When she was a child, Jean Goldman used to create art shows for family members, dangling drawings from clothespins in her bedroom.
Decades later, Goldman, an art historian, and her husband, Steven, a former Northwestern University Law School professor and real estate company owner, have gradually collected the 200 drawings adorning the walls in their elegant Gold Coast home.
The Art Institute of Chicago, where the couple funded the Jean and Steven Goldman Prints and Drawings Galleries and the Jean and Steven Goldman Study Center, exhibited their artwork in a 2008 show, "Drawn to Italian Drawings: The Goldman Collection."
Both Chicago natives, the Goldmans have two grown sons and 4-year-old twin grandsons. Goldman, who travels the world lecturing on art history as well as perusing potential additions for her own collection, spoke about the "overwhelming" moment when art speaks to you and the different places art has taken her. Following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Q: How did you first become interested in art?
A: I wanted to be an artist, and my parents were very smart, and sent me to Florence (Italy) when I was a junior in college to study art. The more I saw the work of Michelangelo, Raphael, the more I compared it to my own work, (and) I realized I wasn't quite there. I still do artwork. It takes a very long time to find your voice, and I didn't have a voice, and young people don't typically have voices. So I came back to America and majored in art history.
Later (while living in Boston), this job just fell into my lap, of being a curator of The Institute of Contemporary Art, where I was hanging out with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein. It was just such heady, exciting times, and, ultimately though, I realized that my heart was really in the older drawings. I went back to graduate school, and that's how it all began.
Q: How did you and your husband start collecting art?
A: We did not start out to be collectors. When Steven was in law school, we were so poor. A drawing came my way, and I thought, "Oh, I like this; I'll buy it." Then randomly, we spent a significant amount of time in Europe while I was writing my dissertation (for a doctorate in art history at the University of Chicago), because we loved it. And we'd come across a drawing, and we would buy it. We weren't collecting, we were just buying those things we loved.
And, luckily, the way we formed our collection was, I have a very good eye, because I'm a historian and that's what I do. I could spot an unattributed drawing by someone and buy it for $100. I have a drawing we bought for $1,800 that's now worth a half-million dollars.
Q: How do you know what to buy?
A: You see a drawing, and you know there's something there. (Referring to one of their drawings), this Raphael was attributed to someone in his workshop, and we just knew it was good. Raphael was a talent spotter, so he had great artists in his studio, and we figured at that price, we just loved the drawing. We don't buy anything if we don't both love it.
Q: For nearly 20 years, you taught a course about drawings at the Art Institute. Was there anything that surprised you about teaching?
A: I never took a course in drawings, because there never was a course in drawings. So I went in and had to make up my own course. I'd get those students in, and they didn't have a clue whether a drawing was made today, yesterday, in France or in Spain, and I said, "In one month, you will know that a drawing was made in the 16th century or the 18th century." It was very important to me to make what I taught accessible.
Q: Art has led you many interesting places, including an invitation from Prince Charles.
A: I did some major work for my dissertation on drawings that are at Windsor Castle, and he honored me, along with a small group who had done work on these drawings, with a reception at the St James's Palace. I went and I was absolutely thrilled. It was very interesting because, first of all, he's a very interesting man, and it was lovely that he did this.
Q: What is your favorite place to go with your family?
A: Our favorite destination is Italy. We have been traveling there with our children since they were babies. Our most cherished family memories are those trips.
Q: What is your favorite book you've read lately and why?
A: I am a voracious reader, so this is a hard choice. I am currently reading "The Goldfinch" (a novel by Donna Tartt) and am enjoying the prose, despite the fact that it is overwritten, and the story.
Q: How do you and your husband relax on a Sunday afternoon?
A: We spend a lot of time with our children and our two grandchildren. We like to take walks, we like to go to movies, we go to the theater, and we spend time with our friends — we have a lunch or something. Neither of us is under any stress. I just love what I do.
Jean Goldman says collecting art puts her and her husband in a spirit of pursuit and inspiration.
"We are very adventurous, unlike a lot of collectors. We're willing to take something unusual or something that nobody else might value because we see something in it, and a lot of collectors are very conservative.
… For me, if it's a weird kind of drawing by that artist, I like the idea of it. So there are lots of methods
of collecting and rules of thumb that are meant to be broken."