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40 Under 40 USA

Rodney Reid

1 September 2015

You co-founded The Contemporaries, a group for young collectors, in 2003 while at Harvard Business School. What did you hope to achieve? 

I founded The Contemporaries with my close friend Moran Bar-Kochva, with the aim of creating a bridge between young professionals and artists of our generation. Most art patrons tend to be older, more established collectors, who usually follow well-known artists – to some degree to the detriment of emerging artists. We wanted to encourage our peers to support artists of our generation. I do think that acquiring the work of emerging artists is collecting at its purest level, because you’re really buying what you’re passionate about.

When did you start collecting? And have you always felt comfortable with being labelled ‘a collector’?

I probably started collecting seriously shortly after graduating from university. Growing up, I created art myself, but as a young adult I realised that was best left to people who would develop a career from it. As a substitute, collecting has always felt like another creative outlet or mode of self-expression.

I’m reluctant to refer to myself as a collector. It’s true that I own a reasonable number of works, and spend a significant amount of my free time looking for, evaluating, and making decisions about acquiring art. I don’t know if I’ve ascended to collector status, but perhaps I’m in the process of getting there. I do think of myself as a lover of art and a supporter of artists.

You have a great interest in contemporary photography. Where did that spring from?

When I was creating art myself, I was really focused on sketching and drawing – and tended to be more of a realist, trying to capture exactly what I saw. Photography offers a snapshot of a fleeting, actual moment, and I think that’s why I gravitated towards it – I try to surround myself with images of reality. I live in New York and work in the financial services industry, which can be a sort of bubble existence, but through art I’m constantly reminded of existences beyond it. In addition to photography, I’m also interested in emerging media like virtual-reality art, by young artists such as Mark Skwarek who present a surreal reality.

How important is it, as a collector of contemporary art, to establish a relationship with artists?

I’ve probably spent far less time than many collectors with the artists that I collect. Partly, that’s because some of the artists that I’m most passionate about live in different parts of the world. But it’s also that I’m very focused on having my own interpretation of works, rather than viewing them through the artist’s lens. Some collectors – like Moran Bar-Kochva – like to develop very close personal ties with artists, as for them that provides a deeper understanding of a particular artist’s work.

Does the art world make things easy for young collectors?

If I look back at the early 2000s, when I started collecting in earnest, I think the art world then – and access to it – was very different than it is now. It was more opaque and not particularly inviting to young collectors. A lot of that has changed. The internet has made art much more accessible. Museums have done a much better job of reaching out through exhibitions, and the prevalence of fairs has allowed more work to be seen by more people. And these developments have created more opportunities for artists.