5 Collectors on the Artwork That Shaped Their Collection

Art Market

Hollie McLaughlin-Martin

Jul 27, 2023 4:21PM

For many collectors, the artworks they purchase can stand as representations of themselves, reflecting their views, artistic preferences, values, and overall appreciation of artistic expression. This makes selecting pieces a personal experience: Each purchase is a distinctive endeavor that requires much thought and research, but is also considered in terms of shaping one’s art collection as a whole.

Artsy spoke with five prominent collectors who shared the stories behind the specific artworks that have played a key role in building their collections.

Michael Sherman

Producer, Los Angeles

Portrait of Michael Sherman. Courtesy of Michael Sherman.

Simone Leigh, Meredith, 2009. Courtesy of Michael Sherman.

For the film producer Michael Sherman, building an art collection has become a familial undertaking. “My house is my sanctuary. It’s my personal space where my wife, my daughter, and I live on a daily basis,” he told Artsy. “So when we walk around the house, we want to experience joy when we see the work in the house. We want to be able to share the stories of the artists with people who come over and celebrate them, and the beauty that they’ve created.” Sherman’s desire to share the stories behind the artworks of his collection means that he makes a concerted effort to learn about an artist’s history firsthand, and meet them if the opportunity arises. “One thing I do is I spend a lot of time meeting artists and getting to know them. I collect based on the artist and their story,” he said.

It is this effort that led Sherman to make one of his first prominent art purchases, Simone Leigh’s Meredith (2009). Crafted from stoneware raffia and steel, Meredith is the physical representation of Leigh’s reinterpretation of Edgar Degas’s sculpture Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen (1879–81). A leading artist working today, Leigh uses the mediums of sculpture, installation, and video to explores the themes of historical and contemporary racism in the U.S.

For Sherman, Meredith is an example of how the pieces and artists that form his collection tell their “stories from different spaces and angles, and whether it be from joy, pain, trauma…you know, experiences.”

Anne Huntington Sharma

President of Huntington Learning Center, Philanthropist, Producer, and Curator, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Portrait of Anne Huntington Sharma by Matteo Prandoni. Courtesy of BFA

David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate East Yorkshire 2011 (twenty eleven)-31 May, No 1, 2011. Courtesy of Anne Huntington Sharma.

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Anne Huntington Sharma’s career is as multifaceted and diverse as her art collection. The president of Huntington Learning Center is also a curator, documentary producer, and philanthropist, and she also serves on the Guggenheim’s International Director’s Council.

For Huntington Sharma, each individual piece of her art collection serves as a bookmark for the different chapters of her life. “I started collecting in my early twenties. Now I’m in my late thirties,” she told Artsy. “The collection has matured with me.”

Rather than look at a personal timeline mapped out by social media, Huntington Sharma can look at her art collection and see how specific pieces reflect what stage of life she was in at the time of their purchase.

The artistic timeline that exists within Huntington Sharma’s collection also illustrates explorations through artistic expression. Pieces include Urs Fischer’s NFT Chaos #26 (2021) that serves as a modern interpretation of the Venus of Willendorf statue, which was estimated to have been first made some 25,000–30,000 years ago. Then there is Brian Bress’s Striped Angles on a Norfolk Island Pine (2015), which uses the tools of a high definition single-channel video, framed monitor, and player to present a dance in a continuous sequence across in an interactive, meditative experience for viewers.

Another key piece of Huntington Sharma’s collection, which explores the history of different art mediums that have evolved from modern technologies, is David Hockney’s The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate East Yorkshire2011 (twenty eleven)-31 May, No 1 (2011).The piece is a part of Hockney’s series of digital paintings on his iPad. The British artist first created landscape on canvas in 2007 with his iPhone, and then in 2010 began to use his iPad and Stylus as art tools. Hockney recognized that the iPad gave him the ability to digitally paint and draw, while also allowing people to see each stroke and layer he added to a piece after it was printed on a large scale.

“One of the beautiful things about collecting is seeing art and all its forms evolve,” said Huntington Sharma. “I’m all for experimentation and pushing boundaries and seeing what’s possible. It all makes me realize that time is our biggest commodity.”

Mark Hilbert

Namesake Donor and Founder of the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University, Orange, California

Portrait of Mark Hilbert. Courtesy of the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University.

Phil Dike, Sunday Afternoon in the Plaza de Los Angeles, 1939. Courtesy of Mark Hilbert.

When selecting a new piece of art to add to his collection, there are three specific qualities that property investor Mark Hilbert looks for. “It has to be beautiful and have an interesting composition,” he said. “Most importantly it has to tell a story. It goes back to something that my wife said early on in our collecting career. I brought home a landscape and it was an ocean scene. She looked at it and she said, ‘You know, it’s a very interesting ocean scene, but if it had people in it, it’d be a lot more interesting.’”

Phil Dike’s Sunday Afternoon in the Plaza de Los Angeles (1939) is a key piece of Hilbert’s collection and a prime example of a scenic oil painting that illustrates a narrative frozen in time. “The very first thing that I noticed about it was the beautiful color. He was a color coordinator,” Hilbert noted of the late American painter. “This was painted around 1940. America was not in the war yet. So there were a lot of people that were both for the war and a lot of people against the war. You see that it was one of those particular political groups in the foreground. There’s a woman with a baby, and that happened to be Phil’s wife [with their] son, Woody.”

