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Art&Seek Q&A: John Reoch

by Stephen Becker 20 Nov 2008 11:04 AM

North Texas is home to a vibrant and budding gallery scene, with multiple galleries opening in the past few months. But, unlike museums, galleries rely on tasteful collectors interested enough in the work to purchase it. Without these patrons, many budding artists would have no means to emerge. John Reoch is one such collector. A […]


North Texas is home to a vibrant and budding gallery scene, with multiple galleries opening in the past few months. But, unlike museums, galleries rely on tasteful collectors interested enough in the work to purchase it. Without these patrons, many budding artists would have no means to emerge.

John Reoch is one such collector. A Dallas attorney with Stutzman, Bromberg, Esserman & Plifka, Reoch can often be seen at gallery openings, perusing the offerings and educating himself on the art world.

During a recent e-mail discussion, he discussed the art that interests him most, some of his recent acquisitions and the connection between art and fashion:

Art&Seek: You’re one of Dallas’ foremost collectors of Modern art. How did you get interested in Modern art and when did you become a collector of it?

John Reoch: Some people are quite simply just collectors. As a child I had a stamp collection and was fascinated with the beautiful colors and designs of stamps. Today, I have a substantial collection of modern and contemporary fiction and poetry, a collection of vintage watches and cuff links, a collection of pocket knives and walking sticks and an every expanding collection of contemporary art.

Although my childhood did not have much of a focus on art, I gradually became very much interested in it. In college, I had a girlfriend that worked at an art gallery, and after college I would visit art galleries and museums. As a young lawyer in Philadelphia, instead of having lunch, I would visit art galleries and museums. I made friends with gallery owners and young artists. I started out my art collection with fine prints. One of my early disappointments, which still haunts me to this day, was deciding between two prints, each was $75 but I could only get one. The one I didn’t purchase was an early self portrait of Chuck Close.

When I moved to Dallas in 1981, I brought with me art work that I had collected from Philadelphia, but I was interested in exploring the art scene of my new residence.

Again, I visited as many galleries as I could as well as the local art museums. I developed friendships with local artists and gallery owners. Artists would tell me about other artists that they were interested in. I focused on the artists that were my friends and artists that they thought were of merit. After over 25 years of prowling art galleries and artists studios and college campuses in the Dallas area, I have amassed a collection of several hundred works of regional art.

A&S: Within the Modern art sphere, do you have a particular artist that you focus on or a sub category?

J.R.: My focus on collecting and living with art is the art of emerging contemporary regional artists. There have been works of art that I have seen on my travels that I would have liked to have owned, but for the fact that they were not emerging regional artists I did not purchase them. There is a lot of great art being made throughout the country and the world, but by supporting regional art galleries and artists, I believe that I am enhancing the quality of life in this area. Further, my purchase of a $1,000 work of art from a young artist has far greater impact on that artist than were I to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an artist that everyone knows. A young artist needs the money to buy art materials, food and shelter. The purchase of their work validates them and their vision, and they in turn bring a vitality to our area. I have a $6,000 maximum price limit that I will pay for any work of art. This is done in part out of frugality but also in recognition that once an artist is selling art for more than $6,000, the artist has reached a certain level of establishment status. Most of my art purchases are under $2,000. Buying art at this level is not a sound monetary investment, but it is an investment in a quality of life that needs to be sustained. A few of the pieces that I have purchased over time have appreciated significantly, but many, many others, I would doubt I could sell for what I paid for them.

A&S: Do you have a particular gallery that you like to visit?

J.R.: I visit almost all the local art galleries on a regular basis. I have the work of artists represented by each of the galleries forming CADD, the Contemporary Art Dealers of Dallas. Additionally, I have acquired work from Photographs Do Not Bend, 500X, The MAC, The Dallas Contemporary, Goss and Angstrom Gallery. The gallery system is very important to our community. I am pleased as to how it has grown over the years. Further, I am pleased by the quality of work that is being shown by our local galleries. The galleries provide a vital avenue for artists to have their work shown to the public and for the public to see art for free in an open setting. Hopefully the CADD Art Lab Gallery at 1608 Main St. will provide many of Dallas’s new downtown residents an easy one-step opportunity to see a variety of contemporary art works from various CADD gallery members.

A&S: When you visit galleries, are you normally looking to buy, or are you mainly just going to browse?

