‘A collector’s collector’

Lawyer Arnie Druck’s need to possess has created one of the biggest photography collections in the country.

refugee camp 2000 311 (photo credit: Miki Kratzman)
refugee camp 2000 311
(photo credit: Miki Kratzman)
Long before a work of art is exhibited at a museum, someone like Arnie Druck, an American-born Israeli lawyer, comes along and buys it for his wall. He starts by filling up his home, then he fills up his office and then he starts loaning works to hang in offices belonging to friends and colleagues. Eventually, he may even find his collection the subject of an exhibition at the Haifa Museum of Art, where all the exhibits currently on show deal with the act of collecting.
“I started with paintings,” says Druck, “but eventually I ran out of wall-space.” It was then that he started collecting mainly photography. “Photographs are flat. You don’t have to frame them, you can just put them into drawers.”
Behind this pragmatically factual statement is another consideration. Compared to other artistic mediums, when Druck started focusing on Israeli photography in the 1990s, photography was still a niche that wasn’t “strongly collected.” Today, he is one of the biggest collectors of photography in the country.
“In terms of collecting,” he says, “you develop your eye. Collecting becomes sharp. You know what there is and what you want.” For Druck, this becomes “a way of looking not only at a photograph or painting,” but at his surroundings – down to the motifs he sees on the street. After decades of collecting, art has become a part of his daily life.
“I don’t just come and collect,” he says. “It’s part of my life, my family. I meet the artists, some become friends. I like art, I like helping young people, like being connected to young and creative people. If I commission someone, I rely on their talent and creativity, and let them flow with it.”
The discourse between the artist and collector, he adds, can be quite intriguing, and itself gives him an additional satisfaction.
In his personal life, Druck likes to show off his collection. Otherwise, he says he is very secretive, preferring to put works away and let time pass. “The public didn’t know who I was, but artists, museums and galleries did. I was a collector’s collector.”
HE CALLS the show at the Haifa Museum a “public outing.” When Druck was approached by Tami Katz-Freiman, the museum’s chief curator, to exhibit works from his collection, he agreed without really knowing what he had. Katz-Freiman took several colleagues and drove from Haifa to Jerusalem to start getting an idea of what Druck’s collection consisted of. One of the museum’s junior curators, Ye’ala Hazut, began brainstorming on the way back and at that moment was designated the show’s curator – her first exhibit since working at the museum.
“Nothing was catalogued,” explains Hazut. “We knew we had a collection, but we didn’t know what there was.” She says that Druck collects from the gut, so it was her job to build a story out of the works that she picked to exhibit. “I came from the outside and explained his collection to him.”
This story encompassed not only Druck’s art collection, but also hiscollection of Zionist and Israeli historical documents and memorabilia.It was one of utopian hope expressed early in the process ofcampaigning for and establishing the State of Israel, and the dystopiaof “an ephemeral, contingent reality” that examines “crises related tosociopolitical identity, parallel to the weakening of the nationalconsensus.”
Though the entire preparation process was done together with Druck, hewasn’t involved in creating the curatorial narrative, and can’t saythat his own collecting comes from the same understandings. At the sametime, he doesn’t mind the story that curators tell. “Whatever criticsread into it is fine. It’s interesting.” He adds that he follows artmagazines and criticism, keeps up with current discussions and simplyinternalizes them.
Though his collection started from his Zionism, he says he no longercollects works according to their politics. As an example, he gives aphotograph by Micky Kratzman. “I know he’s a political photographer.But I bought it because I just like the image.”
And this touches upon the main point: Druck collects out of a kind ofobsessive need to possess. He admits that he overdoes it, that he hastoo many things, but at the same time when he sees something new thatmay add to his collection, he has to have it. Now that he has made thiscollection public, he says, his biggest frustration is that he has somuch more which would interest people.