Who Buys Art?




"I just enjoy all of my paintings. When I started assembling the wall grouping, friends said 'you're not going to group all of these in one large grouping?' I did because I just like to be able to sit and look at all the works at one time." — Mrs. Joe Pless, from a 1970s Commerical Appeal article

I recently ran across this headline while looking through old clippings in the Memphis room of the Central Library. It got me thinking: who collects art in Memphis these days? We have big-time collectors, like retired NBA player Elliot Perry, or businessman John Jerit, whose folk art collection I covered for the Flyer earlier this year. We have out-of-town art enthusiasts who lend parts of their collection to the art museums around the city. But whenever I ask, "What does the Memphis art world need?" I hear a chorus of "more buyers, more buyers, more buyers."

Memphis does need more buyers, and not just big time collectors, but micro-collectors: those of us who choose to spend any extra cash on a painting rather than a new margarita machine. I am curious about Memphis' every day art collectors. How do we come by our mini-collections? Galleries? Kickstarters? Friends? How do we display the works? Does anybody still display art in "groupings", a la 1970s home design?

My guess would be that people buy art because they know the artist, or because they fall in love with a particular work, or because they need some decoration for above their couch. But maybe, with Etsy and Kickstarter and the strange art-purchasing animal that is Saatchi Online, the landscape for art buyers has changed.

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