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Art Collecting 101 Chat with Sarah Harrelson
We let you in on the secrets of collecting
Art Girls Jungle 04 Apr 2021

Collecting 101 is a series hosted by art advisor and curator Daria Borisova who seeks out knowledgeable and inspiring female collectors in the art world to educate art lovers and future collectors. This week, Daria interviewed Sarah Harrelson, founder and editor in chief of Cultured Mag, an independent publication covering contemporary art and design, as well as the Los Angeles–focused LaLa magazine. After building her own media empire and often traveling between Miami, Los Angeles and New York, this entrepreneur, collector and mother of three has a keen eye for finding new, emerging artists.

When and how did your art collecting start? How has your collecting style and focus evolved over time?
I started collecting about 13 years ago after already spending a few years on the art fair circuit as a journalist. The first work we (my husband and I) ever purchased was a Spencer Sweeney painting from Gavin Brown at Art Basel, Switzerland. We just connected to the piece immediately, and as we continued collecting from there, we let ourselves be drawn to things intuitively, following our curiosities and buying what we loved. Then, after a couple years, it felt important for me to narrow our focus and really concentrate on trying to acquire significant pieces by emerging female artists who we felt were doing exciting and challenging new things with their work. Artists like Tschabalala Self, Anicka Yi, Kaari Upson, Lucy Dodd, Kerstin Brätsch and many more. For the past five to seven years, [this approach] has really guided us, but of course, we have also continued to buy things that just transfix us, even if they fall outside of that scope.

What motivates your collecting, and what considerations do you take before adding a piece to your collection? How does your interest in design influence your collecting decisions?
We definitely don’t have anything like a specific checklist [when buying art], and [we] are probably impulsive when it comes to choosing which work and when. But we have to be really familiar with an artist’s practice before we get to that point.

I love both design and art. We really don’t make a clear distinction in either our collecting or our life between which is which. Part of that, of course, is just because it’s a very difficult distinction to actually draw when you get down to it, but I’ve also always felt that it’s been enriching to put things from these two worlds in conversation with each other, outside of a hierarchy.

Why are you drawn to collecting emerging art? As a collector of emerging art, how important is it for you to have a relationship with the artist you’re collecting?
I love watching an artist’s trajectory unfurl. It’s a privilege to see an artist in that crucial moment when they are just beginning to come through, not only in their careers, but also with their work. I love all the excitement and energy around that phase, and the creativity and invention that fuels it. And so, of course, I like to have a relationship with the artists I collect, but it’s not at all essential for us. I have also found that even with the artists whose work we own that I have never met, we still feel we have real relationships with them through the things that they make.

What were your first and last artworks collected? What was the most expensive work, or perhaps most prized?
The first was the Spencer Sweeny; the last was a small, but beautiful, gem of a painting by Jonathan Lyndon Chase that we got from Company Gallery just last month. It would be really impossible for me to say which works are most prized, but I feel really lucky to be able to live with an Arthur Jafa, a Rashid Johnson and a very small Ellsworth Kelly.

What artists are you particularly excited about now?
I am always excited about too many artists, but just off the top of my head, some of the younger artists that I’m totally obsessed with are Sable Elyse Smith, Elle Perez, Carolyn Lazard, Diedrick Brackens and Simphiwe Ndzube.

Budget aside, what/who is on your wishlist?
Henry Taylor! Alice Neel! Lynette Yiadom-Boakye! Louise Bourgeois! Simone Leigh! Oh my goodness, so many I can’t even think about it!

What do you think of collecting art as an investment?
I think it’s an extremely boring way to go about something that can be really exciting and meaningful.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start collecting art, or someone who is interested in discovering new, emerging artists?
Well obviously my advice is to read Cultured Mag 🙂 But really, I think the main thing is to just forge forward. I think a lot of people get intimidated by the process and feel paralyzed because they think they have to find the perfect thing, but the truth is, if you are supporting artists, you can’t go wrong. I think the fear of making a mistake is what keeps a lot of collectors from buying great things. In my experience, it’s much better to just go for something, even if you aren’t entirely sure if it’s perfect for you, and in the process, you’ll learn a lot about what is.

It’s strange, because for the past year, we really haven’t been able to do this so much, but for us, the most important part of learning about an emerging artist has been studio visits. My advice for collectors looking to deepen their understanding of the next generation of artists is to make as many studio visits as possible. It’s really [in that experience] that I’ve gotten the best and most generous tips and leads as to where to go next.

About

Interview conducted by Daria Borisova, a Russian-born, London-based, curator and art advisor. Her work focuses on young and emerging, as well as established artists who inspire progressive understanding and promote lasting change. With an emphasis on transparency and education, Borisova has built collections for prominent private and corporate clients. She maintains relationships with philanthropists, organizations and art industry luminaries.

In her curatorial work, Borisova seeks to utilize non-traditional spaces to create immersive exhibitions and present emerging artists that often work in new media. Her most recent curatorial work includes: Global Call for Artists in partnership with W1 Curates x Amplifier – a digital public art installation in London, Winter Show at Harlesden High Street Gallery in London, House of Togetherness in London and Alla Gorka: Heroine presented by White Ribbon in Ukrainian Parliament and America House Kyiv.

Daria Borisova

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