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03 25th, 2009

(Click to see works in the context of their surroundings)

The Hess Art Collection is a popular destination for tourists in California’s wine country. Founded by Donald Hess in a dual role as art collector and business man, the collection incudes only a limited number artists with whom he has a personal relationship, including Anselm Kiefer, Andy Goldsworthy, and Francis Bacon. This article provides a glimpse of what makes this collection so special.

By: Robert Ceballos, Director of the Hess Art Collection

The juxtaposition seemed odd. Obviously he needed to get from point to point and it’s not really practical to walk form San Francisco to Napa. Just the same, the sight of Andy Goldsworthy driving a petroleum powered vehicle down a wooded road struck me as a bit out of place. Granted, it was one of San Francisco’s eco friendly City Share Cars, but it did not fit at all with my preconceptions – silly though they may have been. We were to meet at the museum but his GPS (yes, his GPS) had placed The Hess Art Collection Winery slightly east of where it really is, so he turned around a little lost. I spied him in the bubble-shaped eco car, fairly removed from my original picture of him shivering in the predawn cold, saturated by nature, leaves falling and the sound of a stream nearby – with absolutely no sight of technology in the picture.

At its most basic definition, technology is merely the knowledge and use of tools and Goldsworthy is a master at implements & implementation, using what is at hand to bring together many parts into one ephemeral and organic whole. As our cars passed, he caught my startled look of recognition, and then the sudden flash of my brake lights in his rear view mirror; he soon turned his car to follow me to our meeting place.

To say the least, Goldsworthy is something of an icon in the “art circle” and I had to remind myself not to be nervous – I kept thinking about the “bubble car”. I was relieved to find him personable and quite down to earth. Of course, using that last phrase I risk a rather poor pun but the description is nevertheless apt: He set to business with no pretention, only a steadfast assuredness of the business we needed to cover. We were to discuss the possibilities of a new installation for the Hess Art Collection. Unfortunately we will not do but from my point of view, I got to spend twenty minutes with an art super-hero.

The Cornerstone of the Collection – a Personal Relationship with the Artist

I learned a few things that day. We had some of Goldsworthy’s Snow Ball Drawings mislabeled, which lead to a larger discussion of how he did them. He went into some detail and left me with a heightened appreciation for them. I did not know, for example, the seeds he used for pigment were collected in the woods near Jackson, California, or that he boiled them to help leach the color, or that he had written some of this information very inconspicuously along the paper’s edge. After he left, I realized that core to the Hess Art Collection, is the fact that I am able to meet, speak to, and learn from the artists. Our founder and chairman, Donald M. Hess, made a commitment early on to collect only from living artists for the very reason I just described, which he put very succinctly: It is very important to me to have a personal relationship with the artist.”

Donald Hess’s relationship between collector and artist is the cornerstone of the collection. It is not adequate, let alone desirable, to merely own a work; instead there must be a synergy between collector and work, artist and collector and ultimately the dynamic between an artist and his work. If it is a painting, Mr. Hess wants to find passion and conviction coming through all the layers of paint, but he also wants to also hear about it from the artist.

To this point, Mr. Hess speaks wistfully of the impossibility of dinner with Picasso or lunch with Van Gogh. Although he admires old master works and understands their importance in both a historical and emotional context, it is contemporary art that moves him because there is an interactive, ongoing dynamism in which he can participate.

An hour in the museum with him is a series of engaging, personal stories, and not long into it, the realization of a profound conviction on Mr. Hess’s part, that what he is doing as a collector has a larger social purpose. Moreover, one leaves feeling she has been part something very real, that Donald Hess is a committed and passionate collector and his investment is driven by ‘spirit’ rather than hope for future profit; Mr. Hess is proud to say he has never sold a work. Indeed, collecting for him is not a hobby, it is a purpose-filled calling with simple and clear criteria for adding to the collection:

I rely chiefly on my intuition and on my own eyes. However, I still find that when I wake up several times at night and thinking about a painting, as a result of having been deeply moved by a particular piece of art, that continues to be the best indicator for purchasing a new work. I am certainly not influenced by fashionable trends, nor does it matter to me how well known an artist is. My main criteria are: An artwork cannot just be visually pleasing – it has to deeply touch me in such a way that during the week before finally purchasing the artwork I constantly think about it.

