‘It’s alchemy,’ Marcus Flacks says of collecting Chinese art and classical furniture. As renowned dealers, collectors and experts, Flacks and his wife Debby consider themselves ‘grateful custodians’ of the masterpieces that have entered their Hampstead home.
The Flacks’ tale, like some of the best collecting narratives, began serendipitously. The first time Marcus and Debby bought a serious piece of Chinese furniture, they were less informed about the subject at hand. Marcus recalls, ‘Like an idiot, I said, “Do you have any chairs with the spindles?” Not realising that probably at that time there were only four in the world’. Fortunately, the dealer smiled and returned with a huanghuali spindle-backed chair, one that continues to hold a central place in the couple’s home.
Other highlights displayed in the Flacks’ beautifully decorated home include contemporary ink painter Liu Dan’s study for Dictionary, 1991, which marked a turning point in the artist’s practice. ‘I love the fact that I have a study of something that I’ve seen all the large studies of, that basically helped to launch a career,’ Flacks says of the work and his friend of 20-odd years. ‘It’s something very, very intimate between him and the piece, which I’m allowed to tap into.’
Among the 46-lot selection of treasured works and objects offered in The Flacks Family Collection: A Very Personal Selection on 16 September at Christie’s New York are Liu Dan’s Far-Off Journey, an obscure sketch of an omitted section for a masterwork entitled Ink Handscroll currently in the San Diego Museum of Art.
At times, the couple lost track of their works of art and objects with their growing inventory. When putting together an exhibition of scholars’ rocks, Marcus included a rock that was apparently close to Debby’s heart. ‘There were a lot of rocks in the house, to be fair,’ he explained. ‘My wife [had] said, “You know… it’s enough with the rocks.” When telling his wife about the sale of the ‘Lingbi rock with a hole in the middle’, she responded, ‘That’s mine’. Marcus told his friend, the buyer, ‘Let’s find you another rock because otherwise, I’m going to have to get divorced.’
The couple kept the rock and recently acquired a companion piece in bronze by British Pop sculptor Clive Barker. ‘It’s breathed new life into both the new piece and the old piece,’ Marcus says. ‘Here’s a rock that was created by nature over millions of years; someone has decided it was worthy of turning into an art piece.’ Of the rock that almost got away, Marcus adds, ‘I’m not a great believer in fate. But I thought, there must be a reason why we have to live with that.’
The Flacks’ philosophy of collecting is simple. ‘You only really know how important a piece of Chinese furniture is in a room when you take it out,’ Marcus says. ‘It brings an integrity to the room, without shouting, “Look at me, I’m gold”, or “Look at me, I’m carved”. It says, “This is a real room”.’