Collecting, Evolving

Collecting, Evolving

Collecting, Evolving

April/May 2017 issue of American Craft magazine
Author Monica Moses
Ryan McGinness And Family

Looking at this space, you might call Ryan McGinness a collector. But that’s not a term he applies to himself. The New York City artist, 45, shown with Evelyn, Maxine, and wife Trish Goodwin, trades work with friends and buys the occasional vintage exhibition poster. But a “collector”? No.

Talisman Brolin

There’s a nervousness in the air around the topic of collecting – the theme for this issue. The decades-old ecosystem supporting artists, gallery owners, and collectors is morphing, and nobody’s sure what’s next.

Many whose business is craft worry that the way people live now – virtually, casually, transiently – is changing the game forever. Will more young people start collecting? What about the objects that older collectors want to shed? Who’s buying?

These are questions that keep craft dealers awake, I confirmed recently. “Not enough young collectors are coming along to fill the void of those of advancing age,” Don Treadway of Treadway Toomey Galleries laments.

Why not? Dealer Leslie Ferrin has given the question a lot of thought. “Younger collectors are not as interested in being considered collectors,” she says. They tend to spend their money on “experiences, food, travel, and less on material objects.”

And, as Mark Hill of Antiques Roadshow points out, younger people aren’t necessarily drawn to a rarefied buying experience – “the gallery where you have to ring the buzzer to go in, and everything is displayed in a very clinical, out-of-context manner.”

Economic uncertainty and a tight job market haven’t helped. As gallerist Lewis Wexler observes, today, younger folks “are working harder to establish themselves”; they’ve got less time and money to invest in art.

Then there are décor trends. Where do you put finely crafted objects in contemporary abodes? Whether they are tiny homes or McMansions, many don’t have formal living and dining rooms, J. Susan Isaacs of Towson University points out. And their inhabitants have “grown up in a consumer culture where products of design are disposable – think Ikea and Target.”

Finally, the definition of collecting is evolving. Not only has the internet decentralized the marketplace for artists and collectors, “it is redefining what constitutes a collection in the popular consciousness,” says Carin Adams of the Oakland Museum of California. People “curate” today on Pinterest and Instagram, Adams points out; maybe that’s enough for them.

Or maybe not. Times have changed, it’s true. Today’s potential buyers are cut from a different cloth. But there are reasons to be hopeful. Whether they rent or buy, “people still want to live with nice things,” argues Susie Silbert of the Corning Museum of Glass. Perhaps virtual collecting is whetting appetites for the real thing. Adams thinks social media is “inspiring a counterinsurgent appreciation for objects and the people who make them.” And even the most ardent Ikea devotee eventually tires of minimalist uniformity. “It doesn’t say anything about you. It’s not individual,” Hill says. And that’s a problem. “Our homes, now, ever more than before, need to be our nests.”

Ultimately, the appeal of living with handcrafted objects is enduring, Wexler says. It’s simply cyclical, he argues. “The pendulum always shifts.”


Tucked into this issue, you’ll find a poster recapping craft in the 1940s, when this magazine and the American Craft Council began. We’re delighted to offer the timeline, and the seven to follow in subsequent issues, to thank readers for sustaining us for 75 years. And another bonus: American Craft Inquiry, a new journal coming this spring. Inquiry is aimed at readers with a deep interest in the study of craft. Keep your eyes peeled for it.