It doesn’t take millions to amass an impressive art collection, but it definitely helps. But if you didn’t inherit a trust fund, a little dedication can go a long way. These young collectors don’t count themselves as full-time gallerists or experts, but they’ve unabashedly fallen in love with art, and now, they’re hooked. With their walls full of unique creations, or in Matthew Chevallard’s case an additional storage unit, there’s no stopping these ravenous collectors from seeking out their next masterpiece.
Observer sat down with five collecting devotees to find out exactly how they entered the art world, their standout pieces and what they have their eye on next.
Matthew Chevallard is the one-man wunderkind behind flourishing footwear label Del Toro, but in his spare time, his taste for modern art takes precedence over his shoe collection. It’s a hobby first sparked by his mother, an artist, and his father, a life-long collector.
“Growing up in Italy, art is inherent in the culture,” Chevallard told Observer. By surrounding himself with people who he refers to as “friends of Sotheby’s”—including senior client liaison David Rothschild, Marlborough Gallery’s principal director Max Levai—as well as a steady stream of art-centric news, he retains an edited outlook on exactly what he’s after.
Like any 20-something, he often turns to Instagram as a source of discovery, opting to follow along with sculptor and self-proclaimed “art worker” Maurizio Cattelan and abstract artist Mark Grotjahn, both of whom he considers to be legends.
In all, Chevallard has amassed hundreds of works and opts to hang them on any spare wall in either his office or home. The rest of his collection, around 150 pieces, just sits in storage.
“Right now, I love contemporary art, and Arte Povera from Italy,” he told Observer. He has “everything from [Alighiero] Boetti and Mario Schifano to Katherine Bernhardt and Kaws.” Recently, he added a commissioned mixed media, neon-infused work by Thrush Holmes to his Miami-based collection, and hopes to add another from Matt McCormick in the coming months.
Artist/model/actress Beau Dunn has been immersed in the world of contemporary art from a young age.
“I grew up with parents that have a love for collecting art and my collection started with pieces gifted from them. One is a father and daughter portrait by Jorge Santos, and one is a painting of a nude woman with a horse’s head. It’s too large to take off the wall to see who the artist is from the back,” she tells Observer. “The overall theme of my collection revolves around pops of color, mostly pink, and pieces that make me feel happy when I walk by them.”
With this in mind, her acquisitions aren’t dictated by price, but simply by what catches her eye or who she surrounds herself with, in her native Los Angeles—especially the artists and industry insiders that Dunn has accepted into her close circle. Among her art world friends is Megan Mulrooney, a senior specialist for contemporary art at Paddle8, who helps Dunn shape her collection. “It’s so nice having a resource like Megan who enjoys art as much as I do. We bounce ideas off each other as well as discuss investment opportunities,” Dunn gushed to Observer.
Her significant investment pieces include a work by Niclas Castello, who she says is her current obsession.“He’s one of the leading contemporary artists out of Germany, and I recently received a commissioned work from his ‘Cube’ sculpture series,” she said. In hues of neon pink, Dunn is pretty certain this acquisition, a canvas painting crushed and confined within a transparent acrylic casing, will fit in just fine at home.
Next, she hopes to commission a custom pink painting from Retna, the acclaimed street artist and personal friend of Dunn’s—“I’m harassing him to do it!” she joked—as well as her dream purchase, “In Love” by Damien Hirst, which aptly depicts a heart in—you guessed it—Dunn’s favorite color.
So, why pink? “I have always loved pink, and my husband jokes that it’s his favorite color now too,” Dunn said of her estimated 13 works in the sweet hue.
Jay Ezra Nayssan
Construction manager Jay Ezra Nayssan traverses job sites and art galleries seamlessly. Sometimes, he even blends the two—but only when the time is right. With completed and in-progress properties in both Los Angeles and New York under his Nayssan Properties umbrella, he has quickly become a patron and close confidante to more than a few modern artists. “I don’t look to anyone for acquisition advice,” he said matter-of-factly. But he does trust the aesthetic of his business partner and hotelier-turned-gallerist Benjamin Trigano. “We share a lot of the same tastes,” Nayssan told Observer.
This past January, the two opened a showroom together dedicated to applied arts called ANNEX, located in the front of Trigano’s Los Angeles gallery, M+B. “We have invited over a hundred visual artists and asked them to make their first design objects. In a way, it’s me and Benjamin’s dream collection.” The two have a penchant for items that don’t necessarily need to hang on a wall, and often serve a separate function such as creative forms of lighting, pottery and even cutlery. “In general, my interests lie in the between,” Nayssan said. “I am fascinated by visual artists whose works address design and interiors with candor and playfulness.”
