The Building of a Collection
"I collect photography with a passion. Collecting has enriched my life, provided intellectual stimulation and sparked non-stop curiosity. It allows me to be part of a caring community which nourishes my soul. My passion has also become a springboard to nurture the next generation of collectors and photographers by offering a constellation of educational activities. Not to mention, after 35 years, I still adore the thrill of the hunt."
- Alice Sachs Zimet
Alice Sachs Zimet began to collect photography in early 1985 at a time when the medium was not recognized as a serious art form. The marketplace was nascent. There were few to no photo-only galleries, photo-only art fairs, photo-only auctions, and it was rare to find a photography exhibition in a museum. While there was little acknowledgement, Alice consistently defended her love of the medium even when most challenged her by saying 'it's not art'.
Today, fine art photography is a major global player with increased attention, respect, and market share. There are blockbuster museum shows, photo-only auctions, photo-only art fairs and photo-only galleries. And of course, the number of photo collectors and prices have increased significantly.
Zimet’s lifelong passion for the arts began with her parents who were print collectors, collecting images by Vuillard, Bonnard, Vlaminck, Rouault, and Lautrec, among others. Her world was always steeped in the arts – professionally and academically. She holds two degrees in art history and her early professional career began at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
However, her life changed when, for the next 20 years, Zimet worked at The Chase Manhattan Bank where she created a new sponsorship marketing department and became Director, Worldwide Cultural Affairs. She was given a small year-end bonus, which soon became her collecting budget -- whether for one photograph or the purchase of several. But that was her acquisition budget for the year.
Zimet has made a conscious effort to buy from all sources — galleries, auctions, benefit auctions, art fairs and even trades. With a collecting career spanning nearly 40 years, she has developed deep personal relationships with professionals involved in every aspect of the field.
Her collection has grown to include 141 different photographers with over 330 museum-quality images, where she lives surrounded by the vast majority. “I purposely don't have storage. I live with most of my images surrounding me. With storage, I would not be able to control my collecting impulse. So, my walls provide that boundary."
Living Room Installation, Alice Zimet's Collection
Entrance Hall Installation
Robert Mapplethorpe, Ken Moody (Nude Red), 1985
First Purchase / The Start of a Collection
In 1975, Alice worked as an intern at the International Center of Photography (ICP) during its inaugural year of operation in its original Upper East Side townhouse.
Her first purchase came 10 years later during an ICP field trip in December 1984 with the legendary curator, collector and partner to Robert Mapplethorpe, Sam Wagstaff. Sam had lent a portion of his collection (with a focus on flowers) to the Parrish Art Museum (on the eastern end of Long Island). One image, by Andrew Bush entitled Columbines, deeply resonated: the image reminded her of her love of France, her mother's garden and the kind of post impressionistic work her parents collected. For Alice, this is the key to collecting: Work needs to resonate within you. You have to love what you buy. You have to buy with your heart.
But when it came to buying her first image, she couldn't buy just one. She felt the need for a second companion piece and bought 'Studio Kitchen' from the same series … and the beginning of a collection was born. To this day, she continues to collect in pairs or threes.
Columbines (Vase on Bookcase), 1982/3
Studio Kitchen, 1982/3
Early Themes: France and Artist Portraits
After these first purchases, Zimet began to collect with two initial themes: France and Artist Portraits. This wasn’t a conscious choice, but just a natural and organic extension of her own personal experiences. The first theme gravitated around her love of France -- her grandfather lived there for 50 years, she spent time as a student studying in Paris, and she’s fluent in French. This drove her to buy pictures of or about France by photographers including Andre Kertesz, Cartier Bresson, Marc Riboud and Jacques-Henri Lartique.
Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1929
Henri Cartier Bresson
Picnic on the Banks of the Marne, 1936-37
Painter on the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1953
The second early theme involved artist portraits (and later performing artists) coupled with references to art history. Similar to her connection with France, artist portraits were a natural interest given her degrees in art history and early career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bill Brandt's shot of Cezanne's studio (1951) was the earliest purchase, followed by about 30 more artist portraits including portraits of Andy Warhol's first exhibit in NYC by Fred McDarrah (1964), Brassai's portrait of Picasso's studio (1948) along with portraits of David Hockney, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Henri Matisse, Isamu Noguchi, Martha Graham and Rudolph Nureyev. There are also portraits of the photographers themselves -- Robert Frank, Robert Capa, and David Hockney -- as well as self-portraits by Cindy Sherman, Elliott Erwitt and Zanele Muholi.
