Colorful Collectors: Meet 10 People Who Make Art Fairs Fun

John Waters
(Courtesy Getty Images)

According to a 2004 study, art collectors share a large number of personality traits with artists. Both groups exhibit creative thinking patterns and are much more open to new experiences than the population at large. During Armory Week, which is a competitive time for collectors — there are serious negotiations to be done and artworks to fight for — it’s easy to forget that many of these deep-pocketed art enthusiasts are just as colorful as the artists they collect. ARTINFO has rounded up a group of 10 art collectors whose personalities do as much to guide their art collecting as their bank accounts. If you see any of these faces wandering around the fair this week, make sure to pay careful attention to the art they admire — it just might become the next big thing. 

Adam Lindemann

Perhaps the most polarizing collector in the art world, Lindemann isn’t afraid to let his opinions (and his purchases) be known. As a columnist for the New York Observer, he has railed against everything from MoMA’s beloved de Kooning retrospective  (“the show is 90 percent predictable and formulaic”) to Art Basel Miami Beach (“I’ve seen enough art-fair art”). Critic Jerry Saltz dismissed the latter screed as “puerile pomposity” after Lindemann was spotted at the fair, which he had promised not to attend. But it’s possible the collector had the last laugh: the stunt was outrageous enough to land him a headline in New York Magazine. Now let’s see what he does at the Armory. 

Jean Pigozzi

Elton John once called Pigozzi “one of the world’s greatest characters.” The automotive heir is as famous for his eccentricities as for his sharp eye, and both helped him acquire what is perhaps the world’s foremost private collection of contemporary African art. A Renaissance man, Pigozzi is a Gagosian-repped photographer as well as a clothing designer. He was inspired to launch his own line, LimoLand, after too many unsuccessful efforts to find clothes for his large frame. It’s hard to find a trace of class anxiety in Pigozzi’s flashy art collection, or any other aspect of his life. The original tagline of his clothing line? “Street Wear for Rich Old Men.” Its signature print, “the Hedge fund,” is comprised of symbols of various global currencies. 

Basma Al-Sulaiman

You have to hand it to a collector who is so cutting-edge that she opens a museum in cyberspace. This Jeddah-born art lover’s private collection venue (called the Basma Al-Sulaiman Museum of Contemporary Art, or BASMOCA) is a 3D cybermuseum situated in a Saudi-like landscape created entirely through Virtual Worlds Technology. As chief curator and director, al-Sulaiman, who also curated Edge of Arabia’s 2010 exhibition in Istanbul, showcases the work of contemporary Saudi and Gulf artists such as Abdulnasser Gharem and Raja Alem alongside that of international art stars. Any collector who helps her artists go viral is just fine in our book. 

Don and Mera Rubell

The Miami-based collector and hotelier couple have been widely credited with elevating the Miami Beach art scene with their private museum, the Rubell Family Collection. Often spotted zipping in and out of studios in cities across the country, they are now getting serious about expanding their influence in Washington, D.C. (They hosted the capitol city’s debut (e)merge art fair and organized “30 Americans,” an exhibition of work by African American artists in their collection, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.) Unafraid to be a bit wacky — Mera is rarely seen out and about without a rock star-worthy wig — the duo seems bent on making their art accessible to all, regardless of what the sometimes-insular art world has to say.

Marc and Josée Gensollens

The 62-year-old couple from Marseilles, both psychiatrists, may not have outrageous personalities, but their collecting habits are quite out of the ordinary. Pioneers in the field of conceptual art collecting, they own a Tino Sehgal piece that involves a museum guard slowly removing every shred of his clothes. (Since there are no guards in the Gensollens’s home, the work is only realized when “lent” to a museum.) “Accumulating fancy goods is absurd,” Marc told the Daily Beast. “We buy works to talk about them.”

Andrew J. Hall

Few collectors would go to court in order to earn the rights to show off a work from their own collection, but that’s just what commodities trader Andrew J. Hall did. He is famous in his Connecticut town for entering into a four-year legal battle with his neighbors in order to place the 80-foot-long concrete sculpture “Etroits sont les Vaisseaux,” by Anselm Kiefer, on his front lawn. (He lost, and lent the piece to Mass MoCA instead.) The rest of his estimated $100 million art collection is displayed at his second home, which is, we kid you not, a 1,000-year-old castle in Germany. 

David Walsh

David Walsh may have founded the only private collection museum with a full bar in the lobby. The Australian gambling millionaire opened his Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania last year, and filled it with eccentric finds ranging from Australian modernist paintings and antiquities to Wim Delvoye’s “Cloaca,” a machine that simulates the human digestive process and produces a substance indistinguishable from human excrement. 

Yang Bin

One of China’s most successful car salesmen, Bin is also one of the nation’s most well-known tastemakers, scooping up works by contemporary Chinese artists like Chen Yifei and Zhang Xiaogang. Yang claims to own more than 1,000 works of art, though if that doesn’t indicate he’s a bit of a collect-a-holic, this might: According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, he sold one of his Toyota franchises to fuel his art buying. Oh, and he spent all of the $3.6 million profit on new artworks within weeks of the sale.

Richard Harris

Many collectors strive to create focused collections, but Harris’s is far narrower than most. The Chicago-based collector has amassed 1,500 works of art, all focused on the subject of death. From works by Rembrandt and Durer to photographs from a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration to a chandelier made of plaster bones, Harris’s collection explores death from multiple perspectives. Those with a taste for the morbid can check out some of his art at the Chicago Cultural Center, where the exhibition “Morbid Curiosity: The Richard Harris Collection” is on display through June.

John Waters

This last one might be cheating since everyone already knows Waters is a bit eccentric (his breakthrough film did, after all, feature a singing anus). But the filmmaker, artist, and actor (who was on the jury for the 2011 Venice Biennale) also has some wacky taste on art. In addition to his collection of fake food, prominently on display on tabletops throughout his home, Waters owns a painting of the Wicked Witch from “Snow White” by the serial child killer John Wayne Gracy (it was a gift) and a site specific installation by Gregory Green that portrays the imagined room of a bomber (it was commissioned). It includes an envelope of pubic hair, a hot glue gun, tools, and bits of metal (“Everything you need to build a bomb except gunpowder,” Waters explained.) The multitalented Waters is indeed a collector at heart. Spotted entering the Armory Show yesterday, he told ARTINFO, "I'm just here as a regular fairgoer." 

To see pictures of our colorful collectors, click on the slide show.