When one meets Mr. Hess, his appetite for challenges and growth is immediately apparent. He genuinely is interested in meeting you, and if you engage him you are in for an energetic conversation. Contemporary artists move him to consider new and occasionally unpleasant ideas and ways of understanding; their work relates to the culture and time of his daily experience. Mr. Hess loves piquant witty conversations with artists and he is full of questions about their work. Arguably, a person’s response to contemporary art is fresh by default; newer works lack the layered patina of art’s historical varnish that accumulates when a painting has been distilled and served to us in a neat, digestible package.

Donald Hess’s Art Acquisition Approach – Collecting in Depth

Donald Hess’s experience in acquisition is always of the new and presents an important and well developed concept. He often refers to the collection as “difficult,” meaning the works have pushed the envelope and strive to push the viewer past a certain level of comfort. Furthermore, he sees it as his job to defend the art against, as he puts it, “an often uncomprehending public.” By this he means that people will often dismiss a work based on their first impressions and preexisting biases. It is his task to show the work and to promote a discourse between the viewer and the work – in this way the artist is supported and the art fulfills its intended purpose to challenge the viewer and influence, in some way, his way of experiencing the world.

It is essential to Mr. Hess that he follow an artist’s creative development over many years; he uses the term “collecting in depth” and states: “I do not buy varied isolated works, preferring to limit myself to a small group of about 20 artists. It is important [that I] acquire his or her art at regular intervals.”

It could well be argued that a painting or sculpture obtains more meaning when seen as part of a corpus. To this end, we curated our Napa museum space as a series of small retrospectives, where the breath of an artist’s oeuvre is represented in a concise, easily encompassed group. We take great care not to simply pack the walls with as much as they can bear. Instead, following the adage of less is more; we approach our exhibits with economy so that works work in harmony rather than conflict with one another. We hope that visitors are encouraged to take in the exhibition with thought and deliberateness, without feeling the need to rush. This metered, thought- provoking aspect of our exhibit is paramount to the overall experience we strive to promote.

A Passion for Wine and Art

After 20 years, The Hess Collection experience embraces two passions: Wine and art. We hope that if someone comes to taste the wine that they will discover the art, and conversely, as we work to introduce visitors to our wines, the art provides an additional magnet to bring people to the facility. The format employed at the Hess Collection in Napa is the prototype of two other wineries held by our parent company Hess Family Estates.. Bodega Colomé in Argentina and Glen Carlou in South Africa. Both share the wine and art concept but in a manner unique and sensitive to their particular place and culture.

In all locations, the art display is treated very non-commercially. The artists frequently take part in how their work is displayed and they maintain copyrights; any time we wish to reproduce them we must obtain their permission. We do not place images from the collection on our labels and there have been only a handful of occasions where we have used images from the museum in ads, and then only after the artist approved the proof. We are very careful to draw a line between the art and the marketing of our brands.

This is the truly amazing thing about Donald Hess in his dual role as art collector and business man: Although not entirely mutually exclusive, the two sides of the business remain, for the most part, separate with some symbiotic echoes of one another. At the end of the day, one’s experience of both art and wine is purely subjective. Learning to appreciate good wine and good art is an organic process, our tastes evolve and it takes time and commitment to develop deeper appreciation. The art, displayed in the setting of a winery, makes a statement of exacting quality and commitment to value, without degrading the essential character of either.

From its inception, The Hess Collection has encouraged visitors by offering access to the museum free of charge. This is another example of Donald Hess’s insistence that the collection be experienced by as large a public as possible. Following this cue, we take it as our duty to exhibit the work and support the artist. Earlier, when I made reference to our parent company, I had to hover over that statement for a bit and think about how to phrase it in a way that conveys the small hands-on approach we take. Hess Family Estates is a small, privately held corporation. Within that group, the Hess Art Collection is its own entity. When one speaks of corporations and parent companies it is difficult not to denote a certain largess, but in fact we remain a comparatively small company whose leader is a man with a tremendous social conscience and a hands-on approach. Mind you, a disclaimer is needed desperately needed here. I say that under his pay, but I say it sincerely after 17 years working for him. I realize from this experience that there is an uncommon sincerity and integrity to Mr. Hess’s endeavors.