In Naysann’s own home, this includes a palm tree lamp by Pentti Monkkonen fashioned from poplar, green Waluminum, and rechargeable LED lights, misshapen chairs by Jessi Reaves, a lightbox of scans assembled by Derya Akay resembling stained glass, planters by Natalie Jones adorned with blonde wigs and hybrid-oriental carpets by Sophie Stone. This is all in addition to more historical design pieces like the unmistakable heart chair by Verner Panton and several lamps by Gaetano Pesce.
It’s an ever-growing yet pragmatic collection and one that Nayssan will likely be adding to from his own ANNEX supply. “I can’t help but think I’ll be keeping some of those pieces for myself,” he said slyly.
Taking one look at Jessica Bennett’s art collection, it’s easy to see that she has a soft spot for whimsical works, a quality one might not expect from this former vice president and assistant general counsel of a New York private equity firm. But in fact, hanging on the walls of her Gramercy apartment is a minimalist geometric pattern by Will Cooke, a compilation of three panels depicting pomegranate seeds by Grace Johnson, and, Bennett’s personal favorite, a work by Robby Rose.
“Robby’s piece, that we are so lucky to have in our apartment, is a special still life of a pillbox,” she said. “It’s a daily memento.” Next, she hopes to snap up one of Gemma Gené’s signature mylar balloon paintings, which she loves for their, “much-needed dose of levity and revelry.”
“My acquisitions have picked up some steam over the past year thanks to a dear friend in the field,” she said, crediting Alexandra Porter, the social fixture and one-woman proprietor behind the revered Alexandra Porter Advisory, for discovering the bulk of her pieces. Porter remains the voice of validation for Bennett, whose attraction to each work is often supported by the experienced art advisor who regularly hosts salons in her apartment.
Bennett’s emotional attraction to each of her purchases means that there’s not much of a theme in her collection. So what is she really looking to buy? “Works that I treasure upon first sight and know I will treasure being on my walls for years to come,” she told Observer.
New York-based venture capitalist George Merck considers his collection to be an ever-evolving trove of rarities, dictated by his changing tastes and the equally shifting art market. In addition to his work as an investor, he serves on the board of trustees and two subcommittees at The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, and has a love for art that harkens back to his teen years when he was given a gift from his mother. “It’s a set of hearts by Jim Dine, and they will forever remain on my wall as one of my favorite pieces,” Merck told Observer of the vibrant paintings created by the 83-year-old pop artist.
He then became interested in street art, drawn in by its buzz and relatively affordable price range, though several years later, admits that he’s mostly fallen out of love with it. “I was initially sucked up into the street art world, as many young collectors were, and bought up everything I could,” he recalled. “Most of the pieces I acquired have been rotated out for numerous reasons. One being, it’s nice to not wake up to graffiti in your apartment every day.” While Merck does keep a few street art pieces around, he’s developed a more established vision for his collection.
Like Chevallard, Merck has an appetite for both Arte Povera, and the Light and Space movement dominated by neon; works from both eras decorate the walls of his New York apartment. “I’m a very big fan of salon-style hanging,” he said. “My apartment is where all of my crown jewels pieces hang. I like to surround myself with the pieces that I love, and rarely leave wall space open. Occasionally the aesthetic of the piece fits more properly in either Amagansett at my father’s barn, or at my mother’s house in Palm Beach. I love my parents, but I have to admit, I keep the strongest work for myself.”
With this in mind, Merck has recently added an a eye-tricking neon piece by Ivan Navarro entitled “(The Void),” and “Cadmium Red,” a saturated wooden wall-hanging by Donald Judd created in 1968, although he plans to integrate fewer blue chip names in the coming years. “One of my personal favorites in my collection is a Borderline Series work by Kasper Sonne, who’s a very talented, young, Danish artist working out of Greenpoint,” he said. Sonne, known for his burnt canvases, is just one of the several names shown to Merck by photographer Hunter Barnes, who he considers to be his closest friend in the art world. Barnes has motivated Merck to not only support artists by purchasing their work, but by getting to know them personally.
“I have visited a good majority of the artists that have created the work I own,” he told us. “I have other friends in the industry that I keep in less contact with, but we always have a good time when we see each other. Guys like Devin Troy Strother, Scott Campbell, and Mungo Thomson, a recent acquaintance, have all been really cool to me.”