The formidable Sarah Arison was in her third year of college when her grandmother asked if she would head the Arison Arts Foundation, a private grant-making organization for promising artists. Inclined toward math and science but inspired by a visit to Auvers-sur-Oise, where van Gogh spent his last days, Arison took the opportunity: beginning her way on an inspiring path of philanthropy and arts advocacy.
Arison would also become a trustee of YoungArts, which her grandmother established with her husband, cruise mogul Ted Arison, to offer young creatives early assistance; something which Ted, who was an aspirant pianist in his youth, knew could make a decision difference. YoungArts’ signature program immediately impacts high school students through a cash grant, and the chance to study with expert practitioners in various disciplines: Mel Chin, Teresita Fernandez and James Rosenquist among them.
YoungArts has become a cornerstone of Arison’s collecting life. “My philosophy of art collecting is very personal,” she says. “I have met and/or worked with 90 percent of the artists that I own through YoungArts or other organizations I am involved in.” In 2020, she was appointed Board Chair for New York’s MoMA PSl, working with former Director Kate Fowle on an ambitious program to orient PSl toward its local community. Arison has board roles at organizations including Americans for the Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA and the Serpentine Galleries Americas Foundation. Among the many artists found in her collection are John Baldessari, Zoe Buckman, Sarah Crowner, Katharina Grosse, Taryn Simon and Hank Willis Thomas. “What I love is meeting artists early in their careers,” she says, “and being able to follow along, help them and collaborate with them as they grow.”
She came to meet one young artist she collects, the Colombian American painter Ilana Savdie, through her support for NXTHVN, the New Haven, Connecticut, arts residency co-founded by artist Titus Kaphar. She liked the program so much when she visited that she supported them to build a theater. (Arison is also a supporter of New York’s Lincoln Center and serves as American Ballet Theatre’s Board President.) While there, she met several artists-in-residence, who, in turn, led a masterclass for YoungArts.
For Arison, the art world is an ecosystem, in which collecting plays an important, nurturing role. “Emerging artists showing at young galleries are at the base,” she says. “Somebody has to be there at the beginning in order for them to grow.”
“I prefer to think of art as a cultural good,” says J. Patrick Collins, the Dallas-based collector who has established a reputation for thoughtful acquisitions and heartfelt championing of contemporary artists. As a consequence, he focuses on meaningful commitments to artists: “I try to support artists in what they do.”
The Co-Founder and CEO of Cortez Resources, Collins doesn’t come from a collecting family, but was drawn to art early on: even writing a paper in high school on dada. It was natural, then, that while studying at Columbia University in New York, he took classes with art historians like the legendary Rosalind Krauss. Before long, he was buying his first piece, a painting by Ryan McGinness.
Today, his collection spans conceptual art, figurative and abstract painting, photography and video, as well as other media. He collects an international roster of artists that includes Tom Burr, N Dash, Danielle Dean, Hadi Fallahpisheh, Jill Magid, Christodoulos Panayiotou and Patricia Treib. He is committed to collecting artists in depth-so much so that, if they’ve already had a few shows by the time he starts to buy their work, he makes it a habit to acquire pieces from their earlier exhibitions as well. In seeking out the artists he supports, he collaborates with consultant Spencer Young, a member of Schwartzman& art advisory firm.
Collins not only buys artists’ works but also helps them execute projects, such as publishing books. “I like supporting other people in their careers as entrepreneurs,” he says, “and I’m passionate about helping artists achieve their goals.” He serves on the board of many organizations across Texas, including the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Fort Worth Modern Museum of Art, and the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, as well as the Dia Art Foundation and New York’s El Museo del Barrio.
Collins says that about 75 percent of his collection is work by artists his age or younger; a striking figure, given he is only 42. “I leave it to others to collect artists who are already successful,” he says. “This way, I can discover artists I really like, get some of their best work and make sure it ends up in the right places. "Many of the artists whose work he collects have become close friends: "I prefer the company of artists.”
Suzanna Lee traces her devotion to contemporary art back two generations. “I must give credit to my grandmother, Mildred ‘Micki’ Lee,” she says. “She had an unbelievable collection that she acquired for next to nothing. She bought a Jasper Johns for US$25! Through her, I became very comfortable in and around the art world, looking at young and emerging artists, and knowing how fun it is to bear witness to their careers.”
At a very young age, Lee began buying artworks from student show-cases at programs like the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in her native Boston. After studying at Yale, she spent much of her early 20s in and around the New York art world, helping friends to start art businesses and project spaces. “The art community provided a great landing space, a way for me to feel a part of something in an overwhelming place,” she says. For her, buying art was a natural part of a life spent among artists. “Perhaps selfishly, a lot of my collecting has been motivated by people I enjoy being around,” she says. In order to find those artists who are simpatico, and to determine one’s own preferences, Lee believes it’s crucial to be immersed, and to see as much art as possible. “The more you’re exposed to,” she says, “the clearer it becomes which things truly make your heart skip a beat, or inspire you, or make you laugh or force you to think critically.”
