Art Market

6 Art Collectors on “The One that Got Away”

Ayanna Dozier
Sep 2, 2022 8:53PM

Henry Taylor, fil's house, 2016. © Henry Taylor. Photo by Joshua White. Courtesy of the artist, Blum & Poe, and Hauser & Wirth.

We all remember the heartache of a lost love or missed connection: the dress or reunion tour tickets that sold out before you could buy them, or the phone number you never got from someone at a party. For collectors, “the one that got away” is often an artwork they nearly acquired—and lost out on.

Building an art collection can be about self-expression and supporting an artist’s practice. So to miss the chance to buy great work can feel like a lost opportunity to complete oneself or connect with a particular artist. And in the art world, scarcity means that there are many “ones who get away.” Most paintings, sculptures, and drawings are unique originals, and an artist’s work is always limited in supply.

This, of course, is what makes the work so special, and what makes losing “the one” all the more devastating. Artsy spoke with six collectors to learn which works they consider “the one”—which pieces slipped through their grasp, and which ones they still continue to chase years later.

Pete Scantland

Salman Toor
The Bar on East 13th, 2019
Luhring Augustine

For Columbus-based philanthropist and art patron Pete Scantland, knowing when you encounter “the one” is deeply personal. As a collector, he prioritizes emerging artists who open his mind to new corners of the art world. He was heartbroken to lose out on an opportunity to purchase Salman Toor’s The Bar on East 13th (2019), which was acquired by two other collectors and is now promised to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Toor enjoyed a breakthrough 2020 solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and his paintings have been flying out of his gallery, Luhring Augustine—at higher prices—ever since. “It is an incredible painting by an amazing artist, and I’m still holding out hope that I get one someday,” Scantland wrote to Artsy.

Going forward, Scantland is trying not to make the same mistake twice. “I have a mental list of artists I’m focused on, but also try to see as many shows as I can, and I try to pay attention to what other artists, galleries, and friends are seeing,” he wrote.

Using these channels alongside Artsy and Instagram helps Scantland be more plugged into the emerging art scene. “I make new discoveries all the time, and try to be spontaneous and open to new things,” he wrote. “So I love new discoveries, and when I see something I believe in, I am always excited to jump in.”

Scantland noted that he’s hardly alone in his reticence to purchase works by young artists. He recently read Hugh Eakin’s book Picasso’s War (2022), which depicts a long history of collectors who have been tepid in pursuing challenging new artworks. Early 20th-century collectors missed opportunities to purchase groundbreaking pieces by Juan Gris, Georges Braque, and Pablo Picasso, and Scantland vows that, alternatively, he’ll embrace newness in his collecting practice.

“The beautiful thing about focusing on art of my own time is that I can build a relationship with galleries and artists that are my peers and carry that through their careers as a gallerist, as an artist, and mine as a collector,” he wrote. “I’m hoping that when I’m done, I’m not going to have a lot of white whales.”

Alia Al-Senussi

Alia Al-Senussi, a princess and London-based scholar and curator, gravitates towards art that conjures her own memories. “I remember seeing a Cai Guo-Qiang gunpowder drawing in 2005 and being fascinated by it, by him, and by the performative experiential aspect of the work and being reminded of it over the years—yearning to own a tiny bit of that celebration, of that moment,” she wrote to Artsy.

While Cai’s work immediately left an impression, Al-Senussi only realized years later just how significant the piece was to her. “So at the time I wouldn’t necessarily think, ‘Oh, I want this,’” she said. “It’s more about reflecting what an artist and their work means to me in the context of that journey.”

Al-Senussi develops deep, emotional connections with the works she acquires. “It’s about that tingle when it washes over me how truly content I am—and I want to commemorate that exact feeling,” she wrote. “I love to collect moments in time, objects that remind me of a fantastic trip, of a fabulous celebration, [or] of a major work or life accomplishment.”

Yet Al-Senussi also noted that the real “white whale” for her may be one of those romanticized, bygone eras in which great creative minds got together—“in the cafés of Paris, the fields of Provence, the temples of Cairo, Arabia, Nanjing, Seoul, and of course the golden light of Los Angeles.” There are still pitfalls to that fantasy. She admitted, “I suppose being a woman in the context of those moments in art history would not have been the same as now—the struggle was, and continues to be, real!”

Vaughn Spann

Installation view Noah Davis, Isis, 2009 and The Conductor, 2014 at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, “The Milk of Dreams,” in April 2022. Photo by Roberto Marossi. Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia.

