In 2013 Keith and Kathy Sachs pledged more than 90 works from their collection to the Museum, representing a transformative gift to the institution.
Q&A with Keith and Katherine SachsEmbracing the Contemporary gives the public a first look at the remarkable Sachs Collection. Here Keith and Kathy Sachs share how they assembled the collection over the course of four decades and talk about the relationships they forged along the way.
You’ve assembled one of the best collections of contemporary art in the country. How would you describe it?
KEITH: I would describe it as a symphony. All of the different elements work together to create a cohesive whole. What I’m most proud of is we have tried to buy the best examples of those artists in which we are interested. And I like to believe that we have succeeded.
KATHY: I think it’s a wonderful description to say it’s a symphony because for us it’s really about the whole working together. Even when we brought in things that we thought were very different, they opened up a dialogue with many of the paintings and sculptures that we already had. It enriched the experience of all of it. So a symphony is a wonderful description. And it has many movements.
And is there a favorite piece in the symphony?
KATHY: Well, we used to ask ourselves that question when we’d walk around the collection. The answer often was the last thing that we bought.
KEITH: We have three children. How can you say, “I like this one more than that one”? We like them all. They’re all our children. And these are, in a way, our children.
The Sachses built an expansion to their home in Rydal, Pennsylvania, for the sole purpose of displaying their collection’s larger works.
What is it like to live with so many striking examples of contemporary art?
KATHY: It’s a joy, it’s a pleasure, it’s a privilege. It’s an honor to be able to have these things in our home. It’s fun to walk around all the rooms and spaces where they are and realize, “Wow, we get to look at this every day.” So it just adds an awful lot to our lives.
KEITH: To wake up every morning and look around and see things that we cherish—there’s just no way to describe the feeling that I have when I look at it. I mean, it’s just unbelievable. And it’s nice when we have visitors . . . sometimes the process of answering a question will put the work of art in a different light.
KATHY: It’s fun to share the artwork with people that really care about it. It really is.
Which pieces get the strongest reaction?
KEITH: I think we get a lot of comments about the Richard Serra, which is installed on the front of our property. I think that draws a lot of attention.
In 1988, sculptor Richard Serra created an outdoor sculpture for the Sachses’ home in Rydal, Pennsylvania.
How do you choose works for the collection?
KATHY to KEITH: Let’s go back to the beginning with your “hit list.” This is the persistence part—how we chose works to begin with.
KEITH: As a consequence of our association with the Museum, we developed a list of artists that seemed interesting to us that we wanted to collect. We had a list, all written out. Eventually we systematically went down the list to try to find the best examples of the artists whose work we were interested to buy.
Along the way, as we were able to find the things that we wanted, we decided to collect more in depth those artists that we are the most interested, artists like Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Robert Gober, Jasper Johns, Richard Hamilton, and Howard Hodgkin.
So we started out with an interest in certain artists. Those that we remained the most interested in, we just tried to represent various aspects of their career over time.
KATHY: In the beginning, we really just bought things that we liked for the house. And then in the early eighties we realized we wanted to get more serious. We wanted to make sure that we were collecting the best work of the artists that we wanted. We also realized that we wouldn’t be able to buy that many pieces each year but that was okay. If we were going to buy the best one that we could, then that would be fine.
“It isn’t about accumulating trophies and names on the wall. It’s about acquiring the art, living with it, and appreciating how truly special an experience it is to have it,” says Kathy Sachs.
What personal relationships have allowed you to flourish as collectors?
KEITH: The relationships that we’ve had with curators, artists, writers, and dealers. They are all, I think, fundamental. They all come together in helping us along the way to be able to accomplish what we would like to accomplish.
KATHY: I think the relationships matter a great deal. But it all started with the curators. It all started with the Museum. People would say to me, “How do you start collecting?” And the first thing I say is, “Get yourself associated with the Museum.” First of all, you get to see what is the very best because museums choose wisely. And you’ll be able to train your eye and understand what is the most important thing of the moment. So that’s one thing.
The second is the people you meet at the Museum. You get to talk to them about why they make the choices that they do. Then you get to the dealers. Some dealers are really wonderful, and some early on gave us a chance. When the market was tight, they allowed us to buy really good works of art.
Because we buy very carefully, we’re very considered in what we’re going to add to the collection and we really don’t sell anything. Along the way, I think, many of the dealers understood that eventually this collection was going to go to an institution. It became easier for us to acquire things so that relationship with certain dealers, especially Matthew Marks, has made a big difference.
Kathy Sachs and artist Howard Hodgkin with his painting Kathy at La Heuzé (Flame against Flint) (1997–98), 1998
But then there were the artists, getting to know the artists, which is the best thing ever. It really helped because we would see things in Howard Hodgkin’s studio or Ellsworth Kelly’s studio that we would eventually buy from the gallery.
Even the idea of being able to go to the studio was thrilling. To be able to talk to these artists about what it was they’re doing just gave us a much greater sense of what we should be looking for and really gave us an amazing entrée into understanding their art even better.
That’s the relationship that we really prize the most: the one we have with the
artists. We feel incredibly privileged to have that.
When did you know you would give your collection to a public institution?
KEITH: We never had in mind to buy it and sell it, or buy it and gift it to our children. It was always with the view that it would someday be part of a public collection and that’s what it’s going to be.
KATHY: I think for us it was also a matter of forming a collection. Once you form it, it is in itself something very, very special and you certainly wouldn’t want it to be thrown in many different directions. There is something about it where all the works really do work together. It is a whole and we wouldn’t have wanted to break it into pieces.
By giving it to an institution, we ensure that the collection will always stay together. That was very, very important to us because we formed it as one and we’d like to keep it as one.
Keith and Kathy Sachs in the Museum’s modern and contemporary wing, which is dedicated to the couple, with Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and CEO; Alice Beamesderfer, the Pappas-Sarbanes Deputy Director for Collections and Programs; and Carlos Basualdo, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Senior Curator of Contemporary Art.
What about the Museum makes it a good “fit” for your collection?
KATHY: One is obviously it’s the place where I’ve spent the last forty-five years and Keith has spent probably almost as long because that’s where I’ve been. When our kids were young and we would come into town, the kids would say, “That’s Mommy’s museum.” After the contemporary art wing was dedicated to Keith and me, then it became “our museum.”
It is the place where we learned a lot. It is my home and Keith’s adopted home,
Philadelphia, where all of these marvelous relationships were begun with the curators and the artists and that really is its rightful home.
It feels good for it to be here, for it to be in Philadelphia. And also because the works fit well with the collection. We are adding to many of the artists the Museum already owns but we’re also filling in a lot of holes. It makes the Museum better and it makes us feel good.
We feel that it’s a great gift to the Museum, to the city of Philadelphia, and to the people who will be able to see it. It feels good all around. It really does. It is its rightful home.
This interview was condensed and edited by Sid Rodríguez, Interactive Content Writer.