Art Collector for Hire

By Clark, Tracy | American Visions, June-July 1993 | Go to article overview
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Art Collector for Hire

Clark, Tracy, American Visions

"Strangers will talk about art when they won't talk about anything else because everybody either has an opinion or is willing to put forth one." So says Madeline Murphy Rabb, one of Chicago's premier art consultants and president of Murphy Rabb Inc., a company that purchases, commissions and displays fine art in business and residential environments.

It is Rabb--artist, curator, finder of hidden treasures and enthusiastic saleswoman--who revels in placing the right piece of art with the right collection and matching color, texture, line, shade and impact to compile thought-provoking, mood-setting, visually appealing collections. That she does this in an arena inundated with greenhorns who hold fast to the axiom, "I may not know art, but I know what I like," makes her job just that much more interesting.

Rabb recently collaborated with the Chicago Dock and Canal Trust to furnish Cityfront Place, a new residential complex, with art. It took a year to assemble the collection, which consists of more than 100 pieces by local, national and international artists, including fiber artist Dorothy Hughes, collagist Tom Balbo and painter Alonzo Davis. Featured in the central lobby is the collection's crowning glory, a 28-by-12-foot ceramic relief sculpture titled "Bridge Life With Love" by John E. Dowell Jr.

Bringing together artist, art and client in a relationship of mutual collaboration is Rabb's specialty, and it is in this coming together that her artistic experience is born. "As an art consultant, I get a vision of how I see art fitting into an environment," she says. "I think about the kind of people who live in the building, the traffic pattern. And I personally like an eclectic kind of contemporary look that's interesting--not bland, not benign. The main challenge is working with your client to come together around a vision of what the collection should look like."

Rabb's artistic philosophy blended well with that of Charlie Gardner, president of the Chicago Dock and Canal Trust. His company wanted art that would reflect the makeup of the city of Chicago, and Rabb implemented his vision. "She brought good pieces of work from local artists [and] enhanced the quality of the project in doing so," Gardner says.

The black-owned investment firm Ariel Capital Management wasn't looking to make a dramatic statement when they hired Rabb to begin their collection. They merely wanted a subtle display of art in their offices. "Madeline listened well and was able to find terrific artists who met our goals," says Ariel president John W. Rogers Jr. Rabb continues to work with Ariel to augment the firm's collection of 18 pieces, by such renowned artists as Betye Saar, Denise Ward Brown and John Scott.

Rabb's consulting firm has led her from corporation to corporation, giving her high visibility, but also presenting her with spaces that "are so dull, you don't even notice them.

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