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Oct. 18, 2005 

On Oct. 6, 2005, the Art Dealers Association of America convened what it calls a "Collector’s Forum" -- a panel discussion addressing issues in contemporary art. The subject of this forum was "Four Perspectives on Video and Installation Art: Creating, Collecting, Exhibiting and Selling." The panel was chaired by Allan Schwartzman, an art advisor and writer, and featured the presentation of two witty videos by artist John Pilson. Also speaking on the panel was Whitney Museum curator of film and video Chrissie Iles, and dealer Roland Augustine, partner in Lurhing Augustine gallery, which was hosting the panel.

Representing the collectors on the panel was Eileen Cohen, whom art-market insiders consider a passionate collector with an extraordinary eye. From her headquarters on Wooster Street in SoHo, with her husband Michael, Cohen began collecting African sculpture, then branched out to photography and contemporary art. When she decided that prices were too high in the contemporary arena, she began buying 1970s Minimalism, putting together a collection of perhaps 150 drawings that went to the Museum of Modern Art as part of the Rothschild Foundation collection. "Eileen has an instant opinion about quality," said one source. "And an uncanny ability to suss out new areas for collecting."

At the ADAA Collector’s Forum, Cohen revealed what she first called her "treatise" on collecting, which she quickly redefined as "ten important points" that collectors should remember. Herewith, freely transcribed, are Cohen’s ten points:

1. Look with your eyes and mind, not with your ears.
2. Know the history of art -- history repeats itself, often in less interesting forms, and you don’t want to be fooled.
3. Know the artwork before you get to know the artist.
4. Don’t be fooled by an artist’s charm -- these days, artists learn how to sell themselves in art school. The best artists don’t try to sell their work.
5. Give back to the art community -- support museums and alternative spaces.
6. To learn about new art, set up a network of art informers, from writers and curators to art dealers. Don’t be afraid to ask foolish questions! Artists are always great to talk to, but they aren’t always great judges of art (they tend to like art that is similar to their own, or the art of their friends).
7. Avoid playing the competitive game with other collectors, racing to buy "new" work by the latest "hot" artist. Usually the best pieces are the ones that are left over.
8. Treat collecting as the important endeavor that it is -- give plenty of time to the enterprise.
9. Look for art that is universal and timeless (rather than single-issue art, which tends to wear thin after a while).
10. Live with your art and enjoy it.

From this list, it is quite clear that great art collectors are made, not born. Like anything done well, collecting art requires passion, perserverence and hard work. But its rewards are great. One question remains. Have you started your art collection yet?