The secret to a good art collection? Form strong relationships with galleries. Have a good framer you can depend on. Buy at charity shows when you can. These pointers come from Jon Halperin, who has one of the most enviable pop art / street art collections of small-to-medium prints, original paintings and toys we’ve ever seen. When we recently visited Jon for an up close view of his art collection we were welcomed into his home where no wall is left bare. Works by Shepard Fairey, Banksy, Steve “Espo” Powers, D*Face, Futura, Dabs Myla, Craola, KAWS, Adam Wallacavage, and many more, adorn the space. Most were acquired for under $5,000; many were purchased for $100-$200. Impressively, most were acquired within the last decade. (He also collects art in a another way: Images by some of his favorite artists are tattooed on his arms.)
The bonus of our visit was that while we were exploring our way through Jon’s modestly-sized one-bedroom L.A. condo, which he shares with his wife Julia, a visual merchandiser, and their two dogs Brooklyn and Harlow, he showed us some of the art pieces he’s storing that will be available for purchase at the 2013 Coachella art boutique, which he started heading up last year. This year’s carefully thought-out selection includes a Descendents watch commemorating the seminal nerd punk band’s appearance at 2013 Coachella, a metal Lomography camera, and signed Ben Eine prints. All art pieces sold at the Coachella boutique are limited edition runs of 300 (150 each weekend to bait 75,000 festival-goers), all borne from Jon’s rapport with artists and vision for what makes a collector’s item, a collector’s item. After exploring the depth of his personal collection, it’s obvious why he does this dream job so well. And regarding his own collection: How does he do it, and if he could go back and do it all again, would he approach collecting differently? Keep reading to find out.
When people ask what your style is, what do you say?
I say poppy and colorful and fun.
What’s the most recent art show you went to?
Last night I went to Hanna Barbera [at Van Eaton Galleries] and Meggs [at Thinkspace Gallery], which was awesome. I really liked the pieces, but there’s no taking anything down to replace what we like so much on the walls now. I already have two pieces by Meggs, so do I need a third piece?
How long have you been collecting art?
Ten years or so, but I’ve always collected something. There’s always been something on my walls. Before this, in the 90s, there were prints and concert posters. Even as a kid I was putting up punk rock flyers.
What else did you collect as a kid? Comic books?
Was there a moment when you recognized yourself as an art collector, officially?
When I ran out of wall space.
Do you have a collection inventory?
I did, and I stopped about two years ago because I got so behind. I have an Excel sheet of everything I have and what I paid for it, and now I’m so far behind that I’m overwhelmed to even go back.
Do you ever buy directly from artists, or always through galleries?
If you don’t support the gallery they’re not going to stick around, and you’re not going to discover new artists from them. But for a commission, I’ll just go straight to the artist. It just depends. I already had a relationship with [Adam] Wallacavage because of the gallery I had. I bought a couple of pieces on my own like that, and pretty much everything else I’ve bought at galleries.
You have a lot of works from charity shows.
Well why not?
[Jon likes giving back: In lieu of gifts, he and Julia asked their wedding guests last fall to donate to a charity in Guatemala. They raised $7,000].
How do you describe your place to people who have never been here?
I show them a link to the Apartment Therapy article on my place. I never try to describe my place.
How did you acquire your 4-foot KAWS?
I follow him. He sends out an email saying at what time something is going to come out, then you type out your credit card number in advance so all you do is copy and paste it, and you grab it right away. I lucked out, much to the chagrin of my wallet.
So, nothing over $5,000 for you?
Except for one Shepard piece. I buy what I like. The amount of money I spend on something has to do with whether or not I’m gonna make the investment. I got the Peter Gronquist chainsaw at his first L.A. show, that was probably ’06 or ’07. It was about $3,200. I just knew I wanted one. I actually got it from Coachella — I was in my boss’ trailer and as soon as the preview came out, I grabbed it right away. I had the case made for it that makes it more of a museum piece. The Shepard Fairey dog coat from the London Police show and the D*Face where $1,000 each. The way I framed [the dog coat], you’d never know it was a dog coat — it looks like a piece of art.
You’ve really got your framing down.
Yeah. At this point I’m pretty much happy with everything; there’s a few exceptions. It’s usually black and gold. I use Framing House Design in Chinatown. They take forever but if I ask them something they’ll say, ‘Try this, it would look better.’ They’re the professionals. I’ve been to other places where there’s sawdust everywhere from cutting, and it makes me so nervous with the art.
Have you influenced other people to get into buying art?
Surely I have friends that blame me for having their wallets lighter. It’s the same thing on the other side of the coin…
I was selling a motorcycle once, and everyone who was interested saw the place. One guy was like, ‘This is how I want to live. This is amazing.’ Since then he’s bought two Dabs Mylas, a huge Meggs, an Adam Wallacavage chandelier from the Hello Kitty show, a Shepard Fairey. I seriously have probably been a fifteen-thousand-dollar bad influence on this guy. But he’s bought really smart, good art. It’s funny because like he’s jealous of my collection, I’m jealous of his. I would rather go back in time and buy bigger pieces and have fewer pieces. I would rather have ten or twenty huge pieces, or an original Banksy. With that being said, I’m not about to start purging everything, because I can’t part with it. I’d never part with my Wallacavages.
In addition to art, you have quite the record collection.
We’re going to have to get another storage unit for the records. Because what if you decide today you may not want to listen to a record, but a year from now you’re like, ‘Man, I miss that record, I wish I had it’? That’s my personality. When I think about just getting rid of just everything and having Dabs Myla come over here and paint the walls, that would be just fine, except, I couldn’t get rid of my Espo because that was for [Julia] and me, and then what about the Banksys — I bought those retail. And the big Shepard in the bedroom, he did that for me. I borrowed against my condo to buy it. I can’t let go of it all. So that’s the issue.
Do you buy and sell often?
I bought a couple of the Takashi Murakami Louis Vuitton pieces but I ended up selling them and turned around and bought the Futura and other stuff. I have issues selling pieces though. I put the Space Invader piece up at auction but it only got up to $5,500. I decided to hold onto it. I’ll never get another Invader original. I paid a grand for it, and the ones that [Gallerist Jonathan] LeVine has are 15 to 20 grand…
But then, I have this dream in my mind of going to Thinkspace [Gallery] and throwing everything up on the walls: ‘Jon Halperin is having a fire sale. Everything must go,’ and then have artists come in and paint my place, and then little by little, accumulate stuff again.
Make sure we’re number one on our list to know about that, ok?
But I’m not gonna sell the dog coat, the Shepard in the bedroom, the Espo, so…