What I Buy & Why: Drawing collector Jack Shear on his best antique store find and the most underrated artist of the 20th century


Jack Shear is a man of many talents: photographer, curator, executive director of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation and, unsurprisingly, voracious collector. He recently combined several of these roles for an exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art, where nearly 100 selections from his treasury of works on paper are on display through August 22.

“Drawn: From the Collection of Jack Shear” showcases not only his keen eye, but also his agile mind, as it breaks museological conventions with a playful suspension that unleashes unexpected relationships between the selected pieces.

We caught up with Shear, who continues to guide the legacy of his late partner Ellsworth Kelly, to find out which revolutionary sculptor deserves more love as a designer, his Taoist attitude to coveted works, and why two Ingres heads are worth better than one… but not necessarily the way you’d expect.

View of the installation of “Drawn: From the Collection of Jack Shear” at the Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, from March 27, 2020 to August 22, 2021. Courtesy of Jack Shear and the Blanton Museum of Art.

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and in an antique store there, I saw a Japanese print: Kawase hasui Zojoji Temple, Shiba, from “20 views of Tokyo” (1925). I’ve always been fascinated by Japan, I put $ 10 on it and said, “I’ll be back in a month.

I think two months have passed. But in the meantime, this year’s Pasadena Museum Christmas card has arrived.and it was the same block of wood. So I rushed over to the place and said, “Do you still have it?” They did and I bought it. I think it was $ 60 in 1969 or 1970.

What was your most recent acquisition?

I bought a really interesting piece by Jacques Quesnel from 1588 called Time Fighting Youth (“Time fighting against youth”). It is believed to be one of the only pen and brown ink drawings signed by this particular artist, who was a follower of [Hendrick] Goltzius. It’s incredibly rare, they don’t come.

Stanley Whitney, Untitled (2020).  Jack Shear Collection, © Stanley Whitney, photo courtesy of Jack Shear.

Stanley Whitney, Untitled (2020). Jack Shear Collection, © Stanley Whitney, photo courtesy of Jack Shear.

What works or artists would you like to add to your collection this year?

Salvador Dalí, a beautiful drawing from the 20s or 30s. A particular genre by Claes Oldenburg. I believe he is one of the great designers of the second half of the 20th century. I have four or five of his works. They are very bushy, and the kind I am looking for would be a very articulate pencil and watercolor. I saw a few of them coming and they just weren’t made for me so I let them go. I just got a Stanley Whitney which is in color. I tend to like black and white designs. I’m not sure exactly why, but I do, so maybe I would like to get a Stanley Whitney drawing in black and white.

Do you have broader fundraising goals?

My collection starts to be around 750 designs. I am not sure if I will split it, but it will be donated at some point to a university or educational museum, like the [more than 1,500] photographs that I gave to Tang Education Museum at Skidmore.

I am on the Prints and Drawings Committee of the Museum of Modern Art. This has always been very important to me on many levels, and I am interested in helping them. But big museums have more than enough material, and it would really make it easier for a university, art department or art history department to bring people to come, as well as to exchange knowledge and images. with other museums.

Jasper Johns, <i>Untitled</i> (2015), Jack Shear Collection, © 2021 Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA at the Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo courtesy of Jack Shear.

Jasper Johns, Untitled (2015), Jack Shear Collection, © 2021 Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA to the Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo courtesy of Jack Shear.

What is the most expensive work you own?

This is a strange question because I think it depends on the work itself. “Expensive” is arbitrary. If you buy a coin and pay double its current value because you think it’s worth it, does that make it the most expensive coin? If a part costs a lot of money but you pay what others are willing to pay for it, does that mean it’s not that expensive?

Where do you buy most often?

Dealers, auctions and art fairs.

Is there a work that you regret purchasing?

Looking back, it’s still 20/20, but regrets? I do not think so. There are some that I like less over time and that I may have been very enthusiastic about at first.

I remember buying a little head of Ingres and I was like, “Oh my God, a kid from the San Fernando Valley bought a head of Ingres? What is it about? ”Then buying my next one, which was phenomenal… I don’t regret buying the first one, but has it diminished in my eyes? Maybe slightly. But it completes what I have, and I bought maybe two or three more Ingres [works] since.

That’s it, collecting. It’s how you step forward and see parallels, how this drawing speaks to this drawing, how you see these two drawings in context. So, how are you.

Francis Picabia, <i>Transparency</i> (ca. 1930-1933), Jack Shear Collection, © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.  Photo courtesy of Jack Shear.

Francois Picabia, Transparency (ca. 1930-1933), Jack Shear Collection, © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo courtesy of Jack Shear.

Do you have work hanging over your sofa? And in your bathroom?

I have nothing on my sofa. I rarely hang art in my bathrooms. I do have sculptures in my bathrooms though, especially the larger bathrooms with fountains and the like. They tend to be figurative, so they have that Roman quality in a way.

What is the least practical work you own?

Does this mean that there is practical work that I have?

What work would you have liked to buy when you had the chance?

There is too much. Either I didn’t bid high enough, or I set a limit, or I went back to the art fair booth and off we went. I don’t feel that buying art is opportunistic in relation to what is presented to you. I’m a Taoist, so I like the idea that you just have to let go of certain things. You may not have everything you want, but if you try sometimes you might find what you need.

If you could steal a work of art without getting caught, what would it be?

A called Vermeer The concert from 1664. It was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and I was returning it to them.

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