Become an art collector: “Picasso’s Drawings” curator offers tips

January 26, 2012

“Picasso’s Drawings, 1890-1921: Reinventing Tradition,” opening Sunday at the National Gallery of Art collects 58 drawings, watercolors and pastels from the first three decades of Picasso’s career. Andrew Robison, the NGA’s senior curator of prints and drawings, is a passionate supporter of private collecting. Or, as he said, “I would absolutely, 1000% endorse the interest, value and personal rewards from owning original art.”(That is not a typo: he said 1,000 percent.) As he finished installing the Picasso exhibition, Robison offered his advice on how to select and display art in your own home.

Protecting its delicate sensibilities “With works on paper, prints and drawings, the biggest problem is light. You need to protect them from any direct sunlight or strong indirect sunlight. You can get very good ultraviolet filtering glass or Plexiglas you can put in the frame, and it’s very clear and colorless. It doesn’t distort the image at all. And in terms of where you place works on paper, there are very easy rules to follow: don’t place them facing a window. Face them between two windows, so the light coming into the room doesn’t fall onto the object. Or [you can put them] in hallways and in darker areas of the house.”

Shop around “Three things: look, look, look again. Look at museum exhibitions, look at commercial gallery exhibitions. If you know any artists personally, even amateur artists, talk to them. It helps to open up your eyes to different issues of works of art.


Pablo Picasso, ‘Pierrot and Harlequin,’ Juan-les-Pins, 1920 pen and black ink with gouache on cream paper sheet (folded in half). (Courtesy National Gallery of Art)

Sit at the kids’ table “It sounds a little bit naive, but it’s not: even thinking about your children and their childhood drawings and watercolors, and trying to move from parental pride into more objective judgments. ‘What is it I like about this?’ That may lead you in one direction or another.”

Taste test “When you’re picking for your own collection, you’re not always deciding whether it’s good or bad. You’re also deciding what you want to live with.”

Staying on theme “I tried to organize [the Picasso exhibit] so that related objects are side-by-side. That’s something you can think about when installing works in your home. Two watercolors, in Picasso’s case, that deal with the same subject in a different style, placed side-by-side, can play off each other . . . But the opposite can also be very effective: works of different periods or types but of a similar size or density.

Breathing room “I like to have things rich but streamlined. That’s the balance. I like to have a nice variety on view, but not crowded.”

Making moves “Be open to experimentation. You can find that it’s a lot of fun to move [a piece of art] around. See how it looks in the living room instead of the dining room. Works of art, if you choose well, will stand up in different contexts. They will be like seeing a friend in a different dress.”

“Picasso’s Drawings, 1890-1921: Reinventing Tradition”

Jan. 29 - May 6, National Gallery of Art, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW, www.nga.gov, 202-842-6353.

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