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  Jim Scherr '89
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  Gary Sokol '84
  Peter Cobb '82
  Mark Mitten '83

Picture perfect collector

By Kari Richardson

Gary Sokol '84 still remembers the words a sage friend told him: "Your pictures all talk to each other and have a different conversation when each new picture enters the room."

If his friend was right, there are few pauses in the conversation at Sokol's San Francisco home, where his prized collection of some 600 19th- and 20th-century photographs take turns competing for the chance to line the walls and join the dialogue.

Sokol, a former partner of RCM Capital Management, began collecting in 1989 - the 150th anniversary of photography's invention - at a time when many museum exhibitions traveled the United States, tracing the art form's history. Back then, Sokol says, collecting was relatively affordable: Significant works could be purchased for $10,000 or less compared with $50,000 or more for comparable pieces today.

Sokol's approach to collecting is a bit more haphazard than one might expect from a self-described "methodical person." Each piece must speak to him individually; there are no checklists of artists to acquire or periods to include.

Yet his collection spans photographic history and has earned Sokol spots on Art & Antiques magazine's list of the "Top 100 collectors" and Art News' list of the "Top 25 collectors." From early pieces produced by British and French photographers in the 1840s and 1850s to 20th century Modernist work, most of his images share one thing: They tend to lack specificity of time and place.

"I think I've always been attracted to a Modernist abstract vision," Sokol says. "To me there's something exciting and hopeful and optimistic about these pictures."

In addition to his collecting, he serves as co-chair of the photography committee for the American Friends of the Israel Museum and as a member of the photography accessions committee at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Though Sokol once snapped his own photos on vacation and at special events, he has long since put away the camera. "When you are surrounded by great vision you think, 'What do I need this for?'"
©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University