Everyone needs a hobby, says New York anesthesiologist James Cottrell: "You need something you can enjoy and embrace." That's the message he hopes visitors will assimilate when they share his hobby – collecting art.

"As a doctor, I was interested in the beauty of life and not science – what I do every day," he says. What Cottrell and his collecting partner, film director/producer Joseph Lovett, started almost 30 years ago has grown into a personalized and striking assortment of contemporary art. Only a portion of their treasure, 70 works, has been dedicated to the Co-Conspirators: Artist and Collector exhibit.

Lovett says the title reflects the duo's quest. "We tried to find meaning in the artists and in what the artist is trying to communicate to the world and to us."

The timing for Co-Conspirators, installed at the end of July, has been fluky. The exhibit arrived on the heels of the Chihuly Across Florida: Masterworks in Glass phenom, which brought visitors in hordes from every corner of the community – a hard act to follow. Then came the start of the school year, and the arrival of Charley followed by Frances, which kept the museum closed for more than a week.

Co-Conspirators will continue through Oct. 31, but on Sept. 30, Cottrell and Lovett will host a special evening at Orlando Museum of Art to talk about "what we've done and what it means to us."

The event won't be a highfalutin discussion of how to collect art. Instead, the collectors will share gossipy stories about the works. And Sue Scott, the exhibit's curator, also will be on hand to talk about the role she played in bringing the collection to town. (Basically, Cottrell and Lovett were having their house renovated and needed a temporary home for the art.)

In its own way, the Sept. 30 event mirrors the exhibit itself. As Lovett explains it, the collection is an expression of "the relationship between the artist and the collector and how we conspire with each other for different purposes."

The 70 works on display cover a spectrum of styles. There are 10 pieces from American artist Barton Lidice Benes, including "Laundered Money" (1990), a mixed-media construction crafted from a washboard papered with legally shredded money picked up at the United States mint. Also from Benes is "Poison Dart" (1991), which features a syringe, the top of which is adorned with plumes, while the needle bleeds a splatter of blood – Benes' HIV-infected blood. The inspiration for this work was an accidental cut Benes experienced while cooking one day and the thoughts he entertained as he was cleaning and disinfecting the contaminated kitchen.

Some of the artists in the collection are no longer living, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose nightmarish "Three Delegates" (1982) reflects his reaction to a visit to the United Nations. Other contributors are in their prime, such as Suzanne McClelland, whose painting "Always" (1992) intertwines words and abstract images, relaying an overt message to those who can decode it. Other artists represented include Deborah Kass, No‘l Dolla, Keith Haring, Alexis Rockman, Malcolm Morley and Roland Flexner.

As you peruse the collection, make time to write down every puzzling thought that comes to mind. Then show up when Cottrell and Lovett are in the spotlight and let them explain. It won't be boring. Because of the continuing friendship the collectors nurture with the artists, some of the creators themselves are expected to attend, just for the fun of it. (So be aware if someone appears to be eavesdropping on your conversation.)

Everything will be on the table when Cottrell and Lovett come to town. Come armed with questions, from "What in the world ... ?" to "Fer chrissakes, why?" and give these collectors a workout they'll never forget.


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