Collector’s Edition: Carlo McCormick


In this new series, “Collector’s Edition,” we ask people about their personal art collections—from the first piece of art they ever bought to what they want to acquire next. Last time we spoke to Andre Saraiva, and this time we reached out to Carlo McCormick, a New York-based author, curator and advocate for art.

Continue reading to learn about what Carlo collects.


What was the first piece of art you bought or acquired?

Writing about art I’m ethically prohibited from buying or selling the stuff. It’s a fundamental conflict of interest and a very slippery slope that I frequently warn other writers and curators to avoid. Sadly, few have listened to me over the years. Having known some artists when they were still emerging who subsequently went on to great success, I suppose there could be some regrets that I did not monetize that advantage by buying their work cheap when it is now worth a great deal, but in the profession I’m in, we are hardly more than the sum of our opinions and nothing could be worse than any suspicion that my championing of a particular artist might be informed by the potential to increase the value of something I own. Besides, not having a horse in the race (dog in the fight, what is that expression?) makes it easier to enjoy the great spectacle of cultural production.

Though it is probable that I had been given a few pieces beforehand, by my memory, the beginning of my collection happened all at once, when the community I was involved in decided to throw a very large surprise party for my 22nd birthday. I’d been helping a lot of artists for a couple of years by then, and was the de facto voice for a whole generation of young artists who were at the time gaining much attention as the “East Village scene.” Probably about a hundred artists showed up that night to give me wonderful works in a most humbling show of thanks. I’ve had storage issues ever since.

What art do you have in your personal collection now?

My “collection” is really just a mass of small work, usually on paper or of some ephemeral, multiple form, all acquired as token gifts of thanks typically in swap-exchange for doing some bit of writing (a catalogue, book, artist statement and such) for artists who were too broke to give me money. Lots of the most valuable pieces, I now realize, were given not to me but to my son, no doubt in sympathy and recompense by successful artists who realize that having such a bohemian, non-materialist dad is not the best legacy for him. Living in a small tenement apartment and burdened by a crippling amount of clutter as seems pathologically due to my packrat tendencies, I’ve never had the chance or will to deal with all the art we’ve been given over the years. Recently however, we got a house in the country, allowing us both the liberty of getting rid of our storage space in the city and compelling us to begin sorting through what we actually have and putting some stuff on the wall as one would in those most-domestic impulses of making a home nice. I’m not up there at the moment, but if I close my eyes I can see some of the stuff that adorns our home, including works by Jack Pierson, Mike Bidlo, Jane Dickson, Erik Foss, Mike Osterhout, Shepard Fairey, Kaws, Mark Flood, David Wojnarowicz, Duncan Hannah, Tristan Eaton, Walter Robinson, Nick Waplington, Paul Benney, Tom Otterness, Martin Wong, Sally Webster, John Drury, Luis Frangella, Keiko Bonk, Alex Grey, John Whitehead, Don Rock, Eileen Doster, Dan Witz, Karel Appel, Mark Dean Veca, Kiki Smith, Spencer Tunick, Robert Williams, Vaughn Bode, Kembra Pfahler, John Ahearn, Futura, Thomas Campbell, Barbara Ess, Tony Oursler, David Ireland, Katherine Sherwood, Richard Kern, Jimmy De Sana, Mint & Surf, Ted Rosenthal, Ron English, Mark Kostabi, Richard Hambleton, Dan Higgs, Manuela Filiaci, Chris Johanson—oh I don’t know, I’m probably forgetting a bunch and we’re planning to put a lot more up.

What is your favorite piece in your collection?

I don’t play favorites, these are works by friends and signs of our friendship and as such have equivalent meaning to me whatever other values might be placed on them. I do suppose that the work we own by friends who have died, so many of them way too young as AIDS decimated our generation, has some deeper resonance for us, tangible links of memory to people we have not seen now for nearly 30 years and who did so much to inspire and inform who I am today. Now that I’m finally able to enjoy some small portion of the art I own, however, I am reminded of a conversation I had some time ago with Jeffrey Deitch, who in the years I have known him has been as consistently right as I have been wrong in our disagreements. Jeffrey was surprised that in all the decades I had been involved with art I had never come across one piece that I loved so much I wanted to buy it, but I told I was happy enough to see work in a show, to simply enjoy it for that brief time of contemplation, and that for the life of me I couldn’t fathom the compulsion of people to want to own it. He explained me to the great gift a work of art presents to those who live with it, how it can work as a depository for so many emotions and memories in ways that feed back to you all that put into it with interest. At the time I remember thinking that this kind of speech was just a really good example of why Jeffrey was so great at selling art. Now that I have begun living with the art I own, having it in regular conversation with my wife who has shared this entire life of loving art with me and the son we are raising, and seeing it as well for the remarkable scrapbook it is of friends from over so many different times in my life, I begin to understand the true worth of what this sustained relationship with a work of art is all about.

What art would you like to add to your collection?

More wall space.

Do you collect anything besides art?

It’s hard to say what is actually collecting, which seems to me a real act of aesthetic decision-making and connoisseurship, versus the fact that I get a lot of stuff and don’t throw much away, but if I consider collecting a kind of pathology you can measure by having way too much of something than you could possibly need, you could say I have collections of books, music, films, illegal drugs and perhaps most oddly, shot glasses.

What did you collect as a child?

For boys, far more so than girls, collecting the things we own is a way that we construct and reify our identity. For me this process manifested itself through records, books and (most geeky of all) comics.
Title design by Taylor McKimens; Portrait of Carlo by Damon Way

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