All of the Mr. Hess’ companies are naturally based. In the 1960s artist Rolf Iseli convinced him that he had to care for the land, long before there was a mainstream green movement. Mr. Hess has continued to do things his own way, with a tremendous degree of consideration for the social and environmental impacts of his actions. Our vineyards are all sustainable, some organic, and with increasing frequency, biodynamic. Conversely, many of the artists in the collection – Anselm Kiefer, Markus Raetz and Robert Rauschenberg to name just three – espouse the same views. The intention of the Hess Art Collection is to inspire thought and change one’s world view in some way. It reflects a core philosophical value of the Hess Family Estates that the he two parts, wine and art, are intricately related.

So in some circuitous way, this gets us back to Andy Goldsworthy and his “bubble car.” At the core of the Hess Art Collection is a sincerity and authenticity that unfortunately, in our world of global markets, is becoming increasingly rare. There is an authenticity to the approach of collecting art, not for prestige but because it opens one’s world to new possibilities that can only be achieved by diverse and meaningful human interactions. The artist can no more find recognition and growth alone in his studio than the businessman can find growth only within what is measurably safe and predictable. The binding word here is risk, artist and businessman working in interactive symbiosis, one challenging the other to go beyond what is standard, commonly wise, or expected. In this way, both take risks in search of authenticity and the forging of new realities. Goldsworthy – or indeed any artist’s presence in the life of the Hess Art Collection – makes it real … and real is something the world desperately needs. That and famous artists lost in the woods driving “bubble cars.”


Located in Napa Valley, the Hess Art Collection showcases a world-class fine art collection, along with award-winning world-class wines. The Hess Collection Visitor Center is open to the public daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Hess Art Collection may be viewed free of charge from 10:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. daily. For information about the Hess Art Collection and its wine/art tours and directions to the winery, go to or call (707) 265-3489.

07 10th, 2008

By Denise M. Alter, Esq.

Whether to Art Basel in Switzerland, the Frieze Faire in London, or the SHContemporary Fair in Shanghai, traveling to international art fairs can be an exciting way for art collectors to vacation.  The parties, the people, and the foreign travel coupled with fantastic fine art and photography showcased by hundreds of dealers, artists, and galleries from around the world can prove quite alluring.

But before buying that extraordinary painting, work on paper, photograph, or other “objét d’art,” collectors should be aware of the legal risks involved in buying art abroad. This article does not purport to identify all such risks, or discuss any one risk in detail.  But caveat emptor-“buyer beware”—takes on special significance when acquiring art on the international market, and collectors are advised to consult with a lawyer or other knowledgeable professional before opening their wallet.  If that painting you purchase turns out to be a fake, stolen, gets damaged in shipment, or does not arrive at all, recouping your losses from a foreign seller can prove costly if not impossible.

As one might imagine, the laws of foreign nations are even more varied than the laws of our many states. Acquisitions of art from foreign sellers require sophisticated knowledge about the transactional laws of the source country and the interplay of those laws with international conventions such as the 1980 United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods, and the Berne Convention, among others.  Letters of credit to protect fund transfers, conflict of law issues, the availability of dispute resolution mechanisms, requirements for enforceable warranties, shipping requirements, and risk of loss presumptions, represent just a few of the complex legal issues at play in commercial transactions in foreign countries.1

Many collectors now realize that the value of intellectual property rights to a work of art can often be more valuable than the work of art itself.  Owning the art object does not equate to owning the trademark and copyrights in the art unless those rights are specifically acquired. Without ownership of the copyrights in a work of art, or at least a license thereto, a collector may not photograph, reproduce, or otherwise create a derivative work from the object without infringing the artist’s (or other holder’s) copyrights.  Foreign copyright and trademark laws vary by jurisdiction, and may be impacted by international convention.  Successful acquisition of copyrights, either by assignment or license, requires sophisticated knowledge about international intellectual property laws.

Other legal rights attached to works of art that must be considered are “artist’s rights” or “moral rights.”  Derived from French law, the federal Visual Artists’ Rights Act, 17 U.S.C. §106A, and the California Art Preservation Act, (Civil Code §987 et seq.), vest artists in this country with continuing rights to prevent damage, destruction, or mutilation of their works or art even after sale, to claim or disclaim authorship in the work of art and, in California, royalty rights in subsequent sales of the art work under certain.  In foreign jurisdictions, these “artist’s rights” take on expanded protections that are country-specific.  Without obtaining a proper waiver of these rights, if legally possible under the law of the foreign jurisdiction, collectors are forever subject to suit by the artist should damage befall the work of art while in the collection.

