Stavros Merjos is a Los Angeles-based art collector, who also sits on the board of the Dia Art Foundation in New York. He owns HSI Productions, which produces cutting-edge music videos and commercials, and is a film producer as well.
Merjos has an impressive art collection, which includes seminal works by such artists as Glenn Brown, Martin Eder, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Takashi Murakami, James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann.
He is also active in supporting and collecting in depth younger artists, such as Nigel Cooke, Barnaby Furnas, Mark Grotjahn, Mark Licari, Gardar Eide Einarsson and Banks Violette. Here are his comments on his collection and collecting:
They say money doesn’t buy happiness, but there is one way I’ve found that working hard and having wealth does change your life: Coming home to a house full of art truly is a way to enhance one’s happiness. I can be in a [terrible] mood, but if I walk around my house, the artwork cheers me up. I absolutely love living with museum-quality art.
My First Acquisition:
I bought a set of Warhol’s “Ads” prints in 1995. I had always liked Warhol, and I’m in the advertisement/commercial production business. I thought the James Dean image was really strong. There are 10 prints in the set. I bought them from Gagosian for around $50-60,000. They’re in an office of mine.
That was the first purchase, but I got comfortable very quickly with buying art, and I bought a lot of good paintings and sculpture over the next two to three years. And I have subsequently bought a lot of Warhol paintings.
My Most Recent Purchase:
My most recent purchases were John Chamberlain sculptures, one from PaceWildenstein in New York and this black-and-white one from Buchmann Galerie in Cologne. I already owned another Chamberlain. Chamberlain is a very important artist, unique in terms of his materials. It’s interesting that an artwork of his can have such varied appearances; from every angle—front, back, above—Chamberlain’s sculptures look like different works, sometimes flowers, sometimes something else entirely.
I really liked this one from Buchmann [Tigh of Content] because of the smaller size of the piece, about 20 inches by 20 inches, and that it was made not of thin ribbon but larger pieces of metal. This hasn’t been delivered yet, but I will place it inside my home. It was in the $100,000 range.
My Favorite Work:
I have always bought what I like, and what I really like is Pop art; most of the collection is Pop, with the heaviest concentration in Ruscha, Wesselmann and Warhol.
The painting Hero by Ruscha is not only my favorite artwork; it’s my favorite possession. It’s a really cool painting with a comic book in it—and comic books are what started me on collecting. It’s a later work of his, but it has the feeling of a ’60s painting. It’s rare because he rarely has included comics in works after the ’60s. It was in the $75-100,000 range; it’s hard to even get a Ruscha drawing for that now.
Mayfair by Rosenquist and Great American Nude #38 by Wesselmann.
I collect artists I like in depth. I went to someone’s house, an important L.A. collector, and he liked the idea of having one work from each artist he collects. I’m the opposite. I love Oldenburg, and I own a lot of his work. I own a lot of Tom Friedman, Furnas, Cooke. If I decide to get serious about an artist, then I want a lot of the work. It’s not as interesting to me to have one of each.
I want the collection to keep growing, and I’ve added younger artists over time. Most of their work is in my offices.
How Collecting Has Changed over the Past 10 Years:
How nice it was to have started collecting in the mid-’90s! I was offered great works all the time. If you wanted a great example of an artist’s work, the chances were you could get it. Now I really have to work for top pieces, compete for them, but that’s fun, too. It adds another facet to have to do this kind of hunting and finding and convincing and cajoling.
Tips for Starting a Collection:
Take your time. For new collectors, the most important thing to do first is to educate yourself. Get a lot of art books and live with them for a while. That’s a lot cheaper than it is to buy big pieces you might not end up liking. What I did early on was build a good art library. It’s not like I would walk into the library and go “Wow!” But I did say “Wow” when I opened the books. Collecting art books is fun, and it’s a wonderful way to get your feet wet without spending money.
When you find that you keep returning to look at artist so-and-so in the books, then it’s time to get a couple of prints. Prints are great; you can get amazing ones for a fraction of the cost. Some prints are as good as paintings, some multiples as good as sculptures. Oldenburg makes amazing sculptures, but they’re so big they don’t fit into a house. But he also makes terrific multiples. I have an Oldenburg Fireplug on a shelf; it’s not as expensive as a unique and just as good. And Jasper Johns makes gorgeous prints; you can own a Johns for a lot less by buying prints.
Bite the Bullet:
No matter how wealthy you are, it can be very difficult the first time to spend what you have to spend to acquire fine art. But you have to bite the bullet and do it. Again, a way to ease into the idea of spending this kind of money is to start with prints which, if you look at the auction records, hold their value as investments.