Today I went to Diego Salazar Antique Frames in Long Island City, New York. It’s a place well known in the frame game (Merkelson 2013), but I surprisingly found it hidden among steel-doored warehouses just south of Queens Boulevard. Having seen his frames before at Sotheby’s and among collectors’ private storage, I knew the man had refined taste. I figured I should stop by, especially because of this recent New York Times article.
Mr. Salazar is a private collector and dealer, an expert in form and design who has devoted the past 40 years building a unique collection of authentic European and American period frames. The 200 carefully curated frames on display represent a small percentage of his 1000+ collection. It’s an impressive sight, the ornately carved Italian of 1425 installed opposite the c.1890 Stanford White gilded masterpiece. You almost forget there is no artwork; still, frame upon frame, the emptiness is not lost in mere pieces of wood.
I went there knowing less about the Italian vs. American than I’d like to admit, plus I quickly realized the Lion’s Den was not the best place for a crash course in antique frames (Indeed, I was sweating from the ride and locked my hulking 30-year-old Motobecane next to his E350; I was quite aware of my presence). I presented a few legitimate but typical questions: How many? How long? Any favorites? Why frames? I think/hope he could see I wanted to know more despite my appearance of a sweaty thief.
In the 20 minutes I chatted with him, I pegged three characteristic traits of collectors*:
The collection occupies a big space. Mr. Salazar’s frames fill the showroom, adjacent studios, a nearby building, and I’m sure his apartment, too. Decades of fastidious collecting has resulted in a massive amount of objects. With total care taken to maximize display and storage, those who encounter the collection will appreciate not just individual frames but the complete size, scope, diversity, and arrangement. (As any collections manager is wont to do, I wondered what method is used to house so many frames, what is the chosen cataloging or inventory software, etc.) Really, how are the quirky folks on American Pickers who construct their homes around their collections any different than the collector who “has enough space” to showcase a $500,000 frame?
The collection is a living thing. Mr. Salazar speaks of a frame’s beauty, of falling in love with each one, of aged gilding and how a frame looks better over time. Though “they play second fiddle” in the art market, this is an aspect of ongoing collecting Mr. Salazar thoroughly enjoys. It may take three months to sell just one frame, he says. Not a problem, more opportunity for the collection to grow. (I image snooty curators or snooty collectors wavering incessantly about the minutiae of style; with a slight glance at their bank account, they both settle on a Woolworth’s frame instead.) When asked if he could identify a favorite, Mr. Salazar seemed hesitant to answer, pointing first at a Louis XIV, then towards the 15th century Italian, while looking over at the walls of Spanish, Dutch, and Americans. They were all exquisite.
The collection provides a great business. Mr. Salazar got his start manufacturing frames over 30 years ago. If you can make it, you can appreciate it, right? Well, if you can make it AND sell it, you can appreciate it even more. As a gallery, Diego Salazar Antique Frames offers clients services beyond dealing “museum quality frames”–from restoration and replication of a frame’s antique appearance; to stabilization and conservation of original elements; to expert appraisals and condition surveys. He will even give public lectures and gallery talks, the only sense of philanthropy in the educative value of his customized presentations. When you’re the face of a one-of-a-kind collection like that, own it. As a collector, there’s nothing like spelling your own name on an awning, let alone lending it to a gallery or creating an entire museum.
*I am not presenting these as characteristic of collectors in general. Collectors are as unique as their collections. However, I believe these are attributable to people who have a collecting tendencies, which as we’ve seen is widespread and universal (read: “What is a collection, and what is collecting?”)