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Art Collecting

January 02, 1988

As an antiquarian art book dealer for nearly 20 years, I have watched with keen interest not only the significant increase in the art market over these many years but its solidification as well ("The Material Pursuit of Collecting Art," by Suzanne Muchnic, Dec. 30).

Tom Wolfe should get some credit for noting that museums have replaced churches as places of worship for the very wealthy. And it must be said that to some large degree the art market is an irrational market. It is true also that there is a large degree of hype within the art world.

But, please, do not let the media go so overboard in praise of Wolfe that we end up building another church in honor of Tom Wolfe. I am sure that Wolfe would prefer a world that amasses knowledge without ego trappings, just as I am sure that executives of Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses do not return checks because buyers acquired their art historical knowledge from university press titles. Some "buys" can be made for the right reasons.

If glitter and a false sense of "pride of ownership" have helped define the art market as we know it today, let us not forget that the major architects of our cultural cosmos we reshape daily and at every art auction are named Vasari, Burckhardt, Wolfflin, Warburg, Friedlander, Max Raphael, Erwin Panofsky, Arnold Hauser, Sir Anthony Blunt, Millard Meiss, Edgar Wind, Rodolf Wittkower, along with many others too numerous to mention, including several generations of American-born scholars.

Would the owners of Cezanne's art be just as happy to sell their Cezannes if John Rewald excluded their possessions from his writings? Would the buyers of Cezanne's art be gleeful to write seven-figure checks for Cezanne's work that was omitted from this artist's bibliography? Can there ever be a work of art in the real world so functionless that it faces its viewer only to be seen or purchased by a pure lover of art?

Art does not exist for some reactionary to confirm his or her place in the Great Chain of Being; art exists so that the every new generation can confirm their place in this chain while adding yet another link. And so what if there are people who cannot, or do not, take this process seriously?

JOHN ALAN WALKER

the Art Bookie

Big Pine

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