CMA Thinker
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CMA Thinker

The Art of Collecting

By Heather Lemonedes Brown, CMA Deputy Director and Chief Curator

The exhibition Impressionism to Modernism: The Keithley Collection celebrates the gift of more than 100 works of art from the collection of Clevelanders Nancy and Joe Keithley. Amassed over more than twenty years, their collection focuses on Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and modern European and American paintings, but also contains variety and depth beyond these areas. Visitors to the exhibition will discover Chinese and Japanese ceramics, drawings by Dutch artists of the 17th century, and drawings and prints by artists such as Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, John Marin, and Joan Mitchell.

Throughout two decades of collecting, the Keithleys enjoyed an ongoing dialogue with CMA directors, curators, conservators, and designers. They consulted museum staff when they found works of art that interested them and museum directors and curators drew their attention to works that we thought might appeal to their sensibilities. The Keithleys’ criteria for collecting was simple but ambitious: each painting, work on paper, or ceramic had to speak to them on a personal level. Each work of art they acquired found a place in their Cleveland home — they did not store their art collection in a warehouse.

Simultaneously, however, the Keithleys were seeking to create a museum-quality collection; they wanted each work of art to be something that would augment the CMA’s collection in a meaningful way.

Rather than arranging the exhibition chronologically, beginning with the oldest works of art and concluding with the most contemporary, the exhibition is intended to evoke the way the Keithleys lived with their collection.

The walls of the first gallery are painted a rich shade of mahogany, and the CMA’s Director of Design Andrew Gutierrez added architectural details such as crown moldings and chair rails to evoke a domestic space. There, visitors find Dutch drawings from the Golden Age and European decorative arts made for the home, such as a silver coffee and tea service, a golden compact for face powder, an Austrian sewing table, and French porcelain potpourri jars. Throughout the rest of the exhibition, Asian ceramics are juxtaposed with Western paintings and works on paper, provoking comparisons that we hope are aesthetically pleasing, thought-provoking, and at times, playful.

At the conclusion of the exhibition there is a visitors’ response space that invites the public to share what they collect by writing on a card that is hung on a peg on the wall. Visitors have embraced the opportunity to participate, enumerating collecting interests as varied as cookbooks, signed baseballs, teapots, postcards, cats, and husbands!

Tonight at 6:00 p.m., the CMA hosts a panel discussion, “The Art of Collecting,” that probes questions such as Why do people collect? And what personal value do collections hold? Tonight I am moderating a conversation with comic book collector Benjamin Joines-Mundy; sneaker collector and authenticator Sadelle Moore; and music critic and record collector Annie Zaleski in which we explore the passions that drive collecting.

Each panelist is a devoted collector who has blended their personal fascination with their vibrant professional careers. Benjamin Joines-Mundy is a lifelong comic book collector and has worked at Carol & John’s Comic Shop in Cleveland for twelve years, now as the shop’s manager. Ben loves recommending and selling the best stories to the best people and embraces the organizational aspects of collecting (fig. 1). Sadelle Moore is one of the founding team members of StockX, an online marketplace facilitating the sales between buyers and sellers of collectible sneakers based on the items’ current valuation. A startup that began in Detroit, StockX now has international offices in the UK and the Netherlands (fig. 2). Sadelle is the company’s first-ever sneaker authenticator. An industry veteran, he has over twenty years of experience in influencer relations in the sneaker and entertainment industries and is an avid sneaker collector. Annie Zaleski is an award-winning journalist and author of several books, including a volume on Duran Duran’s Rio as part of the 33 ½ series; the illustrated biography Lady Gaga: Applause; and liner notes to the 2016 deluxe reissue of R.E.M.’s Out of Time (fig. 3). Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, NPR Music, Time, Rolling Stone, and Billboard. She is a devoted record collector.

Several weeks before the panel discussion, I had the pleasure of meeting Ben, Sadelle, and Annie for a zoom conversation, and the parallels between collecting comic books, sneakers, and records, and collecting art became immediately apparent. Issues common to all are: rarity, price, condition, preservation, display, cataloguing and keeping track of the collection as it grows, sharing and use versus preservation, storage challenges, and security.

At the panel discussion tonight, we will discuss what ignited the passion for collecting for Ben, Sadelle, and Annie; how they live with their collections; how collecting personally dovetails with their professional lives; unexpected places where they have made discoveries for their collections; and jewels in their collections. Parallels and differences among their approaches to collecting will become apparent as will their goals for their collections.

As the curator responsible for the exhibition Impressionism to Modernism: The Keithley Collection, I was invited to moderate this panel discussion when it was proposed by Andrew Cappetta, manager of collection and exhibition programs in the Department of Public and Academic Engagement at the CMA. Working with the CMA’s curators and the director to augment the museum’s collection — through purchases and gifts from donors — is central to my work at the museum. Therefore, I was delighted to delve into the topic of collecting and to meet other passionate collectors.

But the topic also appealed to me personally. Like many people, I have a collecting passion apart from my job. About twenty years ago, I began collecting first edition books by women poets (fig. 4). How did such an esoteric interest begin? I am the only child of a high school English teacher and reading was an essential part of my childhood, so perhaps collecting books felt natural.

My collecting habit as an adult feeds into one of my favorite pastimes: browsing in bookstores. Privately owned stores with used materials are my preference. An hour or two on a Saturday in a bookstore, reading book jackets of new books by authors I like or who I’ve never heard of is my perfect way to unwind. I never leave a bookstore without perusing the poetry section. Sometimes I find what I identify as a treasure, like May Sarton’s A Durable Fire, whose poems contemplate solitude and memory, or Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women, each of its twenty-two pages exhilarating and triumphant. One of the best gifts I ever received was Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, poems written in the last months of Plath’s life that changed the way poetry was written and thought about in the second half of the 20th century. Like the museum — and our panelists — I don’t collect in quantity, but when I find something that I love, or that is new and riveting, home it must come.



Art from another angle: Stories from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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