Living with Art and Collecting Like a Pro: Tips from Art Powerhouse, Dominique Levy
Recently I had the amazing opportunity to visit the apartment of the art powerhouse that is Dominique Levy and her partner, film producer Dorothy Berwin. Dominique and Dorothy are wonderful and gracious hostesses; they even have a signature house cocktail and a wine cellar built under their staircase! Most importantly, though, these women have the most bold and inspiring art collection, not to mention the furniture and overall design of their Upper East Side duplex (which has the most amazing views of the East River, too, as if the visual stimulation wasn’t enough with everything else they have in there). Among the duplex’s highlights are pieces by Tracey Emin (one of my favorite artists of all-time), Cindy Sherman, Tom Sachs, and Tim Noble and Sue Webster. They also collect furniture by Marc Newson, Oscar Niemeyer, Charlotte Perriand, and Jean Prouvé (suffice to say that Dominique and Dorothy consider their furniture artistic sculptures -- and rightly so!). In that apartment, I literally felt that I could breathe art. And how could I not, given Dominique’s background?
Dominique is Swiss, but has been in NYC for quite some time. She actually worked at various galleries in Geneva and London, ran the contemporary paintings department at Sotheby’s in Geneva and, in 2000, was recruited by none other than François Pinault to run the private sales division at Christie’s in NYC. Wow! Of course, she made that private division soar, and then founded her own art advisory services, which she later merged with Robert Mnuchin’s gallery to create what we now know as L&M Arts http://www.lmgallery.com/, one of the leading post-war and contemporary galleries in the world. In New York City, the gallery is focused on modern and post-war art, including extraordinary artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yves Klein and Andy Warhol (the current show at the gallery is Warhol’s Colored Campbell's Soup Cans which will be on view until June 11). In the brand new Los Angeles outpost, it is all about contemporary art (they opened the Los Angeles gallery last year with a much-talked show of Paul McCarthy). Being acquainted with Dominique’s background, I knew I had to ask her to share some tips for new collectors since her wealth of experience in the art world is quite unparalleled.
For Dominique, the best way to start buying art is establishing true relationships with galleries and making those galleries trust that the art they sell (and therefore the artists that they represent) will be respected and cared for. Particularly in the last ten years, there has been lots of tension between galleries and auction houses. The fact that people have bought contemporary art and sold the pieces at auction almost overnight, with the hopes of making a quick profit, has ruffled some feathers in the gallery community. The idea, from the gallery perspective, is to cultivate art lovers and collectors, not speculators. Common sense might make some think that if certain contemporary artist’s pieces are being offered at auction, and those pieces are being sold to the highest bidder for top dollar, then the artist should be happy and so should the gallery. But the truth is that those moves can sometimes hurt an artist, like when someone decides to sell several important pieces from the same artist at the same time, or when the bubble has become so inflated that the burst is inevitable.
Another important concept that Dominique mentioned, and I that I support, is to collect with purpose; be passionate, do some research, go in depth with an artist, get inspired, and know what you love and why you love it. Once you do have a collection, make sure that the pieces can talk to each other, that there’s some harmony and coherence among themselves; displaying and curating a collection is an art in itself.
Dominique also subscribes to the same philosophy that I do (and that I apply in my own apartment and life): make art, furniture, design, and all the things that you love happily coexist with your children. Growing up surrounded by art helps kids develop a richer, much more interesting perspective in life. Like Dominique told me, she started collecting art when she was very, very young and all her piggy bank money usually went to buy art!
As a word of caution for new collectors, Dominique suggests to avoid buying at auction. First, because it’s really expensive given all the premiums that auction houses charge to winning bidders, and also because, most likely, anyone who is bidding is almost always bidding against one or more potential buyers. This can cause the final price to go up quite fast (and so does the adrenaline of bidders), often forcing inexperienced people to go over their limits, only to later regret an irrationally made purchase.
I think the most important quality that all we collectors share (including Dominique, Dorothy and myself) is the true passion and excitement for the art we own, for what we can get or discover and for the enjoyment and connection that we develop with each particular piece. That’s a quality that anybody can have and cultivate. But one must be careful; there are risks, like Dominique’s former boss, Monsieur François Pinault, said: “You don’t possess art, it possesses you. It’s like falling in love.”