By FRANCK MERCURIO
Seth Stolbun (age 28) is not your average art collector or Millennial; he is also a patron who supports exhibitions, sponsors residencies and partners with artists to explore new models for art production. Originally from Houston, Seth spent the past few years here in Chicago attending graduate school at the School of the Art Institute (SAIC), while forging connections to both the local and international art scenes. CGN recently talked to Seth at his family’s vacation home in Aspen.
CGN: How did your family influence your decision to collect art?
Seth Stolbun: My family bought art to fill the walls, and I got to help choose things. Growing up, my favorite modern master was Joan Miró, and our family home has a fair amount of Miró prints—although now it’s also getting filled with the new work I own. But my family members were never really collectors; they focused on buying what they liked and finding those works to fill the walls.
CGN: Where did your family go to purchase art?
SS: There’s a gallery here in Aspen called Galerie Maximillian, and they sell prints and multiples. I’ve known them for a long time, like 20 years now—there’s a photo that my dad has of me when I was eight years old at the gallery.
CGN: When did you start collecting?
SS: Galerie Maximillian formed a relationship with Paragon Press [in London] and started showing a lot of their editions. I bit the bullet and bought one of my own in 2010 [at age 21] and then kept going from there. The first piece was a Damien Hirst “spot woodcut.” I bought it mostly because it was just one spot, as opposed to Hirst’s many spots, which are typical in his spot prints and paintings.
CGN: Did you study art in school?
SS: I started my undergrad in business and entrepreneurship at Babson College outside of Boston, but two years after graduating, I decided it was time to return to art and did post-baccalaureate programs at NYU and the Maryland Institute College of Art—and then at SAIC, which turned into an MFA as well. I completed that in the spring.
CGN: What was your concentration at SAIC?
SS: Officially, I was in the Visual Communications Department, but I was a misfit and tried to take what SAIC defines as “interdisciplinary” as far as I could.
CGN: Is that also when you started The Stolbun Collection Project Space?
SS: Yes, it was a time during my MFA to have more freedom and to flex and push back. The space was a 200-square-foot former psychologist’s office on Michigan Avenue—we cubed it out and put in bright fluorescent lights.
CGN: What projects came out of the space?
SS: One was a “neo-Sol LeWitt-type” work by Rafaël Rozendaal that was installed at SAIC a couple of years ago. The idea was, unlike a Sol LeWitt drawing, it’s scalable, so you can make it as small or big as you want and then paint it on the wall. It’s this little haiku work, so it could be 1 inch by 2 inches.
The last series of shows at my project space were starting to investigate how to display an archive, playing in connection with the Hans Ulrich Obrist Collection, which Joseph Grigely [professor at SAIC] has been keeping for almost 20 years now.
CGN: Are these works now part of your personal collection?
SS: Most of the collecting and acquisitions that I personally have done fall outside of the actual Stolbun Collection, LLC. The LLC officially operates the website and limits liability to protect the collection if something goes wrong; it owns only two works, both of which are, for the most part, immaterial or instruction-based. One is the Rafaël Rozendaal work, and the other is a tattoo piece by Darren Bader.
CGN: It sounds like you’re now collecting more than works on paper?
SS: It started as works on paper—mostly British artists published by Paragon Press—but since then, my attention has focused on working with my peers. More than collecting, it’s really about the artists. My most recent projects—and the work that’s on loan right now—are focused on conceptual, idea-based works.
CGN: And you’re also supporting artists through residencies?
SS: We have a condo out here [in Aspen] and a couple of extra bedrooms. The condo complex is called The Residences at the Little Nell, and so I thought, “I have to put on a residency at The Residences at the Little Nell.” It was just too easy. [laughs]
CGN: Which artist have you worked with recently?
SS: William Powhida. He has a solo show at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum [in Ridgefield, Connecticut] through Labor Day. William was a resident here [in Aspen] for a week last summer when he was beginning to conceive the show. He and I worked closely together, and I was at the museum installation with him. Now we’re working together on a larger publication around the show that will hopefully get published this fall.
CGN: Will you be starting another project space of your own?
SS: No plans for any physical spaces at the moment. Part of what I’ve started to realize—and the newer model that I’m interested in adopting—is that I want to pursue a more project-based and need-based approach. There are so many institutions out there with better spaces than mine—and they want to show the work that I do—so I would like to team up with them rather than just serve as another place to go.
CGN: It sounds like you’ve become a patron, not just a collector.
SS: Last year for EXPO CHICAGO a VIP group came by my apartment during the fair. Although the space was modest in size, the attendees said they had the most fun visiting with me and seeing art in this intimate setting. They said hearing me talk about the work was even more fun than the Lake Shore Drive penthouse that they had previously come from. [laughs]
CGN: Are you still living in Chicago?
SS: Officially, I don’t have an apartment in Chicago anymore. I’m all over the place, and it’s a global scene, so I’m more interested in traveling for these projects. But Chicago is still an important central hub of influence and of relationships for me.
CGN: Who are some of your mentors here in Chicago?
SS: My graduate professors, especially Joseph Grigely, Michael Golec and Michelle Grabner. I got to work with Joseph more than anyone else because of the classes I took with him and the [Hans Ulrich Obrist] archive project. He is my biggest influence and provided the biggest web of connections. There were others in the Chicago art scene, like Shane Campbell, Aron Gent and Sibylle Friche of DOCUMENT and Bill Gross at 65 Grand.
CGN: What are your future plans?
SS: I’m really thinking about what patronage and art collecting mean to me in the future and in the larger scope of the art world. I’d like to potentially focus on a select few artists and a choose a genre and support that. What I really value are my relationships with artists and seeing a full body of work coming together in a solo show and conveying their concepts.
Rafaël Rozendaal, RR haiku 011, 2013, HOUSE PAINT AND VINYl. Courtesy of the Stolbun Collection LLC