30-Something: Young Chicago Collectors
BY FRANCK MERCURIO
One of the stand-out paintings on display at the Art Institute of Chicago is David Hockney’s American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman). Hockney pokes gentle fun at his subjects, while reinforcing popular notions about art collectors: older, affluent, and eccentric. Gazing at the painting, one can’t help but wonder: Who were Fred and Marcia as a younger, greener couple? What inspired them to begin to collect contemporary art? A number of younger art collectors in Chicago are bucking the “stodgy patron” stereotype and assembling vibrant collections of contemporary works that reflect the interests and issues of their generation.
Ian Gray + Peter Johnson
(pictured at top of page from left: Ian Gray and Peter Johnson at home. Artwork pictured in background: photograph by Matt Austin; painting by Elijah Burgher.)
What better place for art collectors to live than in the heart of a gallery district? Ian Gray (25) and Peter Johnson (24) reside in an industrial-style West Loop loft near some of the city’s best-known galleries. Peter directs public relations at the Center on Halsted, while Ian helps run his family’s 50-year old art business, Richard Gray Gallery (the founder is his grandfather). The couple met in college and started collecting seriously after moving in together in Chicago.
“We’ve only ever collected together—we didn’t do any separate collecting before we started dating,” says Peter.
“There are a handful of staples that came from my parents, but most of the collection, the bulk of it, we found here in Chicago,” explains Ian. “It helps to have parents who collect; it helps to have grown up in a house that everyone else thought was a museum but for me was very much a home.”
This background of living with art influences the installation of the couple’s pieces. Despite the presence of dozens of works, their loft feels more like a home than a museum. Referencing an area containing large-scale pieces that can be rotated in and out, Ian states “We wanted this spot in the house to be a space where we could show works, but I’m edging away from the word ‘gallery.’”
Adds Peter, “It’s a place in our home where we can live among art.”
Peter and Ian collect works from a variety of local artists, including Elijah Burgher, John Neff, Doug Ischar, Matt Austin, and Deana Lawson (Brooklyn-based but represented locally). Many of these artists reflect the couple’s mutual interest in gender and identity politics, but other works reflect Peter’s interest in “art versus artifact” and Ian’s “deep interest in the intersection of computers and logic.”
“I think we actually have very different tastes, but we’ve been able to find these really interesting cross-sections,” says Peter.
Most of the couple’s pieces were purchased from local galleries, including Andrew Rafacz, Carrie Secrist, Rhona Hoffman, Fernway, and Western Exhibitions.
“We don’t work with just one gallery,” says Peter. “I think we try to get around and see a lot, and if it’s something we like, then we usually get it.”
“There are a couple of artists whom we’re quite fond of,” says Ian. “But Robert Burnier is probably the one I have the biggest obsession with.” Indeed, the couple owns three works by the Chicago-based artist who models his sculptural works digitally before creating physical, three-dimensional pieces.
“We both get a lot of pleasure from interacting with artists,” says Peter. “If an artist is accessible to us, and we’re getting work from them, we have them come over, help hang the work and talk with them about it.”
Ashley Galloway + Oren Lund
If you’re a new collector, it helps to have a girlfriend who knows all about art. Ashley Galloway (33) serves as a kind of advisor, confidant, and “collecting partner” to Oren Lund (35) whose contemporary art collection fills his modern Bucktown townhouse. Ashley’s resume is impressive—she studied photography as an undergraduate, attended Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, and later worked at the Tate. Oren began his professional life as a chef and now works as an attorney.
Both actively support the arts in Chicago, with Oren serving on the executive committee of the Steppenwolf Auxiliary Council and Ashley on the Museum Council of the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Together they’ve become involved in several other arts organizations.
“I started getting into the visual arts to impress Ashley,” says Oren, half-jokingly. “Since then I joined Filter and the Chicago Artists Coalition [Chartwell Collectors Circle] and am starting to get more involved with Threewalls. Most of the cool things that I’ve collected have been in the past year since knowing her.”
“The community in Chicago is fantastic,” says Ashley. “It’s been fun for us, as we’ve gotten to know each other, to explore [the community] together and learn about the different galleries and all the fairs. It’s a part of our regular weekend activities.”
The couple focuses mainly on Chicago artists. Oren started by buying smaller, more affordable pieces from online auctions, local art fairs, and directly from artists during studio visits.
The collection reflects a variety of works from an eclectic mix of artists. Included are Chicago Imagists-inspired works by the street artist Lefty, collages by Stephen Eichorn, a drawing by self-taught artist Lee Godie, and photographs by Alice Hargrave, Barbara Diener, and Hyounsang Yoo.
Given her background, Ashley is naturally drawn to photographic works. But for Oren, photography was more of a hard sell, at least initially. Instead, he is drawn to the immediacy of painting.
“[Photography] tends not to be as visceral,” says Oren. “There’s more of a separation between the art and the viewer…we’re seeing things through a printer, through a lens, and through an artist.”
Yet Ashley’s and Oren’s individual likes and preferences have influenced each other and what they collect. Case in point: Hyounsang Yoo’s C, LC, VM, VLM, Y, LK, LLK, PK and MK (2014, pictured). It’s a piece that Oren first discovered at the 2014 Filter Photo Festival and serves as an example of the couple’s evolving perspectives as collectors. The clouds of colored pigment captured by Yoo give the work a strong graphic quality–almost painterly–that appeals to Oren, even though it’s a photographic print.
For both, collecting has been a fun learning experience. Ashley’s advice to new collectors: “It always helps if you can talk to the artist and learn how they got there.” Adds Oren “We’ve been visiting artists studios to get some of that context.”