The Piece That Started It All: Top Collectors Reveal Their First Acquisitions

From garage sale gems to family discount finds, here's where it all began.

Diane Audrey-Ngako with works by Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou and Marc Padeu.

Top collectors have treasure troves filled with artworks by major names and “next big things”, but what were the acquisitions that first kickstarted their love affair with collecting? And where should the rest of us be looking? Over the last year, we’ve spoken to collectors around the world about their first purchases. From garage sale gems to family discount finds, read below for some of our favourite stories, and perhaps find inspiration for your next art hunt.

 

Diane Audrey-Ngako: Garage Sale Goods

Diane Audrey Ngako with works by Marc Padeu and Joana Choumali.

Diane Audrey Ngako with works by Marc Padeu and Joana Choumali in her exhibition at the Institut Français in Douala.

“My first purchase was an original work bought during a garage sale in France. It was by a certain painter, a Mr. Diallo, who had called it The Art of War. As soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew it was mine. That was in 2008 and I still have it with me. However, as the name is common in West Africa, I have never been able to find the full identity of the painter. The work cost me $3; I believe the owners just wanted to get rid of it.”

Larry Warsh: Ticket Scalping for a Soyer

Larry Warsh at the 23rd Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit & Auction in Water Mill, New State. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.)

Larry Warsh at the 23rd Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit & Auction in Water Mill, New State. Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

“My first purchase was a painting by the American artist Raphael Soyer. I bought the work during my high school years for about $5,000 using money that I made scalping Rolling Stones tickets in New York City. It was exciting for me to buy a painting courtesy of Mick Jagger.”

Mohammed Al Thani: Saunders Fresh From the Studio

Mohammed Al-Thani with Leyly Matine-Daftary's Haft-Sin (1994). Courtesy of Taisuke.

Mohammed Al-Thani with Leyly Matine-Daftary’s Haft-Sin (1994). Courtesy of Taisuke.

“One of my first purchases was a painting by Matt Saunders. I saw the work at FIAC in 2013, shortly after my friend Veronica Fernandez, who runs Fine Art Advising, arranged for a meeting with Leslie Nolen at Marian Goodman, where I had a deeply memorable conversation with Marian. I was sent to the gallery in Paris, where I walked into a room full of Saunders’s work that had just arrived from his studio, unframed, that I made my selection from. During that same trip, I was introduced to the works of Lari Pittman. I was awestruck. I knew I needed to be living with that work.”

Jordan Schnitzer: Family Discounted Bunce

Jordan Schnitzer with Frank Stella, Puerto Rican Blue Pigeon(1980). Courtesy of Jordan Schnitzer.

Jordan Schnitzer with Frank Stella, Puerto Rican Blue Pigeon(1980). Courtesy of Jordan Schnitzer.

“After my mother, Arlene Schnitzer, opened the Fountain Gallery of Art in 1963 in Portland, Oregon, I started getting art for my birthdays, Hanukkah, and other events. But my first purchase was on June 23, 1965. I bought a small painting, a study by Portland artist Louis Bunce called Sanctuary. It was $75 but with the family discount I had to pay $60. So, I paid $5 a month out of my allowance. But if I ever missed a payment, I knew my mother could foreclose, because my bedroom was next to my parent’s bedroom! I’ve had that work with me ever since.”

Pulane Kingston: Pioneering Portrait of a Woman

Pulane Kingston with Jadé Fadojutimi, My Bloated Burial (2018). Courtesy of Pulane Kingston.

Pulane Kingston with Jadé Fadojutimi, My Bloated Burial (2018). Courtesy of Pulane Kingston.

“A painting by Gerard Sekoto—one of the pioneers of South African art and the first Black artist to exhibit at a white gallery—called Portrait of a Woman. It was around 18 years ago; I bought it from a gallery in Cape Town.”

Naomi Milgrom: Australian Celebrations

Portrait of Naomi Milgrom with Anselm Kiefer’s Merkaba (1997/2011) in the background.

Portrait of Naomi Milgrom with Anselm Kiefer’s Merkaba (1997/2011) in the background. Photo: Duncan Killick.

“During my university years, I made my first art purchases, both works by Australian artists—Howard Arkley and Rosalie Gascoigne. They’re two very different artists, but they both made work very closely related to our Australian surroundings: the city and the country.”

Yoram Roth: Galerie Schrill Sieber

Yoram Roth at Fotografiska Berlin. Courtesy Fotografiska.

“When I was 23 in 1991 I bought a Guido Sieber painting from Galerie Schrill in Berlin, although at that time he was mainly illustrating political cartoons and album covers. It is still one of my favorite pieces. It was about DM 1,500, so about $750 at the time.”


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