ANCRAM, NY – Some great art collectors start out in the domestic sphere, buying works for themselves to enjoy at home and only later sharing their bounty with the rest of the world.
But philanthropist Becky Gochman, 58, jumped straight to step two.
She went on an art-buying spree, but not for herself or her homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida.
Her purchases are for an initiative she founded in 2021, the Forge projectwhich supports Indigenous art and artists by purchasing works, then loaning and donating them to institutions and making them available for academic study.
Forge also sponsors a fellowship and residency program, with grants of $25,000 each to six artists per year.
By bringing these works into circulation and attracting the attention of museums, dealers, other collectors and the public, the Forge project aims to elevate Indigenous artists and issues. Loan recipients include the Venice Biennale, the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston, and the Tucson Museum of Art.
So far, it has collected over 230 works by 42 artists, all from the United States and Canada.
“It’s pretty funny to go from zero to a major art collector in a year,” Ms. Gochman said. “But when it’s done for these reasons, it makes my heart sing.”
Ms Gochman says she doesn’t collect much for herself, although she does own works by Polly Apfelbaum, Lily Stockman and Kenny Scharf. (She’s also passionate about the equestrian life; she owns horses and competes, spending much of the year traveling to shows.)
The Forge Project headquarters here, atop a hill in the Hudson Valley – two sleek, modern houses, the only residential structures designed by artist Ai Weiwei in the United States – house part of his collection , including works by Wendy Red Star, Matthew Kirk, Edgar Heap des Oiseaux and Judy Chartrand.
Ms Gochman, a former art teacher, is married to David Gochman, whose family made their fortune selling a majority stake in Sports + Outdoors Academy. She enlisted the help of experts to make the Forge project viable.
Ms. Hopkins is of Tlingit descent and is a citizen of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. She curated the 2017 edition of the prestigious Documenta exhibition in Kassel, Germany, and is director of curation at the Toronto Art Biennale.
Mr. Feuer does double duty, also managing the collection of the Gochman family, a separate but affiliated entity with a broader collecting mandate – it holds works by Mr. Ai, for example, as well as Stanley Whitney – leaving the Forge project focus on living Indigenous Artists.
“We don’t have bureaucracy, so we can move with agility,” Ms. Gochman said of her growing new business. Forge, unlike other initiatives focused on art collectors, does not exist primarily as an exhibition space.
She recalled that she started with a larger mandate: “Our family wanted to do a social justice project, and we thought it would involve art.”
When she found the 38-acre property where the Forge Project headquarters is located, she learned that it was on the land of the Muh-he-shit-ne-ok tribe. After meeting with Mr. Feuer and discussing the directions of his philanthropy, Ms. Gochman said, “It became clear that we would be doing an Indigenous project.
As the team reviewed philanthropic efforts for Indigenous artists, Ms Hopkins said: ‘What we found was that there was no such thing,’ adding ‘That’s part of what has led to its foundation”.
The Forge Project is not established as a non-profit organization as Ms. Gochman did not want to take advantage of the tax benefits such a structure would confer; rather, it is incorporated as an LLC.
His philanthropy also has other outlets. This month, Mrs. Gochman announces that the Gochman Family Foundation is giving $25 million to College Bard in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, a donation matched by the Open Society Foundations, created by George Soros. The money will go to a center for native studies as well as faculty appointments and scholarships.
Given the headline-grabbing amounts, Ms Hopkins said she appreciates Ms Gochman’s lack of interest in a personal projector.
“For Becky, it’s not about building a platform for herself as an individual at all,” Ms. Hopkins said. “It’s thinking about how art can be part of serving the public good.”
The Forge Project website has an unusual feature that demonstrates how seriously it takes Indigenous issues: it requires the user to click a land acknowledgment button before continuing.
It reads: “We acknowledge that we are located on the unceded ancestral lands of the Muh-he-con-ne-ok, the people of the waters who never stand still. We recognize that there is a history on this earth that is older than us and honor and respect that history and elders, past, present and future.
Land recognitions, while still rare, have become more common in art museums and other cultural institutions.
“It’s a way to deal with historic amnesia,” Ms Hopkins said.
Sky Hopinka, one of the artists in the collection, said such gestures “seep into the collective unconscious”. Two of his works currently hang at the Forge Project. Mr. Hopinka, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and descendant of the Pechanga Band of the Luiseño people, works in film and photography and teaches in Bard.
Mr. Hopinka is one of many Project Forge artists based in the Hudson Valley.
“We haven’t set a specific geographic parameter,” Feuer said. “There are just a lot of great artists here.”
Although Forge is not open to the public on a regular schedule, visitors can register online to view the 30 to 40 works typically on display, free of charge, displayed as they would be in a collector’s home.
The art rotates inside and out as needed. “We really see it as a working collection,” Ms. Hopkins said. “We wanted it to be accessible to the public, we wanted to facilitate loans, we wanted to invite people here to see it and invite artists here.”
For artists whose work is purchased, “it’s amazing and really needed,” Hopinka said. “There just aren’t a lot of resources for Aboriginal artists.
Market forces have made it easier for the Forge team to collect works, largely from galleries and directly from artists, which in turn can make a difference for creators.
“From a dealer’s perspective, the work of Indigenous artists is immensely undervalued and underrepresented,” Feuer said. “It’s a market failure, and a heartbreaking one.”
Museums, at least, are displaying more and more Aboriginal works. “Jeffrey Gibson: When fire is applied to a stone, it cracks“, featuring an artist from the Forge Project collection, was on view at the Brooklyn Museum until January 2021, and current exhibitions include”Meshat the Portland Art Museum in Oregon andEach/Other: Marie Watt and Cannupa Hanska Luger” at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.
Ms Hopkins said she has seen progress in terms of demand for Indigenous art. “That’s only starting to change, over the last three years,” she said. “So I feel like there’s always a need for corrective force.”
Although Forge is just getting started, Ms. Gochman hasn’t ruled out the idea of one day establishing a permanent, museum-like exhibition space.
Right now, she says, “we’re always thinking about how to increase the visibility of this work.”