Artful generosity

The Madison Art Collection receives Alan Feltus artworks and a look into the journey of an art collector

College of Visual and Performing Arts Stories

Ever wondered what it is like to be an art collector? Donor Richard T. Spurzem, who recently gifted the Madison Art Collection a selection of Alan Feltus paintings, gives an inside look into the journey of a patron of the arts. Now on view in the College of Visual and Performing Arts Dean’s Suite in the Forbes Center, the artworks Figure in an Interior (No.1) and Figure in an Interior (No.2), along with their preparatory drawings, will be on display during the Spring 2024 semester. 

CVPA sat down with Spurzem to learn how he became acquainted with the art world and why he chose to share his passion for collecting with the James Madison University community. 

Q: Could you tell us a little about yourself for those who may not know you?  

A: I was born and raised in Minnesota, moved to Charlottesville when I was 15, and have been here more or less the whole time. I’m in the real estate investment and development business here in Charlottesville.  

Q: How did you begin your journey collecting art?  

A: So, I went to a party at someone’s house, and they had an art collection of primarily American artists. I liked a lot of the works and liked the fact that their whole house had art all around it. I had bought some art before, but I really didn’t know where to start, so by looking at their collection, I was able to get some names of artists I liked. This allowed me to start following those artists, and by getting the names of dealers, I was able to start acquiring some pieces. A lot of these artists I now collect are all sort of interrelated to other artists. If you find one person, then you can just sort of go down the road and start going in all these directions and then find other artists that are somewhat related to them, and then you can decide which ones you like or which ones you don’t like. That’s how I started acquiring some artworks and most of it came from auctions. That’s part of my interest — is the auction — visiting and participating in them. Part of art collecting is the quest, the search for art. 

Q: What made you decide to part with these specific pieces? 

A: Someone once told me, “Once you’ve filled all your walls with art, then you’re officially a collector if you keep buying more art.” Once the space is filled, you don’t want to move the paintings around so much because they could get damaged, so I thought to myself, maybe I should give them to a place where people can see them. 

Q: What artwork in history has inspired you the most? Is there any art that has consistently attracted you or anything that unites all the works you have acquired?  

A: My interest is really in American Art, in what you call, postmodern figurative representational art. It’s stuff that was not particularly, in vogue. During the ‘60s and ‘70s, there was much stuff about Pop Art and Conceptual Art, just abstract stuff. My interest is more figurative representational art. I feel like I can understand it, but it also has a real modern twist. There are some artists from this genre that have become famous, but I’m not sort of in that league to collect those pieces. There is a person named Alice Neel who had a show at the Metropolitan Museum; 20 years her paintings were $500, and now they’re like $3,000,000. It’s kind of fickle. 

It’s hard to know who is going to catch people’s attention and then become the star. Most of the money in the art world is going to abstract art and other stuff from the last couple of decades. I was collecting stuff that is sort of underappreciated and overlooked. 

Spurzem has also gifted several other works of art to the MAC including two paintings by Isabelle Weber, known for her silhouette work in the opening credits of Mad Men 

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Published: Monday, January 22, 2024

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 24, 2024

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