Art should be collected with the sole criterion of how much it moves the beholder, with a secondary consideration of investment value, if only as a rationalization for its expense. But one must also be able to live with the art one purchases. In this vein, art also has to be seen from the perspective of décor, i.e. how well it fits in with, and complements one’s living space. People generally don’t wish to inhabit a black-and-white world, yet what is a Picasso lover to do, since most of his prints and drawings are just black on white? My wife and I have given plenty of thought to this matter, and I have been further questioned by clients, whose questions have inspired further rumination. The following is my attempt at a formulation at how one can decorate with Picassos. You needn’t go along with these opinions, but here they are just in case you may find them useful.
Regarding the so-called “Modern Masters of the Twentieth Century”, I’d like to make the case for focusing on one of them (Picasso, as you may have guessed) for the purpose of building a collection, while fleshing out the collection with some color for the sake of a more appealing décor. Here are my reasons:
a. No other 20th century artist even begins to approach Picasso’s graphic mastery, which is an important criterion when it comes to collecting original prints.
b. Picasso had so many varied styles that among his 2200 or so prints one can never get bored. Even if you collected a single representative example of each of his themes and styles, or just of your favorite themes and styles of his, it would still take quite a collection before you ran out of choices and before you felt like you needed greater variety.
c. Picasso prints hold your interest for longer, because of their complexity, the graphic games he plays and invites you to follow, the humor inherent in many of them, their awe-inspiring conception and inventiveness, their unerring line, and the emotions they capture so well and yet with (often) such paradoxically spare lines.
d. Given the dual motives of collecting the 20th century “masters”, art as beauty and as investment, in this context it should be pointed out that no other artist is likely to appreciate at the pace Picasso will. Though some of his prints are quite expensive, as you’ve noticed, so many others are today still very reasonably priced, especially given their miniscule edition sizes (usually 50 plus 10-15 artist’s proofs). Their future appreciation is assured since so many museums avidly collect them.
e. To be practical, rooms need color, and it can get somewhat monotonous to decorate only with black and white prints, even if you use gold leaf for the framing. Picasso’s prints in color, or at least the better prints in color, tend to be rather pricey, though there are some exceptions to this rule. A notable exception is his editioned ceramics. Though I am personally not a fan of most of them, some are breathtakingly beautiful, much more so when viewed in person than in a text or online. Many are suitable for framing. These bear the added advantage over prints and drawings in that they may be framed without glazing (glass or Plexiglas), so that the glare issues are eliminated and the appreciation of the works is much more direct. Beyond ceramics, unless one’s budget could encompass colorful Picasso prints, drawings or paintings, one may need to consider other artists (please pardon my apostasy). Your personal taste(s) should guide you here, but I have some thoughts on this subject as well. They’re very individualistic, and there’s no reason you should agree, but here they are. One good way to solve the color “problem” is by collecting colorful contemporary art, which could provide a nice foil for Picasso’s typically more intellectual but less colorful creations. Japanese prints work nicely as well, we’ve found. Colorful African masks also have their place, and the connection between them and Picasso’s early inspirations would not be lost. For color, you could also consider Warhol, whose vivid prints are beautifully colored and who is probably a good investment. Henry Moore, whose sculptural volumes are somewhat appealing, can also be relatively colorful, though of course not as much as, say, Warhol or even Arp. And, after all, your proverbial red couch introduces a fair amount of color itself!
The main thing is, of course, to respect your own vision and to please your own eye.