This particular piece by Dike also reflects an early theme of Hilbert’s collection: a love for California and the vastness of its landscapes. “There are so many different parts of California with the ocean, with the mountains, with the deserts and everything in between,” he told Artsy. “You have beautiful parks like Yosemite. You have the redwoods.”The painting is one of more than 1,000 pieces that Mark and Janet Hilbert donated to the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University in Orange, California, and serves as a visual history of California’s landscapes and artists. Its large body of work, which consists of watercolors, drawings, and oils, is so vast it can “do shows for the next 20 years, and never have to duplicate a theme,” joked Hilbert.

Queenie Rosita Law

Founder and Director of Q Art Group, Hong Kong

Portrait of Queenie Rosita Law. Courtesy of Q Art Group.

It was during a 2018 visit to the Ludwig Museum in Budapest that Queenie Rosita Law first discovered the Ukrainian artist Artem Volokitin. Law was drawn to the “powerful energy and raw intensity” of Volokitin’s work. Her response to his work only intensified after learning of his practice: The artist’s body of work is a reaction to the violence and turmoil taking place in his native Ukraine, with his more recent work depicting images of violent explosions.

Volokitin’s painting Operating Manual (2018) became a springboard for Law’s collection, acting as a flame that fuels the passion and focus of her art collection. “Because of this piece, I started the whole journey of collecting Central and Eastern European contemporary art, and dedicated my time to research and discovering them,” she said.

Created as part of a series following the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Volokitin was influenced to experiment with painting light as a physical phenomenon. “This work is a powerful display of struggle, tension, and hope,” Law shared with Artsy.

Artem Volokitin, Operating Manual, 2018. Courtesy of Queenie Rosita Law.

The essence of Volokitin’s piece, which she purchased in 2019, “documents the cruel beauty of an explosion: a difficult contradiction that the artist has experienced time and again as part of reality,” explained Law.

“He could never be certain when looking into the sky if the light was going to be a joyous celebration of fireworks, or an explosion from air strikes. The juxtaposition between explosion and fireworks looks frighteningly beautiful, yet it conveys a kind of living in the everyday reality that is overwhelmed with aggression.”

In 2014, Law founded Q Art Group. It is made up of three different enterprises that each provide its own artist platform for international audiences to discover, collect, and create art. These three enterprises include Q Contemporary, a nonprofit art center in the heart of Budapest; Double Q Gallery, a contemporary art gallery located in Hong Kong; and Q Studio, a multidisciplinary art studio concentrated on creating and commissioning custom artworks.

“I am constantly on the lookout for emerging talents and historically overlooked artists, and only collect what I believe in. Atrem is truly a master of painting light and shadow,” she told Artsy. “You can clearly see a heightened awareness of oil paint as a medium with the brilliant use of colors, and the influence of hyperrealism comes from his traditional Ukrainian academic training. That first purchase was part of my evolution as a collector and so it will remain important as long as I collect.”

India Rose James

Curator, Artist, Gallery Director of Soho Revue, London

Portrait of India Rose James by Hubert Cecil. Courtesy of India Rose James.

India Rose James’s relationship with art has been a lifelong endeavor. “I can’t pinpoint exactly when I began collecting art,” she said. “Even while in college, I was collecting art pieces from fellow artists I met at school.” James’s personal taste in art is evident in the pieces that line the walls of her home and her London gallery, Soho Revue.

“My taste in art is very vast,” she told Artsy. “I don’t have one specific art medium that I collect. Sometimes it really comes down to the emotion that is sparked by a certain piece.” One key piece in James’s collection that provokes such an emotional response is a print of Howard Hodgkin’s Gate (2014).

When speaking about this print, James highlights the colors and layering of this artwork. “I love the different shades of green in this print.”

Howard Hodgkin, Gate, 2014. Courtesy of India Rose James.

This print is an example of Hodgkin’s use of carborundum printmaking, a collagraph process where an image is created on the printing plate by applying an abrasive grit. To complete the piece, a damp piece of paper is placed on top of the plate, which is then run through a printing press. The pressure of the printing press transfers the ink from the recesses of the plate onto paper.

This form of printmaking allowed Gate’s rich shades of emerald to be seamlessly weaved with the tone of Indian yellow that Hodgkin selected for the piece. Hodgkin was well aware of the emotion his abstract work could conjure. In 1976, he told the critic David Sylvester that “I paint representational pictures of emotional situations.”

The influence of this piece is reflected in the overall body of James’s art collection, as well as the artworks she curates for her Soho gallery. The works do not pertain to one specific art medium, rather, they transcend any labels of a specific art category or status. James searches for works that are emotionally stimulating and influence people to analyze their own personal narratives. “Soho Revue is a gallery space where I can support emerging artists and give them a platform,” she said. “I like the gallery to have a diverse mix of styles and themes, so there is something for everyone who visits.”

Hollie McLaughlin-Martin

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