Hollywood Insiders' Art Club: Producer David Hoberman and Former UPN CEO Dean Valentine

Hoberman (left) and Valentine
Hoberman (left) and Valentine
 Spencer Lowell

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Dean Valentine calls it the art collectors' version of a "golf club." The head of Symbolic Action, a media investment firm, and prominent collector of contemporary art is seated in the offices of L.A.'s Hammer Museum in Westwood, where he is on the board of overseers. Film and television producer David Hoberman (The Muppets, The Fighter, Monk) sits nearby, listening intently. The only one missing from the club is high-profile entertainment attorney Craig Jacobson of Hansen Jacobson (whose clients include Ryan Seacrest and David Fincher.)

"It's a collective," Hoberman, also on the board at the Hammer, says. "It's a group of people that love talking about art and looking at images."

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The trio has been spotted gallery hopping in Culver City and browsing the booths at the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) art fair in Miami, and each has their own style. Hoberman's collection in particular has been in flux since he started. "I started off collecting mid-century American art," says Hoberman, who paid off a $120 tab to get a Claes Oldenburg print when he was 16. "Then, I couldn't afford what I wanted to really have. I remember a [1950s and '60s Bay Area artist Richard] Diebenkorn painting I couldn't afford. I started hanging out with Dean and got into contemporary art, and ended up falling in love with that. I turned 60 last year, and what I wanted to do, for my kids, is buy more blue-chip contemporary art like Albert Oehlen, Rudolf Stingel, a beautiful large Cindy Sherman, Christopher Wool. I have a dozen pieces that will endure time. It's my own instinct, really. Pepper that with still buying emerging artists."

Valentine, by contrast, has been constant in his collection of young artists since he started collecting in 1995. "I was a journalist for a long time, so my interest is the most contemporary of the contemporary. Accumulating name-brand artists is not a meaningful pursuit to me. I'm more engaged with why somebody's making what they're making, what the changes are of the time, and why this generation's different than the last," says Valentine, the former president and CEO of UPN and president of Walt Disney Television.

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Having collected for 15 years now, Valentine has seen the art world change greatly since the market crashed in the early '90s. Back then, he says, you might be the only guest all day to a gallery, and gallerists were passionate about discussing work with interested visitors. "The fact that so much money has come into the art world has really altered everybody," he says. "It's changed the artists, it's changed the relationship between artists and collectors, between collectors and gallerists, between gallerists and artists -- it's changed the landscape of the art world. These large galleries are starting to swallow up a large percentage of the business now, and making it hard for the medium guys, especially, to survive. Accessing work is harder, because you make a commitment to some artist's work, and within a year or a year and a half, the artworks have gone from $10,000 to $150,000. That cuts out a vast number of people who would be collecting work. So, it's turned much more into the 'game' of contemporary art rather than the collecting of contemporary art."

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Despite the mounting fiduciary issues facing the modern collector, Hoberman, Valentine and Jacobson have amassed some of the world's best contemporary works. But maybe, as Hoberman suggests, it's less perseverance than addiction, meaning there always needs to be a mindful eye toward the investment. "Collecting anything becomes an obsession," he says with a grin. "It's incredibly compulsive, and it's hard to stop. Believe me, my business manager tells me to stop all the time. I know a lot of collectors who deal with that, or have wives who try to stop them. I don't know a lot of people in the art world who aren't conscious of what they're paying and what something is worth. The one thing I will say though: No matter what something is worth, if you really love it, hold on to it."

That said, Hoberman and Valentine agree that finding work that you love and work that is a wise investment are vastly different things. "The one thing I tell people who are interested in contemporary art is that good taste is the enemy of good collections," says Valentine. "Yeah, buy what you like, if you actually know something about what you're doing. But if you don't, don't buy what you like. You're probably better off buying what you don't like."

And if you do find something you want, and for one reason or another the gallery won't sell it to you, there are a lot of pipelines in the art world. "You figure out a way to get it," says Hoberman. "If you can't get it from the gallery, there are other dealers who can get you what you want. If you're serious about wanting a piece, you'll do what you have to do to try to figure that out. You can buy it secondary, or you can buy it from a dealer."

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In the end, it's important to remember that art collecting is something that should be done with good intentions and a mind toward civic duty. The collector is, for all intents and purposes, the top of the art world food chain, and a lot of artists and dealers rely on the collector. It's no surprise then that Valentine's most public move in the art world was a gift in 2007 to the Hammer of 10 years of sculpture by Los Angeles-based artists. "The idea of giving gifts to a museum and why people do it: Something that was a private passion should become a public good," says Valentine. "That now can be shared by thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of people for free. There's often tax benefits, because it's viewed as a transferring of a private thing to a public thing. In my case, I had this bizarre passion to collect sculpture from Los Angeles. Sculpture is notoriously difficult to collect. It's hard to house -- I was spending many tens of thousands of dollars a year to store it. Some of these artists, nobody had really bought their work. I liked it, even though I couldn't show the vast majority of it. Unless you have a home that is 70,000 square feet, it's not possible to show some of this work, so I just thought it was a way to really have an impact on the Los Angeles art community by giving this gift."

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