers.
What are the learning outcomes that students come away after spending 5 weeks with you?
First, those who initially felt overwhelmed by the photography market will feel more confident and knowledgeable. Second, students will feel empowered before buying a photograph. We teach them how to vet, do research and ask the right questions. Third, photographers will have a better grasp of what collectors might ask when considering a purchase and how this might impact their practice. Whether a collector or photographer, students leave the class with a greater understanding of today’s photography marketplace – from where to shop to today’s trends.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
I love to watch students become smart collectors. The most rewarding aspect? It’s to have students circle back after class has ended and ask for help with an acquisition. That is the greatest compliment a teacher could ask for… nearly everyone wants to buy!
If you had to give 3 words to describe yourself, what would they be?
Students like my enthusiasm, passion and energy. I love to connect people and enjoy making introductions to galleries for those who are curious about a particular photographer. But, most of all, I like to have fun.
What makes you unique as a photography educator?
I’ve been collecting photography for nearly 40 years and am a collector, first and foremost. I’ve built a network of deep personal relationships across all aspects of the photography world – from dealers, installers, photographers to auction specialists. That said, I’m neutral. I do not represent any gallery or any photographer. I have a unique insider perspective and am honest, to a fault. I’m overly generous when it comes to providing abundant tips. And while I’ve made a few mistakes over the years, I want to protect my students from making those same mistakes.
What’s your #1 tip about collecting photography?
Buy with your heart then buy with your brain asking all the right questions. And never buy with your ears.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Please join us online for an engaging look at the photography market. The first class is September 20, and runs through October 18, 2022. For more information, look here on our education page for the details.
About Alice Sachs Zimet
Alice Sachs Zimet is President, Arts + Business Partners, a consulting boutique specializing in the fine art photography marketplace. As a collector, advisor, and educator, Alice began to collect fine art photography in 1985 and has amassed a museum-quality collection of over 300 images from 20th Century masters to the present. Alice is Chair, Photography Curatorial Committee, Harvard Art Museums; Chair, Acquisitions Committee, International Center of Photography (ICP); and a board member, Magnum Foundation. She is on Faculty at Christie’s Education, the ICP School and Maine Media College + Workshops, where she teaches workshops on how to collect photography and how photographers can better access the marketplace. Zimet pioneered the field of corporate sponsorship as Director, Worldwide Cultural Affairs, The Chase Manhattan Bank (20 years). Here, she used the arts as a strategic marketing tool across 14 countries and 20 US cities to generate $2 Billion in new business for the bank. She is Adjunct Professor, New York University’s Graduate Program, Arts Administration teaching Corporate Sponsorship and the Arts. Alice holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Art History, began her career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and continues to live, work and collect in New York City.