Interior of Cezanne's Studio at Les Lauvres, 1951
Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, 2014
Robert Capa at Magnum Luncheon, Paris, 1952
Rudolf Nureyev, 1962
People Living Their Lives
Zimet’s love of artist portraits began to morph into emotional humanistic portraits of people living their lives. Her interest in portraiture was most probably sparked years earlier while working at the Metropolitan Museum’s nascent Department of Public Education. Clearly, her early work dealing with people left a lasting impression which permeates her collection today. The portraits in Zimet’s collection demonstrate a deep humanity. Images often address key social issues: identity, racism, loneliness, the challenges of adolescence, family relations, life on the streets of New York, and the joy of living life to its fullest, whether as a young child or as an adult.
Highlights from the collection include: Social activist Zanele Muholi who documents the queer movement of South Africa; Ingar Krauss’ portrait of twins in a Russian juvenile prison; Sally Mann’s ‘Damaged Child’, a portrait of her daughter; Nan Goldin's portrait of a drag queen lighting the cigarette of a boy depicted on wallpaper in a gay bar in Boston in the early 1970s; Christer Stromholm's images of young men dressed as female prostitutes in Paris’ red light district in the late 1950s/early 1960s; and a Rosalind Solomon portrait from her series, Portraits in the Times of AIDS, 1987. Various other powerful portraits fill her collection such as William Klein’s photograph of a young boy aggressively brandishing a gun toward the viewer and Jane Evelyn Atwood’s self-portrait with a serpent wrapped around her throat and face.
Damaged Child, 1984
White Lady, Barcelona, 1959
Kass and Friend, Seattle,
from "Portraits in the Time of AIDS", 1987
However, there are also many happy moments in the collection where adults and children joyfully live life to the fullest. Consider images by Lisette Model that capture 1940s New York City -- a full figured woman swimming at Coney Island beach, a singer belting out a song at Sammy's Restaurant in the Bowery, and two ladies chatting over cocktails at a Plaza Hotel fashion show. Or the full-figured ladies enjoying the communal baths in Paris, by William Klein. There are additional images of children loving life on the streets of NYC by Todd Webb, Bruce Davidson and Arthur Leipzig.
Coney Island Bather, 1939-41
Chalk Games, New York City, 1950
Café Metropole, New York, 1946
Zimet is particularly proud of how the photography community has always embraced women photographers. And her collection includes roughly 20 female masters (and about 50 images) such as Berenice Abbott, Isle Bing, Rineke Dijkstra, Martine Franck, Nan Goldin, Lotte Jaccobi, Helen Levitt, Sally Mann, Mary Ellen Mark, Hellen Van Meene, Susan Meiselas, Lisette Model, Barbara Morgan, Ruth Orkin, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Gerda Taro, Sabine Weiss, Margaret Bourke White, and Louise Dahl Wolfe.
Spinning Dancer, 1931
South African Miners, 1950
Untitled Secretary, 1978
More recently, Alice acquired works by Robert Mapplethorpe, Seydou Keita, Ruth Orkin, Francesco Scavullo and Marcus Leatherdale (who died 2022). In addition, in honor of her friendship with photographers Sabine Weiss (who died December 2021 at the age of 97) and William Klein (who died in September 2022 at the age of 96), Alice bought images in their honor. In 2023, images by Christopher Makos, Deborah Kass and Zanele Muholi (the 5th) entered the collection.
Ken Moody, 1985
Untitled (Bamako, Father and Child), 1949
Robert Mapplethorpe and Samuel J. Wagstaff, Jr., 1974
Lady Warhol from Altered Image Series, 1981
Altered Image #1, 1994
Mihla III, Port Edward, 2021
Alice's passion for photography and her collecting knowledge became a springboard for a third career as an educator, teaching workshops to both collectors and photographers about the fine art photography marketplace. She is on Faculty at Christie’s Education, the ICP (International Center of Photography) School, and Maine Media Workshops + College. As an advisor, Alice helps collectors with purchases by researching, vetting and acting as 'protector' before a sale takes place. She’s worked with close to 40 galleries globally and placed roughly 75 photographs in private collections. Similarly, she advises photographers on how to access the marketplace and improve their communications skills. Nearly 1,000 collectors, photographers, museum trustees (and their children), members of museum acquisition and exhibition committees, gallery owners, private art advisors, art appraisers and corporate retirees have cycled through her workshops or engaged her advising services.
While Alice doesn’t represent any specific artist or individual gallery, she has created deep, personal, long-term relationships across the entire constellation of photography professionals. Alice is unique, honest and unbiased. As a collector, she shares insider tips in order to nurture (and protect) the next generation of collectors. Guiding her clients and students with this simple rule: “Buy with your heart. Then buy with your brain. But never buy with your ears.”
Alice Sachs Zimet Holding ‘Tiny’ by Mary Ellen Mark, 2020