We Absolutely Collect What We Love
Howard Tullman Talks About His Passion for Contemporary Art
Interview by Janet Franz

Howard Tullman in the loft that houses a portion of his collection
As part of Intuit's 2006 You Asked For It house tours, Howard and Judith Tullman earlier this year opened part of their collection, which includes more than 1,000 works by artists including Karl Wirsum, Ray Yoshida and Roger Brown, to visitors. The Outsider spoke with Howard Tullman about collecting.

How long have you been collecting art?
For about 25 years.

How do you choose what to collect? Do you have a certain philosophy or goal?
For a long time we focused on only figurative and realist art and exclusively living artists. And when we first started, the other goal was ideally that they would be art contemporaries in terms of Chicago artists, like the Hairy Who.

You've got a lot of serious art, and then collectibles like Pez dispensers and lunchboxes. How do you see it all meshing, or do you?
It's funny because those are in fact just alternative collections and really unrelated to the art, except that, interestingly enough, even the Pez collection, when you go back 20 or 30 years, they were handcrafted and handpainted and tinted. They're their own little contemporary works of art because they traced all the feds and trends of their time.

The collection includes Siamese by Dennis Nechvatal (on left wall) and Flydog by Joe Seigenthaler (on ceiling)
You also have some outsider art. What can you tell me about it?
I think that the outsider art grew out of the development of an interest in outsider art through Carl Hammer and probably through Phyllis Kind. And it was really those two galleries that were instrumental in introducing us to a substantial number of artists we have collected over the years. And frankly, because we were interested in the Hairy Who—which was the Chicago-based artists Jim Nutt and people like that—a lot of their art has quite a few references, even though they were trained artists, to outsider art.

Do you rotate pieces in and out of your living space, or are there some pieces you like to live with all the time?
We only move pices out of our home when we lend them to shows. My wife has become more than attached to certain pieces and it would be virtually impossible to convince her to part with then even for a short period of time.

This is probably a silly question, given all of the art you own, but is there anything that stands out for you as a favorite?
One of the things that's encouraging and fascinating to me is that there's almost none of the art that we have that I don't like, even over the history of so many years of collecting. Usually what I'm most interested in is what we've bought over the last year or so—just in terms of stuff that I will check out more often than not. But we really love living with it, and that's why we have it at the school [Kendall College, where Tullman is president], so we can share it with a lot of people. And the loft we open for these art tours on a regular basis. It's all so that people can share in the work rather than having it locked up somewhere or put in storage.

A large grouping of Pez dispensers sits beneath Loupe Garou by Robert Warren
Any advice for fellow collectors?
We absolutely collect what we love. Of course it's turned out to be a serious economic commitment and obviously a lot of the art we've collected has become more valuable over the years. But I would say that no one should think of art as an investment. I think you have to have a different kind of commitment to it. You can't serve too many masters at the same time. If you're really focused in on buying what you love and supporting artists who are your contemporaries, then that's what drives it. One of the real joys we have in terms of buying things from people who are just starting their careers is that you really don't know whether they're going to turn into somebody who's important, or someone who's just talented, or whose work is just very appealing for one reason or another.

Are there any self-taught artists you're particularly fond of? And if so, why?
Rev. Howard Finster—he has such a cool first name.