James Cottrell + Joseph Lovett
By: Hansen Mulford
James Cottrell and Joseph Lovett have been building an extraordinary collection of contemporary art for more than 45 years. It is a collection that not only represents some of the period’s most important artists, but also reflects the collectors’ passion for discovering new talent and making commitments to challenging work before it is critically proven. Their high regard for the artists they collect is often demonstrated by long friendships and a practice of collecting an artist’s work in depth over time. They have a strong desire to see and know everything about the artists they are interested in and after making that connection, they provide ongoing support. “Once I find someone I really like,” Jim says, “I continue to acquire their work. Many of the artists we met and whose work I bought in the seventies and eighties, we still collect.” These lasting relationships have resulted in many lifelong conversations that have shaped and enriched the collection.
As young collectors living in lower Manhattan in the 1970s, Cottrell and Lovett were engaged in the area’s lively artworld of gallery openings and social gatherings. They were intrigued by a new generation of artists soon to gain international attention. They made early acquisitions of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, their first was a drawing bought at the AIDS support auction for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Other works added to the collection by emerging artists of the 1970s and 80s included Keith Haring, Donald Baechler, Barton Beneš, James Brown and others. During this period, they also had the opportunity to meet David Hockney through mutual friends. Cottrell and Lovett were particularly drawn to Hockney’s early imagery and eventually acquired numerous paintings, drawings, prints and photographs by the artist.
The scourge of HIV AIDS was of deep concern to Cottrell and Lovett and is reflected in some works they collected. Gregory Thompson’s prescient painting of a young man whose life is being sucked away by a demon like figure was made before the artist was diagnosed with AIDS. Barton Beneš was an AIDS survivor and incorporated the AIDS medications he depended upon in many of his works. Andres Serrano’s Crucifixion is a provocative and timely image of Christ on the cross submerged in blood.
Cottrell and Lovett’s active involvement with work on HIV AIDS and other issues in the LGBTQ+ community have resulted in a number of works that entered the collection through fund raising auctions. These include works by Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Vik Muniz, Mary Heilmann and Jenny Holzer. Other works express statements about gay identity including Andy Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen series of drag queens which appear as fresh today as they were forty years ago and Robert Mapplethorpe’s portraits of black male figures which are elegant and sensual.
Cottrell and Lovett’s collection is guided by a personal vision and informed by their experiences and friendships rather than artworld trends. Artist Barton Beneš expressed a sentiment repeated by other artists, “As my work changes or I move in new directions, they grow with me.” Deborah Kass is another artist they have collected over time with seminal examples from several of her series. They have made similar long-term commitments to the work of Suzanne McClelland, Malcolm Morley, Adam Fuss, Roland Flexner and others.
It was their friendship with French artist, Roland Flexner that took the collection in an international direction with the addition of important works by French, Spanish, Portuguese and German artists. It is a direction that James Cottrell regards as a core component of the collection. Flexner introduced the collectors to a number of French artists in his New York studio including Edouard Prulhière and Damien Deroubaix. During visits to Flexner’s home in Nice, Cottrell and Lovett were introduced to many others. These included abstract painters Noël Dolla, Daniel Dezeuze and Dominique Figarella and representational painters Philippe Mayaux and Robert Combas. Works by these artists were unusual acquisitions at the time for collectors based in New York, but they reflect the independent spirit of Cottrell and Lovett’s artistic interests.
The aesthetic of the collection is overridingly in favor of painting often in expressive styles and with tactile surfaces. This is epitomized by Miquel Barceló’s, Soupe D’Ane, 1992. This large scale painting depicts a bowl or cauldron in which the ingredients of a soup swirl about. This “everything” soup contains not only meat and vegetables but whole bulls, donkeys and a book painted with heavy impasto and organic matter that makes the surface three dimensional. For Barceló soup has a metaphorical meaning. “The soup represents a little bit the image of cultural chaos,” he says, “It is the last image to create when nothing else is possible.”
Informed by curiosity, careful observation and a continual dialog with artists, gallerists, curators and museum directors, Cottrell and Lovett have built an important collection of contemporary art with an international scope that now includes more than 600 works. “This is a collection that starts with and is sustained by the act of looking,” Cottrell says. “We have to like what we are looking at. While the works in the collection must be strong visual statements, it becomes important to understand what the artists are about, the journey they are on and what they are doing with their lives.”
The Orlando Museum of Art has had a rewarding relationship with James Cottrell and Joseph Lovett since organizing the exhibition Co-Conspirators: Artist and Collector in 2004, followed by The Conversation Continues in 2016, each presenting over 100 works and accompanied by catalogues. Following these exhibitions, the collectors have left 63 works on long-term loan to the museum. These additional works, together with the museum’s permanent collections have allowed curators to expand the scope of the museum’s changing exhibitions. Directions in Contemporary Photography, The Figurative Continuum and Radical: Contemporary Abstract Art are a few recent exhibitions that have incorporated works from the Cottrell and Lovett collection.
The Orlando Museum of Art has been collecting contemporary art since 1985. With purchases funded by Acquisition Trust and Council of 101, along with gifts from private collectors, the collection now has over 1,000 works of contemporary art. These include paintings, photographs, videos, sculptures and prints. The museum’s collection has a number of works by artists in the Cottrell and Lovett collection including paintings by Malcolm Morley, Suzanne McClelland and Tom McGrath along with works on paper by Donald Baechler, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Mary Heilmann, Louise Bourgeois, Amy Sillman and Vik Muniz. The combined collections would o er an extraordinary in-depth survey of artists working during the past 40 years. Particular strengths of the combined collections would be: painting, both abstract and representational; works on paper by a wide range of major artists of the period, and an expanded scope of international art which is a goal the museum has set for the collection in response to the diverse and global artworld of today.
The Orlando Museum of Art’s permanent collection is at the heart of its mission to inspire creativity, passion and intellectual curiosity by connecting people with art and new ideas. The collection’s strongest area of concentration now is contemporary art. Given ongoing support for acquisitions, potential for gifts from private collections in Central Florida, and the enthusiasm the community has shown for contemporary art programing, this part of the collection is likely to become even more important in coming years. The addition of the Cottrell and Lovett collection to the Orlando Museum of Art’s permanent collection would build upon the museum’s strengths and provide new focus and direction for its programing and identity in the community and beyond.