It’s difficult to verbalize the pressure I felt writing this piece. Maybe I feel that way because of the warmth and intelligence of collector Stephanie French; maybe it’s the Cy Twomblys on the wall in her living room. Having the opportunity to sit down with a collector, to discuss her collection and gain insight into a home is a challenge. What concepts are connected to owning art, what does a collection say and is there a responsibility in collecting? “Everything is relative,” Stephanie tells me. I wasn’t ready for that. Collecting art can serve as a game or it can humble you. Stephanie is humbled.

“These days there is a huge ‘mine is bigger than yours’ mind set. It wasn’t always like that.” 

Stephanie French was raised in a home where she was encouraged to experience art. Looking, seeing, and visiting art became an important part of her life very early on. She shared with me her joys of traveling with her family as a girl and seeing museums, and admiring architecture, and dance. This passion for looking would follow her through college and develop into a career. This path would take her beyond what many might have thought proper for a woman in the seventies; a job beyond typing speed. “Collecting began while I was working for Phillip Morris. Here I was, responsible for building collections and philanthropies. In the back of my mind, I always wished I could one day own pieces like what I was looking at and collecting for others.”

Left: Gonzalo Puch  Right: Dider Massard  Lower Right: Theaster Gates

Two kinds of collectors in the world: collectors who are looking for an investment, and those who collect from the heart and gut. Both are passionate, but there is a difference. “These days there is a huge ‘mine is bigger than yours’ mind set. It wasn’t always like that.” Stephanie is fearless. Her commitment is to the work, to the artists, sharing, and educating. Stephanie shares with me that there is a need to understand commitment when collecting art. Collecting is not as simple as snatching up something hot and sexy. Making informed decisions based on artists’ careers, their vision, and their voice is first and foremost – important. Beyond being an informed collector, it’s important to understand the self, ones own personal taste and feelings. It’s so exciting to hear how Stephanie stresses the significance of looking at everything, at as much as is humanly possible.

Left Image: Allan McCollum, Long-Bin Chen, & Robert Wilson   Right Image: Robert Mangold, Jeff Koons, Tom Otterness, & Maria Porges

Too often there seem to be taboos and disinterests about looking, especially when it comes to contemporary and modern art. There’s so much work and so many opportunities to see new work that it can seem daunting or, viewers and artists just don’t want to take the time. There’s a slew of reasons on both sides. Looking at, and seeing new work can be a treat, in that often you might not understand. Sometimes work can put you off and push new ideas and ways of seeing. Taking the time to come to grips with those feelings is what drives the collection that Stephanie shares with me. It’s what motivates her to want to share her works with others.

Vik Muniz, Frank Gehry & William Kentridge

It’s far too easy to throw stones at art collectors as being the upper class, with nothing better to do than play with money. This may be true, but it is a highly inaccurate read of every person who collects. There’s always good and bad. What seems to matter most, is pushing beyond the object so as to allow the self to become more. I am grateful to Stephanie for wanting to acknowledge that in the work, all art has that ability.

Stephanie is just the kind of collector I wanted to chat with.

Left Image: Jasper Johns  Right Image: Ellsworth Kelly

Header Image: Cy Twombly, Yang Maoyuan, Brad Miller, Robert Wilson, Takashi Murakami, Chrsitian Marclay, Nina Katchadourian, Vik Muniz, Yinka Shonibare & Robert Lazzarini

Efrem Zelony-Mindell is an artist who lives in New York. For more of his work click here …

For a similar story click here …

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