In 1991, the collector Norman Dubrow came on my old WBAI radio show Artbreaking as a guest, to talk about collecting.
The contemporary art market was at its nadir, yet Norman waxed effusively about the talent then aborning in contemporary.
He was purchasing a painting a week and, like J. Beresford Tipton in the old 1950s TV series The Millionaire, Dubrow was giving everything he collected away, immediately, to museums.
Eventually Norman was the very first collector to buy works by Christian Schumann, Inka Essenhigh, Michael Bevilacqua, Wolfgang Tillmans, Katy Grannan, Ingrid Calamé, Arturo Elizondo and many others.
Exit Art, a major SoHo nonprofit space, recently acknowledged Dubrow with a show of newly commissioned work by 30 artists in his collection.
One would think that most museums would want to fly with such an angel, but New York museums have given Dubrow problems over the years, particularly the Museum of Modern Art, which often rejects contemporary donations out of hand.
Norman's museum gifts were often major. In 1995, for example, I watched him buy an exceptional Jessica Diamond wall mural from Deitch Projects (a gallery with which he has had excellent relations since its inception) and promptly give it to the Whitney.
By 1998, museum haggling had so worn Norman down that he stopped giving. Instead he asked his gallery clients to store all of the work he purchased, because, as Norman told me, "I just don't have the space in my Upper East Side apartment, Charlie."
This has been quite a steal for the many galleries that cultivate Dubrow, such as Fredericks Freiser, Lawrence Rubin Greenberg van Doren, Gorney Bravin Lee, Annina Nosei and Stux.
Yet, I have also watched Norman go begging at Gavin Brown during an Elizabeth Peyton show ("I've been trying to get one for a while," he remarked). The snob trip from some spaces caused Norman to band together with collector friends like Leonore Schorr and Hubert Neumann -- now these collectors arrive at a new exhibition en masse.
When I clued Norman into Erik Parker's psychedelic stuff at Leo Koenig, he whisked down to Tribeca, bought a couple of Parkers and convinced his pal Neumann to buy the $20,000, eight-foot-long centerpiece of the show.
The number one gallery on Dubrow's list these days is Chelsea's Kravets/Wehby, where he routinely buys out entire shows by sexy young artists Manuel Esnoz, Vinnie Angel and Aaron Romine. Old pro Mark Wehby and his far better half, the exceptional Susan Kravets, have now returned the favor, asking Norman to curate their current show, "Before They Were Famous"; early post-graduate pieces by Jack Pierson, Jessica Stockholder, Julia Jacquette and others.
Amazingly, Norman experienced the usual passive, as well as positive, response from the galleries he solicited.
"I called Ron Warren at Mary Boone," Dubrow told me, "and asked to borrow an early Inka Essenhigh. He said that it wouldn't be appropriate for her career at this time."
Conversely, Jay Gorney provided a stunning 1987 color print of tough chicks outside a biker bar that is the hit of the show, by the estimable Catherine Opie.
Jack Pierson contributed three sensitive ingénue pieces of pastel-painted come. Kurt Kauper, whose ironic divas were one of Norman's most cherished discoveries, coughed up his last two student works, a Man Ray-type interior and a painting of plants on a surreal wall.
"These are the only two Kaupers currently available for sale," Dubrow remarked at the opening, and they were quickly snapped up for four and five grand apiece.
Yet, not every artist immediately warms Dubrow's cockles. We've been trying to get him interested in Lisa Ruyter for three years.
Recently, Norman "got it," and Lisa put her last early psychedelic painting in the "Famous" show. It's so precious to Ms. Ruyter that the painting's not for sale.
Warmed by Norman's attention, Lisa sent him snapshots of her controversial graveyard paintings, which open at Leo Koenig on Feb. 20.
"Why does she have to do tombstones?" Norman moaned.
In spite of Norman's reservations, his friend Leonora Schorr has already purchased two and collector Ricky Cooper bought the largest painting in the show, the eight-by-ten-foot Imitation of Life.
Lithe, fit, tasteful and agile at 72, contemporary angel Dubrow has much collecting ahead of him. He just bought two trompe l'oeils by Jason Starkie from Silverstein Gallery last week.
So he's a self-made man with an engineering degree, not a businessman's trophy wife sitting on the board of MoMA (it's disgusting how many of these have been added to the Modern).
As to the snobs, Norman, fuck 'em.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).