"Art Is One Man's Opinion"

And collector Kent Logan expresses his with large bodies of modern works, which he's donating to museums, but with a twist

By Thane Peterson

What would you do if you could do pretty much anything you wanted? At 57, that's the situation Kent Logan finds himself in. He retired in 1999 after making a bundle in investment banking -- most recently as a top gun at San Francisco-based Montgomery Securities, which was sold in 1997 to Nationsbank. Logan now lives in Vail, Colo., where he pursues two passions: skiing and collecting art.

The latter is a passion Logan came to relatively late in life. He majored in religious studies at Brown and got his MBA at Wharton. Most of his career, he worked in New York, the art center of the world, but he didn't get deeply into art until he moved to San Francisco in 1991 to join Montgomery.

When the art bug bit, it bit hard. Logan says his wife, Cindy, is involved in the collection, but he's "the real driving force behind it." By 1997, the Logans had bought 300 works, which they donated to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Logan won't say what the collection is worth, but it isn't a paltry affair. It includes works by such artists as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, David Hockney, Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, and Damien Hirst, as well as other prominent contemporary artists.

Since 1997, the Logans have collected 600 more works, which they plan to give jointly to the San Francisco MOMA and another museum. They're now being courted by museums worldwide, from London's Tate Modern to New York's Guggenheim. The Logans figure the works will spend less time in storage if they're owned by two or more museums. Meantime, they're building a 7,000-square-foot private museum next to their home in Vail to show more than 100 pieces themselves.

On Apr. 5, I caught up with Kent by phone in Vail. Here are edited excerpts of our conversation:

Q: Why did you choose collecting art as your main activity as opposed to, say, drinking, or weightlifting, or travel?


I didn't wake up one day and decide I had to start collecting art. The first dealer I ever spent time with was a fellow in Vail who had a contemporary gallery right next to the place where we used to go for après-ski. We gradually got [to talking], and I started to buy some stuff. It's ironic to think that I first got interested in art in Vail. But my real interest and the collection grew out of my time in San Francisco.

Q: Which artists are you passionate about right now?


If I had to isolate a group where I think there's going to be growing interest, it's the group of artists around Berlin. I'm always interested in societies that are undergoing change, and there now seem to be a lot of creative forces coming together in Berlin.

Q: And you're the biggest collector of the so-called Young British Artists?


Certainly the biggest in the U.S.

Q: Why not just give the collection away and let the museum decide what to do with it?


In many ways we're forging a new paradigm for how a museum works with what I think will be an increasing number of still-active collectors. I would characterize the old model as...a collector says, "Here, take my art and do what you want with it." It really isn't going to work as the model going forward.... Our objective is to have the art shown. Most museums display a small fraction of their art a small fraction of the time. Just to move the art from our storage to a museum's storage doesn't make sense. It doesn't serve the artist's objective, either.

Another important thing I've come to realize is that most museum collections are collections of objects. Ours has always been a collection of ideas and themes. It was important to us that it be shown as a collection.

Q: But you don't want it all in one room with your name on it?


We never asked for that. I want a commitment for a structured exhibition schedule and that the curator curate from within our collection. But there's never been any requirement that the art be hung continually in one gallery.

I don't think museums should be forced into a role of providing the imprimatur on contemporary art by saying, "Here's what's important." The museum's role should be more as an investigator, to say, "Here's what's going on." They have to recognize what they display now may or may not be important in 20 or 30 years.

[Our collection] is like any speculative portfolio. I would hope that 5 out of 10 pieces will be considered important in 20 years. But I don't think 9 out of 10 will be. If you collect cutting-edge art, it's not clear what's going to be considered important in 50 years. Within that context, we're trying to look for artists who address important issues.

Q: And you think Andy Warhol is the most important artist of the 20th century?


I certainly think he's the most important artist of the postwar period. There are 35 Warhols but no [Roy] Lichtensteins in our collection. I just have never understood Lichtenstein's importance in terms of his influence on future generations.

Q: How did you form such opinions?


They evolved. When I describe our collection now, believe me, that's not the way it started. I think mine is a fairly typical experience. You collect 30 or 40 pieces and it's piece by piece. There seems to be no pattern. You pass the first hurdle, which is that there's no more room in the house. You put your first piece in storage and rationalize your way through that phase. Pretty soon you have 100 pieces, then 150, and you have to say, "What's going on here?" It sort of became clear that there were certain common denominators in what appealed to us.

Q: Are you close to giving away the second, 600-piece part of your collection?


It's a little premature to announce the final outcome, but we're pretty close. However, one museum really couldn't show a collection of that size. That's what got us thinking. We really decided in '97 that this was going to be our legacy. We don't have any kids, there's no immediate family. So we thought, "What are we going to do with the collection?" We started to consider maybe it was possible for the two or more museums to own the collection jointly -- two museums would each own 50%.

Q: Why not just give it all to the SF MOMA? Why give it to two or more museums?


SF MOMA has always been at the core. [But] in this day and age, there are very few museums -- because of the cost of acquisition and ownership -- that really can pursue a world-class contemporary collection. The great contemporary collections have been put together by private collectors. The private collectors I've met bring a vision to what they're doing. A public museum by its nature has to take more of a survey approach.

It seemed to me that the museum model is outdated. Museums are going to have to change the way they approach potential benefactors and donors of art. Money is being made earlier by a lot of these 20-, 30-, 40-year-old whiz kids. I may be at the young end of the old guard at 57. But it's not going to be as simple as it once was to solicit art. Museums have to reinvent themselves. [The New Age] philanthropist wants to be actively involved. They're not going to just write a check. If you want access to the money, the donor is going to have to be active in the strategic direction and management of the initiatives.

Q: As a collector, do you have a role model in mind? You almost sound like Alfred Barnes, the famous Pennsylvania-based collector of Impressionist work who also had very strong ideas about museums.


Well, he certainly is one model. Peggy Guggenheim is another. Eli Broad [chairman of Sun America, the Los Angeles financial services company] is one of the great collectors of our time. There are a whole host of others.

Q: Eli Broad is one of the biggest collectors of Lichtenstein.


Oh, yeah. Art is one man's opinion. Each individual is free to define it.

Q: What would you recommend to other people who have made some money and want to get into collecting?


We've always bought art we've liked. That sounds trite, but it's important because everyone will have an opinion. If you try and collect art by reaching a consensus of two or three people, you'll wind up with a collection that doesn't reflect you. We've always bought art we liked because we [planned] to own it. It was not for resale.

Peterson is a contributing editor at BusinessWeek Online. Follow his weekly Moveable Feast column, only on BW Online

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht