For Hollis Taggart, collecting art started as a hobby when he was at college, studying art history and business, and later at law school. At first it was limited edition prints – by American or French artists – which were at affordable price points for a student. Later, his collection expanded to include nineteenth century British art – water colours and pre-Raphaelite material in particular – and then nineteenth century American painting – American Impressionism and Hudson River School landscape painting – before evolving into American Modernism and later abstraction.
By this time, Hollis was practising law in New Orleans, but art was starting to take over. ‘As I continued to get more and more serious about the art collecting, it became more and more interesting to me,’ he says.
He decided to take a six-week leave of absence from the law practice so that he could spend time in the local art galleries. ‘I went in every day to absorb the whole art business, just for fun, to really understand it and experience it,’ he recounts. ‘And frankly, at the end of that six-week period, I fell in love with it and decided to do it for a longer period of time, thinking I could always go back to practising law later.’
But he never did.
THE ROAD TO NEW YORK CITY
Hollis continued his self-imposed apprenticeship in one particular gallery, which eventually hired him. But he had greater ambitions, and after working there a year, took the plunge and set up his own gallery in Los Angeles in 1979. At that time, it was a large city with very few galleries, and as he had a number of LA clients buying from him in New Orleans, he felt he would have some support there. Hollis spent four years in LA, but realised he was more comfortable on the East Coast, and in 1983, he relocated to Georgetown in Washington DC. It was familiar territory – Hollis had been to boarding school there and Washington & Lee University in nearby Lexington, Virginia – and he ran his gallery in Georgetown for over a decade.
But, as Hollis observes: ‘All roads end in New York City when it comes to serious art collecting.’ And so, after initially setting up a second gallery there in 1994, Hollis consolidated everything in New York two years later. ‘It was so much more active there, that I decided I didn’t need the Washington DC gallery,’ he says.
To this day, New York is the home of Hollis Taggart Galleries.
‘People from all over the country and the world want to come to New York – it’s becoming a global centre for art collecting,’ he explains.
His main gallery is a 4,000 square foot space in Chelsea, but he also has a more private gallery on the Upper East Side on East 64th Street. ‘There we meet with people who want to look at usually high-end art works in a smaller, more private setting,’ he explains. Most of their clients are American, but they are expanding into European markets through doing a few international art fairs
His eponymous galleries naturally specialise in Hollis’ own passion – post-War American art, encompassing Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Colour-Field painting and other offshoots. ‘I can only sell things I truly believe in and would love to have for myself,’ he says. Although he has a large staff, Hollis describes himself as very hands-on, and involved on a daily basis with major acquisitions and decisions. ‘The buck stops with me!’ he says.
He also has a subsidiary company called Taggart, Epstein, Moore Art Associates, which
runs out of the East 64th Street gallery, assisting clients with art acquisition, collection management and curatorial counsel. ‘It focuses on large transactions, sourcing major works of art that require a different kind of focus from the public gallery. The three of us combine our expertise, resources and contacts to place major works of art with private collectors worldwide,’ he explains. Another arm of the business is concerned with investment in the art market – acquiring pieces and reselling them for individuals who invest in art in a more formal way.
FOCUS ON THE QUALITY YOU CAN AFFORD
When it comes to collectors who want to buy art for their own enjoyment, it’s much more personal. ‘First and foremost, you have to narrow down the field of what they are looking at aesthetically,’ Hollis explains. ‘You walk them through different kinds, schools and periods of art until you find a consistent thread in what that client likes. Then you look at the artists in that field, and hone in on which appeal to them the most. And thirdly you look at what budget they have to acquire.’ Hollis then takes his client to auctions or museums to show them what museum quality art is. ‘Whether you are a collector or an investor, you really have to focus on the best quality that you can afford,’ he adds. ‘Our job is to lead the client towards what represents a good example of the artist or type of art that they like, as well as do the due diligence on authenticity, condition, provenance, exhibition history – all the elements that go into valuing a work of art – as this requires professional experience.’
Hollis is confident about the current state of the art market. ‘It is amazingly resilient in the face of a very topsy-turvy world,’ he asserts. ‘We thought Brexit would have a big influence on the market, but an auction in London the next day was absolutely normal.’ The only change he has noticed in the last two years is that the volume of art on the market is less than it has been. This he attributes to some sellers being reluctant to sell because of economic and political uncertainty. ‘They are holding out to wait and see what happens,’ he says, noting the ‘emotional element to art collecting’. But, he adds, ‘In the 40 years I’ve been with it, I’ve never seen the art market fold. At most, it’s had slow periods, but never serious decline’.
That is not to say there aren’t ebbs and flows in desirability. ‘Some art goes out of favour and really falls in value,’ Hollis observes. ‘For example, nineteenth century American market has come down because tastes have changed.’ Art, like any other asset, is also susceptible to supply and demand. ‘When you are dealing with historical American art, there’s a fixed supply, so the only thing that can change is demand, and it’s a much safer area to bank on. But when it comes to contemporary art, it’s very different as supply and demand can fluctuate. That’s an area where there’s been speculation and a lot of people have been hurt.’ Ultimately, it seems, value is very individual – ‘some care about investment, some care about aesthetics, most are a combination of the two.’
Hollis’ own tastes and art collection have evolved over the years, although he still has some of the original British works that he bought 30-40 years ago. ‘I am not currently buying it – I’m just attached to what I bought way back then,’ he says. Although professing to be ‘pretty eclectic and broad’ in his taste now, he admits that it is Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art that he really loves. ‘Sometimes it is a conflict of interest between the gallery acquiring something and selling it and me trying to keep it for my own collection,’ Hollis confides. He does not have a single favourite artist, but lists Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein and Gerhard Richter as stars in his firmament.
And if he had to save one from a fire? ‘If I had a Mark Rothko I would run with that one!’