Erling Kagge – The “Poor” Collector Who Knows How to Buy Great Art

A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art, Copyright Kagge Forlag 2015, distributed by Gestalten
Erling Kagge
From A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art, Copyright Kagge Forlag 2015, distributed by Gestalten
Installation view of “Love Story – Works from Erling Kagge’s Collection”, 22.05.2015 – 27.09.2015. Astrup Fearnley Museet. Photo: Christian Øen
Exhibition view of Love Story, Astrup Fearnley Museet. Photo: Christian Øen
From A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art, Copyright Kagge Forlag 2015, distributed by Gestalten
By John Bock, from A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art, Copyright Kagge Forlag 2015, distributed by Gestalten
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ART Power HK

Norwegian collector Erling Kagge is the author of the book “A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art”. At home both on the top of the Mount Everest as well as around Art Basel’s booths, this man has a clear vision on how to collect. He shares his ideas with CoBo, including nurturing a healthy obsession for art and buying artists when they are young.

TEXT: Naima Morelli
IMAGES: Courtesy of Erling Kagge and Gestalten

Erling Kagge
Erling Kagge

Erling Kagge is the living paradigm of Oscar Wilde’s proposition of making life a work of art, and making art part of one’s own life. A lawyer and a publisher, Kagge was also the first person in the world to walk alone to the South Pole and to surmount the “three poles” – North, South and the summit of Mount Everest, setting new standards in exploration. His love for adventure, however, doesn’t prevent him from sitting with a glass of good Pauillac and enjoying a newly purchased art installation.

Kagge’s life philosophy is all laid out in the beautiful tome “A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art”. In the book, Kagge doesn’t claim that his rules are everywhere true. He is well aware that each collector needs to follow his own path. He says that “building a collection is much like living life or writing your autobiography – it is intensely personal.”

 

© Gestalten
From A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art, Copyright Kagge Forlag 2015, distributed by Gestalten

 

You describe collecting art as something that pushes you to continually expand your boundaries aesthetically, emotionally and even in terms of budget. Where does this desire for collecting come from?

To be an art collector you must be obsessed. It is beyond rationality and there is a bit of insanity in it, I think [laughs]. Many people have hobbies, they might collect stamps or cars. I personally don’t have hobbies, for me both expeditions, art collecting and publishing are different aspects of the same thing called “lifestyle”. I’m all in and I don’t set boundaries between my private life, my life as a collector, or as an explorer. I considered myself a very passionate and romantic guy. I believe in big ideas and great missions. For me the meaning of life lies in fulfilling your potential.

 

Speaking of romanticism, the 2015 exhibition of your collection at Astrup Fearnley Museum was titled “Love Story”. Why this title?

I see collecting as a love affair, in the sense that I fall in love with the art I have. You can of course be more commercially-minded and less romantic about it, but as a general rule I buy art with my heart. For the same reasons I’m not necessarily against people who choose to make art as a career move, but I find it a bit boring. I think being an artist is not necessarily something you choose. You must have it in you. It should be art or nothing, I believe.

Installation view of “Love Story - Works from Erling Kagge's Collection”, 22.05.2015 – 27.09.2015. Astrup Fearnley Museet. Photo: Christian Øen
Installation view of “Love Story – Works from Erling Kagge’s Collection”, 22.05.2015 – 27.09.2015. Astrup Fearnley Museet. Photo: Christian Øen
Exhibition view of Love Story, Astrup Fearnley Museet. Photo: Christian Øen
Exhibition view of Love Story, Astrup Fearnley Museet. Photo: Christian Øen

 

Do you look at art differently when you are in a museum, where you appreciate it in a disinterested way, versus an art fair, where it is possible to buy?

Not entirely but partly. At an art fair it is mostly about competition, about spotting the best pieces and be able to buy them first. Of course you don’t see this competitive, commercial side in museums. I appreciate a well-curated show, but I also enjoy the playful aspect of the art market.

 

In the book you describe the art world as a beauty contest where everybody cares about what everyone else thinks. Is it possible to really tune into one’s own sensitivity in such a noisy scenario? 

I think it is impossible not to be influenced at all. After all you don’t collect only with your eyes, but also with your ears; you listen to people, and sense what’s going on. No collector is totally independent, but if you are completely reliant on other people’s opinions, then you will end up with a very boring collection. A collection needs to have a personality, you need to make a few mistakes, you need to own some strange pieces. If you only have the right stuff I find it uninteresting. That is why I think for an oligarch it would be very difficult to build an interesting collection. With an unlimited budget it’s way too easy to end up only with trophy pieces.

 

When you buy new work do you ever think of it in relationship to the other pieces in your collection?

Not really, in my collection the only red thread is me. Then of course when I hang or place the art in my house I try to draw a connection, but in general I don’t think too much about it. I buy everything.

Book pages 2
From A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art, Copyright Kagge Forlag 2015, distributed by Gestalten

 

You like to collect artists when they are young, often right out of art school. Do you also follow them throughout their career?

Yes, I like to buy artists very early on. It is not the case with all the artists in my collection, but definitely with more than half of them. I try to collect in depth, but sometimes some artists get too expensive. Other times I stop collecting because I think the artist is not making great art anymore.

 

 What is the most important first step for a young collector?

