James R. Hedges IV began purchasing photographs by Andy Warhol around 20 years ago, initially hoping to collect enough Polaroids to complete a grid of nine pictures. Today the Californian adviser and dealer owns more than 5,000 such works, having amassed what he says is the largest private collection of this “seriously undervalued market”.
Early on in his collecting journey, Hedges learned from his then boyfriend, who sat on the board of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, that he could buy works directly from the organisation. In 2013 Hedges departed from his investment business to focus full time on art and is now “the go-to guy for Warhol photography”, he says. He credits his pre-eminent position to his long-standing relationships with those who knew Warhol best. Tim Hunt, the curator of the foundation who died in 2017, “taught him everything”; he later befriended Warhol’s diarist and close collaborator Pat Hackett.
Hedges has organised a new exhibition of works—mostly from his collection—at the Château la Coste in Provence, southern France. Voyages avec Warhol charts the manifold depictions and senses of “journeys” in Warhol’s photography across several decades, and includes photobooth strips, silver gelatin prints, and stitched photographs exhibited in the only show dedicated to Warhol’s photography in his lifetime, which took place five weeks before the artist’s death in 1987. Hedges also organises selling shows with commercial galleries such as Jack Shainman and Gagosian—they give him the space and a client list; he does the rest, he says—and loans works to institutions across the world, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Fotografiska in Stockholm.
The Art Newspaper: What are you looking out for in Basel this year?
James R. Hedges IV: Masterful young painters from South Tyrol.
How quickly do you decide to buy a work of art?
As soon as it aligns with my gut, heart and bank balance.
What was the first work you ever bought?
A Marilyn reversal photograph by Warhol.
What was the last work you bought?
A Sol Lewitt wall drawing.
What do you regret not buying when you had the chance?
A night-sky painting by Vija Celmins. If you’re familiar with that work you know it was a big market moment. You had to kiss the ring of a million people to be considered to buy it. It was offered to me the same week that my now ex-wife filed for divorce, so everything was off the table.
If you could have any work from any museum in the world, what would it be?
I recently saw the most poetic—literally and figuratively—painting by Cy Twombly at the Pinault Collection at the Bourse du Commerce in Paris. That.
Where do you like to eat and drink while you’re in Basel?
Lunch at Fondation Beyeler, drinks at Les Trois Rois.
What’s your least favourite thing about art fairs?
There’s nothing “VIP” about the VIP section.
Where do you go in Basel to get away from it all?
The Black Forest.
What tip would you give to someone visiting Basel for the first time?
Here’s some California-style advice: chill out. The right art will find you.