J.R.: Local galleries are extremely helpful and friendly in providing advice and insight to the various shows they are putting on, as well as providing background information to each of their artists. I generally visit a gallery multiple times during the run of a show. I will often visit prior to the opening of the show in order to see if there is any work that I am compelled to buy. I enjoy going to the opening night parties and visiting with like-minded friends attending to celebrate the art work and to visit and gossip about what is happening on the art scene. Further, I would visit later in the show’s run to have a more reflective view of the show. I rarely visit a gallery with the idea that I am going to purchase a work of art, unless I know the artist’s work or an artist or another friend has alerted me to a new body of work by an up-and-coming artist of special note.

A&S: When you are considering purchasing a piece, what separates the items that you admire from the one that you must own? Is there a litmus test for purchasing?

J.R.: When I purchase a work of art, it has nothing to do with color coordination or matching it to the fabric on a sofa or whether I have a particular spot to install the piece. I have committed to purchase many works of art often without knowing where I could possibly show such. I am fortunate in that I am in an office of approximately 25,000 square feet and I have the complete freedom (subject to some sensitivity to subject matter) to install the art that I purchase throughout the office space. Even so, I have purchased a large sculptural work and installed it in the office, but eventually had to have it removed so as to accommodate a secretary’s work station. As far as purchasing a work of art, it is mostly based upon a level of excitement. If a work creates excitement or intellectual curiosity or amazement such that I am especially drawn to it, I am more likely to purchase it.

A&S: Tell us about your favorite piece in your collection.

J.R.: I have many works of art that fall within the category of favorite. These so called favorites could not be categorized by type, style, content or media. Rather than address favorite pieces, how about I tell you of the two most recent works of art that I have committed to purchase, each were recently on exhibition.

The first is a large painting on metal of a princess or noble woman dressed in lace and fine jewelry (above). The painting is almost 4 feet square by the artist David Crismon. It is based upon a portrait originally painted in 1559. The image is then computer manipulated to create a new image. Crismon, with incredible painterly detail of old-world skill, paints the new image and also adds certain small color patches. The old image is thus appropriated and is made anew, raising the serious questions of beauty, identity and perspective. I am also drawn to the work because I am particularly drawn to portraiture as well as fashion. The work is currently on display at the Craighead-Green Gallery on Dragon Street. I have several of Crismon’s earlier works, which surprisingly are far more abstract.

The other new work that I have committed to purchase is an abstract piece of sculpture (below). I have a true fondness for both painting and sculpture. I have numerous pieces of sculpture, equally divided between abstract and figurative works. The new piece of sculpture is by David Dreyer, who is represented by Valley House Gallery — one of the oldest contemporary art galleries in the area. I recently saw Dreyer’s work at a solo exhibition of his at The MAC, and the piece that I am acquiring was at the initial CADD art studio show.

A&S: Have you ever bought something that you later wished you hadn’t?

J.R.: Early on I bought works that were more affordable than perfect. I nonetheless still can be an impetuous purchaser. Some of my earlier purchases were dark with a brooding existentialist quality to them. That has changes substantially. My relationship with the art that I have is a living relationship, it is dynamic. The works that please me the most are those which continue to engage me, whether through introspection or wonderment. I greatly appreciate art pieces that sustain my interest over a long period of time.

A&S: Besides visual art, are there other areas of the arts that you particularly enjoy?

J.R.: I have a broad and intense interest in the arts outside of the visual arts. I am a past board member of The Dallas Opera, and I am very excited about the new opera house. In addition to enjoying Dallas’ great opera company, I enjoy opera on my travels. I have seen opera in Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and numerous times in New York, London and Paris. Dallas also has great theater. I especially enjoy the more challenging works performed by Kitchen Dog and Undermain. I have a keen interest in film, with a focus on European films and independent films. Perhaps my strongest interest in the arts outside of the visual arts is in contemporary fiction and poetry, which I avidly read and collect.

A&S: You are also quite a fashion lover – do you see similarities between what interests you in clothes and what interests you in art?

J.R.: I think there is a strong connection between fashion and art. Clearly the way that we dress is a means of expressing ourselves. Fashion is a form of communication, it becomes a manifest dialogue embracing culture, beauty and style. There is also the possibility of delight and joy in how one dresses. It is an opportunity to engage and enjoy life. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “If all the world is a stage, how come we do not dress the part?”

The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.

Portrait of John Reoch: Dallas Museum of Art