Steve Shane

Collector Q&A with Steve Shane

My passion for art began in my senior year of high school in a Detroit suburb. I decided to take a humanities class, and there I met a teacher, Nancy Updegraff, who would be one of the most influential in my life. She introduced me to the world of art. She challenged me to examine art to look beyond what I saw, discover what the artist was trying to say, and how the art spoke to my heart.

My “claim to fame” is that I worked at Annina Nosei Gallery in 1982 when Jean-Michel Basquiat was using the basement of the gallery as his studio, so I knew him very, very well.  I do regret that I didn’t buy a painting by him then. 

I dislike the word “collector” as it applies to me. I see myself as an art historian and an art lover. Most of my leisure time is spent immersed in the world of contemporary art. I visit galleries and museums. I attend conferences and art fairs. As a way of expanding my art perceptions, I present lectures on art to many diverse audiences. My greatest joy comes from hosting groups in my home in “salon style” visits. During these visits, which are designed to be interactive, I share anecdotes and special insights into my curated selection of artwork. 

Even though my career as an anesthesiologist was not in the art world, art has been part of my life that has sustained me and helped me grow as an individual. 

Steve Shane, self-portrait.

What is your absolute favorite thing you do within the art world?

My absolute favorite thing to do in the art world is to host the Steve Shane art salons (a la Gertrude Stein). This is my way of giving back to the art community by inspiring young art students and others who visit. Through my salons, I hope to arouse curiosity and a lifelong love of art. I am immensely proud of the salon as it has grown due to word-of-mouth. 

Here is a partial list of groups that have joined my salons:

  • Pratt Institute (Professional Practices class to MFA students) Bill Carrol professor.
  • City University of New York (CUNY): Lehman College the Bronx (Dannielle Tegeder professor).
  • Brown University (Professional Practices for Visual Artists) 
  • University of Arts in Philadelphia MFA / Seminar on Art Criticism 
  • SCAD (Savanah College of Art and Design, Atlanta)
  • Penn State Sculpture Dept
  • Univ of Massachusetts at Amherst 
  • The University of Iowa Art Dept
  • F.I.T. 
  • Rutgers University Art Dept
  • NYU
  • RISD (Rhode Island School of Design)                                                              
  • Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture
  • School of Visual Arts (Tobi Kahn professor)
  • Young Collectors Circle of Amsterdam
  • Pace University (NYC)
  • Montclair Museum of Art
  • Sculpture Center (Long Island City, NY) 
  • New York University Visual Arts Administration MA Program in the Dept of Art and Art Professions, Professor Elizabeth Marcus

Who is your favorite artist or one piece of all time?

Although my interest in art began with the study of Salvador Dali in high school, my favorite artist is Chaim Soutine. I stop in my tracks when I see a Soutine painting in a museum or auction house. I am smitten by his brave brushstrokes and how emotional, expressive, and unique his works are. Chaim and I share the same core souls. 

What were your first and most recent purchases, and why?

My first purchase was an Alex Katz cut-out that I acquired in 1979 from the legendary gallerist Susanne Hilberry of Birmingham, Michigan; when I was 26 years old. Susanne became my good friend and mentor.

Also, before she became well-known in the art world, I proudly acquired several Cindy Sherman works.

My last acquisition is always my favorite. I especially like acquiring works from MFA thesis shows. I am frequently told that I am the first non-relative to acquire a work by the artist. 

Steven Shane collection view, photo credit Jeffrey Sturges.

What piece or artist would you want if money or size were not a concern? 

If I had the space, I would want an Anslem Kiefer assemblage filled with real bicycles and grocery carts. 

Is there a theme or direction or media to your collection?

I collect all types of media. I am not a “print snob.” Once a print hangs on my wall, no matter how large the edition, there is only one in my home. 

