Chasing 'Demanding' Art for British Collection

World of Media Influences Chris Ingram's Artistic Sensibilities

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NEW YORK ( -- Chris Ingram doesn't keep his "edgy" art collection at his home outside of London. "I like pieces that force you to ask, 'What's going on here?' " The sculptures, paintings and works on paper instead decorate the London offices of his marketing company, Ingram, and also his recently acquired New York pied-a-terre on Central Park South.

Explaining the rationale for keeping his home collection-free, he makes an analogy to music: "I love Mozart concertos in the background. But in a concert hall, I like something much more complex. ... Ditto for art. I want something a bit more demanding."

Sold Tempus to WPP
For a decade, Mr. Ingram, who sold his company, Tempus Group, to WPP Group for $750 million in 2001, has seriously collected Modern British Art, a period from 1910-60. "There was a speeding-up of technology and of industry, and a huge shift away from the country to the city. Add to that the impact of two World Wars-and you've got a lot of angst."

A favorite artist from the period is Elisabeth Frink."She was fascinated by men, by the combination of their brutality and vulnerability," Mr. Ingram said. The source of inspiration for "Gogglehead," a sculpture in his collection, was a TV news report on the Algerian civil war, and specifically, the secret police. "You look at [this piece], and you don't know whether that's a thug or not," mused Mr. Ingram. Other artists in his collection, now around 150 works strong, include Lynn Chadwick and Edward Burra.

Meets with art adviser
Several years ago, after he'd devoted a fair amount of time and money to this passion, he sought the help of a Susannah Pollen, the former head of Modern British and Irish Art at Sotheby's Europe, who now runs a fine-art advisory service. "It's good to work with someone who ... can debate the merits of a piece and give input," Mr. Ingram said. Ms. Pollen advises him on shaping the collection. "We don't always agree," he added. "But it feels like a good quality debate."

His interest in art began in the 1960s. Years ago as a media director, he attended a business trip in Leningrad and Helsinki. While in Leningrad, he visited the famous art museum L'Hermitage and saw a collection of Impressionist paintings. "It knocked me over. ... On business trips for years after that, I'd make time to visit art galleries and museums in Prague, Amsterdam, Philadelphia," Mr. Ingram recalled. "I started buying local artists at local galleries." Even today, one of his first acquisitions -- a portrait bought from a New York street vendor -- rests above his desk.

Art and media
His taste, Ms. Pollen maintained, is absolutely influenced by his career. "When I looked at the collection as a whole I saw that he was very interested in things where the image is often derived from the media or has been influenced by it," she said. Mr. Ingram readily admitted years of negotiating deals affects how he views buying and selling art. "These are markets, and many factors influence prices. How desperate is that person to get rid of his work? You get to know the players and what their motives are."

On price, Mr. Ingram sets boundaries. "He's not one to buy a Lucien Freud or a Francis Bacon at all costs," said Ms. Pollen, referring to some of the period's more popular artists. In fact, Mr. Ingram sets a budget and works within it: "I've got to like the stuff first. I don't let my heart totally rule my head." A current focus: building out works on paper. "There's availability, and prices are reasonable," said Ms. Pollen. "A wonderful drawing or watercolor can go for $200,000."

Even after 10 years, the hobby still grabs him. "It takes you out of yourself. For years, I'd use it, in London, go to the National Gallery, just to get away from the manic world," he said. Now he's preparing to share his collection with others by lending a portion of his works to a new gallery near London. A "significant chunk" of the collection will be housed there, and plans include educational programs for teachers to bring students by for art history instruction. "It'll make better use of them than being one man's collection, locked up within high walls all the time," he said.

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Devoted to a worthy cause? Have a secret fishing hideaway? If you have a fascinating Off Hours activity, describe your passion in an e-mail to Mike Ryan at [email protected]
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