What impulse compels people to buy art and hang it on the walls of their homes? What drives them to share that art — or some of it, anyway — with museums so that others can enjoy it? These are among the provocative questions posed by "With You I Want to Live," a pair of complementary but independent exhibitions, each drawn from a local private collection, now running concurrently at the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale.
The questions are never really answered satisfactorily. "With You I Want to Live" turns out to be less an exploration of the urge to collect than an exploitation of it, which is not such a bad thing. At least we get to look at lots of art, some of it very good, along the way.
The show shares its title with a neon sculpture by Tracey Emin included in one of the collections. The sentiment expressed is as good an explanation as any of the collector mentality: You like it, you buy it, you live with it.
The downstairs galleries are devoted to "The Collection of Francie Bishop Good + David Horvitz." Good and Horvitz have a long history with the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale. Both sit on its board, and Good, an excellent artist herself, has previously exhibited at the museum. The couple provided seed money for the Artist in Residence program there, and Good is a founder of Funding Arts Broward, which supports area arts organizations, including MoA/FL. The museum's auditorium is named for Horvitz's parents.
The Good/Horvitz collection is substantial enough and the collectors serious enough about it that they had a New York architectural firm design their home as a showcase for the art. That collection is represented in this show by more than 70 works from about 60 artists. All but a couple of the pieces are by women, a reflection of Good's influence in shaping the collection. (She acknowledges her husband's deference and support in the show's catalog.)
Not only is the work largely by women but it is expressive of their concerns. There are several photographic portraits of girls and women at important junctures of their lives. One piece, a large, untitled, aluminum-mounted C-print by Hannah Starkey, juxtaposes a young mother and her child with a map of the world they inhabit. Another work, Laurie Simmons' 2004 piece The Instant Decorator (Yellow Kitchen), brims with narrative possibilities relative to women's lives.
The show includes big names in contemporary art, including Tina Barney, Gregory Crewdson, Inka Essenhigh, Jenny Holzer, Annette Messager, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Gillian Wearing. There are also such South Florida artists as Naomi Fisher, Beatriz Monteavaro, Carol Prusa, Samantha Salzinger, and Frances Trombly. The old guard is represented by a commanding Louise Nevelson sculpture, Mirror Shadow XXVI (1986), a wall-mounted late-career piece that was something of a departure for the artist.
The museum's main upstairs galleries house the smaller but grander of the two shows, "The Collection of Gordon Locksley + George T. Shea." Locksley, who is now 78 and maintains a residence in Fort Lauderdale, is a well-known dealer who, with friend and business partner Shea, has amassed a considerable collection, starting in the 1960s and continuing to the present.
Clusters of work within the collection represent areas of interest for Locksley, whose tastes have guided the acquisitions he and Shea have made, according to the show's catalog. The minimalism of the '70s and '80s, for instance, makes a strong showing via Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Robert Mangold, and Brice Marden. More recent concerns include contemporary Asian art and the work of such urban artists as the enigmatic Englishman known only as Banksy and the Frenchman who has adopted the name Blek Le Rat.
In between, we get the mythological grandeur of German artist Anselm Kiefer and the facile virtuosity of the Damien Hirst of the early 21st Century. There is also a big, beautifully understated canvas by the underappreciated Ross Bleckner.
In his catalog interview, Locksley wrestles with what it means to be a collector. "I think it's the nature of the animal," he says at one point, followed by, "Some people want to possess beauty... We somehow want to own it, that piece of perfect cosmic beauty." He sums up by saying, "We're just the temporary caretakers and owners of the art... It's the art that lasts" and admits, poignantly, "I miss every painting I ever sold."
For two exhibitions that will occupy the museum for so long — the Good/Horvitz collection will be up through mid-October, while the Locksley/Shea collection, amazingly, will be around through next spring — there is shocking carelessness in their presentation. Artists' names (Tracey Emin, Anselm Kiefer, Banksy) are misspelled in wall text, typos creep into the catalogs (Locksley comes "from a blue color family"). Two world-class collections merit greater attention to detail.
At least the museum's executive director, Irvin Lippman, comes to the rescue in one of the catalogs with a succinct characterization of collectors: "I like to think of them as adventurers who search out and discover treasures and bring them back to share with us." That's as close as we get to plumbing the secrets of collecting.