specific histories

Gregory Linn viewing works of Jean-Michel Basquiat with Diego Cortez, New York, January 1982.  © 2019 linn press.

Gregory Linn viewing works of Jean-Michel Basquiat with Diego Cortez, New York, January 1982.

© 2019 linn press.

Time passes.  Collections evolve.  Memories fade.  Histories disappear.

specific histories: collectors and collecting.

An art collection is a physical manifestation of personal experience. It is a potential legacy. Yet, collector stories often vanish with death. Essential personal and social art histories are lost.

linn press, specialists in contemporary art, launched specific histories as a bespoke suite of interrelated services that preserve the unique, personal histories of art collecting, along with practical requirements of collection management.

We work with both experienced and younger collectors to:

  • Document collector stories

  • Prepare a collector’s Specific History.

To the extent desired or necessary we also help collecotrs:

  • Build collection inventory(ies)

  • Organize archives (electronic and paper).

To speak with us about specific histories or to request a descriptive brochure, please call (609) 671-0175 or use the contact form on this website.

postwar collecting.

The fortunate few who began collecting art in the 60s, 70s and 80s belong to a distinct community. Its members were able to have dynamic, often intimate, interactions with artists, dealers and institutions, resulting in personalized collections that defy today’s familiar homogeneity. These collectors took risks, jump-starting careers and helping to shape the postwar canon. They collected many innovative things: from Haitian-influenced graffiti paintings and photographs of cowboy taken from magazine advertisements, to simulated film stills and aquariums with floating basketballs.

Get There First, Decide Promptly: The Richard Brown Baker Collection of Postwar Art,  Yale University Press, 2011.

Get There First, Decide Promptly: The Richard Brown Baker Collection of Postwar Art, Yale University Press, 2011.

As the postwar collecting community ages, its members are thinking about their legacies. Many collectors share a sense of nostalgia for a slower, more deliberate approach to acquiring art that is missing in today’s high-turnover, brand-led art markets. Almost without exception, estate planning requires rigorous collection documentation, which has oftentimes been neglected. Planning and decision-making invariably trigger personal reflections about a collector’s life in art.

When art changes hands, the associated histories of selection, purchase, loan and display are lost. What often remains is only a “provenance,” which reveals nothing about the passion or energy associated with art-buying and collection-building. Sometimes collector stories are documented in film, like that of the “proletarian art collectors,” Dorothy and Herbert Vogel. Occasionally, we are rewarded with an award-winning catalog and exhibition of a collector’s history, like Jennifer Farrell’s Get There First, Decide Promptly: The Richard Brown Baker Collection.

In the United States, there are two major repositories for collector histories, papers and ephemera: The Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art and The Center for the History of Collecting at The Frick Art Reference Library. (Of course, there are repositories at colleges and universities, private and public libraries and museums.) There are also several online “destinations” where collectors can upload, manage and maintain their art inventories, but they are not proprietary platforms.

Institutional archives and repositories are often stretched to their limits. They have to be selective about which collector histories they accept, organize and maintain. Internet-based collector platforms are particularly problematic. They promise “privacy,” yet they encourage visibility and public access to on-line collections, revealing ownership. We underscore confidentiality in our services and in the management of collector data and biographies.


Gregory Linn and Clayton Press, partners in linn press, specialists in contemporary art, lead the specific histories project. We began collecting art in 1980. In our personal estate planning, we have negotiated the transfer of our art collection and library to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Art Institute of Chicago. In parallel, we have developed a detailed electronic collection database and organized our bibliographic, paper and digital archives. Our personal history as collectors is titled The Future is Filled with Opportunities, borrowing its name from a multimedia sculpture by Jason Rhoades, an artist who played a significant role in our lives.

Reena Spaulings,  Advisors (detail of 14 paintings) , 2016.

Reena Spaulings, Advisors (detail of 14 paintings), 2016.

linn press has built and maintains collection inventories for clients in Europe, the United States and Mexico, using secure, cloud-based software. Our first “collector biography” was an extensive rewrite of interviews conducted with Anne and Wolfgang Titze in 2014 for an exhibition at the Belvedere (Vienna)—Love Story, the Anne and Wolfgang Titze Collection. We also documented their collection in a 404-page German-English publication, which annotated works by 91 artists.

Gregory Linn has been actively engaged in the contemporary art market for nearly 40 years, first as a collector, next as a gallery employee—Maureen Paley (London) and David Zwirner (New York)—and as a marketing specialist at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 2003, he founded linn press to provide art historical expertise and personalized professional services to aspiring and maturing art collectors. Today, Linn manages several client relationships and conducts qualitative and quantitative research to support collector acquisitions and deaccessions. He is our in-house line editor, helping to convey clear, understandable art content. Linn graduated from Western Illinois University, concentrating in business and marketing. He has served on the boards of the Sculpture Center (Long Island City, NY) and the Arcadia University Art Gallery (Glenside, PA.) 

Clayton Press wears many hats in the contemporary art business. Most recently, he was the consulting scholar on BOOM: Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art by Michael Shnayerson (May 2019.) As an essayist, Press has contributed to Minerva Cuevas: Disidencia (CUNY, 2019), Germán Venegas, Todo lo otro (Museo Tamayo, 2019) and More Heart Than Brains: The Collected Plays of Bailey Scieszka (What Pipeline, 2018.) He also authored REDS (Mnuchin Gallery, 2017), Robert Mangold, A Survey 1965-2003 (Mnuchin Gallery, 2017) and Next to Nothing, Close to Nowhere: Kathleen Jacobs (Burckhardt Boles, 2017.) Press is an adjunct professor at New York University, where he teaches art history, art market economics and the history of collecting. He is a journalist at Forbes.com, where he has contributed more than 100 essays. Press graduated from the University of Rochester, earned his master's degree at the University of Pittsburgh and completed his PhD studies in anthropology and material culture at Southern Illinois University (Carbondale). 

Deborah Barkun is a consultant with linn press, specializing in postwar art. After receiving her MA and PhD degrees from Bryn Mawr College, Deborah joined the faculty of Ursinus College, where she chairs the department of Art and Art History and is and Director of Museum Studies. Her research has been supported by the American Council for Learned Societies, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Giles M. Whiting Foundation for the Humanities and the Fales Library and Special Collections at New York University. Deborah’s publications include “The Artist as a Work-in-Progress: General Idea and the Construction of Collective Identity” and "The Eye of the (Be)holder: Collaboration, Reciprocity, and Performance in AA Bronson's Parting (Self-)Portrait of General Idea."

Robyn Tisman is a consultant with linn press with expertise in postwar and contemporary art. Her career spans more than a decade, working with collectors to archive and document their collections, conduct oral histories and primary source interviews, and construct collector stories. In addition to her work as a historian and provenance researcher, Robyn is a contributing critic for Arteviste.com, a UK arts platform. She received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Northwestern University, and obtained post-graduate certificates in Art Business and Fine Art Appraisal from NYU. She is an associate member of the Appraisers Association of America, Inc.

Matthew Polhamus is our lead publications designer and web developer. Since 2001, Matt has designed and coordinated publications and websites for some of the world’s most prominent galleries, including Leo Castelli, David Zwirner, Metro Pictures, Michael Werner and Mitchell-Innes Nash. Matt has presented more than 60 individual artists in print, including Anthony Caro, Nancy Graves, Yayoi Kusama, Donald Judd, Joseph Beuys and David Hammons. He has also designed monographs for a growing contingent of emerging and mid-career artists, like Marcel Dzama, Keltie Ferris, Chris Martin and Wendy White. Matt’s complete portfolio can be seen at https://www.mattpolhamus.com/work.

specific histories