What I Collect and Why with Penelope Sonder, Maddox Gallery’s Acquisitions Director, Penelope Sonder, discusses the thrill of collecting emerging...
February 8, 2021

What I Collect and Why with Penelope Sonder

Maddox Gallery’s Acquisitions Director, Penelope Sonder, discusses the thrill of collecting emerging artists, her art-hoarding habit and how to acquire artwork that will pay dividends in the years to come.


Founding her own urban contemporary art gallery in Cologne in her twenties and proceeding to curate shows worldwide, there is no one more qualified to head up Maddox Gallery’s Acquisitions department and manage the sourcing of artworks from all over the globe. With a vast network of prestigious collectors, Sonder has a wide breadth of experience. We spoke to Sonder about art investment, which artists she has her eye on and the breadth of her ever-increasing collection. 



What was the first work you purchased and do you still own it?

I believe it was Duality of Humanity II by the artist Shepard Fairey, which I purchased from a friend. We opened our galleries at the same time and at a young age; we supported each other. I have it on my wall to this day, as it reminds me of the exciting early times of the Urban Contemporary Art market. It is a politically charged image that acts as a reminder of the importance of the translation of current affairs through the arts: a continuous conversation to be nurtured within and in aid of the understanding, development and welfare of our societies.


What are your most recent purchases and why?

My most recent purchases include an edition by digital artist Tom Webb, who develops his own AI for his artwork, and a piece by Harriet Horton, who practices the ancient art of taxidermy, in a sustainable and cruelty-free way. I am interested in the influence of technology as well as the conservation and development of ancient craft into art. It presents a stark contrast between ‘the new’ and ‘the old’, which fascinates me. 

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection in 2021?

I am dreaming of a Nicolas Party, Henry Taylor, Antwan Horfee, Jamel Shabazz, Harland Miller, Chloe Wise and José Parla - to name just a few! The Miaz Brothers are also due to show their latest body of work at our Maddox Street Gallery in April and I am hoping to acquire a work by the duo then.


Is there a work you regret purchasing?

Although I outgrew some of the works that I purchased in the past, they all had their place and meaning at the time. I look at them as necessary parts of an evolution, as my taste developed with experience and growing knowledge. If I can avoid it, I try not to part ways with any of my artworks. Does that make me a hoarder?

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance? 

When I was a teenager, I had to choose between purchasing a small Banksy canvas and a pair of sneakers. 


Are you a big collector of sculpture?

Not yet, but mainly out of practical reasons. Sculpture is exciting, it takes on mass and tension and can act as an intermediate element between painting and spectator, but it also requires space. Despite this, I find it to be a very powerful medium that is experiencing a renaissance with collectors for all of the right reasons. As mentioned before, new developments in tech allow for the power of traditional craft to be explored to its fullest potential, which can be explored endlessly in this medium.

What is the most valuable piece of art you own?

A work by Andy Warhol that I inherited - a part of the history my hometown Cologne played in bringing pop art to Europe in the late 1960's / early 1970's.



What is the focus in your own collection?

Advising upcoming as well as established collectors is a rewarding job that comes with the privilege of discussing and seeing some of the most valuable artworks of our time. I can’t deny that it makes my heart beat faster. Having said that, I’ve made it a personal exercise to invest in the exciting encounters that I’m having from my advisory research. Therefore, I am looking to acquire works by upcoming talents and emotionally valuable pieces that may not necessarily fall into the top tier investment category right now. If I’m doing my job well, the lines will blur with the years.



What advice would you give to a first-time collector? 

Some say there is a difference between buying art and collecting art. At first you buy what you like to put it up on your own walls, and with time you additionally start buying for numerous strategic reasons. The turning point is probably when there’s no space in the house to hang more art and you turn to art storage!

To start off, don’t worry about trends and the complexities of the art market. Research offline and online by visiting galleries, art fairs and art school graduate shows, listen to good art podcasts, scroll through art auction catalogues and online showrooms, read the news sections from galleries/ art institutions/ museums pages and online art platforms; follow artists, art critics, art journalists and curators on social media. 

The obsession of collecting art usually doesn’t take long to manifest, so the more you see, the more you will want to own. Your collection should represent your taste and vision and ideally hold a healthy balance of speculative and investment purchases to form an overall strong, individual and yet diverse narrative. This is both an emotional and a strategic process that can be incredibly rewarding.

It is a sensible idea to find an art advisor you trust for additional insight, market trends, investment guidance and for sourcing particular works you are after. Begin by contacting professionals and galleries whose program you like.

The most important thing is that you are enjoying the process of collecting art, so stay true to your vision and intentions - you are the curator of this journey.

Click here if you would like to get in touch with one of our professional art advisors…



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