Equally important are proper import/export clearances if the work has been created abroad or is acquired from a foreign seller.  Lawful export and import prevents seizure of the art.  As demonstrated by recent demands of Italy, Greece, and China to gain return of their cultural property from museums in the U.S. and abroad, foreign claims may lie dormant for decades before being asserted with the assistance of the U.S. government. By now, many countries have adopted laws that claim ownership of “cultural property” originating from within the country. Definitions of “cultural property” may broadly extend beyond antiquities to more modern works of art considered important to national culture.  Even experienced dealers can misunderstand the reach of these foreign cultural property laws.  To ensure a work of art is legally importable into the United States, buyers should obtain proper paperwork documenting lawful export of the work.  Certain specialty fine arts shippers also work with import/export brokers who can properly arrange for necessary documentation.

Enjoy the travel and the ‘scene’ at international art fairs.  Before buying art abroad, however, be certain you have an internationally enforceable purchase agreement and export documentation in place to guard against the risk of loss to that expensive work of art.

Note: The information contained in this article is not legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Readers should consult their own legal and professional advisers in connection with the purchase, sale, and collection of art.


1 While insurance may help minimize certain risks, it will prove worthless if the collector is not a named insured on a policy that covers all nail-to-nail risks for fine art, issued by a properly rated and reputable insurer with a proven track record of prompt payment to claimants.

07 10th, 2008

Art fairs like Basel, Scope, and Bridge pack up their fragile wares and trek from city to city, like gypsies of culture, to satisfy a new-found hunger for original art. What does this mean to experienced art collectors and to corporate collections? A long-time collector in London shares information about his own history of collecting and his feelings about what art fairs mean to individual and corporate collections.

By Lynn Mueting

The contemporary art world seems to have inspired a passion that has taken the art fair concept racing around the globe like wild fire.

For example; each fall one the hottest ticket in town is the Frieze Art Fair in London. Dealing strictly with emerging artists, Frieze pulled in an estimated £33 million pounds (approx. $68 million) in 2005. Sales were expected to climb by 35% in 2007, but Frieze promoters did not make their 2007 figures public. Such copious amounts of cash-combined with A-list celebrity attention-have led to a number of fringe art festivals-including the Bridge Art Fair-popping up in London that same weekend, creating virtual art frenzy.

One Collector’s Impression on the Exploding Art Market

I caught up with Colin Walsh, the Managing Director of Cards & Payments at Lloyds TSB Bank, who is also a friend and long-time passionate collector of contemporary art. I asked him what this phenomenon means to him, his company, and on contemporary art as investment.

Colin purchased his first major piece at the age of 24, following his first job out of college. “It was a piece by Bunny Klien, an abstract expressionist painting I bought in Soho NY. I still have it,” Colin said. Since then, Colin and his partner have collected enough works to fill two homes and still require storage. “To me, it’s an exciting way to live. I just feel so connected to my environment because each piece has it own history. Especially with the living artists, I know many of them personally, I know their passions and it brings me a quality of life.”

Colin typically collects works by emerging artists who have already been shown in museums or in highly respected galleries. “We never buy art with the intension of selling it, but it’s always nice to have an eye to the value of your collection.” His collection is eclectic, mostly abstract, with approximately 80% created by living artists. “You know, as you grow and mature the things that speak to you change, but they are all part of me.”

The Stamos that Almost Got Trashed

Colin owns a number of significant pieces, including a work by Theodoros Stamos, a post-modern impressionist who worked with Rothko. “Stamos didn’t have good relationships with galleries and so his work was often not catalogued like that of other important artists of his time. A gallery I work with a lot in San Francisco came across a number of his paintings and I was just taken in by the work. Of course, none of us realised their value at the time. The gallery brought them by my house one evening to have a look. When they were reloading the car, they forgot one piece was propped up against the trash bins-and it happened to be trash night! I decided I wanted it. Now he is quite well known and the purchase of that piece has such a funny story. I love it!”
“Art Festivals – It’s a Good Thing for Collectors”
Colin believes the flurry of activity in the global contemporary art market is a good thing for collectors because they can see more art, as well as gallerists, who get more exposure, and especially the artists themselves. “Even for people like myself who travel a lot, there is no way I can ever see as much art as I’d like to. The biggest problem I see with the Frieze Fair, however, is that buying art in the UK is so expensive at the moment simply because of the strength of the pound.”

How About Corporate Collectors?

