Private Art Collectors Wade Through Economic Climate | WBEZ
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Private Art Collectors Wade Through Economic Climate

Last year, over 50,000 people attended Art Chicago, Chicago's Contemporary and Modern Art Fair. Art Chicago 2009 kicks off today in the midst of an economic crisis that's forcing public museums to cut budgets and raise admission fees. Eilee Heikenen-Weiss finds out how Chicago's private art world is doing.

A TV on Jefferson Godard's living room floor flashes images that look like a cross between music videos and pornography. Music blends with sounds from other TV's around the house—a lot of them actually.

GODARD: 6 TV's and right now I have one projector playing.
But this isn't the spice channel or MTV.

GODARD: Almost everything in my house is based on video art.

Godard's an art collector. Today and tomorrow, as part of Art Chicago, he'll open his home for VIP tours of his personal collection. Collecting art is more than a hobby for Godard—it's a way of life.

The TV's are always on, looping the same images and songs for months at a time. But that doesn't bother him.

GODARD: It's like hearing your favorite song over and over again.

The videos show a variety of images—from sunsets over Lake Michigan to more provocative themes like slavery, oppression, and sexuality.

GODARD: The video we're watching is by guy Benair, it's called stealing beauty.

“Stealing Beauty” is from an Israeli artist who traveled to different IKEA stores across the globe, using them as sets for the 18-minute story he and his family act out using IKEA merchandise. It's got a heavey Marxict focus, but there are other themes--like family and sexuality, to.

WOMAN:Oh god! I see you don't waste time!
MAN: What?
WOMAN: Don't you what me! Masturbating in the shower again.
MAN: No I wasn't!
WOMAN: I saw you working
MAN: Just cleaning myself
WOMAN: Now that's a new one. I just hope you fantasize me from time to do it.

IKEA customers walk by as they act out the story using product displays for sets. If you listen carefully, you can actually hear an employee make an announcement over the loud speaker.

To the untrained eye, this might not seem like art. But Goddard explains the history behind it—the tightly woven story, carefully planned scenes. But don't expect to find a copy at your local blockbuster.

GODARD: This piece, for example, Stealing Beauty, is an edition of six. So I own one of six.

Art's always been a big part of Godard's life, but he wasn't a collector until five years ago. His collection is mostly video art, but his passion started with a photo he couldn't get out of his head. So he called the gallery it belonged to and asked about the price.

GODARD: I heard the price on the phone and I wad dumbfounded. After a lot of research and thinking, he bought it.

And that's when it all started.

GODARD: It became an addiction, I guess—a very expensive addiction. MOVIE: Young lady, you're grounded!
GODARD: Of course, the economy effects everything. Everybody's doing a value check.
CORBETT: Historically, the value of art has been an enormously sturdy kind of investment.

John Corbett owns an art gallery and is a professor at the School of the Art Institute. He says Godard's experience is not unlike his peers.

CORBETT: Whether people are going to collect art in a period of economic difficulty depends on a lot of things. It depends on whether their perception is that art is like other kinds of things they might invest in—so if they've been treating it like a stock, which I think a lot of people actually have been collecting it that way, they're a little bit less likely to turn to it. Because it resembles other kind of investments they have in their mind.

He admits that business has been slow, but thinks that the art world will weather this storm just fine. He's got other concerns.

CORBETT: From my perspective, the most important and most difficult task is to renew collectorship with younger collectors.

--collectors like Godard, who belongs to a young collectors group through the Museum of Contemporary Art. Godard says for him, it's not about the monetary investment.

GODARD: Because I wouldn't be able to enjoy it, they'd be like stocks that you keep in a drawer somewhere on an email file.

It's about his love for art. But given the economy, will he still be on the lookout for more art to buy this weekend?

GODARD: Always, always.

And if he leaves Art Chicago empty-handed, that's OK.

GODARD: The wonderful thing about art fairs is being exposed to new artists that might be outside of your radar.

Artists he might buy from in the future.

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