I think young collectors should first and foremost follow one or three galleries whose program is close to their heart and concentrate on these relationships. Whether you live in Hong Kong, Oslo or London, you should find a local gallery and get to know the people who work there, get to know the program better, and start to support it. I think this is wise whether you are a budding collector or an established collector.

 

 Is loyalty an important quality in your relationship with galleries?

Yes, I believe in loyalty in general and as an art collector I think the most important person to be close with in the art world is precisely the gallerist. Often you have to offer something to the gallery, perhaps something as simple as paying invoices on time, or if they give you a deal, not selling the piece straight away in the secondary market. It pays off in the long run and this way you might be able to have preferential access to fantastic pieces.

A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art © Gestalten
By John Bock, from A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art, Copyright Kagge Forlag 2015, distributed by Gestalten

 

 You stress the importance of being informed both marketwise and from a critical standpoint. What does your information diet look like when it comes to art?

I always read Art Forum, Frieze, the Art Newspaper and Parkett. But I don’t necessarily read every issue. I read them every now and then, and my favourite part is the advertisement because I see what is going on. Of course I also read some of the most interesting articles too. Especially if you live in Oslo, it is important to read magazines to follow the art world. I can’t go to Chelsea or the major galleries weekly, so I’m beyond the gossip scene.

 

What are the international art events collectors should attend?

You know, I have three blond spoiled daughters so I need to be around Oslo. I also have a job, so I can’t attend all the art fairs. But I make sure to never miss Art Basel in Switzerland. And then of course Hong Kong, London, New York, Miami, the biggest fairs are definitely important appointments for collectors.

 

Who are the artists that you are keeping an eye on at the moment?

I love the work of Ceal Floyer, Matias Faldbakken, Hanneline Røgeberg, Josh Smith, Klara Liden, Peter Wächtler, Trisha Donnelly. Their works are not so cheap anymore, but also not crazy. I believe the best is yet to come from these artists.

 

A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art
By: Erling Kagge
Format: 17 × 24 cm
Features: Full color, hardcover, 192 pages
ISBN: 978-3-89955-579-0

About the book

Everything you always wanted to know about the art market but were afraid to ask. A pioneering collector explains how to use passion and intuition to acquire key pieces or build a collection—even on a limited budget.

Today’s art market is incredibly dynamic. There are so many compelling works, shows, and exhibitions to choose from and new galleries are opening all the time. Because there is so much to discover and see, many people are getting interested in collecting art. But since it’s impossible to keep track of all developments, becoming an art collector is not easy.

A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art provides relief and offers sound advice to those who want to buy art but don’t know how or where to do it. They might have preferences in terms of styles or techniques, but they’re not familiar with how the buying process works. Perhaps they already have specific pieces in mind but don’t yet trust the rules of the art market —if such rules actually exist. What does someone actually need to know to prevent their personal tastes from leading them to make the wrong investment decisions?

On his way to becoming a passionate art collector himself, Norwegian adventurer Erling Kagge had to learn these ropes and answer this exact question. His years as a mountain climber and visitor to both poles undoubtedly helped him to explore and assess the extremes of the art market. Thankfully for us, his experience also gave him the desire and skills to impart his knowledge to others in A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art.

This book illuminates all aspects of becoming an expert at buying art that one will enjoy for many years, such as how to get started, how to take one’s tastes seriously, how to do a targeted search for pieces, how to learn to appraise prices, and how to find trustworthy partners. Kagge’s practical yet entertaining step-by-step guidance also includes ways to identify and avoid pitfalls and deceptive temptations. As an extreme athlete, he knows very well how to follow rules yet trust his instinct where it counts. This know-how has benefitted Kagge on the art market and now it will benefit all readers of A Poor Collector’s Guide to Buying Great Art, too.

 

About Erling Kagge

Kagge is a polar explorer, mountaineer, lawyer and publisher. He was the first to reach the South Pole, walking alone and unsupported for 50 days — an exploit featured on the cover of Time magazine, and to surmount the “three poles” — North, South and the summit of Mt Everest. For the past 25 years, he has been setting new standards in exploration. Kagge had already sailed across the Atlantic twice, around Cape Horn and to Antarctica and back by the time he received a law degree from the University of Oslo in 1989. In 1996, after a year’s sabbatical reading philosophy at Cambridge University, he founded what is today one of Norway’s leading book publishers. Kagge’s latest expedition was to cross New York City through its sewage, water, train and subway tunnels.

Artists in the Kagge collection includes assume vivid astro focus, Dan Attoe, Tauba Auerbach, Trisha Donnelly, Olafur Eliasson, Jana Euler, Ceal Floyer, Mark Handforth, Ann Cathrin November Høibo, Sergej Jensen, Adriana Lara, Klara Lidén, Raymond Pettibon, Manfred Pernice, Kirsten Pieroth, Andreas Slominski, Wolfgang Tillmans, Franz West, etc.

 

 


Naima Morelli is an arts writer and curator with a focus on contemporary art from the Asia Pacific region. She has written for ArtsHub, Art Monthly Australia, Art to Part of Culture and Escape Magazine, among others, and she is the author of “Arte Contemporanea in Indonesia, un’introduzione” a book focused on the development of contemporary art in Indonesia. As a curator, her practice revolves around creating meaningful connections between Asia, Europe and Australia.

 
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