In addition to his personal collection, Colin has been involved in his company’s sponsorship of art festivals. “My company (Lloyds TSB) does not collect contemporary art for investment per se, but, the bank did take a role in sponsoring the Bridge Art Festival (a fringe of the Frieze) in London and did so without giving away any money. Our support came by way of inviting customers to attend the fair with an incentive to purchase art.”
For the bank, value was added to the customer experience. For the festival, it facilitated an introduction to the Bridge Art Fair and encouraged participation in something that Lloyds’ customers might otherwise not have known about. “There is always this process of needing to connect artists with people interested in buying art and Lloyds was happy to facilitate that communication. So, it was a win/win situation.”
Of course, there are also risks to the companies that sponsor such events. For example, emerging artists don’t yet have established reputations, while Lloyds bank is a well-established financial institution. “We can never be absolutely certain that our corporate goals will mesh perfectly, but, we always make sure we have the ability to opt out. But overall, many of our customers were impressed by the quality of the work and the range of artist represented.”

Will the Art Festivals Phenomenon Last?

Perhaps this latest “craze” is simply the affluence of a generation eager to move beyond museum posters left over from college days. But there is no doubt that art festivals are bringing in new buyers eager to become serious collectors. As Colin says, “This can only be good for the development of the arts and the artists themselves.”
At the same time, this surge of interest can drive speculation. There is some concern that prices for emerging art is becoming inflated. However, with recent record-breaking modern art sales, Colin thinks “art as investment doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing.” The Art Festival phenomenon seems to show no signs of slowing either.

07 10th, 2008

Art Fairs: An Overview

Author: admin

It’s summer and it’s time to travel. For many galleries and collectors, that means art fairs across the country and around the world. For beginning and experienced collectors alike, these events are a great way to see a broad range of high-quality art in a single location. And it’s fun-the opening night previews, in particular, are typically gala events that offer a first opportunity to purchase artwork before the fair opens, as well as a party to remember.

Many of the most important fairs-the London Art Fair, TEFAF Maastricht in the Netherlands, Bridge Art Fair and Scope in New York, and Art Basel in Switzerland-already drew record crowds this year. But many great fairs are still to come. To stay informed and plan your travel, check out these sites: and

Along with the opportunities these fairs present, there are financial and legal risks associated with purchasing art in foreign countries. Art attorney Denise Alter describes some of these risks and what collectors can do to protect themselves in Buying Art Abroad: Buyer Beware.

The article Are Art Fairs Good for Collectors? gives a glimpse into one collector’s world, from his personal approach to collecting to helping his in helping to sponsor the Bridge Art Fair in London.

04 25th, 2007

By: Sylvia Lehnen

While the phenomenal prices brought in at auctions and the explosive growth of art fairs are grabbing headlines, corporate art collections typically generate little news, despite the fact that their holdings have come to rival those of museums and have become a market force. Corporate acquisitions of an artist’s works can define the artist’s reputation and market.

Some corporations want to downplay their collections—in addition to concerns about security, they view their art collections primarily as financial vehicles that offer the potential for appreciation and the certainty of tax write-offs, while lending prestige to the private offices of top managers. Other corporations see their collections as a way to benefit employees, to support emerging artists, and to serve larger community interests. Regardless of their focus, corporate sponsorship of art has become a major force shaping the art market in America.

Highlighting Corporate Collections seeks to highlight corporate collections that are accessible to employees and the public and the people behind the scenes who make them work. In this issue, Laura Matzer, the director of the Microsoft Art Collection, shares the challenges of moving from being an art educator at a small museum in Texas to managing one of the world’s largest collections. She also provides an overview of the collection and its goals and approaches to various business issues.

Links to other well-known corporate collections include:

USB Art Collection

Progressive Art Collection

Deutsche Bank Collection

Debate about the Role of Corporate Collections

Not everyone sees the growing influence of corporate collections as a positive trend. Author Chin-Tao Wu provides an account of the evolution of corporate sponsorship of the arts since the 1980’s and analyzes the complex relationship between government and corporations. In the process, she examines many assumptions; for example, that corporate sponsorship saves tax dollars. Instead of saving taxpayers money, she contends that favorable tax write-offs actually cost taxpayers more than the simple funding of organizations such as the NEA would have.

Links to books exploring the relationship of corporate collecting, government, and the role of art in society include:

Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Intervention since the 1980s, by Chin-Tao Wu

Art for Work: The New Renaissance in Corporate Collecting, by Marjory Jacobson