Choreographing Canvases: Mikhail Baryshnikov on His Art Collection

Mikhail Baryshnikov with his art collection
(Courtesy of ABA Gallery)

Mikhail Baryshnikov may be known as one of the greatest ballet dancers to ever grace the stage – and the founder of New York’s Baryshnikov Arts Center – but he’s also an avid art collector. At the urging of Russian art dealer Anatol Bekkerman, owner of ABA Gallery, Baryshnikov took his collection — which includes a whimsical Merce Cunningham drawing of bugs and birds, a simple Jean Cocteau illustration of the Ballets Russes founder Serge Diaghilev, and several costume sketches by Alexandre Benois — out of his homes and storage and displayed some 100 works at ABA Gallery for nearly two weeks.

ARTINFO caught up with Baryshnikov at the closing reception of “Art I’ve Lived With: Works From the Collection of Mikhail Baryshnikov” to ask about how he started collecting art, his favorite artists, and how a work captures his eye.


How did you become interested in collecting art?

Just by chance — walking along in Paris and stopped by one of the galleries, which specialized in theater design, and costume sets, and various artists of the period of the turn of the last century. And of course I recognized some names, which I [learned] from my school books, and the dollar was strong, and I had enough cash in my wallet to buy one drawing by Jean Cocteau and one costume design by Christian Bérard, the French artists of course, and then that was the beginning of the end.

What year was that?

It was the beginning of ’75.

You’ve acquired so many works.

Well, it took 35-some years. I don’t hunt for it. I sometimes exchange pieces. I visit galleries, but I don’t attend auctions... they are not really valuable in price. They are valuable with the different connections to me.

How does a work of art capture your eye?

That’s difficult to explain. Something clicks in your heart. Something unusual. I cannot draw to save my life, and I’m not a big art scholar, but I worked with many designers throughout my career — in theater, in dance, costume designers, set designers, and I have a lot of artist friends and I do photography, and I think it’s kind of in my life. Everything I do, it’s a bit painterly. I like being surrounded by objects, mostly on paper. I like the images. I like the painting. I like good photography. It’s something that makes me an emotional connection, and I feel comfortable around it.

What’s your most prized piece?

There’s none. They are all very valuable to me for different emotional reasons, and not the value of what I purchased them for.

Who are your favorite artists?

I can drop a name. Let’s say David Hockney. Francis Bacon. I like Brits for some reason. That’s two of many.

Do you own any of their pieces?

No, are you kidding? Actually I have a photograph of David Hockney by Lord Snowdon, which is a very beautiful one.

What is your dream piece to own?

You know, on the level like that, you don’t own it – you borrow it. Even if I could afford a piece by Francis Bacon, I’ll be 65. I will buy for a few years, then what? Then my children will put this on auction.

Maybe not!

I have four children and then they will say, “To whom this belongs?” This Francis Bacon piece. I’m joking, but it’s not that important.

Click on the slideshow to see works from “Art I’ve Lived With: Works From the Collection of Mikhail Baryshnikov.”