Artist Vaughn Spann, like those of us who thrive on yearning, actually prefers to be haunted by a work of art. The work he pines for is a Noah Davis painting, whose title he preferred not to disclose. Davis, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 32, made quiet, meditative canvases offering fantastical reimaginings of quotidian Black life. His influential work is in high demand; the artist was included in this year’s Venice Biennale exhibition, “The Milk of Dreams,” curated by Cecilia Alemani.

Regarding Davis, Spann wrote, “I’ve always been a fan of his work. I remember visiting Studio Museum [in Harlem] as a student and seeing a painting of his and just being amazed.…There’s a quiet storm in each work and I love that. During peak COVID, I was offered a small Noah Davis painting on canvas by a collector at an incredible price, [but] I just couldn’t justify buying anything around then.”

While Spann missed out on that specific painting by Davis, he still firmly believes in following your gut when collecting. It doesn’t matter what appears to be popular. “I was offered a few Anna Weyant paintings early on and I held out because I was specifically looking for a painting of a woman of color like she’s made in the past,” he wrote. Spann’s decision to pass on that Weyant work demonstrates his convictions on art buying—only acquiring art that speaks to him and reflects his interests.

Currently, Spann told Artsy, he is chasing an On Kawara piece, 5 October 1993. Even if it ultimately evades him, the pain of losing out is nothing compared to the “internal regret” of not going after a piece he loves.

Laurie Ziegler

Arts patron Laurie Ziegler prefers work that shows an artist at their best—sometimes, that’s literally a self-portrait of an artist living the good life. “I know that I erred on declining a Henry Taylor,” she wrote. “I thought it was a great painting, actually a perfect painting of Henry floating in the pool, he was happy, I could (and still can) feel his joy. We all have experienced that joy.”

Ziegler rejected the work because of its size. She was ecstatic when Taylor transformed fil’s house (2016) into a large-scale mural for New York’s High Line in 2017. The public art piece affirmed her enthusiasm for the work, but she regretted not purchasing it for herself when she could.

Ziegler is attracted to artists with a unique voice and passion. She loves Marisa Adesman’s paintings and is hoping that some time soon, she’ll seal the deal with one of Adesman’s galleries—perhaps Anat Ebgi. “When Anat first showed me her work I thought a bent utensil wasn’t for me, but then as her work evolved, wow!” Ziegler wrote. “She had a work in her show at Anat Ebgi where just looking at the detail on the side of the table in the painting was absolutely incredible, truly special!”

Jeffrey A. Magid

Salman Toor, Music Room, 2021. © Salman Toor. Photo by Farzad Owrang. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine.

Los Angeles–based music producer Jeffrey A. Magid collects work that connects with him “societally or politically,” he wrote to Artsy, “or just in a visceral sense.” What gets to him is “the way the artist creates their own language.”

Salman Toor’s work really moved Magid, as it did Scantland. Magid’s “one that got away” is Toor’s Music Room (2021). He missed the opportunity to purchase the painting when it was on view at Luhring Augustine in 2021. “[Music Room] was my favorite work of his I had ever seen,” Magid wrote. “I spent an afternoon in the gallery looking at it. It’s genuinely moving.” The large-scale painting, awash in pink and purple tones, depicts a vibrant group playing music.

While Toor’s work is still on his radar, Magid is currently pursuing a spray painting by mixed-media artist Sterling Ruby. On the other hand, wrote Magid, “he’s one of my favorite artists, but right now I couldn’t fit the painting in the door!”

Michi Jigarjian

Micihi Jigarjian, who is the board president of Baxter St. Camera Club in New York, approaches art collecting in a holistic manner, with an eye towards acceptance. “There are many works that I would love to have in the collection but I don’t see it as getting away,” she wrote. “As a steward of the work my approach to the collection is about building a dialogue of history and I take great pride in that responsibility. If it got away it’s because it wasn’t meant to be!”

Jigarjian develops collaborative relationships with artists in her collection, many of whom orbit her own community. “Sometimes I will do a studio visit and see work that speaks to me or often, I ask the artist which piece they would like to see in the collection,” she added. “Having this collaborative approach makes it less transactional and more meaningful.”

In line with this ethos, Jigarjian considers her “white whales”— works that she’s endlessly chasing—to be an untitled light piece by Félix González-Torres and a bust by Simone Leigh. González-Torres and Leigh are both renowned for rich, collaborative work that blends art and activism. Jigarjian strives to support such socially minded artists as she acquires new pieces—and learns to let go of what she can’t have.

Ayanna Dozier
Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.

Correction: A previous version of this article referred to a Henry Taylor painting by an incorrect title. The 2016 painting is “fil’s house,” not “the floaters.” “the floaters” is the title of the 2017 mural based on this painting.