Lee has spent much of the pandemic “hiding out” in Aspen, where she has engaged with the growing art community. She credits the Aspen Art Museum and its annual ArtCrush gala with introducing her to some of the artists she has recently become devoted to, like Jesse Krimes, Ben Wolf Noam and Adam Stamp.
The surging art market in recent years has led to a lot of talk about art being an asset class, but that’s not the way Lee thinks about it. “I’ve never thought about collecting as financial speculation. I’ve never sold work. I’ve never even thought of selling one.” She has sometimes resisted the label of collector, since collectors can amass their holdings from a distance of cool reserve, whereas Lee seeks out artists’ company, seeing herself as part of a collective of passionate enthusiasts. “It’s not just art for art’s sake,” she says. “It’s art for community’s sake.”
As the daughter of a contemporary art dealer, Olivia Walton grew up surrounded by art. “I lived in a house with a lot of provocative art,” she says. “I didn’t know it then, but living with all those works would become a great source of inspiration and perspective.” While her collection ranges from historical to contemporary, it has a significant focus on emerging artists, ranging from sculptors Diana Al-Hadid and Brie Ruais to painters including Marfa Berrfo, Devan Shimoyama, Anna Valdez and Flora Yukhnovich. Yet, for Walton, “emerging” isn’t a category defined solely by age range. “I’m just as excited,” she notes, “about supporting artists who might have been around longer but who have been overlooked till recently, like Deborah Roberts.” Walton’s personal collecting overlaps with her family life. She notes that living with art means “living with the ideas, perspectives, stories and talents of artists: that’s an enormous privilege, as well as a source of joy and inspiration for me and my family.”
In 2021, she assumed the position of Board Chair at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, taking over from Alice Walton, her husband’s aunt. She remained chair of the council for the Momentary, the museum’s downtown satellite space dedicated to putting the arts into everyday life. Walton is also principal of Ingeborg Investments, a venture capital portfolio backing women-led and women-focused startups and funds; co-founder of the Heartland Summit, a “think and do tank” focused on revitalizing the center of the US; and leader of Oz Art NWA, an art collection displayed across numerous public locations throughout Bentonville.
Diversity is a primary motivation for Walton, who expresses her avowed interest in “women artists, both historical and contemporary, as well as artists who have traditionally been excluded from the American art canon: Black, Latinx, Asian American and indigenous artists all figure prominently in my collecting.” Artists she has championed include the Hmong photographer Pao Houa Her, Ponca Tribe-enrolled painter Julie Buffalohead and the self-taught Pittsburgh-based artist Vanessa German. I’m interested in art that tells stories that haven’t been told.“
Danielle and Matthew Greenblatt collect as a couple, and shared adoration is a prerequisite for any acquisition. “Danielle and I both have to love it,” says Matthew. But that’s not all. “We also try to give a lot of thought to what we buy,” he says. “Loving something isn’t enough. We try to push ourselves to think, why do we love it, and in five, ten or 20 years, will we feel the same way?”
Matthew, who works in finance, and Danielle, who owns a jewelry PR firm, collect artists across the generations, from those in their 20s and 30s, like Pam Evelyn and Joseph Yaeger, to established, older figures, including Glenn Ligon and Henry Taylor. “We do have quite a bit of range in our collection, but we prefer to collect living artists, ideally of our generation,” says Matthew. “It’s exciting to collect an artist’s work early and watch them grow.” It’s also, of course, a different proposition financially. “For example, an artist we just bought who is 30, we could theoretically be collecting his or her work for the next 30 years,” says Matthew.
Certain artworks have distinct meanings for each of them. The figures in Christina Quarles’s paintings, for example, have particular significance for Matthew, who has been through more than one organ transplant. “Her flailing bodies with multiple limbs-I’ve had four kidneys, so I feel that way in myself,” he says. “She’s an incredible painter, one of the best of our gen-eration, and I love the way her pictures portray how one feels in one’s body rather than how the body looks. It’s a fresh take.”
For Danielle, the recent news of the leaked draft of a Supreme Court judgment that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that enshrined women’s reproductive rights for some 50 years, brought a fresh perspective on certain works. “Our Ella Kruglyanskaya has three women in it and, when you look at it, you think of an old-school fashion advertisement: women who are ready to break the glass ceiling,” says Danielle. “But now, I see them as saying, ‘Don’t fuck with us, these are our bodies, no one gets to make these decisions for us.
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