Advice to an Aspiring Collector: Rita Houmann

Meet Rita Houmann, retired lecturer and passionate art collector

Portrait of Rita Houmann in her home in Randers with artworks from the left by HuskMitNavn, Ulrik Crone, and Monica Kim Garza

Courtesy of Rita Houmann. Photo by Annelene Petersen

How did you start collecting art? Was there a particular experience or encounter that played an important role for you?

My first encounter with art took place when I was around 12 years old. Back in the 60s, Randers was the centre of avant-garde in Denmark because of 3 very experimental artists: Sven Dalsgaard, J.V. Martin, and Per Neble, who lived and worked in the town. They were considered rebels as they experimented with various art forms which originated from Dadaism - an "ism" that had its offspring in 1915 and which was a revolt against all bourgeois art.

My mother worked as a waitress at a restaurant in Randers, and the 3 artists were regulars there. Their provocative artworks were hung on all the walls as they traded art for food and beverages with the couple who owned the place. I still remember the shock when I saw their artworks. I could not understand that this was art!

This childhood experience laid the seeds for my future adult life as an art collector. Today, I have 43 artworks by Sven Dalsgaard and am a great admirer of artists who constantly push the boundaries of what is considered art.

'Ni-ti år' by Sven Dalsgaard. One of Rita Houmann's 43 artworks by the artist

Courtesy of Rita Houmann and Randers Kunstmuseum

Could you take me through your first experience of purchasing an artwork?

The first piece of art I bought all on my own was an artwork titled "Playing with LEGO in the Corridor" by a Danish artist named Kaspar Bonnen, which I bought at an art fair.

Before I bought the artwork, I had seen a lot of his works with my late husband, but none of the works had made my heart beat. However, seeing this particular artwork gave me a thrill. I simply fell in love with it and had to own it.

The impact of an excellent artwork has to do with the feeling of falling in love. Your body and your mind resonate with the artwork. I get this feeling every time I buy a new piece of art. This is also why I rarely sell artworks. My collection is a visual diary, and a lot of my identity is embedded in the artworks.

What is a piece of advice you would give your younger self when you started collecting?

As a collector, my younger self should have been more daring when buying art. I started off with paintings on canvases and wood, covering the walls of my house. Now, as a 71-year-old pensioner, I have become much more interested in different materials.

Perhaps my perspective got a little broader after spending many years looking at artworks on canvases. Remember that all art world professionals have once been newcomers.

Robe by Monica Kim Garza

Courtesy of Rita Houmann and V1 Gallery

How do you collect today? Do you have a certain method or approach that influences your choices?

I always seek something I haven't seen before - or something familiar with a twist. The contemporary art scene is always changing, and so is my collection.

Over the years, my collection has evolved from primarily artworks painted on canvases or wood, hanging on walls, to encompass art forms such as lightboxes, felt, embroidery, photo art, video art, sculptures on walls, on my floors, and even on my lawn.

As a former teacher, I haven't had the means to pick and choose whatever I fancy. Fortunately, most gallery owners appreciate passionate art lovers, and I have always been met with understanding when I have asked for an installment payment. I often say that I am willing to eat oatmeal for a month or two to buy an interesting artwork.

View of Rita Houmann's garden in Randers with sculpture by Amalie Jacobsen and Mikkel Carl in the background

Courtesy of Rita Houmann

How do you navigate? Who do you listen to and seek advice from? Who whispers in your ear?

I visit a lot of galleries and art fairs and have annual passes for all the major exhibition sites in Denmark.

I primarily seek advice and guidance in the art jungle through talking to gallery owners. They are professionals, often art historians, and make a living from selling art. More importantly, they live among the artists. As a gallery owner, you are in an ongoing dialogue with the artists affiliated with the gallery, showcasing their artworks at both national and international art fairs. This allows them to stay informed and up-to-date on the latest developments on the art scene.

Of course, I have my favourite galleries and because I am a regular customer (I spend all I can on art) I have developed strong ties, not only with the gallery owners, but also with the artists.

In conclusion, I see a lot of exhibitions and I talk to a lot of people who are in the know about contemporary art and where it is heading.

Svalehale #2, a ceramic work by Klara Lilja

Courtesy of Rita Houmann and V1 Gallery

What trends do you see characterising the contemporary art scene right now and how do you relate to them? Do you follow trends, or do you actively resist that?

Right now there are a lot of artists that explore the possibilities of using various materials and media. This is reflected in my collection - as well as in my latest purchase. I just bought an artwork by artist Martin Paaskesen consisting of small scraps of canvas glued to a fairly big canvas. This makes the feathers of the swans reach out to the viewer from the usually flat canvas and adds a tactile expression and sense to his motif: two white swans bending their heads towards each other.

Right now the artists are experimenting with AI which has also made its way into my collection. I am looking forward to seeing how AI will influence my collection in the future. A collection of contemporary art is tightly knitted to the development of the art scene.

Rita Houmann's most recent purchase. 'Holy Matrimony' by Martin Paaskesen

Courtesy of Rita Houmann. Photo by Kavian Borhani

The internet is playing an increasing role in today's art market - in your view, how has digitalisation changed the art collecting scene? Has it changed the way you collect?

The Internet plays a tremendous role in my way of collecting. Aside from visiting museums, art fairs, and galleries, and artists’ studios, surfing online for new upcoming artists is the easy way to get into contact with artists and gallery owners abroad and at home.

I use a couple of hours every day to update myself with the latest news on the art scene. I follow the progress of artists in my collection online, and have also seen artworks from so-called unknown artists that I have become interested in and purchased. I also buy art through online auctions.

Fortunately, artists are very good at using social media to show the process of creating an artwork. But art should be seen in real life, standing in front of it and using all your senses to experience it. Nothing can be compared to this eye-to-eye relationship between the artwork and the viewer. Art is life that the artist gives some sort of expression and without a viewer or receiver the artwork does not come into existence.

"The impact of an excellent artwork has to do with the feeling of falling in love. This is also why I rarely sell artworks. My collection is a visual diary and a lot of my identity is embedded in the artworks."

Rita Houmann

Art collector and retired lecturer

Rita Houmann is a retired lecturer from Randers Statsskole and a passionate art collector.

Courtesy of Rita Houmann

Rita's advice to young and aspiring collectors can be summarised in the following list:

1. Visit a lot of exhibitions.

2. Visit galleries and seek artistic guidance from the gallery owners.

3. Do not be afraid of asking for a payment plan.

4. Buy art with your eyes and heart – not with your ears.

5. Purchase art that provokes you in some way.

6. Art is not merely a piece of furniture on your walls.

7. Invest in art from emerging artists. The prices are lower, and you get the pleasure of following their careers.