Enthusiasm for works of art puts old masters, newcomers on the walls of area homes


August 16, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Jerry Sherman gets excited about art. He can talk about it for hours at a time. He sometimes gets so excited it's counterproductive.

One of his favorite artists is the Italian Mimmo Paladino, and recently at a Chicago art fair he saw a 1989 collage called "Cherubini" by Paladino. "I thought it was fabulous. I went wild. I jumped all over the place like a kid in a candy store. I thought later the price probably went up $5,000 then and there." He bought it subsequently from the same dealer at an art fair in Basel, Switzerland, "after crazy types of negotiations," and it became the fifth Paladino in his collection.

Another Maryland collector, who wishes to be anonymous, has a collection whose concentration on early 20th century avant garde art -- cubism, futurism, constructivism, suprematism, de Stijl -- is so thoughtful that one imagines the collector must be an art scholar. But he didn't start out that way, more than 20 years ago.

"I moved out of a modern house of glass and stone that didn't need art on the walls and into this house with lots of plaster walls, and portrait lights over the mantelpieces." So he figured he needed some art.

"I went to a dealer in New York and said I wanted a painting. He asked me what I wanted. I said, 'I don't know, but it has to be 23 by 19 inches.'

"He said, 'Nobody buys a painting that way.' "

Jim and Suzie Hill, who have been a collecting team since the 1960s, have art all over their modest house -- so much art that it won't all fit on their walls. Works by Leonard Baskin, Paul Markus and Leonard Koscianski rest on the floor in the dining room. A photograph by Connie Imboden occupies a chair in the living room. The Hills go on buying, but they don't sell.

"We may give some things to museums and schools and leave instructions for some things to be sold after our deaths," says Mr. Hill. But "the work has not done anything to disabuse us of it. We would not sell it for money."

Collecting thrives

Yes, Virginia, there are still collectors out there.

It may seem that the great days of art collecting are all in thpast, with the results housed in museums: Henry Walters, at the turn of the century, buying 900 works of art at a crack for his encyclopedic collection; the Cone sisters buying works directly from the studios of the 20th century's greatest artists, Picasso and Matisse, for a collection that became part of the Baltimore Museum of Art's family tree -- which ranges from Mary Frick Jacobs' old masters to the Wurtzburger and Levi sculpture gardens.

Maybe something of those heady days is gone, but fortunately collecting never stops.

There's no telling the number of collectors in Maryland at thitime, from Robert and Jane Meyerhoff, whose legendary collection of classic contemporary art (Johns, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, etc.) has been promised to Washington's National Gallery, to the typical local collector characterized by BMA curator Jay Fisher as the person who "collects until the walls are full and stops."

These collectors' interests include everything from old master to abstract expressionists and from painting and sculpture to photographs and artists' books. Recently, three of them allowed a peek at their treasures, showing three very different interests.

Compulsion to collect

Jerry and Gilda Sherman's home is a neutral background for art: gray walls, gray floors, gray furniture, glass-topped tables. "In decorating the house we wanted to have it subordinated to art as much as possible," says Mr. Sherman. "We took a couple of years in the living room to even add a few pillows." One doesn't notice the pillows too much when right in the middle of the living room is an enormous sculpture by Nancy Graves, called "Gravilev." It looks like the skeleton of a dinosaur and demonstrates the artist's "interest in history and prehistory," says Mr. Sherman.

This is one of the collection's 11 works by Graves, a major enthusiasm of Mr. Sherman, whose collection of contemporary art is mainly but not exclusively figurative, with holdings of certain artists in depth. "I always try to acquire more than one example of an artist, to get a greater sense of the artistic development." Other things, though, are completely unplanned -- they just happen.

"Someone asked me, 'Why do you collect women artists?' I don't, though I have works by a number of women artists, some in depth -- Nancy Graves, Mary Frank, Melissa Miller, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Deborah Butterfield -- but I've never collected by gender."

In fact, although the Shermans travel extensively in this country and Europe, Mr. Sherman says he never looks for the particular item. "I never went looking for [specific] artwork and I don't today."

Gaining visual literacy

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