Here are some of my favorite themes that I see throughout my collection: 

  • Seduction Meets Repulsion 
  • Sense Of Humor 
  • Art About Art
  • Photography of Invention 
  • Down and Dirty Painting 
  • Painting Without Paint 
  • Dysfunctional Family 
  • Bad Boy/Bad Girl
  • Here’s Looking At You
  • Process 
  • Celebrity
  • Magnified Inanimate Objects Personified
  • Romance 
  • Irreverence
  • Decay

You have described yourself more as a curator than a collector. How so, and what is the difference? 

The curatorship happened by accident. In 1994 I was asked to give a lecture about my collection for a museum. I was unsure about how to organize the works I was featuring in my lecture. Through trial and error, I decided to search for the themes which were common in these works. I discovered themes that have become very personal to me. I do not search for the themes; the themes search for me! It’s part of subconscious curating where thinking in themes is unintentional.

Steven Shane collection view, photo credit Jeffrey Sturges.

You have a committee to assist you in donating works to museums and organizations. Why do this? What types of people are on the committee? To whom have you donated? 

Since I do not have children or a partner, the committee must continue donating art after I am no longer on Earth. I also want my name and my “eye” to live where the art will be appreciated and serve to stir the soul of those who view it. 

The committee is composed of very close friends who have different interests and talents. 

Over the years, I have made numerous donations to art museums and institutions. Donating artworks in honor or in memory of those who have brought meaning to my life, such as my parents, brother, art history or humanities professors, or a gallerist, is extremely important to me. I also try to donate art to museums that mean something to me personally. 

Here is a partial list of where I have donated works thus far:

  • The Cleveland Clinic (many)
  • Cranbrook Art Museum (several)
  • The Guggenheim Museum NYC
  • The Broad Art Museum at Michigan State Univ in East Lansing, Michigan
  • The Samuel Dorsky Museum at SUNY New Paltz, New York
  • The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (several)
  • The Detroit Institute of Art
  • The Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Connecticut
  • The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California
  • The Henry Ford Cancer Institute in Detroit, Michigan
  • The University of Michigan Art Museum in Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • The Whitney Museum of American Art
  • The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University
  • The Newark Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey

What are the biggest obstacles to collecting? 

The biggest obstacle in collecting is dealing with the variety of agendas of the players in the world of art. My agenda is always not to purchase more art because I have all these works and too little space to properly display them. I especially abhor being treated like a “wallet” when I am visiting galleries or art fairs. I prefer to be respected as an art historian. Frequently, I find that a gallerist may not have the depth of knowledge of art history to properly discuss artwork and is merely interested in making a sale. 

What is the best deal you made when purchasing? This could be about price or discount or a piece that is now worth a great deal more than your purchase price.

Since I purchased many pieces of art early in an artist’s career, the work appreciates significantly as the artist becomes more well-known in the art world. My objective in early purchasing is not investment or monetary gain. I plan to donate my collection, not sell it. I become nervous when work becomes unbelievably valuable. This has happened with many of my early purchases, such as Wangechi Mutu, Glenn Brown, Cindy Sherman, Robert Mapplethorpe, Alex Katz, David Wojnarowicz, Keith Haring, Jean Dubuffet, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Prince, Sigmar Polke, and many others. I don’t wish to be described as a wise investor but rather a good judge of talent and sincerity.

Steven Shane collection view, photo credit Jeffrey Sturges.

Any advice for someone thinking about making their first purchase? 

My advice is to take a few art history classes, go to several museum exhibitions, art fairs (I love them), and MFA thesis shows, and join one of my Steve Shane art salons. Don’t purchase art with your ears; purchase with your eyes. Make sure the piece speaks to you.

Four words that begin with the letter “I” that I don’t like when considering a work: interesting, investment, iconic, and important. These are negative trigger words for me. 

Who are some of your favorite underappreciated or non-represented artists that you do not think get enough attention?

I have several favorites, but to randomly name a very few:  

Steve with his late mother, Sonia. Photo by Frank Shaenboen.