Tiqui Atencio, known for her collection of Latin American, modern, and contemporary art, has long established herself as a distinguished figure in the art world. But now that she’s interviewed over 80 of the world’s most prominent art collectors, her expertise has reached new heights. In her new book, Could Have, Would Have, Should Have: Inside the World of the Art Collector, published by Art / Books and illustrated with clever cartoons by Pablo Helguera, Atencio shares the experience, advice, musings, and even mistakes of her peers, like Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Maja Hoffmann, Jeffrey Deitch, Peter Brant, and Anita Zabludowicz.
Atencio received her first artwork at age 17, a Bernard Buffet painting gifted by her father at her wedding in her native Venezuela in the ’70s. It was with this work that her drive to collect art was ignited. A year later, she’d make her first art purchases—paintings by Italian artist Valerio Adami and Venezuelan painter Emilio Boggio—and in the ’80s, she purchased her first contemporary work, a David Salle painting. Today, the New York-based Atencio’s eclectic collection spans Pre-Colombian and Latin American art, the likes of Agnes Martin and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Young British Artists, and mid-century furniture by designers including Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand, among many others. She’s also become an influential philanthropist, serving as an ex-officio trustee of the Guggenheim since 2005, and founding Tate’s Latin American Acquisition Committee in 2003, among other achievements.
Ahead of Could Have, Would Have, Should Have’s December 2016 release in the U.S. (coinciding with Art Basel in Miami Beach), we caught up with Atencio to learn the most important lessons for new collectors—and how to tell when you’ve crossed over from an art-buyer to a true collector.
What New Collectors Need to Know
“Collectors starting out should know that it is important that a collection is personal and should not follow fashion,” Atencio advises. “It should be the expression of a personal moment, a cultural moment, a social moment.” In order to do this, she advises that new collectors do their research, visiting art fairs and museums alike. Once you’re ready to buy a work, she notes, you should be knowledgeable of that artist—including their sales records and auction results—before trying to make a purchase. If you have limited time for this research and your finances allow, Atencio suggests working with an art consultant. “When I started out, I was very fortunate to have a great deal of time to devote to doing research and visiting museums. But many people these days don’t have time to do what I did.”
Also crucial to building a collection, she says, is fostering relationships within the wider art community, including with dealers, collectors, curators, museum professionals, and artists. “I always feel that along with the art itself, I am collecting relationships and it is the information that I take from my peers that helps inform my decisions as a collector,” she explains. Atencio advises those who are new to collecting to become involved in museums through patrons groups (like the Young Collectors Council at the Guggenheim or the Tate Patrons program). There are some cases, though, she notes, where relationships can only take you so far; like when there’s great competition around an artist’s work. “If there is a work of an artist that you really want and if it is difficult to get it through the dealer that you have a friendship with, go to the dealer who represents the artist in another country, where there may not be as much competition,” she suggests.
A Common Mistake New Collectors Make
Atencio notes that it’s common for new collectors to brood over whether or not a work is a good investment. “Time has proven that it is very difficult to predict what will go up in value, particularly among emerging artists, so it is always best to go with work that you are drawn to and you find to be stimulating,” she offers. “I would say, and this is something that nearly all of the collectors interviewed in the book agreed on, you should not collect for investment, you should collect what you love.” A good collection, she explains, “should reflect always the internal feelings of the collector and should be very personal to you.”
The Difference between Someone Who Buys Art and a Collector
“Through the interviews that I conducted to create this book, the distinction between someone who merely acquires art and a collector was clearly articulated,” says Atencio. “Ultimately, the collectors I spoke to all agreed that collecting is a serious, creative, and intellectual activity, which is a lifelong education and becomes a passion, and a major part of people’s lives.”
It was some time before she began to refer to herself as a collector. “I never really considered myself a collector, and then one after the other people started to refer to ‘my collection’ and I was always surprised to hear it described in that way,” she explains. “I think that in a way, I became a ‘collector’ when I started to get the feeling when I saw a work I wanted I absolutely had to have it—or else,” she said. Atencio added that the affirmation also came once she started studying art history. “I would say it has been a gradual process, I don’t think there was a moment that I said I am a ‘collector’… it was just time that led me to see myself that way.”