The Art Buyer’s Guide to Rhode Island

Read on to discover your new favorite artist, gallery or curator, as well as expert tips on framing, etiquette and collecting.

Tales from the Trade

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, photographer
First buy: Unfortunately, photography is an expensive medium to work in, so for a long time I only traded work. These days, I often buy my students’ work when the imagery resonates with me. I bought a piece by Ian Mohon, who now works at Gallery Z. He also sells his own paintings in fairs across Rhode Island. His black and white photograph was created from multiple images of a home, which he then scratched the print surface to draw an image of his father and himself as a child. The apparent pain in the photo resonated with me and my experience of losing my father when I was young.

Just last week, I bought an underwater photograph by John Harrington from Newport, who is living his dream of being a photographer/videographer.

First Sell: I will never forget this! Two things happened simultaneously. One, Nikon magazine published an image of mine, an abstraction of a car that I made for a beginning photo class and paid me $600 for it! That money came at a critical moment and was also an enormous boost to my confidence. That same year, the successful commercial photographer William Abranowicz bought an image of mine when I was a starving photo assistant at an arts center. His support and mentorship is something that I now try to emulate in my own life and teaching.



Art Talk: Dr. Joseph Chazan

The collector definitely does not want to be called the father of local art. By Casey Nilsson

The wheeler school renamed its gallery in his honor. He founded NetWorks, a film series about Rhode Island artists that ran from 2008 to 2016. A 2004 RISD Museum exhibition, “Chazan’s Choice,” displayed a fractional selection of the hundreds of works of art he and his late wife, Helene, gifted to the museum over the years.

Everyone involved in Rhode Island’s art scene knows Dr. Joseph Chazan, the state’s foremost collector of local art. The nephrologist has acquired upwards of 1,000 pieces by Rhode Island artists.
Our conversation took place at his East Providence office, a gallery unto itself with work by Mark Freedman, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, Neal Walsh and other prominent local artists on display. We start off by discussing a big holiday art show, which Chazan says he skipped.

Casey Nilsson: Why didn’t you go?
Joseph Chazan: I don’t enjoy large openings and events anymore. I’m getting old. I am old.
CN: We’re all getting old.
JC: Well, some of us are older than others. I’m eighty-two, soon to be eighty-three. My enthusiasm to continue this is fine, but I don’t run around to openings anymore.
CN: You’re not going for the wine and cheese, then.
JC: There is a guy who does. You see him? He rides a bike and wears shorts most of the time.
CN: People know you at this point, too.
JC: Yeah, well, you know. I’ve been doing it a long time. It probably started about forty years ago when I met some local artists and commissioned work and began to give work to museums and collect.
CN: Do you remember which artists?
JC: Oh yeah, a lot of them. Jonathan Bonner, Howard Ben Tre, Sal Mancini, Denny Moers.
CN: Why did you decide to collect?
JC: I went into the private practice of medicine in 1973. I opened this first dialysis center. I began to look for alternative interests and I was introduced by my late friend, Hank Kates. My late wife and I began collecting things, primarily for our own interests. But many of them didn’t fit into my wife’s idea of where they should go, so we gave them away. I then started opening clinics, so I had a place to put art.
CN: What’s been the most enjoyable part of it?
JC: I’ve enjoyed meeting the artists. Much of my collection is about the artists, not the art. I’m a physician; I’m interested in people. Objects are interesting, but they’re more interesting if you know who made them — and if you like the person who made them. And now it’s at the end; it’s the sunset.
CN: Of collecting?
JC: Of everything.
CN: Of art in Rhode Island?
JC: No, no (laughing). It’s my elder dismay. I think there’s been a dramatic change in the artist’s role in the community. There were a handful who stayed; now there are scores. There are many more galleries. However, how much work is really bought remains to be seen.
CN: How could Rhode Islanders change that?
JC: To me, the potential for the art world in Rhode Island, in terms of acquisition, are all the professionals who have offices. They could acquire real art instead of posters, and they could make a commitment. There are art dealers and curators — people could help them acquire art. There are pop-up galleries all over the West Side.
CN: What’s your favorite gallery?
JC: I don’t have one.
CN: Can you give me an artist who you’re really interested in right now, then?
JC: Is that fair?
CN: No, definitely not. I’d still like to know. You could give a few, if that’s fairer.
JC: There are photographers. You know Jesse Burke?
CN: I do; he’s shot a lot for Rhode Island Monthly.
JC: There’s another photographer who used to be here, Lucas Foglia.
CN: He did that beautiful series on the Southside Community Land Trust, right?
JC: I commissioned the second one. The first one he did while he was at Brown. That’s how I met him, actually. Oh, another good artist is Mark Freedman. He’s a painter. He’s terrific. I would argue that when I’m interested in something, I find a way to find people. Curators at Newport (Art Museum) and RISD have introduced me to some of them.
CN: What have you learned about artists and art-making?
JC: I think that I’ve learned over time that artists have a different sense about who they are with regard to their work. Some of them just have to make art. Are they doing anything that makes sense? Does anybody care? It’s not simple. I don’t think they have much choice. They’re committed.
CN: How much art do you own?
JC: A lot.
CN: Can you give me a ballpark figure?
JC: I don’t know, maybe 1,000. Maybe not.
CN: How much of it is local?
JC: 90, 95 percent of it. I got rid of a lot of stuff that wasn’t. I still acquire stuff periodically because it’s an obsession, I guess. I don’t know if I’ve ever sold anything.
CN: Do you have a favorite piece?
JC: No.
CN: Not even one in your home that you’re committed to?
JC: No, no, no. No. I like the artist.
CN: I don’t think you’ll like that I’m calling you this, but you’re kind of like the father of local art. You can’t choose a favorite.
JC: That’s horrible. I’ve been called a person who’s “acquired more,” “done more,” whatever. I’m the father of my three children, my nine grandchildren and my one great granddaughter. I don’t like to be considered a patron. There was a time when my wife and I would complain about being called collectors, but I got over that one. I happened to have the wherewithal, so I did it. I got as much from it as I gave, in my opinion, over time.