In this series of interviews, we introduce you to the lives of various collectors. Delving into their collecting processes and practices, we discover the background, goals and passions of a broad range of collectors, from art advisors, personal collectors, and those that collect as a couple.
This week, we sit down with Lorraine Dean and Nigel Bagley, who give us a fascinating insight into their dynamic as a collecting duo and how their tastes have grown and evolved together over time. Having lived in Amsterdam for 17 years, Lorraine is Director of the International Department of the (HSV) The Hague School Association and Nigel works for Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer products company.
You collect as a couple; do you have different roles in the collecting process of who does what?
Lorraine: We definitely don’t have different roles. In fact, we don’t have roles at all. We started buying art without a plan and we have never really had one since. If there is no plan, there are no roles.
Nigel: Except that I always seem to be the one who has to do all the administration. That seems to be a ‘role’.
Lorraine: And you have to find places to put everything.
How did you begin collecting together?
Lorraine: We’ve always gone to galleries and museums to see art. When we first started going out together we were in London and the city was exploding with art. We would go to those shows that are now famous as breakthroughs: Gilbert & George at the Hayward; the early Saatchi shows; pop-up shows in Docklands with the YBAs.
Nigel: Then we moved to New York and suddenly we were earning American wages rather than European wages, and at that time, there was a substantial difference. So, the first thing we did was go and buy a Keith Haring lithograph. But in fact, I hate words like ‘collectors’ and ‘collecting’. We don’t see ourselves as collectors at all, we just love art. For example, we have a Michael Wolf piece of Chicago at night from the Transparent City series. It hangs in our hall outside our bedroom door. You get up in the morning, step outside the bedroom and then you stop and look and see more and more and more in the work. To have the privilege of being able to do that is why we buy art.
In what way has your taste evolved as a couple and how do you see it being shaped in the future?
Lorraine: As Nigel said, when we started buying art in New York we were buying lithographs and editions of well-known artists. When we moved to Amsterdam at the end of 2000, we started focusing more on paintings.
Amsterdam was amazing for us because of the accessibility of art and of young Dutch artists. That atmosphere did not exist and in New York or London. And by buying these works you are also helping, in a very practical way, the artists. So, we started buying work by Marjolein Rothman, for example. Her work keeps changing, it’s always a joy to see her new work, it is always developing.
We have always been fans of photography but to start buying photography was a bit of a challenge. We had some vintage work by Shirley Baker and Wolfgang Suschitzky but to buy modern photography – which is mostly endlessly reproducible – seemed odd. But then we saw Martine Stig’s Sisters series, bought one of the prints, and then Viviane Sassen, Michael Wolf, Pieter Hugo and so on. ‘We probably now have more photography than any other medium.’ But in fact, I don’t think the medium really matters at all. It’s not about the medium. It’s about the work.
‘We probably now have more photography than any other medium.’
Do you always agree when it comes to making the decisions or have you ever had strikingly divergent opinions?
Nigel: I can only recall one time when we really have had a difference of opinion and that was earlier this year – hopefully not a developing trend! The one medium that we hadn’t bought was conceptual art. I don’t think I really understand it and I certainly don’t know what you would do with it. But, I was at the Brussels Art Fair, Lorraine was away so she wasn’t there, and I saw a work by Sam Curtis, ‘Getting a Grip #5’. It was basically ten ordinary but useless keys. Nat, the gallerist told me the story of the work. It’s a wonderful story, and the artist is really doing fantastic things: conceptual, performance and video work, but the keys just really did it for me. For the rest of the weekend everyone I spoke to had seen the keys and was talking about them. I told Lorraine all about them. She was not convinced, but I went ahead and bought them anyway. So, a few months ago I was in London and finally picked up the keys. I got home very excited. The ten ordinary but useless keys were in a scruffy old cardboard box. I took them out to show Lorraine, she was not impressed.
Lorraine: I’m never letting him go to an art show on his own again.
Fruit of the Earth, 2016 © Atong Atem/Red Hook Labs
What discoveries have you made at Unseen Amsterdam before?
Lorraine: We always say that we are going to look and not to buy but we usually end up buying anyway.
Last year I remember there was a lot of very fresh work by young African artists. We bought a piece by Atong Atem, an artist that we were not familiar with but we thought the work was super. She was there, so it was great to talk with her about her work. It turned out that she lived in Australia and was working with a New York gallery, but her goal was to create photographic portraits in what she viewed as a traditional African style using her friends. I think that influence of the three continents could be felt in the work and its presentation and that really made it stand out for me.
With Unseen Amsterdam 2017 fast approaching, can you share with us what you are looking forward to in this edition?
Nigel: Martine Stig, who we have work by, is participating in the CO-OP programme and I am very much looking forward to seeing what comes out of that.
Lorraine: I am looking forward to the event itself, seeing friends and acquaintances who will be there. And I suppose, as far as the art is concerned, I am most looking forward to being surprised!