What I Buy and Why: Hannah Gottlieb-Graham on Trading PR Services for Art to Build Her Budding Collection
Gottlieb-Graham tested the waters by buying a Bruce Davidson photograph at Magnum's annual print sale.
Just over two years ago, Hannah Gottlieb-Graham left her full-time job at the New York photography nonprofit Aperture to launch her own boutique PR agency in Brooklyn.
With lockdown restrictions only a few short months away, the timing could have been disastrous, but she’s since grown Alma Communications into a small but thriving outfit with a dual focus on contemporary art and social justice.
After working closely with noted art collector Bernard Lumpkin on “Young, Gifted, and Black,” the traveling exhibition and book of his holdings co-curated and edited by Antwaun Sargent, Gottlieb-Graham also dedicated herself to slowly but surely filling her own walls with works of art.
What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?
I started collecting photographs and prints about four years ago. When I worked at Aperture, I remember the whole staff getting excited about the annual print sale at Magnum, which was an accessible opportunity for me to start building my photography collection. I think my very first print was Bruce Davidson’s Untitled [young couple kissing]. I believe it was $350 framed.
What was your most recent purchase?
My most recent purchase was a set of Glenn Ligon prints: Extract and A Crowded Field. One hangs in my living room, and one hangs in my bedroom. They’re both exquisite, and I feel honored to live with them.
Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?
A goal of mine this year is to start acquiring pieces by the galleries we work with, including Patron in Chicago; Nicola Vassell Gallery and Hannah Traore Gallery in New York; and Roberts Projects in Los Angeles. They all have such incredible missions and rosters. I’m a big fan of Bethany Collins and Jamal Cyrus from PATRON; Ming Smith from Nicola Vassell; and Alexandre Diop and Dominic Chambers from Roberts Projects.
What is the most expensive work of art that you own?
My Jason Moran piece. It’s one of my prized possessions.
Where do you buy art most frequently?
It depends! I’ve done a bit of swapping with the artists and galleries I work with—PR services in exchange for artwork—which is a win-win for both parties and feel like a nice way to build a collection while building a longstanding relationship with my clients. I also purchase work directly from an artist’s studio or through their gallery.
Is there a work you regret purchasing?
What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?
Above my sofa is a custom piece by Alteronce Gumby, a good friend and client of mine. I have two pieces by Alteronce; after purchasing the first, I knew I wanted to work with him on something custom. We collaborated on it when I was first moved into this apartment and started decorating. He titled it Black Swan as an homage to my former dancing days, and it means a lot to me. People often ask about it on Zooms, and I’m always excited to tell them more about Alteronce and his practice.
In my primary bathroom is less of an art-world object—I have a framed map of Lisbon hanging on the wall. I lived there with my family in middle school and it’s one of my favorite cities.
What is the most impractical work of art you own?
I’m not sure if I’d use the word impractical, but I do own two sculptural pieces, which are quite heavy. They’re both from Somerset House [in Long Island City], one of my favorite places to buy furniture and objects.
What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?
I fell in love with Lonnie Holley’s work at James Fuentes [in New York] years ago. He spoke so prolifically about his practice at the opening and a close friend of mine worked at the gallery at the time, so I learned a lot about him.
I specifically loved his wall-mounted wire assemblages—they took my breath away. I had just finished school and I was hustling, working multiple jobs and making my way into the art world, and I couldn’t yet justify the cost. Lonnie has gained a lot of long-awaited and well-deserved recognition in the last few years, and I think about those pieces often.
If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?
If money were no object, I’d love to expand my photo wall and add work by some of my favorite photographers: Diane Arbus, Daido Moriyama, Helmut Newton, Man Ray, Zanele Muholi… The list goes on! If I had to choose one… Maybe something from Moriyama’s “Tights” series.
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